Thirsting for Living Water to Recognize Christ in Others

March 23, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections 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 Lent are Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42.

Samaritan Woman at the Well, by He Qi, China
http://www.heqigallery.com

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent is the story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman as she came to draw water from Jacob’s well. After their extended conversation, the woman acknowledged that Jesus is a prophet and wondered if He is the Christ. She goes into the town of Sychar to tell the townspeople about this amazing person she has just met. Many come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, because of the woman’s testimony, but others believe because of their personal encounter with Him.

Sometimes I just wonder… What if I were that Samaritan woman and I had a personal encounter with Christ? Would I recognize him?

I fancy myself meeting Pope Francis, perhaps on one of his alleged nightly walks among the poor of Rome. Yes, surely I would recognize Christ in him.

I see Christ in Pope Francis because he celebrated his birthday with homeless men and he embraces children, even if they are stricken with a deformity. I saw his compassion when a murdered transgender person was found along the tracks of Rome’s railroad station. Her family would not claim the body, but she was buried in Francis’ Jesuit church in Rome. Yes, I see Christ in Pope Francis because his actions remind me of Christ. But what about others?

What about those I find unattractive or repulsive or those I don’t admire? Where is Christ in them? When someone gets on my nerves or another dominates conversations, how can I recognize Christ in them? When the wealthy fail to understand that they are robbing the poor if they do not share their wealth, or when those in charge of Catholic institutions fire lesbian or gay personnel when they marry the person they love, how can I recognize Christ in them?

At those pearly gates, I will probably ask Jesus, “When did I see you poor or deformed or transgender or annoying or failing in justice?” And he will answer, “As long as you did not see something worthwhile in the least of these, you did not see me.”

There must be something in them that God loves. I pray for the grace of patience and compassion to find that something that is worthwhile so that I may see the Christ in them.

I want to be like that Samaritan woman. I want my water jar to be filled with living water so that I may recognize the Christ.

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


What Are You Giving Up?

March 5, 2014

LentPeriodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

“What are you giving up?” 

I know Lent is approaching when I start to hear this question. Even a couple of my non-Catholic friends ask me. I usually offer some vague non-committal response because, like my New Year’s resolutions, I don’t like it when other people notice when I inevitably depart from my Lenten intentions. But each year I give up something nonetheless.

I was taught that giving up something during Lent brought me closer to God by sharing in the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. If I didn’t feel a bit deprived, then it wasn’t working. So, this year. I intended to forgo coffee, which is an admirable sacrifice for a guy with a Starbucks monkey on his back. I was planning to reap the spiritual fruits of my sacrifice because I could unite my (admittedly very minor) suffering with that of Christ. How noble! But now that Ash Wednesday is here, I’m starting to think that I might have missed the mark. Let me explain.

I recently read an article by Fr. Joseph Donders, who paraphrased St. Augustine on fasting: “Don’t believe that fasting suffices. Fasting punishes you, but it does not restore your brother… How many poor people could be nourished by the meal you did not take today?” Perhaps my original understanding of Lenten sacrifice was a bit self-centered and more navel-gazing than anything. It was all about “me and Jesus” rather than “me, Jesus, and my neighbor.” Giving something up for Lent is not an end in itself; rather, it should readily redirect my attention from myself toward others.

Likewise, St. John Chrysostom offers this insight: “Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him.” The primary beneficiary of my Lenten sacrifice should not be myself, but my neighbor in need. Self-denial frees my mind and my resources. What money or time I do not spend on myself, I need to spend for the benefit of others. And that’s the crux of the issue – giving something up during Lent requires me not only to think about the needs of others, but to do something to meet those needs.

Most recently, Pope Francis in his Lenten message emphasizes the connection between self-denial and charitable outreach: “We would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.” Lent rescues me from myself and frees me to think about others – particularly those who suffer from poverty. From now onward, perhaps I will change the annual Lenten question from “What am I giving up?” to “How can I share with my neighbors in need?” I think the latter question more accurately reflects what we are called by the Gospel to do each Lent. I’m still going to give up coffee for Lent, but not quite for the same reasons as when I started. I hope your Lenten season is filled with many spiritual gifts – and perhaps you might join me in asking, “How can I share with my neighbors in need?”

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Sr. Jeannine Gramick on “Becoming the Person God Wants Us to Be”

August 28, 2013

From left, Isaac Gomez with his mother, Monica Nunez-Cham, and father, Arturo Gomez (Photo from National Catholic Reporter).

In June, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, gave a presentation at an international conference for Latino/a families with LGBT members, in Lima, Peru.  While she went there to talk about faith and LGBT issues, she herself received  lesson in humanity’s diversity.

She shared this lesson in a National Catholic Reporter article entitled “Becoming the Person God Wants Us to Be.”  She begins with the story of Isaac Gomez, a trans man, and his family that she met in Peru. Isaac, who was born biologically female, knew from an early age that he was a boy, and his family supported his identity, especially when things got rough during adolescence:

“Always a cheerful and kind child, Isaac must have had some experience or pushback around the age of 12 that prompted him to say he would henceforth be a girl. He did not want to be a freak, he said. Why did God make a mistake, he asked? Monica wondered where he got these notions — certainly not from his parents and siblings. All his grandparents, although traditional Catholics, loved and accepted Isaac as a boy…

“After many family discussions and extensive consultation with health professionals, Isaac began hormone treatment at age 13 to transition to a biological male. His name was now consistently Isaac and male pronouns were constantly used. The following year there was surgery for a double mastectomy. Further constructive surgeries followed. Now 19 years of age, Isaac is a handsome, well-adjusted and intelligent young man attending university. Except for that one tumultuous year, Isaac continues to be the cheerful person he was as a child.”

For over four decades, Sr. Jeannine has advocated for gay and lesbian people, and now includes the experiences of trans people like Isaac into her ministry. Her questions start within the LGBT community’s diversity, but her answers contain lessons for everyone. Sr. Jeannine writes:

“I find myself reflecting on [Isaac's] story long after the conference. Why do we call people freaks? What is normal? How do we know what God wants us to be? What is there in each of us that makes us want to be the same as others? Or at least, if not the same, what makes us want to belong or fit in, to feel like an insider, not an outsider?…

“The longing to belong lies deep in the heart of each human being. We want desperately to connect, to feel part of the whole. The greatest suffering, I believe, is a feeling of abandonment, of isolation, of not belonging. It is the overwhelming pain of rejection that Jesus experienced on the cross as he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

“I find myself praying for a society where we see with the eye of our soul that differences are gifts that enrich the human family, where diversity is considered a blessing by which we can learn from each other. God’s imagination does not make cookie-cutter human beings. I want to work for the day when we are all insiders, unique in our identities and grateful for who God created us to be.”

Yet, the question remains of how people can know what God is callinng them to and how they are to answer that call:

“I believe the answer lies deep in our hearts. God uses our feelings and attractions, our desires and longings, our abilities and disabilities, our likes and dislikes to point us in the direction God wants. In the sanctuary of our souls, where we are alone with God, we find God’s affirmation of who we are to be.

“Just as one’s conscience must be obeyed, even against any political or ecclesiastical authority, so too one must become the person God intends, despite social acceptance or rejection, because it is this becoming that constitutes the very dignity of the human person.

As  her conclusion, Sr. Jeannine offers the following lesson she learned:

“Isaac teaches me that it takes great moral courage and integrity to become the person God intends us to be, and that family is leaven for a good life.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Understanding Transgender Issues Starts with Good Questions

August 27, 2013

Jonathan Merritt

As legal issues and theological debates grow around transgender issues, people of faith are speaking out in greater numbers for full protection and equality. Recent pieces by several authors are fine contributions for Catholics to reflect further on how the Church and its members can better understand and support trans Catholics.

Writing for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt asks Christians to complicate their thinking around transgender matters because they are far more complex than how anti-LGBT voices depict them. Stemming from his experiences with a fellow church member who is a trans man, the author speaks to the deficiency Christians (and one can safely add Catholics) have in thinking and speaking about transgender people. He writes:

“I suspect many Christians are like me and haven’t considered all the theological, ethical, and scientific intricacies of this issue. Perhaps we are afraid that what we discover will stretch the bounds of our thinking. My unsettled thoughts about how to reconcile Kris’s gender identification with my Christian faith tempt me to shrink back from my friendship with Kris. And yet, I’m so glad I haven’t. Our conversations challenge my thinking and force me to ask new and difficult questions of myself. Kris and I may not end up agreeing on everything, but we press on in our friendship anyway. And I think we’re both better for it.

“The transgender issue is an important one and Christians must grapple with it in all its messiness and complexity. So let’s not pretend that any armchair theologian should be able to figure it out. Kris deserves better. And so do all of our transgender neighbors.”

Sharon Groves, the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program, writes in The Washington Post about a positive contribution transgender members bring to communities of faith, namely the opportunity for wider reflection on creation, God, and oneself. She first writes a series of questions:

“[What if] we actually took seriously the question of what it means to be human and, more expansively, what it means to live into our full humanity? What if rather than saying that biology is destiny we actually explored the ways in which we all experience our own gender identities and expressions? What if we learned about the lived experiences of our transgender peers?”

Groves asks Christians to willingly engage in a respectful, open-minded questioning by encountering transgender people, their stories, and broader religious questions as a way forward. Fundamentally, understanding transgender community members will also involved understanding oneself in a deeper way on issues of gender, as she writes:

Sharon Groves

“The core teachings of Christianity are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love God fully if we don’t do the work of trying to understand who God is for each of us. When we look at the most moving and transformative religious writing – from Augustine to Thomas Merton – there is a sense of openness and curiosity to the experience of God.  We can’t love God if we don’t try to glean how God works in our lives.

“Similarly, we can’t really love our neighbors if we cast off all curiosity about who they are and their experience of life in the world. And finally, if we remain uninterested in ourselves – about how we come to know our gender–then we can’t really love the difference that shows up in our neighbors…

“To live our lives with true compassion and caring, we need to move beyond slogans and ask the deeper questions about gender and the diversity of experiences.   But to do that, one must ask the right question and be open to a multitude of answers.”

In a sign of hope for the Catholic Church, Governor Jerry Brown of California, who is a Catholic, recently signed a groundbreaking law protecting transgender students in that state. The law allows transgender students to use bathrooms and play on the sports teams which match their gender identity most fully. However, comments by an administrator in Nebraska’s Catholic schools opposing a similar law in that state prove that work remains in securing equality for transgender people.  At least one previous story on Bondings 2.0 reveals the pressures trans church employees feel, as well as their fears of discriminatory firings.  Another story shows the support that Catholics can express for transgender people.

A positive first step is for every Catholic to deepen their understanding of transgender issues by questioning their existing beliefs, educating themselves, and encountering trans people in their communities. Share your thoughts and resources on how Catholics can better understand transgender issues in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Two New Books Offer Insights Into Gay Spiritual Journeys

August 26, 2013

Two books offering first-person accounts of reconciling Catholic faith and gay identity have come out in the past year, and  Bondings 2.0 readers may find them helpful for personal reflection.

Hounded By God

Joseph Gentilini

Joseph Gentilini

Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love , and Relationship, by Joseph Gentilini (who is a regular reader and frequent commenter on this blog), is based on years of journals that this spiritual gay man kept.  It chronicles his coming out experiences, dealings with family and friends,  his commitment to his partner, Leo Radel, and, most importantly, his relationship with God.

DigitalJournal.com reviewed the book, noting the authenticity on which it is based:

“Gentilini describes journaling as an integral part of his life, having kept a journal for more than 40 years. In fact, he writes that it is a part of his prayer life. Christian imagery fills the journal entries, illuminating the author’s deep faith in God. ‘I think that the cross in my images represents my homosexuality, which is the place of my deepest wound,’ he writes of his mother’s failure to talk about his orientation. His faith and guidance from a spiritual director who befriends his mother pays off years later when his parents invite his partner, Leo, to the family Christmas celebration. As he writes, ‘My prayer has been answered. For years, I have prayed for reconciliation with my family. It is grace, a total gift from God.’ Meeting Leo in 1981 answers another prayer for Gentilini, and his entries about Leo prove to be one more avenue to faith. ‘Leo has helped me to accept more deeply that I am lovable, that he loves me, and that God also loves me.’ ”

Deb Word, president of the board of Fortunate Families, reviewed the book on that organization’s blog, and noted that it would be helpful for family members of lesbian and gay people:

“The second chapter describes Joe’s family, and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book for parents. We see through a son’s eyes how difficult life was for a young gay man growing up. Without whining or blaming, Joe takes us through his family rejection…then tentative acceptance. I’ll leave it at that, you will want a tissue at times.”

You can find out more about the book, by visiting the author’s website.  It is available for purchase on amazon.com.

Maurice Monette

Maurice Monette

Confessions of a Gay Married PriestThe second book is Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey by Maurice Monette, who was a member of a religious order for 30 years, and has been married to his partner for 24 years.  The book is an autobiography which chronicles the high points and low points of the spiritual road that Monette trod.  The book has been praised by several high-profile Catholic leaders.

On a back cover review of the book, Father Richard Rohr, OFM, author and retreat leader, wrote:

“This story illustrates one of the most counterintuitive messages of world religions: how our failings, heartbreaks and disappointments can be stepping stones to the spiritual joys of the second half of life.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, stated:

“Through little cameos in prose and poetry, Monette’s faith journey shows the triumph of the human spirit over religious messages to suppress sexuality. This is a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance that brings about freedom for a more authentic God-relationship.”

Father Robert Nugent, author and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, noted:

“Readers of this work will each discover and even identify with something that touches them more personally: ‘the good, little Catholic boy,’ the priest who struggles with accepting his sexual identity in the face of traditional negative evaluations by both religion and society, the gay man who embraces monogamy, the believer whose object of belief moves from the more traditional to the more ordinary and basic experiences of human life where transcendence is often located. Readers will be challenged to re-think their sometimes uncriticized positions, affirmed in trusting more in their spiritual insights and at least hearing a most unusual story of one person’s search for healing and wholeness.”

James B. Nickoloff, Associate Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts observed:

“Maurice Monette tells his own unique story but at the same time gives voice to the stories of many other gay married priests. His honesty, humility, intelligence, and wit will lead even non-gay, non-married, and non-ordained readers to reexamine their own journeys with the Spirit.”

You can find out more about this book by visiting www.gaymarriedpriest. com.  This book is available through amazon.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


A Catholic Introduction to Transgender Issues

January 12, 2013

transgender triangle symbolAs we close out the week that began with the celebration of the Epiphany, we do so by offering a reflection on transgender issues by James and Evelyn Whitehead which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter.  The authors, whose lifetime of work on sexuality and relationships has been a gift to the chruch,  reflect that in the past year they have had their own “epiphany” about transgender people:

The past year has brought us deeper appreciation of the experience of transgender members of the human community. Mentored by a Catholic sister who has dedicated her life to ministry among transgender persons, we have been instructed by the witness of these often vulnerable members of the body of Christ. Their life stories carry a common theme: an abiding sense of “disconnect” between their inner sense of self and the evidence of their body. In their deepest awareness, gender identity (who I know myself to be) has been in conflict with the social role their physical anatomy suggests (who others expect me to be).

Their essay is a good introduction to some of the issues that transgender people face, which are often remarkably similar to those that lesbian and gay people face because of the common thread of feeling pressure to conform to an identities which are not their true ones:

“In attempting to conform to the expectations of their parents, spouses and children, transgender persons often struggle to override this sense of disconnect. Some enter into marriage, hoping this will suppress the daily reminders that they are not as they appear. Many more put effort into presenting a ‘false self’ to the world, to protect against being discovered for who they really are. But the price of this unnatural effort is high. Alcohol and drugs offer false comfort along the way; suicide begins to appeal as an exit from this distress.”

And like many lesbian and gay people, many transgender people experience their transition to their true selves as a spiritual journey:

“. . . [M]any report a profound shift in their spiritual lives, as they turn from the condemnation of a judging God (‘You are going to hell’) to the embrace of a God of paradox and extravagant love. This harrowing transition leads many to a confident embrace, at last, of  ‘the person God always intended me to be.’ “

The Whiteheads point out that unfortunately many church leaders do not have the knowledge–or the motivation to acquire knowledge–about transgender people:

“Many Catholics regret that official statements of the Catholic church continue to support rigid notions of human nature, especially in regard to male and female gender. Here church leaders, consciously or not, continue a strategy that distances them from the genuine experience of many active church members. Official statements often mention the extravagant conduct of sexual exhibitionists or drug-addicted sex workers as typical of transgender persons. Hiding in plain sight are the many mature transgender Catholics in our own parishes. To remain willfully ignorant of, or contemptuous toward, this part of the human community exhibits a startling lack of compassion.”

They close with a prayer that should be offered by all Catholics:

“Let us pray that in the months ahead each of us — whether transgender or otherwise — may experience the grace of epiphany. May we meet one another in shared humanity, ready to move beyond hesitancy and suspicion on all sides. In the grace of these encounters we are likely to be surprised; we may at first feel uncomfortable. But these, perhaps, are marks of an epiphany. And if we stay alert, we may soon recognize here the splendid diversity of the body of Christ.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Mountains Made Low, Valleys Raised Up

December 9, 2012

The readings for the second Sunday of Advent are Baruch 5:1-9, Philippians 1:4-6,8-11, and Luke 3:1-6. You can view the readings here. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120912.cfm

mountains and valleysZealous hope and urgency towards action emanate from the readings of Advent’s second Sunday, signaling the coming reign of God. Foremost in today’s readings, we hear the refrain that God’s coming kingdom is a great equalizer. In Baruch:

“For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”

And in Luke, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

In the lowering of mountains and raising of valleys, the ground is leveled and all walk forward together on equal footing into God’s goodness and salvation. In the Church and in society, this equal footing eludes us in deep ways. We fail to progress “secure in the glory of God” because  as a faith community, as a nation, and as a human family, we allow the marginalization of others.

LGBT ministry in Catholicism is largely a leveling ministry struggling against the marginalizing tendencies of some.

We endeavor to make low the mountains upon which the powerful reside when we structurally support welcoming parishes, when we engage theology for a healthier and more holistic understanding of the human person and sexuality, and when we witness against actions falling short of Gospel love.

We endeavor to fill to level ground those persons who are seen as “less-than” when we secure basic rights that protect all persons, relationships, and families, when we enable our loved ones and neighbors to take off the “robe of mourning and misery” to “put on the splendor of glory from God forever” by being who God created to be, and when we celebrate in community the love common to all, without exclusion.

The coming of God’s kingdom was imminent for the early Christians, who truly believed the Second Coming would occur in their lifetime during the first century. When Paul reminds the Philippians, “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus,” this is not idle speculation. This good work could find completion any day and John the Baptist’s exhortation to “Prepare the way of the Lord” hints at immediacy.

To our modern selves, it seems that Jesus’ return has taken longer than the first Christians desired. That said, we cannot allow a two thousand year delay to stifle the abundant hope and sense of urgency clung to by these earliest believers. Advent provides an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate our leveling ministry on the LGBT front.

At times, the mountains seem domineering and unconquerable, while valleys are so deep we cannot peer into their darkness. Today’s readings provide us the vital nourishment of unending hope and urgent action so we can, repeatedly at each new step, scale the mountains to lower them and reach into the valleys to exalt them.

Then, together as equals, we walk forward in the light of God to the coming glory that awaits us.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Embracing the Superabundance of Love

December 2, 2012

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent are Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2, and Luke 21:25-28, 34-36. You can view the readings here.

As Advent begins, Catholics worldwide prepare themselves for Christ’s entrance into creation. In the already/not yet nature of Christianity, these weeks both anticipate Christ’s coming anew and celebrate  the Incarnation that brought us a historical Jesus. Each week we hear encouraging messages of hope, joy, and peace.

For LGBT advocates within the Church, we begin this Advent  on a particularly positive note with recent victories for marriage equality and as we witness a growing trend of acceptance, affirmation, and welcome amongst Catholics at large.

In this hope-filled Advent context, this Sunday’s readings seem jarring in their use of  harsh apocalyptic images to refer to the coming of God’s kingdom, which is elsewhere shown as peaceful and just. Catholic LGBT advocates also know of the harshness of a hierarchy doubling down in its oppressive anti-equality work as we struggle to ensure each person and every family are legally protected, at a bare minimum.

Luke’s gospel (Lk 21:25-28) has Jesus identifying nations in dismay, roaring seas, death from fright, and the powers of the heavens as signs of this new era when God’s justice will reign. Jesus’ further exhortation to be ready for what will surprise us and to remain strong during the trials seems a tall order. Jesus’ words can seem terrifying for the Christian — exactly the opposite of what we desire to aid us at Advent’s hopeful beginning.

Thankfully, the second reading from First Thessalonians contextualizes how preparedness, vigilance, and prayer demanded by Jesus may be lived out. Paul writes to the emerging community in Thessalonica in this pastoral letter, the earliest book of the New Testament and thus in close proximity to earliest Christian belief.

Couched amid apocalyptic passages, the reading today comes from Paul’s blessing for the community. We hear two parts proclaimed. The first desires an increase in love and the second calls for a strong Christian witness by the early Christians (1 Thes 3:12-4:2):

“Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

“Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”

We in the 21st century Church find ourselves desperately requiring this same blessing that the Thessalonians received. Paul does not merely pray that they may love, but directly addresses Christ in his prayer. To quote the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Paul “asks for a superabundance of love directed within and beyond the community” where the apostles lead by their humble witness.

In this, Paul demands the Church’s ministers lead by examples of love, and we can hope that the bishops and other church leaders will do the same. Given present affairs, we cannot wait on them to be loving witnesses to Christ — this superabundance of love must come from the laity and supportive religious and clergy. In this preparatory period of Advent, when we begin life with Christ again, it is this superabundance that might be a powerful focal point.

Superabundance isn’t a sufficient amount; it isn’t even more than necessary. Superabundance is gratuitous. It is overflowing. It is uncompromised, unrestrained, and perhaps unwieldy.

A superabundance means all, without exception, find their places in community and all, without exception, find more love than would suffice for even the most suffering people. It means that LGBT persons with their loved ones, their children and their families, their friends and their allies are not merely accepted, but eagerly invited to participate in a life with Christ anew.

I challenge myself this Advent to extend beyond just working out of love for structural changes and legal victories. These are essential, but only loving an ordinary amount comes from a love that two millennia of Christianity has tamed far too greatly.

This Advent, while we ready the way for Christ, let us re-embrace the superabundance of love found amid the earliest Christians, unconcerned with doctrinaire thinking and always concerned with how the community enacted its faith-filled witness.

Then we can be Christians that will stand before Jesus when God’s kingdom nears, confident that in loving superabundantly each person we lived well.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Awesome Sights and Mighty Signs: A Reflection on the End of the World

November 27, 2012

Today marks the 366th day of the Bondings 2.0 blog, which means that tomorrow will be the blog’s first anniversary!  (2012 was a leap year, so there were 366 days in it.)

Anniversary times, beginnings and endings, are always good times to reflect and ponder.  The mood of this time of the liturgical year prods us to reflections about end times and new beginnings.  Last Sunday, we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the liturgical year.  This week, the scripture readings for Mass are all about the end times.  Next Sunday we will begin Advent, a season of joyful expectation.

Today’s Gospel passage, Luke 21: 5-11, offers some items to ponder for those who work and wait for LGBT equality in church and society.   If you are involved in such work, you probably often feel like Jesus’ early followers who asked him when the end times were coming and what signs would precede it. Jesus answers them, rather cryptically:

” ‘See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
“I am he,” and ‘The time has come.”
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.’

“Then he said to them,
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.’ “

Though “end of the world” talk is often scary and doom-ridden, for Christians, we know that the end of the world will usher in God’s reign of justice, the thing for which we most long.  What I see as one message Jesus offers us in this passage is that we should not be upset by cataclysms and catastrophes that happen to us as we wait for this reign of justice to be realized.

Jesus notes that there will be things that terrify us, but that we must remember that these are not the end of the story.  While we may witness battles and earth-shaking events, we also need to wait to see “awesome sights and mighty signs.”

I’m no prophet, so I can’t interpret what those sights and signs will be.  Indeed, I believe they will be different for different people.  Anything that reminds us that the struggles we are involved in are not the end of the story is one of those signs.

Our job is to remain courageous (“do not be terrified”) and keep firm in our faith that God will bring about the reign of justice for which we long, and work, and pray.

Stay tuned for Advent, coming next Sunday, when we will enter a period that celebrates our waiting in joyful hope for the Redeemer to enter our world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic Woman’s Loss Transforms into Struggle for Equality

November 3, 2012

Charlene Strong

Charlene Strong, a Catholic in Washington State, lost her spouse to torrential flooding in 2006 – and from this tragedy began her personal struggle to legalize marriage equality.

Strong’s trying experiences surrounding the death of her spouse, Kate Fleming, included hospital administrators who called family hundreds of miles away instead of asking her about Kate’s last wishes and a funeral director who denied Strong a role in planning final arrangements.

Since Fleming’s death, Strong has spoken about her ordeal to over 40 colleges and universities nationwide, most recently at Gonzaga University Law School as reported in The Washington Post:

“‘They were willing to take the word of someone on the phone, 300 miles away,’ Strong said. ‘Who knew her allergies? I did. Who knew what her wishes were? I did’…

“That’s when Strong decided that she would do whatever she could to make sure other same-sex couples would have equal rights in Washington state.”

Strong also assisted a successful 2007 initiative for domestic partnership rights and now works diligently to help pass Referendum 74 on November 6, 2012 so other couples do not face unnecessary obstacles in times of crisis as she and Fleming had to.

Central to her efforts for marriage equality, Strong continues to support the Catholic Church and considers her speech at Gonzaga the response to Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich’s call for an honest conversation on equality. As for her faith personally, as reported in SpokaneFavs, a community-based blog:

“Strong was closeted until she was 33 years old and said she felt more connected to her faith when she was finally honest about her sexuality and who she was. She and Fleming attended a Catholic parish in Seattle together and were welcomed by those in the pews.

‘The church kept me from going crazy after my wife died,’ Strong said. ‘They were there to help bury her with tremendous compassion’…

“The Catholic Church’s call to social justice is why Strong loves her faith.

“’When you leave the church you can’t fix the church,’ she said. ‘You can’t be part of the discussion.’”

Charlene Strong’s witness both to the challenges same-sex couples experience and in her persistence in Catholicism should give pause to all sides of the marriage equality debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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