For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Jude Rathgeb, who holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. His studies focused specifically on the biblical relationship between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. He now enjoys life in San Francisco, where he pursues various avenues of theological discourse and reflection.
Scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Lent can be found by clicking here.
I find it so important to be connected to myself. Just the other night, I was with someone, a man, and wanted to express what, for so long, I have repressed inside of me. That I like him. That I want to touch him, hold him. That I’m–. But I couldn’t. Because I’m a man, too. I lay there, beside him, and couldn’t muster the longing necessary to be connected–as long as I felt disconnected from, of all people, myself.
But where does this self-disconnection come from, I wondered? This feeling of being lost, wandering, even alone. Certainly, the season of Lent calls us to brave the desert before us, but the questions, at least for me, still remain: Am I an abomination? Do I have a “self”? A real self, with real desires, with whom I can be connected?
The questions themselves disturb me–I feel unsettled, even now, as I write. Yet, today’s Gospel, according to Matthew, follows what Jesus proclaims earlier on in the same account: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). In the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountaintop, the disciples witness the glorified Jesus, as well as the miraculous appearance of Moses and Elijah. If, as Jesus said, He has not come to abolish the law or the prophets, the appearance of these two Old Testament figures causes great concern for me.
In our Catholic tradition and in the tradition of our predecessors, the Hebrew people, Moses is the quintessential lawgiver. In fact, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah, are what many Jewish and Christian peoples today consider the Law of God, communicated to Moses and thereby given to us. For those unfamiliar with the particulars of this section of the Bible, one of these five books, the Book of Leviticus, is thoroughly prescriptive, with a long list of what to do, and, what not to do.
In my own case, Leviticus often remains in my head whenever I attempt to make sense of myself, of who I really am. Even on the night I described above, I remembered one prescription from Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22). So, Moses’ appearance next to Jesus in the disciples’ vision is greatly troubling to me. If Jesus has truly not come to abolish what Moses prescribes in the Book of Leviticus, am I doomed to perpetually consider myself, and my desires, abominable?
Similarly, the appearance of the prophet Elijah next to Jesus gives me pause. The prophetic tradition speaks of prophets as those who would call for repentance from the people, a turning of their hearts back to God. Oftentimes, this call is a blunt and blatant criticism of personal and collective waywardness. It’s worth noting that Elijah is, perhaps, the most famous and powerful prophet of old. Among other things, he is credited with summoning fire from the sky, raising the dead, and being so worthy of Heaven as to enter it alive! If Elijah, in line with the prophetic tradition, holds those unfaithful to the Law accountable for their misgivings, then there’s no room for misunderstanding: turn your heart, or fall prey to sin. But, how can I, or anyone else for that matter, follow his example–especially when you’re gay?
This is a question I have often asked myself, including on the night I described. And, it’s a question I always ask Jesus. Why is it imperative that I receive an answer? Because, I love Him. More than anything. I don’t want to be anything abominable to Him–I just want to be loved. So, as part of this reflection, and during this most sacred season of Lent, I’ll ask Him again, right now:
“Jesus, am I really an abomination?”
Just then, as soon as I asked, Jesus was transfigured before me. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light. I was too astounded, too ashamed, too afraid, to look at Him, so I fell prostrate. “Rise, and do not be afraid,” He said to me. And when I raised my eyes, I saw no one else but Jesus alone.
I saw no one else but Jesus alone. Moses was not there to judge me for breaking the Law; Moses was never there to judge me. Elijah was not there to criticize me for being unfaithful; Elijah was never there to criticize me. I know this because I saw Jesus, transfigured before me, a Jesus who, indeed, had not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them by being Love.
All I want is to feel connected to myself, not in spite of my homosexuality, but because of it. When Jesus was transfigured, I saw myself: my true self. And yours. And, more than that, He was shining bright, just like the sun, the warmth of His light, and all of His desire, deeply caressing the skin of my smiling cheeks.
—Jude Rathgeb, March 12, 2017