Coming Out to Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus

John Michael Reyes

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 John Michael Reyes, who holds a Master of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. His spiritual formation, community life and heart is with the Franciscan School of Theology (Berkeley), now located in Oceanside, CA.  He has served as a hospital chaplain, liturgist and currently works at Santa Clara University’s Campus Ministry focusing onSacramental Formation and Liturgy.  He is a native San Franciscan who enjoys working out at the nearest OrangeTheory Fitness and is a parishioner of Most Holy Redeemer Parish, San Francisco. John Michael is coordinating the liturgies at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.  See the end of this post for more information on the event.

Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Lent can be found by clicking here.

Have you ever been so embarrassed that it paralyzed you?

In my 29 years of living, I have been embarrassed by my actions many times, resulting in not being able to  “show face.”  I have made poor decisions that impacted the opinion of people I value.  My childhood was not fun: I dealt with challenges ranging from abuse to the repercussions of not fulfilling a parent’s dream that I pursue the medical or legal professions.  Later in life, an unhealthy environment led me to isolation and a diagnosis of depression. A suicide attempt shook all parts of my life. I was embarrassed to show myself at events.  I hid until the coast was clear to do the things I needed to do: to eat, to do laundry, among other mundane tasks. I was not doing myself any favors.  

“Jesus and the Woman at the Well” by He Qi

Today’s gospel– the Samaritan woman at the well encountering Jesus–made me remember this time of my life.  First of all, have you ever noticed that the story is dripping wet with details of her, yet we do not know her name?  This anonymity allows her to represent all of us; I felt like the Samaritan woman.  She snuck out when the coast was clear at off-peak times to the well. She snuck out so no one would see her–her wounds, her failure, her weakness, her humanity.  Just like the woman at the well with many husbands, I was held victim to these “husbands” of isolation and depression instead of seeking the one love, the one husband, who could free me: Jesus.

Despite trying to hide from others, the woman was noticed by someone:  Jesus. Her story was recognized and she was seen for who she was; she was able to “come out.”  This story highlights the desire for Jesus to come closer to us and allow us to be held close to His heart. It highlights a response to His action that we all could give: “I believe, with all my heart, that you, Jesus, are the way, the truth, and the life.”

When I work with those preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, I always tell them that joining the Church is not solely a process of “becoming Catholic,” so as to be able to “check off a box” but a process of “coming out” and sharing with those in your world that you are on this faith journey to Jesus–that there is something about Him that captivates you, making Him irresistible to follow ever more closely.

Today’s gospel story is not so much about the woman believing in Christ but about the woman fulfilling her role in helping Jesus proclaim the gospel.  She reminds us that our baptism commits us to a life of discipleship.  These days, we might be “married” to the wrong love: drugs, alcohol, the thirst for power or money,  sex, or even control of the other.  Thus we can hear Jesus say, “the husband you have right now is not your own.”   It would help if we tried to answer the question: “How can we prioritize our lives so that Christ can be at the center?”

When we encounter the living Christ (in the sacraments or in our daily experiences) and we immerse ourselves in that encounter, we are bound to change.  And that change should hopefully bring us to discipleship.  Discipleship comes at a cost.  I am asked to be a better Christian, one who does not live on fear or anxiety.  A poor self-image–like the one held by the Samaritan woman or my younger self —does not reflect that I am a person loved by God.  A person who God loves is not alone and is not left without anything.

I’m still healing from my experiences.  The woman was free and told her people, “come and see someone who told me everything I did.”  I had people in my life that helped share my feelings and heal the chips on my shoulders.  They showed me the parts of myself that were hidden, that I myself had not admitted. This is another form of “coming out.”   

What are the things that you need to name freely for yourself and for Jesus?   Jesus does not want us to change our embarrassing pasts,  but to change our relationship with Him for the life of the world.  When the woman left that well, her outer appearance did not change: she was still a Samaritan, a woman, coming out to the well at an awkward time–and she still had her story.  But now, she was reoriented towards mission, whereas before she was simply scared and embarrassed.  

