Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates that Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her own conception, not that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the aid of sexual intercourse.
Can there be anything in this feast that speaks to those concerned with LGBT Catholic issues? I think the liturgical readings of the day offer some salient points for reflection.
Before we look at some of the readings, though, I want to introduce an idea about Marian feasts that I heard in a lecture many years ago by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, the eminent theologian. She said that we should always think about Mary not as someone who is set apart from the rest of the humanity, but as a foreshadowing of what God has in store for all of humanity. So, while Mary was unique in being free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception and all through her life, we shouldn’t dwell on this uniqueness, but, instead, view it as God’s promise for his plans for all of humanity.
How do we know that God has this desire for us? It says so in today’s Epistle reading (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12):
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.
“In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.”
That’s what God has in store for our future. In today’s first reading from Genesis (3: 9-15, 20), however, we get a glimpse of what humans have made of our humanity. After the fall from Grace, God searches for Adam in the Garden, and Adam says:
“I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
These poignant lines are ones that I believe all humans have experienced. They echo the common experience of shame about one’s self which everyone has felt at some time or other, especially in childhood.
For those involved in the LGBT community, the line about Adam hiding himself probably echoes even more loudly. Unfortunately, that experience of hiding one’s self out of shame is what many LGBT people experience before they have come to understand, accept, affirm, and announce their true identities. That experience of shame and secrecy is sometimes referred to as “the closet,” and when people shed their shame, they “come out of the closet.”
Contrast the experience of Adam’s shame with Mary’s self-confident “Yes” in today’s gospel story of the Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38). What has struck many about Mary’s attitude in this scene is that she is not overawed by the angel’s visit and message. Indeed, she boldly asks the angel questions. And she agrees to God’s invitation in a confident and trusting manner, ready to take on the risk of this amazing task.
What God has planned for us is to become more like Mary and less like Adam. God wants us to be “full of grace” as Mary is and not full of shame as Adam is. What I find most interesting is that the people who can help teach that lesson to others in the church are LGBT people who have come through the experience of coming out of the closet of shame and secrecy to live in confident trust and courageous risk.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry