Dear Friends in Marriage

He puts the book and video back on the shelf, noticing another book beside them, that he’ll need tomorrow for another couple. It’s called Dear Friends in Marriage. The introduction explains that certain people (some 6% of the population) incline only to same sex partners. A couple committing to a life together are blessed with a marriage covenant. Preparation includes mostly the same issues straight couples consider, except that they talk over whether they hope to adopt a child, or possibly to have one by insemination. The book carries a dedication to the memory of two religious from a while back, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, who started programs of “Gay-lesbian Outreach”; Sr. Jeannine opened many people’s minds through a tape she made, where she read an idyllic fairy tale, as she called it, of two happy Catholics, raising an orphaned nephew of one partner, and participating in fine ways in their parish.

These couples often hold the wedding mass in their house or apartment, as a special blessing to the place. Part of the liturgy is taken from an early rite of the Greek Church that consecrated holy friendships. In the U.S. they decorate their place with green living plants and pink triangles, and invite the couple’s immediate family members and a few best friends. They party late into the night, with someone playing an instrument and leading group singing. If nieces, nephews, or children of friends attend, they may take part in the ceremony as flower child, singer, mass server, or whatever the child prefers. If one of the partners is a priest, the other often makes a commitment of prayer support for that ministry.

The next book on his shelf is called The Specialists. Sometimes a man and woman come to Carlos, knowing they are bisexual or potentially so, but loving each other and wanting to make a life together, and have children. This is a book he works through with them.

It describes how some people live out friendship in a multi-valent way–as some have in all ages. They have a gift for erotically based affection and strong emotional support of friends, male and female–usually not consummated sexually, though they might or might not do that some time. Amateurs of the heterosexual, specialists of the  homosocial and heterosocial, they may marry, or they may do best in a single life. They may know the joy of children, or may give their inner riches in other ways. They often participate in their parishes creatively–in art, music, liturgy planning, rhetoric of conflict mediation, ecumenical initiatives, cooking for celebrations, or whatever is their talent. They tend to be some of the most spirited and open-spirited people in their communities.

Some of them have been inspired by Sister Fran Ferder, a Franciscan and psychologist, who wrote articles such as one in a church publication called CTA News. She said she imagined herself before God at the pearly gate of heaven saying, “Well, I stayed celibate. I didn’t have sex.” And God looks a little puzzled and replies, “Well that’s nice, but how was your loving? Your forgiving? Your feeling and understanding for people?” Did you love them richly, without fear? When these principles conflict, she said–if following the first means being thwarted in the second, because of fear, rigidity, or spiritual dryness, then the second should be recognized as more important.

The May evening is now wearing away with the end of a thunderstorm. The leaves outside glisten in orange light from beneath a cloud bank in the west. Father Carlos gets interrupted again in his cleanup efforts by a ring at the rectory door. It’s Mazy, a bag lady who asks if she can stay tonight in one of the two small dormer rooms, each with six beds, that the parish keeps for homeless people. Nowadays, they as often come in out of the heat as out of the cold.

Carlos lets in Mazy with her large flower-bedecked hat. Her favorite thing is to talk with him on her theory of how the papal infallibility is transmitted from one pope to the next, and where it resides in the interim between the death of one, and election of the next by the cardinals. Each time she tells it, a few more wrinkles get thrown in. Actually some of her ideas aren’t half bad, he thinks, if they could be worked out in a more processed way.

The state governments have institutions, with daily work routines, for people who can’t take care of themselves enough to keep a job and residence—for whatever reasons. But many still prefer the open air and street life, so churches and other religious centers try to put them up as need arises. Sometimes Mazy goes and says part of the rosary with the people who like to meet for that on Monday evenings, but she has trouble concentrating for more than a few minutes. Only the topic of papal infallibility keeps her attention for long. Carlos reminds her where the toast bread and the juice are, and makes her promise to put her sheets in the wash in the morning. Sometimes she does it and sometimes not.