Spoiler Alert: God Isn’t a Rubik’s Cube!

Angie Hollar

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 Angie Hollar, who received her Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in 2015.  She currently teaches Catholic theology at a high school in the Seattle area.

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

Whenever a gospel passage features the Pharisees, I brace myself. They are the sticklers for the rules: the finicky interpreters of all the nitty-gritty details of Judaism.  Pharisees seem to look quite easily past the raw vulnerability of the people right in front of their faces and see only legal case studies.  They ask leading questions; they attempt to pigeonhole their interlocutors; they use their institutional privilege to belittle, bully and silence others.  And so, predictably, whenever I encounter them in the Scriptures I can feel myself get riled up. I know a conflict is brewing and these guys don’t fight fairly.

The Pharisees had basically turned God into their very own Rubik’s cube. They were convinced they had worked all of the kinks out of God’s algorithm. They served a God who had clearly defined for them all of the rules of engagement. The covenants within the Hebrew Bible are not terribly complicated recipes for harmony between God and the Israelites. Do the prescribed good things and avoid the outlined bad things and all will be well. Therefore, the Pharisees were quick to take on anyone who even thought about rotating one of God’s color blocks. Their fear of losing what they perceived to be their control of God ultimately overtook their lives.

In these Pharisees vs. Outcast moments I want to identify with the outcast.  I want to read these stories through the lenses of the marginalized and oppressed. As a social worker and theology teacher, I want to diminish the power that the Pharisees wield and advocate for those who have the misfortune of tangling with them.  I fancy myself a good liberal; this is what we do, right?!

However, much to my chagrin,  this week I have been fixated on the Pharisees.  Therefore, my prayer for the past few days has gone like this: “Dear God, PLEASE don’t make me empathize with the Pharisees—especially not in public!” And yet, when I keep praying with the story of the healing of the man born blind, I find the Pharisees to be my primary point of connection.

Damn.

I feel like the Pharisees because I can relate to being fearful of a God of surprises and to desiring the same sense of predictability and stability for which they longed. I find myself wary of what God could call me to that might disrupt my life, and so I frequently attempt to keep God at an arm’s length. In my relationship with God I am sometimes the equivalent of one of my students who sits in the back of the classroom and avoids eye contact with me because she dreads being called upon to answer a question.

I wonder how many of us are standing squarely in the tension of desiring a radically more just and loving world yet are fearful of losing our privileges or comfort in the process of change. It’s ugly to admit, but it’s real.  After all, how many immigrants have been deported because they spoke out about unjust immigration policies? How many LGBTQ+ persons working in Catholic environments have been fired because of whom they love? How many people of color have been brutalized or killed because they demanded equity? How many women’s careers have been derailed because they rejected a boss’s sexual advances? How many theologians have been censured or silenced because the theological issues they explored threatened the ecclesial status quo?  The list goes on and on.  Actively discerning the ways that God might be drawing one toward greater authenticity and freedom can sometimes have very difficult and painful consequences.

Humanizing the Pharisees leads me to reflect upon more than my own spiritual challenges, though. Seeing them as individuals with their own sets of baggage also requires me to contemplate what other groups of fearful people I am called to love. I don’t know exactly what it means to love those family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers within my speck of the universe who are completely consumed by their fear of those who look, love, speak, and think differently than they do. While I don’t know exactly how to love them, I do know that connecting to them is exactly what today’s Gospel is calling me to do right now. In this intensely divisive world, perhaps recognizing our shared humanity and shared fear is a decent starting point. But if I could be nudged to empathize with the Pharisees this week, then my hope must spring eternal that God will show us the way forward.

Angie Hollar, March 26, 2017

REGISTER BY MARCH 27TH TO AVOID A LATE FEE!                                                    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.    

In Wake of London Terror, Remembering How Violence Led to Ministry

As London begins to recover and heal from this week’s latest terror incident two days ago, I was reminded of an earlier terrorist act directed against the LGBT community in that city.  In April 1999, a neo-Nazi activated a nail bomb in the Admiral Duncan Pub, in Soho, London’s gay neighborhood.  Three people were killed then.

