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On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.
I’ve seen it on signs in sports arenas, on billboards near the highway, and even on a restaurant menu. It’s a statement of belief and an invitation to discipleship. I think it could even be considered a good one-sentence summary of our Christian faith. I’m referring to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John makes an audacious claim, but one that makes our faith worth living – God is intensely and irrevocably in love with us! To demonstrate this great love, God actually became human to be nearer to us, to share our hardships and joys, and to teach us how to experience the fullness of life. To use Pope Francis’ words, there is no truer example of the shepherd wanting to smell like the sheep as this Good Shepherd!
To better understand today’s reading from John’s Gospel, I encourage you to read his first epistle, especially chapter four. John makes many profound observations about the nature of God and of love, but one particularly bold statement stands out: “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… for whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” As LGBT Catholics and allies, I think we need to sit with these words for a long time because they have dramatic and far-reaching implications for us.
I believe the Gospel calls us to love not just those in the LGBT community, but also the people who oppose LGBT rights in our church and civil society. Not to politely ignore them or even just tolerate them, but really love them. As John notes, if we do not love our anti-gay brothers and sisters, then our claims to love God are false and hollow. I’m not saying that we should allow bigotry to go unchallenged. Nor do I suggest that we should expect much love in return. But I do think that we should strive to regard those who disagree with us as our brothers and sisters, not as our enemies, and treat them as we would our own siblings. That means offering our compassion, our patience, and a bit of education to them.
But, in practical terms, what does this look like? I think of the scene from the film In Good Conscience where Sr. Jeannine Gramick approaches some anti-gay Catholic protesters on the street. She smiles, greets them, introduces herself, and after listening to their concerns, shares why she supports LGBT rights. She shares some of her experiences in ministry with LGBT people. You can actually see the protesters’ hostility melt away during the conversation. Perhaps Sr. Jeannine provides us with a model of loving our brothers and sisters through compassionate listening and sharing of stories.
As we continue our Lenten journey, I will keep in mind a quote attributed to Mother Teresa: “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” May we write in big bold letters that each person is a beloved child of God. And may we strive to love one another more perfectly each day, just as God loves us.
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry