Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

There must be always
remaining in every life,
some place for the singing of angels.

Some place for that
which in itself
is breathless and
beautiful.

Old burdens become lighter
deep and ancient wounds
lose much of their old hurting.

Despite all the crassness of life,
all the hardness and
harsh discords,
life is saved by
the singing of angels.

–Howard Thurman

A merry and blessed Christmas to you from New Ways Ministry!

 

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God’s Incarnate Promise, Our Promise to Love One Another

This weekend, Christians around the world gather with their families and loved ones to celebrate the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. There is much to ponder about God became human, but one truth it affirms is the goodness of being embodied beings in relationship with and loving other beings.

Sadly, this weekend can also be difficult for many LGBT people if lack of acceptance for their identities and/or relationships has caused pain or division in families and communities. Returning home for Christmas can be a moment where holy embodiment is forgotten, and LGBT people are asked by misguided loved ones to leave the fullness of their lives and their love at the door.

As Christmas celebrations begin today, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the words of Amy Morris-Young in the National Catholic Reporter who recently told the story of her brother’s coming out as a gay man, and how families can respond with love.

Morris-Young begins her tale with an anecdote about being a child in the 1960s, riding around in the back of her family’s car. In a silly game, the siblings would try to elicit reactions from drivers by waving at them while saying through clenched teeth, “Wave if you’re gay!” But when they grew up, that childish statement took on a different meaning. She explained:

“My baby brother, Tom, was now 19. He had just completed his first year at our shared Catholic university, and was driving north for a visit. He told me on the phone before he left Southern California that he wanted to talk with me about something in person. He had decided to come out. He was gay.”

Tom had already come out to his family, friends, and Catholic parishioners, and these conversations did not go well. But Morris-Young was already prepared to greet him in a special way:

“When I opened our front door, and saw Tom standing there, road-weary and squinting at me through the glass of the storm door, I just smiled and held up my hand, saying, ‘Wave if you’re gay.’

“He slowly raised his hand and wiggled his fingers.

“We both laughed as I let him in.

“When he dropped his duffel bag, I hugged him. He started to cry, his head heavy on my shoulder, his body shuddering with each sob.

“We stood there for a long time. When he finally straightened up and sniffed, wiping his dripping nose on the back of his sleeve, I saw that his tired, sad eyes made him look a lot older than 19. I had moved away to college when he was 11, and never moved back. He had been through a lot since then.”

Morris-Young said the two spent a week catching up, including many conversations about growing up in a Catholic family, a Catholic parish, and a Catholic school. Tom had suffered “trying to hide his attraction, and his shame. . .trying to force himself to be normal.” During the week, it came out that Morris-Young had known her brother was different since they were young. She told him a story:

“I said, ‘When you were 3 years old, and I was 10, you walked into my bedroom, and said, “Amy, there’s been a big mistake. I was supposed to be a girl. Who do we talk to?” ‘

“He said, ‘I don’t remember that.’

“I smiled, ‘Tom, you were 3. Of course you don’t. But I do. I don’t remember what I told you, but I do remember that you were super disappointed that I couldn’t fix it for you. I mean, I was your big sister. I was supposed to know everything, right? I felt bad.'”

Morris-Young said that she was “happy [Tom] had been brave enough to come out, but I was still scared for him. And for us.” Acceptance by the rest of their fellow Catholics was slower, and Tom was “trapped at the edges of our family” and “marginalized.” When she mentioned the story about his question when he was three years-old, the adult Tom cried. She remarked:

“The pain of knowing exactly who he was at three years old — followed by a lifetime of continually striving for dignity and acceptance in a world that can still be harsh and judging and dangerous — seemed just as fresh as it had been more than 20 years earlier.”

lgbt_family_logo_ceramic_ornament-rd0ce0e1d152346e5b60ad965b3162478_x7s2g_8byvr_324Morris-Young is now a mother and a grandmother who knows that our contemporary times are a very different fromm the era when Tom came to understand his sexual identity and live authentically. She promised that she would offer a better response than her ten year-old self if a child or grandchild were to ask, “There has been a mistake. Who do we talk to?”  Her thoughts are ones we should all remember this Christmas season:

“I promise an answer full of love and acceptance and hope. One that says God doesn’t make mistakes, and we are each created to be exactly as we are. That above all, we are family, and we are on this journey together. And that I promise to be your designated adult, to do my best to keep you safe from everything I can — from choking on small objects to having to face unkindness or injustice all alone — forever and ever, amen.”

