Ireland’s Gay Catholic Voices Speak Out for Faith and Equality

December 22, 2014

The Republic of Ireland, one of the most heavily Catholic nations, has taken center stage on the global LGBT scene in 2014, showing that Catholics, even in perhaps more traditional cultures, are eager to work for equality and justice.  (At the end of this post, we include links to previous posts this year which featured positive steps toward LGBT equality in Ireland.)

One of the reasons for this expansion surely has to be the presence of the national organization, Gay Catholic Voice Ireland (GCVI).  Founded in 2013, the group has been working at providing a Catholic pro-LGBT voice in Irish debates about marriage equality, pastoral care, and other LGBT issues. The Irish Times recently profiled several of their members in an article provocatively titled “Gay Catholics pray 2015 will be the year of the welcome.”

The reporter met up with GCVI members at the monthly “All Are Welcome” Mass, held on the third Sunday of the month, 3:30 pm, at the Carmelite Centre off Morehampton Road in Dublin.  The reporter was impressed by the reflective atmosphere of the liturgy, as well as the hospitality it offered:

“It’s a notably different experience from any Sunday Mass I’ve been to, although little of that has anything to do with the rainbow flag stretched across the altar. Prayers aren’t sped through, readings aren’t mumbled and ignored. Instead the parishioners reflect silently on what has just been said before speaking their thoughts aloud, while the prayers of the intercession are opened to the floor, allowing you see what is on the mind of the parishioners. . . .

“By attending All Are Welcome, the congregation is enacting the change it wants to see brought about. It’s a haven for those in second marriages, who have gay children or for straight allies who can’t equate the Christ in their hearts with the hatred spewed on the pews elsewhere.”

Ciarán Ó Mathúna, the chairman of GCVI, commented on the developments of the past year, particularly the synod on marriage and the family, which the reporter described as the Church playing “a coquettish game of footsie with the gay community” by first releasing a positive mid-term report, only to pull back from their affirming outreach and retreating to traditional positions in the final report.  Ó Mathúna commented hopefully on the synod:

“Had we not seen the draft we would have said the report was a step in the right direction. It’s disappointing because expectations were raised. But it was only around six votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. When the issue is revisited in a year’s time, the pope will get it through.”

Of course, the reporter asked the age-old question that arises in stories on this topic:  Why does an LGBT person remain Catholic?  Two GCVI members offered insightful responses:

“ ‘The message of Christ trumps all,’ says Christopher Fitzpatrick, who was taken to a psychiatrist to help change his persuasion when he was younger. ‘The blessings we receive outshine the negativity that come from the human failings of the church, the misinterpretations of philosophies.’

“ ‘There’s the authority of the hierarchy, but also the authority of your conscience,’ says Soline Humbert, who is straight and married. ‘A lot of us feel that we cannot accept those toxic teachings. We have to take responsibility for them. I’ve stayed within the church to help remove this poison, which is a counter-witness to the message of the gospel.’ ”

And a parent spoke about the challenges that LGBT people face in the Irish church:

I come to this Mass in acknowledgment of that. I think it’s what Jesus wants. The basis of any religion is love. If God welcomes you no matter what, who are we to cause hurt by words spoken in disrespect?”

“Paula [who did not want to use her real name] is actively involved in her own parish but has to be careful who she tells that her son is gay. ‘I brought him to my church to be baptised, for his First Holy Communion and his Confirmation. But I’ve seen some of my son’s friends disowned by their families because of what is said by the church.’

“Paula has good cause for concern. Many gays have been forbidden from taking Communion after an open-minded priest is moved on and replaced with a dogmatic one. Choir singers, readers and ministers of the Eucharist have been removed from their positions for the same reasons, while more liberal priests are afraid to speak out for fear more conservative members of their flock report them to their superiors.”

You can read more testimonials in the full article which can be accessed by clicking here.  Gay Catholic Voice Ireland also produced a video offering perspectives from three gay men and one lesbian woman about faith and sexuality.  You can view the video by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Articles about Ireland on Bondings 2.o in 2014:

January 9: “Former President of Ireland Calls for Change in Church’s Teaching on Homosexuality

February 11: “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

March 14: “LGBT Rainbows Are Appearing Over Ireland

September 8: “Ireland’s Catholics March Onward for LGBT Equality

September 9: “St. Vincent de Paul Society Gives Grant to LGBT Center Despite Bishop’s Challenge

December 9: “Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

December 12: “Elphin Bishop, Bert & Ernie, Gay Priests, and Colin Farrell Are All Involved in Ireland’s LGBT Debates

 

 

 

 


“Nothing will be impossible for God”

December 21, 2014

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalm 89: 2-5, 27-29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“Annunciation” by Alexander Ivanov

In Luke’s Gospel today, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in her home in Nazareth to tell her that she will bear a son, whom she should call Jesus, who will be called the Son of the Most High. Being a young woman of common sense, Mary asks, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

Two days ago, the Gospel reading from Luke was the story of another birth announcement. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in Jerusalem as he was performing his priestly service of offering incense in the Temple sanctuary. Gabriel delivered the news that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, whom they were to call John. Zacharias, too, had common sense and he questioned Gabriel. “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  For his intelligent probe for more explanation about this strange announcement, Zacharias was struck speechless until John’s birth.

Did you ever wonder about the unfairness in these two stories? Zacharias was punished, but Mary was not; yet both of them questioned Gabriel’s news and asked for some clarification. A (male) friend of mine suggested it was a biblical example of gender discrimination–this time the male being the object of prejudice. Naturally, I don’t think this is the point!

I’ve been puzzling over Gabriel’s change of behavior in the six months between the two announcements. Was Gabriel on a learning curve? Had he discovered that human beings have good judgment and perspicacity and that they ask sensible questions before making commitments? I like to think so.

I like to think that I’m on a learning curve like Gabriel, but it sure takes me more than six months to “get it.” In the early days of my LGBT ministry in the 1970s, my women religious superiors understood the need for the church to accept LGBT Catholics, but I was dubious about the rank and file sisters of my community, who were suspicious and sometimes antagonistic. But they, too, were on a learning curve so that, by the mid 1980s, LGBT ministry was proudly acknowledged by most of the sisters as a work of the community.

I experienced other learning curves too. In the 1990s, in my meetings with the Vatican Commission that examined my work, Fr. Bob Nugent and I were asked if we had written about same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage? Of course not! This was barely being discussed even within the LGBT community. We were writing about, and advocating for, non-discrimination and acceptance of the human dignity of LGBT people, not same-sex marriage. We were talking about jobs and civil rights and the recognition that LGBT people had expectations, longings, values, and ethics like heterosexuals. Same-sex marriage was an impossible dream in the 1990s, but in this century, the learning curve of U.S. Catholics about same-sex marriage has steadily escalated. In the last ten years, we have seen the majority of Catholics now supporting same-sex marriage.

With all the learning going on, it does seem that, as Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible for God.” Six months after he appeared to Zacharias, Gabriel got it right. Indeed, nothing is impossible with God! Gabriel’s parting message to Mary nourishes my hopes.

I hope and believe that one day all LGBT people will be welcomed by their parents, brothers, and sisters to family celebrations. Their families will feel proud of them, just as one day our gay priests and brothers and our lesbian nuns will not feel shamed into thinking that they make their communities “look bad” if they come out.

I hope and believe that one day LGBT people will not fear losing their jobs in parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic institutions because those groups will have anti-discrimination policies based on performance, not on sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, or personal beliefs.

I hope and believe that one day my Church’s sexual theology will not be held hostage by procreation, but will hold up an ethic based on love and commitment.

When I ask myself, “How can this be?” I think of Gabriel’s learning curve and his last words, “Nothing will be impossible for God.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL


Alberta’s Catholic Laity Supports GSAs; Alberta’s Catholic Bishops Do Not

December 20, 2014

A controversy over a gay-straight alliance (GSA) bill in the legislative assembly of the Canadian province of Alberta has become a classic example of how Catholic leaders and lay people take different approaches to LGBT issues.

Students demonstrate in support of GSAs.

According to CBC.ca, Bill 10 was introduced by the province’s conservative political party “to counter a private member’s bill making gay-straight alliances mandatory in all schools.”

CTVNews.ca provided a succinct history of the complicated progress of the bill:

“In its original form, Bill 10 gave the final say for GSAs to the school boards and told students to go to court if they wanted to challenge it. [Alberta Premier Jim] Prentice said this was the best way to balance the rights of kids, schools and parents.

“When public outrage grew on social media and elsewhere, the Tories on Wednesday passed an amendment allowing the government to set up GSAs at unwilling schools, but with the option of putting the clubs off school grounds.

“Critics pounced on the amendment as institutionalized segregation of gays akin to ‘separate but equal’ Jim Crow laws used to debase African-Americans more than a generation ago.”

As a result of the political controversy the bill has been placed on hold by the Premier of the province to allow for further discussion and debate.

Alberta’s two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary, already have 94 GSAs in schools, but the province has none in rural areas or in faith-based schools.  In Canada, Catholic schools receive state funding, and so are affected by state education laws, though they are governed by local Catholic boards of trustees.

Tony Sykora

The local Catholic trustees seem to be split about Bill 10.  The Edmonton Journal  cited one trustee’s opinion:

“Tony Sykora, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association, said Catholic school boards provide a wide array of other initiatives and organizations to live up to the Education Act’s mandate to protect all students and believe the decision on gay-straight alliances should be left up to local trustees.”

But when the province’s Catholic school boards agreed to hold off on encouraging GSAs, some trustees and parents became angry. MetroNews.ca reported on the reaction of  one of Edmonton Catholic Schools (ECS) trustees to the idea that “inclusive clubs” be instituted instead of GSAs:

Patricia Grell

“. . . [A]ccording to ECS trustee Patricia Grell, that’s not fair to the district’s LGBTQ students. . . .

“ ‘Appalled was the word that the majority of people used as a description,’ said Grell, referencing the reaction from the community about comments made by ECS board chair Debbie Engel to media about GSAs.

“Grell, who recently penned a blog post about the clubs, said the district needs to reconsider their stance on GSAs to consider what’s best for vulnerable students.

“ ‘I… learned that they are not sex groups or dating clubs but “identity clubs” for students who identify as LGBTQ and their straight friends,’ Grell wrote on her website.”

The two leading Catholic prelates of Alberta have weighed in on the bill, in separate letters, though both encouraged support of the measure.  The bishops express concern for LGBT students, but oppose the idea of GSAs as the way to support youth. Calgary’s Bishop Fred Henry stated:

“It enshrined parental rights, recognized the autonomy of local school boards and the students rights regarding diversity clubs without mandating Gay-Straight Alliances.”

Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith provided a similar message:

“We fully support the government’s laudable goal of fostering safe environments in schools. In fact, we already have policies for this very purpose. Any legislation aimed at this objective should demonstrate to all vulnerable students that they are embraced by the province’s concern.”

(You can read the full texts of the bishops’ letters by clicking here and scrolling to the end of the article.)

Yet, a recent poll of Alberta’s Catholics shows that lay people significantly disagree with the bishops’ position.  The Edmonton Journal reported:

“. . . [T]he University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minorities Studies and Services released data from a Leger Marketing poll showing more than half of Alberta Catholics support allowing the alliances in schools.

“The online survey of 1,002 Albertans, conducted last week, found 18 per cent of Catholics were strongly opposed or opposed. Fifty-two per cent were in support or strongly in support. The poll numbers are considered accurate to within 6.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.”

And one Catholic priest has spoken out against the bishops’ position, too. GlobalNews.ca reported:

“Calgary Reverend John Pentland said on Sunday that Bishop Henry’s comments are not helpful to Catholics who support GSAs and object to Bill 10.

“ ‘I’m sure it’s confusing for people, for friends, and our Catholic faith to have their leader say such a thing. I hope they use their own mind and conscience and let their [political representatives] know.’ ”

Marni Panas

In the same article, Marni Panas, a transgender Catholic woman in Edmonton, was also quoted opposing the bishops’ stand:

“I’ve come to believe that when left to the people of my church, the ‘average’ Catholics, the true teachings of my faith will prevail.

“We do not need the ‘permission’ of certain leaders to be kind, welcoming, compassionate and loving.”

While this controversy still is not finished, there is already one “casualty” of the debate.  The Edmonton Journal followed up with Trustee Grell, quoted above, about her support for GSAs.  The article reported a new development:

“On Monday, she said she no longer wanted to speak publicly on the issue, worried about breaking rank with the archbishop. ‘I promised the archbishop I wouldn’t do this anymore,’ she said, citing canon law that gives him the authority to grant an educational institute the right to call themselves Catholic.”

Bondings 2.0 will keep you informed on further developments in this story.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Edmonton Journal: “Bill 10 ‘supports homophobia’ says former Catholic high school student”

CBC.ca: “Amended Bill 10 could push GSAs off school grounds: opposition”

CBC.ca: “Gay-straight alliance bill put on hold, says Alberta Premier Jim Prentice”

Times Colonist: “Alberta amends bill, opens door to segregation of gay youth clubs”

 

 


Bishops Oppose Trans-Inclusive Athletic Policy While H.S. Student Supports It

December 19, 2014

Opposing voices who attended the early December board meeting

High school athletics in Minnesota became more transgender-inclusive last week despite opposition from the Minnesota Catholic Conference and other groups.  Yet, a brave student at a Catholic high school in the Twin Cities editorialized in the school paper in favor of the new policy.

The board of the Minnesota State High School League voted 18-2 for a new student policy that makes trans women eligible for female athletics at almost 500 schools in the state. Guided by a “consistent or sincerely held gender-related identity, the policy sets forth a process for determining a given student’s eligibility and adds appropriate language to existing eligibility policies. This policy is being lauded by LGBT organizations, according to the Star Tribune:

“Monica Meyer, executive director at OutFront Minnesota, which advocates for transgender issues, said, ‘All students want is a safe place to just be who they are. That includes in the classroom, on the court or field.’…

“OutFront Minnesota Communications Director Jean Heyer said, ‘We have heard trans kids are playing sports right now, and we have heard that there are kids who will try out now that the policy is in place.’ “

However, religiously-affiliated schools are exempt from the new policy and Christian groups led opposition to the anti-discrimination measure. The Minnesota Catholic Conference teamed up with the Minnesota Family Council and others in a campaign, claiming the policy would cause great harm to students and athletic competition. There were also ads employing the now-common tactic of discussing restroom use. One email from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, reported by The Column said:

” ‘The Policy will potentially cause more harm to the very students it purports to help because it enables a false understanding of gender that does not promote physical or psychological well-being.’ “

In further letters from the Catholic Conference to the Minnesota State High School League board, executive director Jason Adkins said the now-approved policy supports “gender confusion” and because it is not required by state or federal law, is really “propaganda” for a “harmful ideology.”

Parker Breza, the In-Depth Editor of The Knight Errant, the student newspaper of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wrote an essay for the paper supporting the new policy. Breza explained the problems that trans students experience in school:

“Transgender and gender nonconforming students are faced with a binary––a male/female gender spectrum––defined world every second of everyday. For the majority of students, this is not an issue: this two-sided way of thinking has been ingrained in us from a young age, leading us to accept it without much thought. For some, however, being forced to conform to the gender binary, or not allowing them to identify where they actually belong, causes stress, anxiety, depression, and sometimes, much more.

“But this is such a small minority of individuals, so many do not even pause to think about the consequences of an unwelcome environment for trans* (the asterisk denotes the vast spectrum of terms and identities that fall under the trans* umbrella) identified students.”

Breza goes on to make an important Catholic argument in support of the new policy:

“As a Catholic school, we know the importance of breaking down systems of oppression and fighting the marginalization of historically underrepresented groups. No matter how small a group, no community deserves to be subjected to exclusion, harassment, or violence. By not taking a stand for trans* students and their rights, you are condoning trans*phobia.”

That Catholic officials in Minnesota are disappointing in their public advocacy is not new, given the 2012 referendum around marriage equality. Their arguments rely on debunked science, while ignoring or even attacking the real experiences of transgender people and their allies. Their campaigns against equality under the law rely on fear rather than truth, turning to anti-LGBT agendas rather than the Gospel to inform their efforts.

As more trans youth are liberated to come out and live authentically, Catholic leaders at all levels should forgo the political fights and instead figure out how the church’s schools can provide welcome and inclusion for all.  Catholic leaders need to listen to students like Parker Breza, whose faith defines a path of acceptance, justice, and equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Just How Controversial Are Celibate Gay and Lesbian People?

December 18, 2014

This past Sunday, The Washington Post printed a story about the growing movement of celibate lesbian and gay Christians.  One of the leaders of this movement is Eve Tushnet, a convert to Catholicism who recently published a book on celibacy and friendship entitled Gay and Catholic.

Eve Tushnet

For the record, I have not read Tushnet’s book yet, but I have read other things that she has written and heard her speak. In some ways, I find her to be a very credible spokesperson for celibacy because, while embracing the orthodox Catholic position for lesbian and gay people, she never insists that everyone embrace this option.  She remains non-judgmental about lesbian and gay people who choose to be part of a committed sexual relationship.  Her primary form of argument is to explain why celibacy is a life-giving option for herself.  I applaud both her free decision to choose celibacy and the first-person way in which she addresses the topic.

The Post article seemed to be trying to search for a controversy in this topic.  For example, the reporter, Michelle Boorstein, seems to want to make it seem that celibate gay and lesbian people are not accepted by non-celibate ones.  She writes:

“. . . [T]hey are also met with criticism from many quarters, including from other gays and lesbians who say celibacy is both untenable and a denial of equality.

“ ‘We’ve been told for so long that there’s something wrong with us,’ said Arthur Fitzmaurice, resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry. Acceptance in exchange for celibacy ‘is not sufficient,’ he said. ‘There’s a perception that [LGBT] people who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.’ ”

I have been working in the field of LGBT Catholic ministry for over 20 years, and I honestly do not ever remember anyone ever disparaging someone’s free choice for celibacy.  I disagree that a perception exists that those “who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.”   It is true that many Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual–perceive forced celibacy as a person’s only moral option to be not just inauthentic, but potentially damaging.  But that is different from people who freely choose celibacy as the way that will bring them most happiness and deepest connection to others and God.

Fitzmaurice’s statement that acceptance in exchange for celibacy is not sufficient is, however, a very important idea.  Celibacy should never be seen as something required for adults, and it certainly shouldn’t be an “admission ticket” for church participation.  I don’t disagree with Fitzmaurice here, but I do disagree with Boorstein seeing this part of his statement as an indication that celibacy is controversial.

Commenting on Boorstein’s article, Autumn Kunkel, writing at TheBGNews.com criticized this notion of celibacy as a requirement for acceptance into a faith community:

“. . . [T]here is absolutely nothing tolerant about someone saying, ‘I accept gays and lesbians as members of the Christian faith as long as they don’t have sex.’

‘This ideal, in and of itself, is homophobic and prejudiced. It’s dehumanizing.

‘It’s saying, ‘You can be an active member of this faith as long as you abide by special rules which no one else is required to follow.’

‘People who are born a certain way shouldn’t have to follow special rules just to be accepted. If they do, then they’re not really being accepted, are they?”

The controversy about celibate gay and lesbian Christians seems to come not from progressive Christians rejecting them but with conservative Christians being uncomfortable with their sexual orientation.   Boorstein quotes Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who while praising the option of celibacy, also is leery of self-identified gay and lesbian people:

“. . . Mohler said he believes that sexual orientation can change ‘by the power of the Gospel.’ He said he is not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer.”

The article notes that there has been more opportunity for people to come out as gay and lesbian people in their faith communities, and that this new social phenomenon has encouraged those who are celibate to be a part of those revelations.

Billy Hallowell, writing about Boorstein’s article at TheBlaze.comsees that the celibate Christian movement forces people to rethink their ideas:

“Consider that embracing celibate gays forces some to concede that homosexuality might not be a choice after all; likewise, it also forces some critics to abandon the notion that it’s possible to change one’s sexuality.”

Hallowell, however, also oversteps the evidence and tries to make it seem that sexually active gay and lesbian people are at odds with those who are celibate:

“The dynamic tends to also frustrate gays and lesbians who are fighting for a level of marriage equality that would allow them to be in same-sex relationships, while also participating in church communities. To these people, celibacy simply isn’t an option.”

Again,  I don’t know any gay or lesbian people who feel that sexual activity is compulsory.  Quite the opposite.  Having been castigated so long for their sexuality, lesbian and gay people are usually more accepting than others of a person’s freedom to live a sexual life that is most life-giving for the individual.