That act of terror inspired the local Catholic LGBT community to initiate a pastoral program to the LGBT community.  A priest who supported this initiative was recently interviewed by Islington Now, a London neighborhood news outlet, telling how a terror act inspired pastoral care.

Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle of the Diocese of Westminster (London) told the newspaper:

“After the pub bombing in Soho where people got killed, there was a group of gay Catholic men and women who wanted somewhere to pray. . . .They started gathering together in an Anglican church to have Catholic Mass. That was a bit of an anomaly really, to put it mildly.”

Eight years later Mgr O’Boyle was Vicar General, a senior position in the Church which made him responsible for every priest in London. He had an opportunity to do something.

Mass being celebrated for the LGBT community in London’s Soho neighborhood.

What O’Boyle did was welcome the LGBT Catholic group to use a Catholic parish in the Soho neighborhood for their twice-a-month Masses.  O’Boyle recalled:

“The move was to try and make sure this was happening in a Catholic parish instead, and that it was open to everyone.

“We looked for a church and it was decided that we would use Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street in Soho. I was appointed as the parish priest so I was responsible for what went on, in the sense of having an oversight of what was going on there.”

He remembered both the beauty of the welcome and the challenge of criticism from ultra-conservative Catholic protestors who showed up frequently outside the Church:

“It was a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to that community. It was a very hurt community by the Church, and yet there they were wanting to be part of it. I think we did a very good thing by allowing that to happen, but others didn’t feel that way.

“More traditional Catholics didn’t like it much. There was a group who used to meet outside and protest, saying the rosary. It was just horrendous, really. And then writing every five minutes to Rome to tell them that we were doing this atrocious thing. All kinds of ministry of disinformation, it was awful.

“Sometimes the group didn’t help by reacting in a bad way to some of the criticism and trying to reign them in a bit was not always easy. The group meeting outside was always invited in, you know, ‘come in and see that we’ve not got two heads’. “

The witness of the LGBT Catholics and allies who showed up for liturgy, especially in the face of protesters at the church door, inspired O’Boyle:

“To go to a Mass on a Sunday evening and have 150 people there who wanted to be there and participate in that way was just extraordinary.”

[Editor’s Note:  I had the privilege of worshipping with this community in 2012 when I was in London for World Pride.  You can read my report on my visit to the Mass by clicking here.]

Unfortunately, part of the article incorrectly describes the 2013 decision by Archbishop Vincent Nichols to move the Mass from the Soho neighborhood to a Jesuit parish in the nearby Mayfair section of the city.  While there may have been some pressure on him to end the Masses, as the article states,  Nichols took the opportunity to help the LGBT Mass community to become more integrated into parish life, instead of being isolated from the larger body of the faithful.

Instead of abandoning the LGBT group to Jesuit pastoral care, as the article implies, Nichols has remained very close to the community.  Very soon after their move to the Farm Street parish, he visited the church to officially welcome them.  Indeed, he visited the group to preside at Mass in 2015, and made a call to other bishops in England and Wales to expand pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  When Nichols was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2014, some commenters suggested that his LGBT pastoral outreach was a determining factor in his elevation.

O’Boyle has great optimism for the relationship between the Church and the LGBT community, due mostly to what he sees as positive steps taken by Pope Francis.  O’Boyle stated:

“Pope Francis has given people hope that the church doesn’t seem quite so judgemental or dictatorial about things. . . .

“He’s trying to modernise the church but he’s up against it. He needs to do it, which I think is why he’s right for his time.

“He doesn’t care what he does really which is great – he’s the Pope isn’t he? He can do what he likes.

“I think there are those who would like to stop him doing what he’s doing – the establishment would. Centuries-old structures of bureaucracy are not easy to break down.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for the Church.”

Catholic London’s outreach to the LGBT community is a great model for other dioceses to emulate.  It is amazing that such a jewel arose from the ruins of a terrorist act.  We pray with all Londoners this week as they stare down terror once again. And we remember that when terror struck the LGBT community in the U.S. last summer in Orlando, the Farm Street community was one of the first Catholic groups to pray in solidarity with the victims and survivors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 24, 2017

FOUR DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

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. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Three Bishops Speak Out on Pastoral Inclusion

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Three Bishops Speak At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium, 1992

As I hope you know by now, New Ways Ministry will be hosting its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.   Thus, it seems an appropriate time to turn our clocks back 25 years and look at the Third National Symposium, back in March 1992, which also took place in Chicago.

At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium: Bishop Kenneth Untener; Bishop William Hughes; Sister Helen Marie Burns, RSM, Chair of New Ways Ministry’s Board; Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

The Third National Symposium was historic in that it was the first time that three Catholic bishops came to a forum to speak about what was then understood as lesbian and gay issues in the Church.  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary of Detroit, Bishop William Hughes, diocesan bishop of Covington, Kentucky, and Bishop Kenneth Untener, diocesan bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, all were there to present “his viewpoint on the pastoral reality of the church’s ministry to members of the gay and lesbian community, ” according to a news report by Ed Stieritz, printed in the April 5, 1992 edition of The Messenger, the Catholic newspaper of Davenport, Iowa.

It was at that symposium where Bishop Gumbleton first told the story of his and his family’s response to learning that his brother Dan is gay, which began the bishop’s career of public advocacy for LGBT equality.  The Messenger reported:

“Bishop Gumbleton shared, poignantly, how he had reacted when his brother told members of his family of his homosexual orientation.  He admitted he had the same difficulty that most family members have when faced with such a revelation.  Now, he said, he has come to appreciate the great gifts his brother brings to both the family and the Church as well as the lessons of tolerance and understanding that they have all learned as a result of his brother’s ‘coming out.’ “

Bishop Hughes acknowledged that the Catholic Church had been remiss in affirming lesbian and gay people.    The newspaper quoted from his talk:

“. . . [W]e’re in a period of change when the Church is recognizing more and more the need to deal with people primarily as ‘persons.’ We are all part of the Body of Christ, and if one suffers–all suffer.”

In a sidebar story, Bishop Hughes was asked why he decided to attend the symposium.  His answer:

“I felt that when I am invited to go to any people who are hurting or suffering in their relationship with the church, I am going to make sure I am present to say ‘the church cares about you.’ We are an inclusive church, which means we reach out to everybody.”

Bishop Untener also stressed the theme of inclusivity, but also took a look at what he believes God uses to judge us.  He said:

“Since I am a theologian, I don’t say this lightly, but I have come to truly believe that when we die the only thing that will matter in the end will be how we have treated one another.”

In Voices of Hope,  a collection of church statements on lesbian and gay issues edited by New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent (out of print, but used copies may be found online), a very insightful passage of Bishop Untener’s talk was cited:

“We need to take seriously the evaluation that homosexuality is a complex question, yet I do not believe we always do.  We have to be careful not to make life too simple.  The Pharisees made that mistake.  They made religion very complex, but treated life as though it were simple.  They had complex rules about what one could or could not do and thought these could apply very simply to life.  The complexity of their religious formulations took care of everything, and the rest, they thought, was simple.

“Jesus did exactly the opposite.  His religious teachings were very simple.  He said that all the commandments of the law came down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  When they asked Him enormously complex questions, he would say, ‘Let me tell you a story. . . ‘

“On the other hand, Jesus treated life as very complex, as His parables show.  For example, the parable of the prodigal son was so simple until He introduced the last scene with the complexity of the older brother.  And Jesus left it there. The parable ends with the older brother and the father still arguing out in the yard.”

The Third National Symposium was an exciting event at a time when lesbian and gay issues were just being brought into the mainstream of the Catholic Church’s life.   The upcoming Eighth National Symposium promises to be just as exciting.  In fact, Bishop Gumbleton will again be at the meeting to share his powerful reflections with the participants.  And although Bishop Hughes has since passed on, another Kentucky church leader, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. will be there to offer inspiration.

For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.  Register before March 27th to avoid paying an additional $50 late fee.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 23, 2017

 

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.

Family and Parish In Conflict Over Ouster of Gay Youth

Peter Lanza, Jr., with his father, Peter Lanza, Sr.

Peter Lanza, Jr., a gay teenager, says his parish’s religious education program dismissed him from classroom instruction and assigned him to home-schooling because he is gay.  Rev. John Bambrick, the pastor of St. Aloysius parish in Jackson, New Jersey, said in a statement that reports that the teen was ” ‘kicked out’ of the program because of his sexual orientation are completely false.”

Who to believe?

In a Facebook statement, reported by The Asbury Park Press, the pastor said:

“There are times when any number of circumstances might warrant that a student should change from in-class instruction to home study … ranging from specific needs of the family to physical limitations of the student to disciplinary problems exhibited in class.

“However, no child has ever been required to change to home study due to sexual orientation. St. Aloysius Parish respects the dignity of all persons, without exception, and welcomes the opportunity to teach the faith to every Catholic who wishes to learn it.”

Yet, neither the pastor nor anyone else from the parish will comment further on the matter.

According to a second article in The Asbury Park PressLanza had already been transferred from one religious education classroom, but that something changed in December:

“Lanza said a school official told him a parent called and said she was uncomfortable with him being in her child’s class.

“Less than 24 hours later, Lanza said, there was a different phone call, this time to Lanza’s parents: The Rev. John Bambrick suggested that Lanza be home-schooled, according to Lanza’s father.

“No reason was given for the teen’s removal, the Lanzas said, nor was there any mention of the purported complaint from another parent. The Lanzas say It was only after lawyers got involved that a ‘behavioral issue’ was referenced, though the church has never offered a further explanation.”

Lanza, Sr. believes that the parent who complained is the same one who last summer referred to his son as an “ugly queer.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, criticized the pastor’s handling of the situation:

“We really need church officials to stand up to this kind of message. You’d think that, at a minimum, the priest or CCD teacher would say, ‘we need to be treating each other with respect.’ Pulling a kid out of CCD class doesn’t sound very respectful.”

It is hard to know who to believe in this situation.  The pastor has not been forthcoming with information. The family considered a lawsuit, though Lanza, Sr. said that he is not likely to do so since the church seems immune.  Often, when a legal case is considered, institutional leaders become reticent.

Pastors have a responsibility to be pastors.  While the possibility that this youth was moved out of a religious education classroom because he is gay is odious, what is even more troublesome is that the pastor will not speak honestly with a parishioner, or with the press.  The silence of the pastor, even with the youth’s parents, will lead many to believe that he is hiding something, whether he is or not.

But the pastor’s responsibility goes beyond being more forthcoming. If the accusations harassment by the Lanza family are even remotely true, the pastor has a responsibility to look into this matter.  Parishioners should not be allowed to bully other parishioners.

Regardless of what the precipitating cause of this situation was, what is apparent now is that a pastor and a family of the parish are at loggerheads.  What seems to be needed most in this parish is reconciliation.  While the Trenton Diocese has stated that this is a parish issue, and so will not comment or become involved, the seriousness of this situation requires that they do intervene.  The pastoral harm that this family is experiencing, whether real or imagined, and the division this can cause the parish require that an outside religious organization become involved with healing.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 16, 2017

Related articles:

My9NJ.com: “Kicked out of class for being gay?”

NJ1015.com: “Church denies Jackson teen was ‘kicked out’ of CCD because he’s gay”

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.

 

Transfigured From a Life of Loneliness and Disconnection

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?

Transfiguration by Aidan Hart

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.

Beloved.

Jude Rathgeb, March 12, 2017

Allowing Lent to Disrupt Our Lives and Renew the World

Sarah Gregory

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 Sarah Gregory, a queer Catholic school soccer mom with punk tendencies. She lives in San Francisco with her son (when he’s home from college), two cats, and mountains of books as she prepares for her Ph.D. comp exams. She works in the Silicon Valley and practices the fine art of living with liminality and cognitive dissonance. She prefers Lent over Advent, all in all.

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

Shortly after I began graduate studies in theology in Berkeley, a friend joked that I apparently planned to become a “professional Catholic.” I’m as aware of the liturgical calendar as I am the workweek calendar that governs my real professional life, and Lent often evokes feelings of nervousness and dread, a spiritual “annual review” of sorts. I never manage to pray quite enough, and my almsgiving often doesn’t meet my own standards of stewardship of the resources that are at my disposal. Fasting can be a chore – how to choose something to give up that would make me be mindful, but not inconvenience me too much or be too uncomfortable. I’m not looking for a promotion, God, just a decent review and continued employment for the year to come, thanks.

Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the desert, which is the gospel for this First Sunday of Lent, reminds me that I’m not the only one who might be happy to let these weeks pass without interrupting my peace. We’re told that Jesus himself fasted for forty days and forty nights, and although the gospel’s author says he was hungry afterward, I’m guessing that our Lord and Savior could’ve done with a meal far sooner than that. Fully human as well as fully divine, that lengthy fast must’ve been grueling. We’re told he made it through the ordeal nonetheless, only to be tempted by the Evil One, offering him an easy out. “You’ve disrupted your life enough, Jesus. I know you’re hungry. Turn those stones to bread, if you really are the son of God!” But no – Jesus stuck it out. Surely I can try to do the same.

A priest friend pushed me to go beyond the typical stuff for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Don’t take it as a time to kick off a diet or to randomly fill up a little donation bowl and call it good, he said. Let Lent disrupt your life. Case in point: this generally quiet and reserved man of the cloth took salsa dancing lessons one Lent, forcing him to get out of his head and into a social, embodied existence. I suspect he’d have rather spent the weeks in a cave with his books and a quiet Friday afternoon at the movies, but Lent was a chance to disrupt the comfort of that isolation. For a few years, the Church itself provided some Lenten accompaniment, as I confronted questions of whether my queer, out, soccer mom self belonged here at all. Two years ago, the Lenten question was whether teachers at my child’s school would be forced to sign contracts that violated their personal lives. In those years, simply sticking it out was all that I could do.

The disruption that Lent brings is inevitable; the only question to be answered is whether I will remember what Jesus said when he was tempted: “One does not live by bread alone.” One doesn’t take the easy path through Lent, even when that path presents itself as a nice escape route. I need to keep my eyes open for what Jesus is trying to teach me this year, how my life is to be disrupted, and how I will be called to respond.

The social and political climate, both in the United States and around the globe, seems to have been tailor-made to deliver a hefty dose of disruption this Lent. Indeed, in an address to a gathering of the World Meeting of Popular Movements last month, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego called on those gathered – whether Catholic, of other faiths, or of no faith tradition at all – to disrupt the injustice that is sweeping the US and the world:

“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor.

And then Bishop McElroy gave us another task: we are also to be rebuilders. He said:

“We are called to rebuild our nation which does pay $15 an hour in wages, and provides decent housing, clothing and food for those who are poorest.”

Lent this year is a call to all of us to let our lives be disrupted – in Jesus’ name. Rather than simply going to daily Mass a bit more often, I might take that hour to volunteer with a local group that helps day laborers find secure work. Rather than give up some food, how can I abstain from focusing solely on my personal concerns, and recognize that I have social capital that can benefit those who fear for their very lives if I offer it to advocate for them, at their direction? What resources do I have that others need to use to recover from the inequities they’ve faced? Can I share with them without feeling like I should be able to control how that money is used? What will be the cost of this discipleship?

This Lent, more than others, feels like a grand societal reckoning, one suited more for theology of the streets than of the books. It’s the theology of getting our hands dirty in service and putting our comfort at risk to bring about God’s vision for all of us, made together in God’s image and likeness. Regardless of who we love, how we define ourselves, the color of our skin, the language we speak, what papers we carry, or how we or our ancestors arrived in the country, we must all stand together now. These are the words from the mouth of God that we are to live by: loving our neighbor as we do ourselves.

–Sarah Gregory, Graduate Theological Union, March 5, 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.