Reflect on Lent By Reading ‘Scripture and Story’ from LGBTQ Catholics

Today’s post is from guest blogger Jeff Vomund, who is Chair of the Liturgy Committee at Dignity/Washington.

I have heard the song “Lift Every Voice (and Sing),” known as the Black American National Anthem, sung hundreds of times over the course of my life.  (If you’ve never heard it, click here to listen to a moving a cappella version.) The hymn mixes James Weldon Johnson’s stark poetry with his brother John’s determined score.  Never has its title and first line felt so viscerally true to me as it has in our increasingly post-fact and post-truth world. The importance of each and “every voice” rings truer than ever.

dw-coverAnd while many voices have been raised recently in some form of protest, building bridges between people is also a vital concern for every voice.  Creating community has been a driving motive behind Dignity/Washington’s Lenten project:  Scripture and Story:  Lent through an LGBTQ Lens.  Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBTQ Catholics in Washington D.C., as well as friends and allies from across the spectrum of the Christian faith.  Scripture and Story is a book of daily reflections for Lent.  It contains a short reflection based on the daily readings for each of the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  These reflections are not just a commentary on the Scriptures but they also relate the lived experiences of the LGBTQ people of faith who authored them.

You can download a free PDF of the entire booklet by clicking here:  You can order hard copies, while supplies last, by emailing jeffvomund@gmail.com.

This project began as a service to Dignity/Washington members as a way to show how unique yet universal each person’s “journey through the desert” is.  However, in a world where vocal volume can be equated with truth, we wanted to share our own quiet encouragement to community with others, too.  It seems more important than ever to lift up the voices of any who have been outcast or oppressed.  This imperative is not true just for the discrimination waged against LGBTQ people by Church leaders. We seek to join a chorus of voices that want to make their presence known to a world in which members of a minority can feel invisible and unimportant.

In no way do we denigrate the faith experiences of those in the majority.  Just the opposite.  If you look at the reflections of these 47 brave authors, the most obvious characteristic is the universality of all faith experience.  We LGBTQ-identifying Catholics have, in so many ways, a journey that looks like any other believer:  the struggle to understand God’s call; the desire to love deeply and have meaning; the call to follow Jesus’ example of compassion.

At some point, we are all in the desert, seeking the freedom of a Promised Land that we worry might never be ours.  This is true, even as we rejoice when we catch glimpses of that land “across the Jordan” from where safety and peace beckon us.  Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong.  That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief.  But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert.  Paradoxically, that which the Church identifies as

Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong.  That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief.  But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert.  Paradoxically, that which the Church identifies as disorder has shown itself to be just a different way that God has “ordered our steps” as we travel to the Promised Land for which all creation groans.

That symbiosis between our faith and our sexuality is what we most wanted to share with those believers and fellow travelers outside of our community.  We offer it, not because our community or any of the individual authors believe we have reached this land of “milk and honey,” but because we are still on that journey. The more people who walk together, the further everyone can go.  We offer our voices of faith in the hope that it will encourage other people to share their own stories.  We are more convinced than ever that sharing our stories (and listening to others) matters deeply for our world.  And we have never been more convicted that for every voice to be lifted each person must add their own–no matter how imperfect–to the chorus.

Jeff Vomund, Dignity/ Washington, February 26, 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.

Easter Sunday: Resurrection and God’s Faithfulness

“Glory of Christ–Easter Day 2008” by Stephen Whatley (21st century)

The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us.

No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness….

The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste.

What belongs to God will never get lost.

–Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift

Holy Saturday: From All I Am to All I Have Not Yet Become

“Body of Christ” by Annibale Carraci (16th century)

Letting Go

By Edwina Gateley

It is time to go.
I can smell it.
Breathe it
Touch it.
And something in me
Trembles.
I will not cry.
Only sit bewildered.
Brave and helpless
That it is time.
Time to go.
Time to step out
Of the world
I shaped and watched
Become.
Time to let go
Of the status and
The admiration.
Time to go.
To turn my back
On a life that throbs
With my vigor
And a spirit
That soared
Through my tears.
Time to go
From all I am
To all I have
Not yet become.

Good Friday: Losing Your Life to Make It Worth Living

“Christ Crucified” by Diego Velazquez (17th Century)

Inspection stickers used to have printed on the back, “Drive carefully: the life you save may be your own.” That is the wisdom of men in a nutshell.

What God says, on the other hand, is, “The life you save is the life you lose.” In other words, the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living.

To bring this point home, God shows us a man who gave his life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to his name. In terms of men’s wisdom, he was a perfect fool, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without making something like the same kind of fool of himself is laboring not under a cross but a delusion.

–Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life

Holy Thursday: The Bread of Life, The Bread of Our Lives

Last Supper by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS (20th-21st century)

In each of our lives Jesus comes as the Bread of Life–to be eaten, to be consumed by us. This is how He loves us.

Then Jesus comes in our human life as the hungry one, the other, hoping to be fed with the Bread of our life, our hearts by loving, and our hands by serving.

In loving and serving, we prove that we have been created in the likeness of God, for God is Love and when we love we are like God.

–Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Jesus Christ: He Wants to Love With Our Hearts and Serve With Our Hands,”  1997.

Do We Have Blood on Our Hands?

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; and Luke 22:14-23:56. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

“What evil has this man done?”  An exasperated Pontius Pilate asked the crowd this question after he judged that Jesus was guilty of no crime.  But, for their own reasons, the people insisted on violence; Pilate capitulated and sentenced Jesus — an innocent man — to die.  In equal parts, both Pilate and the mob had blood on their hands for Jesus’ death.  
 
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“Passion of Matthew Shepard” by Rev. William Hart McNichols, a Catholic priest-artist, who dedicated this icon to the memory of LGBT youth who commit suicide, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.

“What evil has this man done?”  Pilate’s words echo in my mind as I remember Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was beaten, tortured, and left to die on a lonely country road in Wyoming in 1998.  I remember the television news that showed the wooden fence where Matthew spent his last hours, alone and in pain.  

I remember hearing the eyewitness testimony that described Matthew’s face as caked in blood, except for where his tears washed the skin clean.  And I remember that Matthew’s murder was the first time that I (as a naive fifteen-year old) realized lesbian and gay people are sometimes hurt or killed due to their sexual orientation.  
 
Many years have passed since Matthew Shepard’s death but, unfortunately, LGBT people are still victims of discrimination and violence.  Every year, the Passion narrative of Palm Sunday should remind us that innocent people still die today and that, while we are not responsible for violence committed by others, we are responsible for creating the culture in which we all live.  
Are we contributing to a culture where homophobia can flourish?  Like the mob surrounding Jesus, do we allow voices that call for blood and violence to remain unchallenged?  Or are we building a culture that values every person and embraces genuine diversity?  Do we share our stories of love so that such love can abound and multiply in our midst?
As we enter the holiest week of our year, I pray that we hold near to us these stories of violence and death — of Jesus, of Matthew Shepard, of LGBT people in our own time and place — and that we will be inspired to cultivate lives of love and hope so that all God’s children will be accepted and welcomed as they are.   
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

Our Eagerness to Be the One to Cast the First Stone

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126: 1-6; Philippians 3:8-14; and John 8:1-11. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery is, ironically, a favorite of those who like to castigate LGBT people.  They say that because Jesus says “Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” that they are justified in telling other people–specifically, LGBT people–how to live their lives.  It seems the rest of the story is lost on them because they think they have found a Scripture text that they can use against others.

In holding onto this one line of Scripture, such people are doing exactly what the scribes and Pharisees in the story have done: isolating one bit of text and, in the process, losing the whole spirit of Scripture’s message that people should not judge one another, but should love one another and offer each other mercy.  The gospel writer is clear that their purposes are vengeful, not religious. The author says they brought the woman to Jesus “so that they could have some charge to bring against him.”  People use the act of judging not only to bring harm on their targeted victim, but to trap others, as well. Human beings are always way too eager to cast the first stone.

In the gospel story, Jesus’ first response is to write in the dirt.  Some commentators say that this action is a message from Jesus:  by doing so, he is telling the accusers that the letter of the law is as transitory as letters written in the sand.  They need to find the law’s deeper message, which is a message of acceptance and mercy.  More importantly, they should look to their own lives to discover sin, not to search for it in other people’s lives.  Indeed, this same message, so important to Jesus’ ministry, appeared in the gospel story two weeks ago.

Only Christ can tell us to “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Other human beings don’t have that authority.  Christ will speak to us in the depths of our heart, in the privacy of our consciences, when all other judgmental people have disappeared, and when we are alone with Christ.  Only Christ  knows whether we have sinned or not.  If other people try to point out the sins of others, they fall into the same trap as the scribes and Pharisees in today’s story.  They open themselves up to the same rebuke that Jesus gave them:  “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The scribes and the Pharisees in today’s story can be forgiven for their error because of their ignorance.  They were doing what they had been taught to do.  I think of that lesson when I am confronted with church leaders who oppose any sort of progress for LGBT equality.  It is not necessarily evil and hatred that motivates them.  Instead, I think, most of the time they are held captive by the narrowness of their own upbringing.  That is why we must constantly seek to educate such people. We must continue to tell our stories, even when they don’t want to hear them.  We must continue to speak out so that others can learn the deeper messages of God’s Word.

Our job is not to point out whether we think other people have committed a sexual sin, the sin of homophobia, or any kind of sin.  Our job is to examine our own lives, recognize our own need for God’s mercy and forgiveness, and to try to offer that same mercy and forgiveness to others.  If we think of ourselves as in this story, we certainly should not picture ourselves as Jesus.  We don’t even need to think of ourselves as the woman.  The scribes and Pharisees, the ones who are too inclined to judge others and to appeal to the authority of the law, are the people that I think we most reflect.

In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God tells us that we need to give up our habitual patterns and our penchant for always doing things the way they have been done for so long.  We need to be aware that our old ways of thinking need to be transformed:

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

God is always calling us to something new.  Isaiah continues with a message that even the situations which seem most hopeless for renewal can, in fact, be renewed by God:

In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
Wild beasts honor me,
jackals and ostriches,
for I put water in the desert
and rivers in the wasteland. . .

God does not give up on us–ever!  And God does not give up on those who are opposed to LGBT equality–ever!  God is always wanting us to renew ourselves, to examine our lives–not the lives of others–and to be open to “something new.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry