Holy Saturday: The Great Silence

“Christ in the Tomb” by Philip Agius

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying:

‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.’

                                                                        –from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

Good Friday: Outcast, Oppressed, Abandoned

“Crucifixion” by Emil Nolde, 1912

The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought, but a change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.                                                                                                                                                                                         –Jürgen Moltmann                                                                                                                                              The Crucified God

 

Holy Thursday: Into the Very Midst of Life

“Last Supper lv” by Ivan Guaderrrama

Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…at supper time, or walking along a road…He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.

                                                                                                         –Frederick Buechner

Witness to Resurrection! Support Gay Priests!

Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, bishops around the world will be joining in celebrating the Chrism Mass with the priests of their diocese, blessing oils for use in the sacraments and remembering their call to priesthood.

It’s a good time to pause to remember that a good portion of those priests and bishops gathered in cathedrals tomorrow will be gay men,  many of them having to hide their identities from their confreres and parishioners, family and friends.  These situations are often personally challenging and difficult for men who have given their lives in service to others.  What makes these situations even more poignant is the fact that, given the growing evidence that Catholics overwhelmingly support LGBT equality, it would be very likely that many of these priests would be welcomed and supported by their parishioners and friends if they shared their identities with them.

A recent essay on Huffington Post describes a grassroots initiative for lay people to begin to show their support for gay priests.  Rev. Gary Meier, an openly gay priest who works as a mental health counselor describes “The 4th Day Initiative,” the brainchild of Barbara Marian and Jerry Powers, the Illinois parents of a lesbian daughter.  Meier wrote:

“. . . [O]ver a year ago, I began corresponding with Barbara [Marian] and Jerry [Powers] from Illinois. Our communications resulted in what Barbara and Jerry call the ‘4th Day Initiative’ which seeks to promote visible faith allies by encouraging churchgoers to wear white strips to mass which are symbolic of the burial linens that Lazarus was wearing when Jesus tells the community to ‘Unbind him and let him go.’ (John 11:1-14)

“Here’s an adaptation and summary of what they wrote: The church has many faith allies and perhaps they get their inspiration in the biblical account of the raising of Lazarus, found in the Gospel according to St. John 11:1-44. According to the story, Jesus begins his miracle by turning to those mourning the death of Lazarus, and telling them, ‘Take away the stone.’ When Lazarus rises from the dead at Jesus’ command and comes out of the cave still bound in his burial linens, Jesus again turns to the mourners and bids them, ‘Unbind him and let him go.’

Meier describes how this Gospel story can be interpreted to apply to the context of gay priests and their parishioners, families, and friends:

“Lazarus, beloved friend of Jesus and brother of Mary and Martha, represents every one of our gay clergy, trapped and bound by denial and concealment.

“The central action of wearing white strips declares the readiness of people in the pews to support our gay clergy and church employees in their emergence from the tomb of hollow holiness.

“The mourners in the Lazarus story stand in for Catholics in the pews who experience turmoil, grief and anger in response to the rejection, devaluing, shaming, bullying and firing of gay clergy and personnel. . . .

“The wearing of white strips of material is a powerful visual statement of solidarity with their priests and church employees.”

Barbara Marian offered the following comment to Bondings 2.0 to encourage Catholics to support the “4th Day Initiative”:

Barbara Marian

“In every movement towards justice ‘coming out’ changes everything. It always has and always will.  To support our priests the people in the assembly must come out first.

“Catholics coming out at Mass is the most powerful and effective action we can take because it evokes and demands deeper conversation and dialogue about and with our clergy and church employees.
“We must push with all our might to roll away the stone!  We are called to open the Church to Easter’s new life through our show of support for the LGBT community.
“I believe that attitudes and policies in the Church will not be transformed unless and until the people of God come out of the cave into the light as we act together to include, value and embrace our gender- and sexually-diverse brothers and sisters.”
As we prepare to celebrate the gift of the priesthood and the glorious feast of Easter, let us remember the gay priests and bishops in our midst.  To testify to our support for them and to the transforming power of new life, consider wearing some white strips of cloth on your lapel when you go to church this Easter.   You’re sure to spark transformative conversations with your friends and neighbors, and you’ll send a visible sign of support to gay priests, bishops, and all LGBT church personnel.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 12, 2017
At New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,  scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Barbara Marian will co-lead a focus session on “LGBT Parish Ministry.”  At the same meeting, Warren Hall will lead a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life.”  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

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.    

New Catholic LGBT Book Is Praised by High Church Leaders

A new Catholic book on LGBT issues, whose main text is based on a talk given at a New Ways Ministry event, has been praised by the Vatican official in charge of family life, a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis, and a bishop who is leading the call for greater pastoral care for LGBT people.  Their dust jacket blurbs join one by Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder

Rev. James Martin, SJ, and the cover of his new book.

Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin, SJ, will be published June 13, 2017, and its dust jacket contains high praise comments from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family, and Life; Cardinal Joseph Tobin, picked personally by Pope Francis to lead the embattled Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey; and Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the San Diego Diocese, who has made LGBT inclusion one of his regular themes; and Sister Jeannine.

The main portion of the book is an adaptation of the talk Fr. Martin gave when he received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award at the end of October 2016.   In addition, the book, which is to be published by HarperOne, will also contain prayer aids and other pastoral material.

David Gibson, a veteran Church observer who writes for Religion News Servicebroke the news about this high praise from Church officials for a gay-friendly book.  In the course of the article, Gibson noted that the praise from church officials for a book which had its origins in a New Ways Ministry program, signaled a momentous shift:

“A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic. . . . That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.”

Fr. Martin told Religion News Service that he sees the praise from these high Church officials as signaling greater sensitivity on LGBT issues:

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful. To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

The following quotations are from the comments on the book’s dust jacket:

Cardinal Kevin Farrell

Cardinal Kevin Farrell:

“A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community. It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Cardinal Joseph Tobin:

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed. Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

Bishop Robert McElroy

Bishop Robert McElroy:

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not. [Fr. Martin] provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Gibson’s reporting summarized the main text of the book concisely:
“In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity. . . .But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.”
New Ways Ministry presented Fr. Martin with the Bridge Building Award last year because of his past achievements in promoting dialogue between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church.  Yet, with the publication of this book, and the praise for it from church officials, shows his bridge building gifts are continuing to grow.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 8, 2018

Calling All LGBTQ Educators in Catholic Schools!

If you’ve been a regular reader of Bondings 2.0, you will be aware of the terrible trend in recent years where LGBT and ally church workers are being dismissed from Catholic institutions.  If this information is news to you, please check out this blog’s resource page which archives all the news related to this terrible injustice.

Catholic schools have been a main target for these firings–both high schools and elementary schools.  While we’ve reported on the firings, the reactions, the protests, one thing that has been missing is the personal stories of the teachers affected.  Furthermore, another untold story is the fear and anxiety that these firings have had on those currently employed in Catholic institutions.

Two researchers from academic institutions have contacted New Ways Ministry to let us know about a study they are doing where they will survey LGBTQ educators currently working in Catholic schools.  This category includes teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, support staff, and others working in Catholic schools.  Respondents do not have to be Catholic themselves. The goal of the survey is to generate a sense of the experience these people face as employees in Catholic schools. The survey would take 15-25 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. The identity of the participant, along with any potential identifying factor, will be kept strictly confidential.   Educators do not have to be “out” as LGBTQ to participate.

This research will be a boon to our church, providing first-hand testimony and data from those who are most affected by this misguided policy of firing.

The researchers have asked New Ways Ministry for help in identifying LGBTQ educators in Catholic schools.  So, we turn to you, our faithful blog readers, to spread the word about this research project.  If you are an LGBTQ teacher in a Catholic school or you know someone who is one, please be in touch with New Ways Ministry: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone (301) 277-5674 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern U.S. Time.

All information will be held in strictest confidence by New Ways Ministry and by the researchers.   The study is being conducted in April and May, so quick responses would be the most helpful.

This research work will provide solid, scientific information and personal experience that can help our church better understand LGBTQ people, particularly those employed in church institutions.  If you have any possibility of asking someone to participate, please do so. Please feel free to share this information with others.

This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Bondings 2.0 will continue our Lenten reflection series with an essay penned by a Catholic high school teacher who identifies as gay and queer.  If you are interested in getting the personal dimension to this issue, be sure to check back here on Sunday, April 9, 2017, to read this moving account.

If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.  Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues.”  During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 7, 2017