Celibacy, like homosexuality, is not something that a majority of people experience.  As a result, like homosexuality, it can often be misunderstood, and even railed against.  Let’s pray for a day when all people are comfortable expressing their sexual identities and life choices in both church and society.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Bondings 2.0: Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?

Bondings 2.0: Mandating Celibacy for Gay People Reveals Deep Incoherence in Church’s Teachings

 


Gay Veterans to March in Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade Next Year

December 17, 2014

OUTVETS marching in Boston’s 2014 Veterans Day Parade

Exactly three months from today, St. Patrick’s Day in Boston will be a little more bright and gay with the inclusion of an explicitly LGBT group in that city’s parade for the first time.

A participation application was filed by OUTVETS, a new group highlighting LGBT veterans. It was narrowly approved by the Allied War Veterans Council in a 5-4 vote. OUTVETS was established this fall “as a nonpolitical outfit created to honor the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT veterans,” according to the Boston Globe, and welcomes all.

The vote reverses a long-standing ban on gay participants, a Veterans Council policy which was upheld in a 1992 US Supreme Court decision that said the right to discriminate was protected by the First Amendment. However, recent pressures like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s refusal to participate in the 2014 parade and the pulling of major beer sponsorships may have given parade organizers pause.

Veterans Council commander Brian Mahoney affirmed the decision in an interview with the Globe:

” ‘To other people, it will be a big thing…But to us, it’s a group of veterans that wanted to march and deserved to be honored…We weren’t thrilled last year that the mayor didn’t march…But we always kept open a courteous conversation.’ “

The Globe also noted that though OUTVOTE is the first explicitly LGBT group to march, two contingents last year were LGBT-themed while ostensibly marching as community groups from South Boston.

GLAAD’s blog also noted that this decision comes the same year as changes in New York’s parade are occuring:

“As of September, however, organizers of the NYC event announced that for the first time in its 253-year history, an LGBT organization would be allowed to participate in the parade. The new policy will go into effect in 2015 with OUT@NBCUniversal, a group for LGBT employees with the broadcast company.”

In recent years, these St. Patrick’s Day parades and other Catholic-affiliated civic events have drawn increased attention for their inclusion or lack thereof of LGBT representation. It is good to see parade organizers recognizing what the vast majority of American Catholics know: that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations should be fully welcomed and accepted.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the parade controversies, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


John the Baptist’s Humble Example for LGBT Folks

December 14, 2014

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

St. John the Baptist

I always imagined John the Baptist as a rather strident and coarse fellow, complete with his camel hair clothing, locust diet, apocalyptic message, and his uneasy relationship with authority (things didn’t end well with Herod).  I can’t imagine John being a person with whom I’d like to have coffee and a chat.  But, unpleasant or not, today’s Gospel presents John as a profoundly humble person who was deeply aware of his own identity and mission.  And I think we can learn a lot from him in this regard.

John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher who became famous enough for the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to take notice and send priests to find and listen to him.  He was a celebrity.  So when the priests asked “Who are you?”, John demonstrated profound humility and integrity when he replied that he was not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, but simply a voice crying in the desert. John could have easily claimed the mantle of any of these very important persons and thereby increase his own celebrity among the people.  Can you imagine the flocks of would-be followers if he said (or even obliquely suggested) that he was Elijah or the Messiah? Perhaps that might have been a fleeting temptation for him.  But John chose to remain faithful to his own identity and to speak his own truth as he understood it.

I think John’s example to us, particularly for LGBT folks and those who advocate for them, is “I am my own person, with my own truth to proclaim in this world.  My story may be quite different from others,  but it is mine, and I must live it with integrity.”  Thomas Merton wrote a powerful reflection on this theme:

“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree… The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like [God]… This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.”

We have many reasons to rejoice on this Third Advent Sunday, known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, not least of which is the mystery of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. But I suggest we also take time to revel in our own uniqueness, the knowledge that each of us is utterly special in this world because no one can witness to God’s love in quite the same way.  Each of us can contribute to a more humane and compassionate world, not by living by the narratives of others, but by sharing our own unique stories, just as John the Baptist did.  By leading lives of integrity and openness, LGBT folks can give glory to God as only we can — and we should rejoice for the opportunity!

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


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