The Lenten Season’s call us to come out and deepen our conversion towards Jesus.  May we have the strength to take these steps so that we, like the villagers at the end of today’s gospel, can proclaim with our whole humanity – strengths and embarrassments – that Jesus is “truly the savior of the world.”

Reflection Questions:

What in your life still needs to come out? What in your life is in need of life-giving water?  Who are your “husbands”?  Who gets in the way of God, your one true love?

PS: In these next few Sundays of Lent, those who have been journeying in the Catechumenate process will be celebrating the Scrutiny Rites.  Please keep them, the Elect–those called by God for the Easter Sacraments–in your prayers that they too may experience life-giving water.

John Michael Reyes, March 19, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

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6 thoughts on “Coming Out to Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus

  1. Mary Janus March 19, 2017 / 8:51 am

    Very well written Michael

    • JM March 19, 2017 / 3:45 pm

      Thanks, MJ!

  2. Don Siegal March 20, 2017 / 10:57 am

    I have never thought of myself as the woman of Samaria as expressed by John Michael in his reflections. Yes, I could relate to her as a conversion experience. However, Michael sees the avoidance strategy in her life; I had never noticed that aspect of her story. Yet that was exactly what I was doing in my life.

    This lent has been a remarkable experience of freedom for me. Freedom to be who I really am in its entirety. I did not suffer in the way that John Michael did; in fact, my life was rather uncomplicated except that there was one remaining situation where I had terrible fear and anxiety about coming out—my local parish—where I am the director of RCIA. While I never denied my sexual orientation nor did I ever teach animus toward LGBT persons, I also never freely acknowledged that I was a Catholic lay minister who happens to be gay. I spoke in general terms such as marginalized persons, outcasts, etcetera rather than naming who they were—refugees, Muslims, undocumented migrants, or LGBT persons

    After participating in two retreats this lent: Ash Wednesday—a day of prayer and reflection—followed several days later by a three day retreat for seniors with a focus on lent. It was during this second retreat the Holy Spirit moved me to set my fears aside. Over the course of the three day retreat, I felt safe with the group. (This is a group of seniors; I am age 80 and their ages were plus and minus my age.) In our free time in small groups, I found the courage to come out. I never heard so much as one naysayer. It became abundantly clear to me that this was the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Those experiences instilled me with fortitude. The following Sunday, 12-March-2017, during the RCIA dismissal I had an appropriate opportunity to come out to the RCIA community and I did. As director and facilitator, during our journaling segment, one of the questions was, What is God saying to me in the uphill struggles I am experiencing this lent? In response, some in our group were sharing particularly difficult situations in their lives.

    My response to that question (God speaking to me): “Be yourself; be who you are. That is how I made you. I love you.” That encouragement from God and the sharing of the other stories was my segway to coming out to the group. My story was adsorbed into the fabric of the gathering as another story of life. There was equal acceptance and compassion of all who shared very personal stories that day. We all had an amazing conversion experience.

    • JM March 20, 2017 / 2:24 pm

      Thank you Don, for sharing your experience. Very humbling and powerful to readh. My prayers go with you and your RCIA team, and Elect (and candidates) as we journey every closer to the great vigil.

  3. John Huân Vũ March 23, 2017 / 12:07 pm

    Solid article. I love this portion of your article, “First of all, have you ever noticed that the story is dripping wet with details of her, yet we do not know her name? This anonymity allows her to represent all of us; I felt like the Samaritan woman. She snuck out when the coast was clear at off-peak times to the well. She snuck out so no one would see her–her wounds, her failure, her weakness, her humanity. Just like the woman at the well with many husbands, I was held victim to these ‘husbands’ of isolation and depression instead of seeking the one love, the one husband, who could free me: Jesus.” Thanks for sharing yourself in this article and connecting to the women at the well.

    • JM March 27, 2017 / 8:09 pm

      Thanks, john.

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