In the Garden of Gethsemane, Praying for Identity

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 Fernanda Beldero, a second-generation Filipinx-American, working as a Religious Studies teacher in the San Francisco-Bay Area. Fernanda received a Master of Arts in Ethics in 2014  from the Graduate Theological Union.

Scripture readings for Palm Sunday can be found by clicking here.

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. As I reflect on today’s gospel story, I cannot help but identify with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Allow me to explain.

Gethsemane – Matthew 26:36-46

While I identify as Catholic, and work at a Catholic high school, my lived reality is that I do not fit the pattern of an “ideal” Catholic.  I am marginalized in the Church in three ways: being Filipinx, a woman, and queer.

My marginalization goes further. On New Ways Ministry’s blog, we can read the list of names of employees at Catholic institutions who have been fired, forced to resign, or had offers rescinded because of their LGBTQ+ identity.  I was acutely aware of this terrible trend as I was finishing my master’s degree at the Graduate Theological Union and knew I would soon be seeking a job in a Catholic school.

Last year, a writer on a conservative Catholic website wrote an article about me after having trolled my school’s website and my LinkedIn profile, and then assumed that I am gay based on how I express my gender. This invasive experience made me question my ability to stay in the Church. Yes, I am gay, but this writer took my power away from me by outing me without my consent or knowledge. These are threatening times in our Church today for any LGBTQ+ person working in a Catholic institution, so this article made my employment as a Catholic educator extremely vulnerable. I was stunned and deeply hurt by this writer’s violation.

At the same time, I also heard the voices of my friends and family members who ask me “Why do you work for an institution that does not accept you?” After I found out about the article, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I seriously questioned my calling to work as an educator for my faith, which is itself is a complex issue.

I have dated women who could not understand why I am still Catholic, and yet this community is very much a part of my identity. It has been a lens through which I have experienced my spirituality. The examples of my mother and grandfather, who embodied my Christian faith, the rituals and traditions of Mass and praying Novenas after a family member who has passed, spending time in nature with my family: all of these have lain the foundation of my current spirituality.

My faith is something I cannot shake, nor can I turn away from. And yet I struggle with it every day. Many in the Catholic LGBTQ+ community also struggle with this dilemma, asking the question: “How can we authentically be ourselves, our whole selves, which includes our sexuality?”

So, in today’s gospel reading, I am drawn to the image of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane, where, frightened at what the next hours will hold, he prays aloud: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” How many times in our own lives have we said a similar prayer to God, in times of distress, sorrow, facing the unknown? Jesus knew his calling, his purpose in his life: to give us all people an example to live by, and to die on the cross to show God’s deep love for us. But in this moment, he showed us that while he knew his vocation, he, like us, had doubts and weaknesses.

We need to ask ourselves an important question:  What is our own personal calling and purpose in life? In what ways are we challenged by others who judge us as not fit to be following our call, or who do not accept our authentic, God-given selves?

After Jesus requested his disciples to stay awake with him while he prayed, they ended up falling asleep.  His response to them: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” My spirit is willing: I want to continue to impart to my students the best of the Catholic faith. I want them to know that the Catholic faith is centered on Jesus who ministered with the marginalized in his community, with the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the outcasts. He preached and lived unconditional love. Our Catholic faith calls us to be in solidarity with those on the margins of society, of the Church, and of our world. Our faith is not a faith meant to keep us comfortable. It should challenge us constantly, shaking up our worldview, and inspiring us to seek justice for those who deserve to be acknowledged as human beings.

But it is my flesh, my ego, that is weak at times: I sometimes give into others’ judgments about me and my sexuality, the color of my skin and the organs I was born with. In order to be my whole self, I need to acknowledge and feel the sorrow, the hurt, the despair, that this dilemma has on me. I need also to reflection how I have to continue my work both as a queer womxn and as a Catholic educator.

As I struggle with all these challenges, I look outside my window and see the trees budding with new life, the cherry blossoms blossoming. I hear the sweet sound of birdsong. It is possible to experience peace in the midst of an inner storm.

As we embark on this Holy Week, may we all reflect on our own pains and sorrows as a way of sharing the pain of Jesus’ persecution for being who he is.  May we work toward being in solidarity with the pains that our human family and Mother Earth are experiencing which is the contemporary version of Jesus’ death on the cross. May we also not forget to look forward to the Easter hope of Jesus’ resurrection and to experience it in our own lives.

Fernanda Beldero, April 9, 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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3 thoughts on “In the Garden of Gethsemane, Praying for Identity

  1. Friends April 9, 2017 / 6:33 am

    After reading this article, I’m very confused. The author wrote: “This invasive experience made me question my ability to stay in the Church. Yes, I am gay, but this journalist took my power away from me by outing me without my consent or knowledge.” Who, exactly, is “this journalist” whom she is castigating? Is it one of the editors of the “Bondings 2.0” website? Or is it some other journalist entirely, who is not at all connected with our “Bondings” website? Her statement remains baffling and ambiguous and quite alarming, at least to me. Francis and/or Robert, can you unravel the conundrum here?

  2. Erma Durkin April 10, 2017 / 12:42 pm

    Thank you for this posting. This is a concrete example of a person who needs our prayers, and a cause that requires our appropriate actions for change.

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