As we remember anew the promise of love God makes to us through the Incarnation, knowing that when God became human, our embodied beings were affirmed wholly as wonderfully made, let us make that same promise to one another. We will always answer our loved ones with love, acceptance, and hope. We will promise to do our best to accompany them the way that Jesus Emmanuel accompanies us.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 24, 2016

LGBT Christmas in Ireland: “We Are All the Same in God”

At Dublin, Ireland’s 18th Annual LGBT Christmas Carol Service , the guest speaker was Ursula Halligan, Political Editor with TV3. Ms. Halligan, a Catholic,  came out publicly as a lesbian a few days before Ireland’s successful marriage equality referendum last year.  In the op-ed essay where she came out, she made the following observation about voting for marriage equality:

“As a person of faith and a Catholic, I believe a Yes vote is the most Christian thing to do. I believe the glory of God is the human being fully alive and that this includes people who are gay.”

ursula-brian
Ursula Halligan and Brian Glennon before the Advent Service

Halligan further spoke about her life, faith and sexuality on Ireland’s Anton Savage radio program.

The LGBT Christmas Carol Service is sponsored by a coalition of  Irish LGBT equality and church reform groups: BeLonGChanging Attitude Ireland; Dublin Gay Men’s Chorus; LGBT Helpline; LOOKGay & Lesbian Equality Network;  All Are Welcome Catholic MassOWLSUnitarian Church, DublinWe Are Church Ireland.  

The service was held at Unitarian Church, Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on December 10, 2016.  The prayers were led by Brian Glennon, who originated the Carol service for the LGBT community 18 years ago.

The following is the text of Ms. Hallgian’s reflection at the prayer service:

Thank you Brian. My goodness you are in fine voice tonight!  Now, I know it’s Christmas. And what do we do at Christmas?
We go home.
And that’s why I’m here with you tonight. I wanted to be at home with my family at Christmas time. I wanted to say a big thank you to the LGBT community for the love and support you’ve showered on me since I wrote my piece in the Irish Times.

Up until May 2015 I never knew I had such a wonderful family. (I certainly never knew they had such beautiful singing voices!) And for you and me, it’s all been about voice; hasn’t it?
You and me; we’ve shared a common journey.
We had to find our voice.
We had to find our inner truth.
We had to find the courage to speak it.
To throw away the masks.
To be real.
To be true to our selves.

img_3734
Ursula Halligan

It took me a long time to find my voice but I am so glad I did.
Because as Martin Luther King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”  We shrivel up as human beings if we don’t speak our truth; if we don’t
speak from our conscience. And for me, as a person of faith, conscience is the voice of God that echoes in the depths of each one of us.  Our truth comes from the God within us; not from any institution. 

And if God doesn’t have a problem with us, why should anyone else?

Last year the people of Ireland threw their arms around us and set us free to be equal citizens with everyone else.  It was a magnificent act of love. 
And it is all about love.
We come from love. We are love. We go back to love.
God is love.

It was love that first prompted me to speak up because I believed our love is as good as anyone else’s love. Love is love.  There is no inequality in love. And that’s why it saddens me that the church I belong to and love has yet to accept us the way the Irish people have.

It is important for our flourishing as human beings that we have a vibrant faith community that welcomes and loves us; a place where we can be ourselves without fear or constraint. A place where we are affirmed; where we’re told we’re ok. We need to hear the good news of the Gospel in a place that totally respects us for who we are, exactly as we are. We need to look after one another.

Over the years, thanks to the Unitarian Church here on Stephens Green; to you Reverend Spain and to wonderful Catholics such as Brian Glennon and others, the LGBT community has been trying to grow its own faith community to meet that need. You have kept the candle burning in the darkness.

But I have a dream that one day all the churches will fling open their doors to their LGBT brothers and sisters. That a blaze of warmth and love will welcome us home. That we will be granted equality in marriage and treated the same in every respect with others in the church. That we will be accepted and loved in our wholeness as human beings. That anything that divides the people of God, even labels like “Gay” and “Straight” will be replaced by brother and sister.

Because we are all one.
Just like our love.
We are all the same in God.

 

When Advent Hopes Collide with Christmas Surprises

We are on the brink of Christmas. Advent is coming to a close.  How has this season of expectation, preparation, and hope been for you? For me, it has been a bit of a roller-coaster.

After an autumn of lots of traveling for New Ways Ministry, I was preparing for a rare—nay, unprecedented—month-long vacation, visiting India and Bangladesh with a Franciscan friend of mine. He used to minister there educating Franciscan novices and leaders, and we were going to visit his friends.  Christmas would be spent in a contemplative Poor Clare convent in the hills of Bangladesh.  Just what I needed at the end of an extremely hectic year. Pure bliss.

So, my Advent was filled with travel preparations and expectations:  visa applications, immunizations, finding the right electrical adapters, worrying about wi-fi connections and cell phone service.

And then it ended.  A serious, unexpected health problem in the family of my traveling companion arose just two weeks before our scheduled departure.  We would have to postpone, perhaps until the spring, perhaps indefinitely.  Sadness and disappointment were mixed, I must admit, with a bit of selfish relief that I could stop the worried and frenzied travel preparations, and that I now had some unexpected “found time.”

Well, the “found time” evaporated very quickly.  I soon realized I now had to “shift gears” and start Christmas preparations.  Gifts that I had planned on buying in Asia, now had to be bought at the local mall. Christmas cards needed to be filled out and mailed.  Decorations had to come down from the attic. And what about baking the Christmas cookies?   What I usually rush to do in four weeks now was going to have to be done in two.

Needless to say, not everything got done.

But enough about my tale of woe.   The point is that I learned an Advent lesson from this experience which I think might be pertinent for those Catholics who work for LGBT equality and justice.

Advent is a time of expectation, preparation, and hope.  But what we expect, prepare, and hope for may not arrive as we have planned it.  And it may not arrive on our schedule. God works in mysterious ways, and, often, in more mysterious time frames.  I’ve learned that it is important to expect, prepare, and hope, but that we also need to be open to surprise.

That was my greatest lesson from all of 2014.  Many of us had great hopes for the October synod on marriage and family.  We spent months in anticipation, buoyed by Pope Francis’ positive messages signaling openness to change, by the Vatican’s call for greater discussion by the entire church, and by greater openness from bishops around the world to recognizing the positive gifts of lesbian and gay couples.

We prayed and prepared and hoped.  And as the synod opened, we started hearing positive messages from participants and observers.  And then came the mid-term report, with its strongly worded affirmations of lesbian and gay people.  Our hopes, it seemed, were being realized. I even toyed with the idea that the work of Catholic LGBT advocacy would soon be waning, that our hopes and dreams were now being realized at last.

Then the final report came out, and we found ourselves in the same position that we had always been in.  No positive message.  Was all the expectation, preparation, and hope for naught?

One of my favorite spiritual writers, José Antonio Pagola, in a homily on the fourth Sunday of Advent in his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus: Meditations on the Gospel, Year B, notes that the coming of Jesus was also seen as a disappointment for many.  Born in the backwater of Bethlehem, in a stable, in the midst of Roman occupation, to unknown, powerless parents, Jesus certainly did not have any of the earmarks of a Messiah that Israel expected.

But God works in mysterious ways.  And on a mysterious time schedule.  Our expectations, preparations, and hopes are never in vain.  They just may not receive their fruition in the way we expect them and in the time that we expect them.  We have another synod, a more definitive one coming up in November 2015.  And we need to work and pray with the hope that that one will be better than this past year’s.

More importantly, we must learn to be surprised by God.  Isn’t surprise what our secular tradition of Christmas gift-giving and even decorations are all about? Advent is about expectation, preparation, and hope, but Christmas is about surprise, about finding God, love, and joy in the most unexpected of places. Who knows what surprises God has in store for the 2015 synod?  I know that no one I know was prepared for the surprises that came at this past year’s meeting.

I won’t be in India and Bangladesh this Christmas season, and I don’t have all my decorations up, presents bought, or cookies baked.  But, nevertheless, I plan on being surprised, once again, as I always am, by the love of my family and friends, in ways that I never expect. I can’t wait to see what God has in store!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas!

  A merry and blessed Christmas to all of New Ways Ministry’s friends, supporters, and blog readers!

“Mystical Nativity” by Sandro Boticelli, 1500.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus

that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.

Luke 2: 1-14

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Christmas Party for New Ways Ministry Volunteers

New Ways Ministry Volunteer Christmas Party:  Standing: Vern Smith, Patrick McNelis, David Lamdin, David Vespa; Seated: Mark Clark, Thom Krupa, Bob Shine, Matthew Myers; Kneeling:  Sister Jeannine Gramick
At the New Ways Ministry Volunteer Christmas Party, staff and volunteers join “Santa” in sending a pro-marriage equality message. Standing: Vern Smith, Patrick McNelis, David Lamdin, David Vespa; Seated: Mark Clark, Thom Krupa, Bob Shine (dressed as Santa), Matthew Myers; Kneeling: Sister Jeannine Gramick

As Christmas draws near,  we’d like to share a little holiday cheer from New Ways Ministry by presenting this photograph of our annual dinner party for our dedicated volunteers.  We took a moment during the party to send a message of Catholic support for marriage equality to all.

Almost every Tuesday evening, a group of volunteers from the local Washington, DC metropolitan area stop by New Ways Ministry’s offices in Mount Rainier, Maryland, to help us prepare the bulk mailings that we send out to our constituents and supporters.  Without these volunteers,  our communications folks around the country and the globe would be much slower and more expensive.  These stalwart worker help spread the word about our programs of education, spiritual development, and advocacy on Catholic LGBT issues.

We are extremely grateful for their service.  If you live in the DC metro area and are interested in volunteering some time, please contact New Ways Ministry either by phone, 301-277-5674, or email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, so that we can let you know what the upcoming schedule is.

The work is not difficult, and it’s a great way of spending an evening together with like-minded souls.  We always end each evening with pizza and soda as refreshments.

We’d love to see you some volunteer night in 2013!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Hoping in Christ Amid Troubling Times

The Visitation

The liturgical readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent are Micah 5: 1-4a, Hebrews 10:5-10, and Luke 1:39-45. You can view the readings here: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122312.cfm

In the Advent season, we ascend towards a peak expectation for Christ’s coming that plays out this fourth Sunday. The readings today unequivocally proclaim the coming goodness, exuding hope in these final moments before we celebrate the Incarnation!

Yet, life’s daily demands coupled with so many troubling moments these last few days may challenge our participation in the joy of Advent’s peak that Scripture calls us to. On Catholic LGBT issues, the news this week reveals an undercurrent of strengthened anti-equality messaging from the Vatican and the rejection of LGBT students at Catholic schools. Travesties such as the Newtown massacre add to this challenge of truly hoping in Christ.

In the first two readings, the prophet Micah and St. Paul address religious communities short on hope and weary of living their faith. Micah preaches against those who dutifully perform rituals while sustaining an unjust society, instead favoring a return to just human relationships as God’s truest desire for us. In today’s excerpt, we hear:

“You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel…

“He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock
by the strength of the LORD,
in the majestic name of the LORD, his God;
and they shall remain, for now his greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.”

The peasant prophet identifies a marginalized community as the place from which the greatest ruler of Israel and restoration of thriving religious belief will emanate. For Micah, it is the suffering and outcast communities that create and catalyze this return to righteousness, not the established institutions or most ritually pious. From the margins comes the hope, the joy, the peace, and the love that we must create in the world.

Perhaps, even when tough news dominates, we can learn to leap with joy like John the Baptist does in Elizabeth’s womb, as today’s gospel describes. We should embrace love of each person in place of religious legalism that obfuscates Christ’s presence. We should welcome all persons into our churches, focusing on the presence of love in each person and every relationship. And when we cannot love as such and feel pained or powerless, we must remember the words of Oscar Romero that speak to the true origins of our hope:

“We can hope for [justice], not because we humans are able to construct that realm of happiness which God’s holy words proclaim, but because the builder of a reign of justice, of love, and of peace is already in the midst of us.”

May we always be aware of this reality and respond joyfully to it, even in troubling times.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry