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

 

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can read the list of names of employees at Catholic institutions who have been fired, forced to resign, or had offers rescinded because of their LGBTQ+ identity.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.    

We Are Not in the Tomb But in the Womb

Elaina Jo Polovick

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 Elaina Jo Polovick, a second year Masters of Divinity student at the Jesuit School of Theology. Elaina is currently working on her field education at the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center in San Francisco.

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

“Master, the one you love is ill.” Mary says this to Jesus point blank in today’s Gospel. Mary, who has already anointed the feet of Jesus, is clearly close to Jesus. She knows that Jesus loves Lazarus, her brother, and she knows that Jesus will visit.

When I hear Mary boldly say “the one you love is ill” I feel the call to make it my own prayer. But who is the one who is ill? Right now, I think it is not just one person. It is a Church and a country who continuously rejects their LGQBT brothers and sisters that are ill. In fact, an illness plagues our communities.

Jesus says of Lazarus’ illness: “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In the hope that the weaknesses of our Church communities do not end in death, last semester I wrote a liturgy with another student in which we hoped to name the reality that the Church we love is ill. We wrote the liturgy as a final project for a Queer Theology class we took at the Pacific School of Religion. (Queer Theology is the academic study of theology through the perspectives of LGQBT people). The goal of our liturgy was to ask what does it mean to love one another, to see each person as God’s Beloved? And how do we attempt to find justice, harmony, and reconciliation in our Church with all its complexities, full of beautiful, broken people and their identities? Our hope was to move toward a more loving, vulnerable, and authentic community to care for each and every part of the Body of Christ.

Last week we had the blessed opportunity of celebrating part of the liturgy we had written. The core of the liturgy was a ritual where those present were invited to write on a piece of paper an identity that they struggle with and/or embrace in relation to the. I and the other presider told the community that each of these identities, each of these pieces of who we are, would be read aloud anonymously by myself and the other presider. We gave about five minutes for people to write something and add it to a basket in front of the altar. Since each identity written was held by at least one member of the community present, a member of the Body of Christ, we knew they must be held and honored by the whole community. So, each identity that was read aloud was echoed by the community. When we read things like, “I am a woman, I am bisexual, I am a teacher, I am sexy, I am transgender, I am a priest” the community echoed, “We are women, we are bisexual, we are teachers, we are sexy, we are transgender, we are priests.”

The experience of that ritual proved to be more moving than I could have expected. There was laughter and tears, pain and hope. Hope is something we need in our Church. We need to know that although sometimes naming or accepting our identities may seem like a death, we are really only facing a temporary darkness as Lazarus did. A good friend who has been walking with me through my coming out recently told me that sometimes we are not in the tomb but in the womb. For me, starting to tell people that I am queer has felt like walking into a dark cold uncertain tomb, but those who know me well have seen a transformation. Being who I am has brought me greater life and light. And praying the identity ritual last week made me feel known more fully as who I am by my community and by God.

Jesus not only awakens Lazarus in today’s gospel, he also awakens the disciples to a greater understanding of who Jesus is: a revolutionary, a miracle worker, and a beloved friend. We must awaken our Church to be revolutionary in its fight for the dignity of every person regardless of the diverse identities they hold. We must awaken our Church to be miraculous in its openness to loving all the members of the Body of Christ. We must awaken the Church to be a beloved friend that loves so deeply it is willing to weep at the deaths people face every day, just as Jesus wept to show how deep his love for Lazarus was.

Sometimes we are afraid to open the tomb or to be born anew. We are afraid of how heavy the stone is, we are afraid of the smell– we are afraid of having to deal with what is inside our Church. But we must be willing to leave the tomb, or perhaps to reorient ourselves so we realize we are in fact in the womb getting ready for the light.

Instead of doing general intercessions in last week’s liturgy, we petitioned the One Who Loves Us by saying: We dream of a church where…

. . . No one is considered intrinsically disordered;
. . . Everyone regardless of their gender or sexual orientation can be fully welcomed;
. . . Marital status cannot keep people away from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist;
. . . Where everyone matters and all are welcome;
. . . Where there is justice;
. . . Where there is love.

We prayed for the one Jesus loves: each and every one of us, exactly as we are.

I hope that as we continue our Lenten journey, we can continue these prayers.

–Elaina Jo Polovick, April 2, 2017

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.    

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.

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.