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.

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.

 

Why Being in Love Leads Us to Seek Justice and Equality

Can the erotic power of being in love so often transform us to more radically seek justice? This question drives David A.J. Richards’ book, Why Love Leads to Justice?, which was recently reviewed for the National Catholic Reporter by this Bondings 2.0‘s Associate Editor, Robert Shine. The reviewer starts off:

“Being in love and being loved by someone are the heights of human experience, unleashing the erotic part of us in a most profound and powerful way. Love is the crucial good most of us seek, the fire that fuels us, and the God whom many of us worship. We believe in love.

“Why, then, do most of us so desperately seek to restrain and restrict love? And what would happen if we stopped policing intimacy through civil laws and cultural taboos, enforcing them as if they are a set of Love Laws? What if we just let love run wild through our lives?”

51noegiw18l-_sx329_bo1204203200_The book, wrote Shine, is an “interdisciplinary exploration about erotic power and ethical resistance to patriarchy,” explored through the lives of artists and activists such as Benjamin Britten, W.H. Auden, Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin. Critiquing the book for a lack of female protagonists, Shine suggested Why Love Leads to Justice could be a foundation for further exploration of other boundary transgressive relationships. He wrote:

“Patriarchy is fundamental to injustice because, in Richards’ words, it ‘destroys the search for real relationships with other persons, as the individuals they are,’ and it demands exacting violence against any resisters. It afflicts all people through attendant oppressions, such as homophobia and racism, and it brutalizes the powerless and the privileged alike. Patriarchy is ‘a threat to love itself.’ . . .

“But in the very love threatened, we find the roots of resistance because ‘breaking the Love Laws can have an emancipatory ethical significance, empowering ethical voices of resistance.’ By loving across boundaries, by being beloved and experiencing the power that erotic intimacy has, by knowing love’s disarming vulnerability and unknowable mystery, we are led to true freedom.”

Of particular interest to LGBT Catholics and their allies is Shine’s juxtaposition of Richards’ book with the Church’s “Love Laws”:

“I have witnessed firsthand this phenomenon in Catholics whose intimate love breaks the Catholic church’s own Love Laws. The faithful people who are in queer relationships or second marriages, who practice contraception or accompany a partner transitioning genders, who say they have experienced God’s love more robustly through boundary-breaking intimacy.

“Through love, these Catholics find a voice to defy the ecclesial patriarchy that bans the ordination of women, condemns same-gender love, and leaves open the wounds of clergy sexual abuse. Too many church leaders cause harm because Catholic programs of formation have stifled education about the erotic.”

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know both how often and how widespread this type of repression happens. But also on display in these daily updates is the power of love to transform the church and the world, a point also made in the book which, Shine said, “deeply affirmed my belief in love, specifically the radical power of the erotic.”

The review, which you can read here, concluded with a challenge, an offer for readers to examine their own lives and whether a “failure to let love run wildly through [their] lives” is impairing their work for justice. Shine ends with a provocative question:

“Yes, love is patient, and love is kind. But if it is not also radically free and resisting injustice, is it really love at all?”

How would you respond to the book’s central that love leads to justice? Has love led you or someone you know to seek LGBT equality in the church? Or has church leaders’ stifling of certain types of love impaired you or someone you know from being able to do this work?

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 3, 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.

From Ashes, We Will Rise

ish-ruiz
Ish Ruiz

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 Ish Ruiz,  a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. His academic interests explore the intersection between social ethics, human rights, education, and marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, and religious minorities. A lifelong Catholic, Ish is dedicated to living out his faith through the practice of justice: he passionately envisions a Church that is open and inclusive to all.

The Ash Wednesday phrase “you are dust and to dust you shall return” has always felt a bit incomplete to me. When I reflect on this humbling reminder of the frailty of life, I am reminded that journeys do not end with a return to dust. In fact, we have all witnessed marginalized communities rise up from the ashes of injustice and oppression. Our country has seen the deaths of queer people, black people, immigrants, and countless others transformed into seeds that sow new life. The same dynamic happens with many marginalized communities and their journeys as the beloved children of God–journeys that are often marked by moments of despair and instances of hope.

The Israelites’ journey to Zion was not quick or easy. It was filled with a desert of trials. There were dark moments and they came to experience death in many forms. Nonetheless, they also experienced the constant assurance that they were the Chosen People of a God that would never abandon them.

Is the same true of our marginalized communities? Are LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, homeless people, and other disenfranchised groups aware that they a part of the Chosen People of God? Do they hear from us a message of love that affirms them as the “beloved of God”? Or are we a voice that brings death? Are we the ones that turn human life into ash? Or do we help them rise from the ashes to new life?

Last week I learned a great lesson from the LGBTQ+ community about what it means to journey from ashes to new life.  I had the chance to attend the San Francisco premiere of ABC-TV’s new mini-series When We Rise (a fitting title), which portrays the lives of several key figures in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. This intersectional history series captures the reality of this community’s heartfelt quest for justice. Their trials and victories are a testament to the journey of all of God’s beloved Chosen People.

When the LGBTQ+ community experiences discrimination from law enforcement, the assassination of heroic political figures, indifference in the face of an epidemic that takes away their loved ones, threats to many of their legal rights, rejection from many religious groups, a devastating massacre in a gay club in Orlando, and countless other threats to their dignity, they rise from the ashes and their hearts pulse together as one.

When they see the suffering of their fellow human beings who are Muslim, immigrant, female, poor, homeless, or marginalized in other ways, they rise from the ashes with them and remind them of their dignity.  These communities are the Chosen People of God – the “new “Israelites” – and we, as a Church, have much to learn from their journey as a people.

Seeking justice for all of God’s people is essential for a life lived in accordance with the Gospel. All humans deserve respect: we are all united in our common human journey. When we become indifferent to the cries of LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, racial minorities, women, and others in need, we become less human and we move farther away from the Gospel. We send a message that “ashes” are the end of the journey. We tell people: “The Resurrection of Christ is not for you.”

In a recent doctoral dissertation by Kevin Stockbridge, the term “Easter People” is used to refer to the journey of queer people who have become agents of social transformation through their witness. Their experiences of oppression-turned-into-love are a call for all to work together to experience new life. Everyone is asked to follow the footsteps of the risen Christ. We are all rising from the ashes as a human family – we are called to do it together so that everybody regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, ability, and background is able to embrace the Resurrection of Christ as their own.

May this Lenten season help us renew our commitment to creating a world where love and justice rise from the ashes of hate and oppression. May it also be a time of reflection and gratitude for those whose have turned to ash so that the rest of us can continue to build the Kingdom of God. May this Lenten journey bring us closer together, reminding us that we are all together in this one struggle that unites the human race – a struggle to rise together from ashes. May this Lenten journey help us all become an “Easter people.”

We ask this through Christ, our brother. Amen.

–Ish Ruiz,  Graduate Theological Union, March 1, 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.