Since I no longer live in New York City, I have not had a chance to see a performance of a new Catholic play, The Chalice, which is being performed in The Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village bar which is considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT equality movement when, during a police raid in June 1969, the patrons fought back against the police, starting an era of openness and activism.
I want to see this play, regardless of how well it is produced, The playwright, Emily Claire Schmitt, wrote an America magazine essay about the drama, explaining both the Catholic and the LGBT roots of the play. The issues that arise in the essay itself are enticing enough for me to want to see the play wherever it is produced. Seeing it in The Stonewall Inn would be an extra bonus.
Schmitt’s essay entitled “Does a Catholic play belong at The Stonewall Inn?” has a more intriguing question embedded in its text. Describing the play’s origin, Schmitt relates the following:
“I wrote this play because I was—I am—struggling with my faith. The question is not whether I ought to be Catholic but rather: How ought I to be Catholic? What kind of Catholic am I to be? How can I continue to nurture my relationship with God, a relationship anchored in the church, but also acknowledge that I want change?”
Those questions underlie so much of the dilemma facing Catholics today. In a church where so much of the leadership (but not all) have shown a lack of courage, honesty, and justice, these questions are not simply academic ones. When Catholicism is so deeply a part of one’s identity and relationship with God, how can one find a way to be authentic to this call without supporting an institution which seems to have lost its way?
Her questions are intriguing in another way. The assumption behind them is something that our lives, personal histories, and the broad sweep of world history show only too clearly: There is not one single way to be Catholic. It’s important to remind ourselves of this truth because since the days of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that kind of thinking has been strongly encouraged in the Church. We are seeing it now in our political world, both here in the U.S. and globally. The rise of nationalist thinking promotes the idea that a national identity is a very narrow container, and that to be considered a part of a nation, one must fit into this narrow container of race, ethnicity, creed, and ideology.
Judging only on the plot summary she provides, it seems to me that Schmitt has found an ideal metaphoric dramatic situation to explore the question of how to have a relationship with the Church. She summarizes:
” ‘The Chalice’ is the story of Alex, a formerly Catholic gay man, and his deeply religious sister, Angela, who inherit a relic of Pope Pius XII [the pope whose role during the Holocaust is still controversial]. Because of their contrasting relationships with the church and their vastly different interpretations of Pius’s legacy, they are thrown into a struggle over the object’s fate. Should the chalice be enshrined in a place of honor or should it be discarded and sold? Ultimately, Angela and Alex have to decide if and how they can heal their fractured relationship. And they have to decide what role, if any, their religion will play in that healing.”
Schmitt notes that while her original intent was to write about “what happens when we, as Catholics, isolate, shame and abuse our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters,” the play’s trajectory also took her in other directions as well–all focusing on questions of faith. Having the Stonewall Inn as its home adds an extra dimension to its LGBT themes. Schmitt comments:
“By producing the play here, in collaboration with their incredible staff, we are having the kind of dialogue the church ought to be having. If we want to heal the division between the church and the gay community, we have to meet them, humbly, where they are. We have to acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness. We have to listen and love.”
Such great advice for our entire Church! The Catholic conversation on LGBT issues will happen in places that church leaders do not imagine. The Spirit will move where She will!
The play is a production of the Xavier Theater Company, a group with Jesuit roots. It’s not a surprise that the play is sold out. For more information about it, click here. Broadway star Austin Pendleton plays the ghost of Pope Pius.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 26, 2017