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

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Are You Ready to Rejoice?

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the first Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122: 1-9; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“I have issues with anyone who treats God as a burden instead of a blessing.  You people don’t celebrate your faith; you mourn it.”

A heavenly-muse-turned-stripper named Serendipity made these observations in Dogma, a 1990s satirical film about two renegade angels banished for eternity to Wisconsin.  Her point was that many Christians understand their relationship with God in terms of rules, judgment, and punishment, which produces a rather grim spiritual life and an outward emotional disposition to match.  Fewer Christians appear to understand their relationship with God as a source of love, acceptance, and freedom, which can cultivate an exterior joy that is difficult to miss. 

Pope Francis echoed the sentiments of this stripping celestial being earlier this year when he lamented sour-faced Christians whose hearts have “grow[n] old and wrinkled” and inhospitable to others.  If we are grim and pessimistic Christians, what does that say about the God we proclaim?  How will others come to experience and trust in God’s love if we are miserable?  Unfortunately, gloominess is a terminal illness for our spiritual life. 

Our cure is in the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, which remind us of God’s ever-increasing nearness.  The psalmist calls us to “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” to celebrate God’s presence among us – indeed, we will soon celebrate the Incarnation of God-with-us during Christmas.  We must “stay awake” for God “is nearer now than when we first believed.”  How can we be gloomy Christians if we truly believe that God has become one of us and continues to be with us now?

As LGBT Catholics and allies, we have many reasons for gloominess.  Numerous LGBT church workers have been fired from Catholic institutions for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and beliefs about marriage equality.  Our bishops take every opportunity to oppose state and federal legislation that ensures employment non-discrimination and marriage equality for LGBT people.  If the story stopped here, then we would have good reason to be gloomy Christians.

However, our story continues with many reasons to rejoice.  Pope Francis has made several positive remarks about LGBT people.  More and more LGBT Catholics (including priests and nuns!) are leading lives of fullness and integrity by coming out to their families, friends, and faith communities.  More parishes than ever are welcoming LGBT people and their families as active members of the community.  As we build a more inclusive and loving Church, God is able to draw nearer and nearer to us.  Indeed, we are incarnating God for one another!  What an awesome reason for rejoicing! 

Perhaps Dorothy Day is helpful to us:  “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has to start with each one of us?”  Our work to create a more welcoming Church is difficult, but as LGBT Catholics and allies, our task is to be joyful people.  Others may disagree with us about LGBT issues, but they will see our love and joy — and see God in us.  If we are joyful witnesses, not gloomy and sour, then others will recognize the beauty and love that LGBT people bring to our Church – and we will transform it!

Let us resolve this Advent season to be joyful Christians.  If we focus on reasons to rejoice and celebrate our faith, not mourn it, then we will transform ourselves and touch the hearts of others.  

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry