The Wolf and the Lamb: Coming Out and the Promises of Advent

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8,12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

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John Winslow

Today’s reflection is from John Winslow, a former Jesuit Volunteer and current M. Div. student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

In Advent, we do not only reflect on the coming of Christ in the Incarnation as a historical moment but also as a contemporary reality. We reflect on how Christ is being made manifest to us and for us in the present moment.

We hear today, in a passage from the prophet Isaiah, that the “wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,” that “the leopard shall lie down the kid;” and that “the calf and young lion shall browse together.” We hear the message that a relationship paradigm based on a never-ending cycle of violence and exploitation will end. Christ’s coming undoes one of nature’s most fundamental relationships: that of predator and prey. In Christ, the life of one will no longer depend upon the death of another. In Christ, all of creation “shall be glorious.”

As LGBTQ Catholics, the relationship between the wolf and the lamb is one we know intimately. Growing up, the only feeling I associated with my sexuality was fear: overwhelming, mind-numbing, constant fear. It was closer to me than my bones. It was woven into every word I spoke, like a second language I never knew I was learning but woke up speaking fluently one day.

As LGBTQ Catholics, we often feel pulled in at least two different directions. We do not fit neatly into any of the boxes or categories that contemporary society has created for us. To those who support our God-given LGBTQ identities, our Catholicism is often seen as backward and inexorably tied to cultural conservatism. Meanwhile, our LGBTQ identities are often demeaned and demonized by our faith communities – sometimes the very faith communities that raised us.

And the struggle is not simply instigated by groups external to ourselves. For many of us, the struggle is also a constant, exhausting war of self-attrition: sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as queer, and sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as Catholic, but rarely feeling completely at peace with both.

For many people – especially those in the LGBTQ community – the idea that a Roman Catholic priest would somehow be anything other than condemning of my sexuality, much less actually compassionate and helpful, is baffling. Most people laugh when I tell them that the best coming out advice I ever received was from a priest. To be fair, I, too, never imagined I would say, “I came out to my family on Holy Thursday via email because a priest told me to.”

And yet, it is true. I would never have come out without the ongoing love, support, and counsel of many Catholics – women religious, seminarians, lay people, and, yes, priests. The night before Holy Thursday of my junior year of college, I stayed up reading through the journal I had been keeping on and off since age fourteen. I read through accounts of family vacations, and memories of adventures during my semester abroad. I read through my list of firsts: my first kiss with a boy, my first time telling someone I was gay, my first sexual experience. I read through the manic biblical scribblings, the raging prayers and questions. I touched fingers to the tear stains on the poem I wrote about my first crush.

I thought about how desperately I longed for peace–a peace the world seemed incapable of giving.

Of things that would surprise me, receiving “peace” was not at the top of the list. Quite frankly, it’s not something that I ever thought I would find – certainly not after coming out.

And yet, reading through my life, with that priest’s advice on coming out dancing through the back of my head, I realized that coming out was not about doing anything. Rather, coming out was like the wolf and the lamb embracing one another in love, letting something seemingly impossible simply happen the way it was always meant to. And when I did come out, it was the most profound experience of peace that I had ever known.

This Advent is an opportunity for us to remember that Christ’s peace is not just one that will come at the Parousia, the Second Coming. No, Christ’s peace is offered to us daily, a peace that can give us rest. Regardless of the condemnations of the Magisterium, or the sudden emboldening of homophobia and transphobia spreading across the United States after the election, or the vitriol of our families, we are in fact loved in all that we are. When we embrace ourselves in all of our integrity, we find Christ embracing us, too. And it is this embrace that will give us peace.

–John Winslow, December 4, 2016

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11 thoughts on “The Wolf and the Lamb: Coming Out and the Promises of Advent

  1. Wilhelm Wonka December 4, 2016 / 1:29 am

    Crikey, man! You’re honest. Thanks for your frankness and self-acceptance. Inspirational.

  2. D. William Larson December 4, 2016 / 4:18 am

    John,

    Your beautiful reflection of the Wolf and the Lamb lying down together in Peace struck a deep chord in me. I, too, found peace when I finally had the courage to come out as gay; and especially to come out to myself after denying my own truth at every turn.

    The peace we all seek is indeed there, waiting for us to embrace it by embracing Our Lord. The joy we experience is most certainly Jesus embracing us in return. He is always waiting for us to reach out to Him, to grasp Him in our arms and feel the tight, strong crush of delight He gives us in return, surely a bear hug! I am almost able to feel Jesus cup my face in His chiseled, rough-hewn hands, look deep into my eyes and kiss my forehead – as any father kisses his prodigal son. When we speak of the kiss of peace, this is what I see, what I know.

    It is so much more difficult for many of us to imagine this kiss of peace coming from another human being, and perhaps particularly problematic when that person is a Catholic priest. The rejection I, and so many others, have dealt with, comes far to often from the very men who represent Christ on Earth in a unique way. The recent story this site ran regarding the young man who was told he could not sing at his grandmother’s funeral Mass is just such an example.

    In my own life I attempted suicide at 20 in my distress over my sexuality. I was a student in the seminary at the time and not a single priest, nor anyone else from that place, ever spoke to me of my near death during my recovery. In fact, no one ever met with me or spoke to me again, even regarding my unsought withdrawal. The sin they saw in me, and the shame they bestowed upon me by ignoring my pain is as fresh today as the moment when I realized I was shunned.

    Time does not heal all wounds. Even my attempt to return to the Church, after the recommendation of a particular Catholic community in my area from Francis de Bernardo, was not without disappointment. After an intimate and meaningful talk during my partaking of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest who absolved and blessed me felt compelled to tell me that marriage is only between a man and a woman, quoting a New Testament scripture passage in which he said Jesus makes this ‘fact’ quite clear. He said this knowing full well that my 30 year relationship with the love of my life would soon culminate in a civil ceremony celebrating our complete commitment for one another. The rush of heat to my face must have been visible; and the beauty of that moment was crushed, as was my heart.

    I tried for quite some time after to continue with this community, but found too often the fear and loathing of gay people, even from others who were gay themselves. I left, not because people are frail and cause injury, that is just human; but because the peace I found in Jesus’ love is so precious to me that I could not allow it to be repeatedly challenged; especially in a place where I should have found refuge. I left because I can never again return to that place inside me where hope is lost, nor purposefully remain where there is constant vexation of the spirit.

    I believe with all my heart that the wolf and lamb WILL lie down in peace together some day, but that day is not yet here. And so I wait, as if for the Bridegroom, whom I know is on His way. He will find me with my lamp lit and my eyes wide awake, eager for His embrace.

    • Wilhelm Wonka December 4, 2016 / 5:25 pm

      I found your post deeply moving. I salute you, sir, for your courage and steadfastness.

      What the heck did that confessor know about you and your beloved partner? Absolutely nothing! He knew only prejudice, and homophobic magisterial teaching.

      Like you, I was once a seminarian, but not a common-or-garden type: I wasn’t an intellectual robot, deferentially accepting every jot and tittle of magisterial teaching, including that on homosexuality. I wasn’t “out” to myself at the time as a bisexual man, but I knew baloney when I smelt it.

      Listen: your love for your beloved partner, and his for you, is all the affirmation either of you need that Jesus is present in your relationship. Just ask yourselves one thing each day: what can I do in the next 24 hours that will make my other half happy? And then do it! Your love for each other will soar. I promise you.

  3. Paula Ruddy December 4, 2016 / 4:29 am

    Thanks to John Winslow for the insight on peace and for his courage.

  4. Friends December 4, 2016 / 5:01 am

    This is utterly and stunningly beautiful, John! It’s one of the finest and most inspiring (and deeply heart-centered) narratives I’ve ever seen at this site, which I’ve been following for several years. May the love, peace and balance you’ve attained in your life be both a gift and a goal for our entire Catholic GLBTQ community. As a Holy Cross alum, I join you in affirming: the Jesuits do miraculous work in this vexed and troubled world!

  5. BDeC December 4, 2016 / 11:46 am

    Thank you, John, for this beautiful reflection. I love what you say about finding peace in “letting something seemingly impossible simply happen the way it was always meant to.” This letting go requires great trust. You remind me we are meant to be One people, at peace with ourselves and one another. I am so grateful you had people who supported you in coming out, but you still had to make that leap of faith. May you continue to trust the “still small voice” of your heart that touched my heart today.

  6. Matt D December 4, 2016 / 9:55 pm

    Thank you, John, for the honest, insightful, and inspiring reflection. And thanks to NWM for providing this forum giving others the opportunity to share their voice. It’s nice to see something formative in addition to the news stories.

  7. Matt D December 4, 2016 / 10:00 pm

    Thank you, John, for this beautiful reflection. And thanks to NWM for providing this forum to share voices and grow in faith. These are a nice refreshing addition to the news stories we usually see.

  8. jim williams December 5, 2016 / 1:27 am

    Jesus was a man just like anyone else. But he was also a mystic and God-filled…. later recognized as being missioned by the Creator/Author The same christic opportunity awaits all.of us

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