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


Mountains Made Low, Valleys Raised Up

The readings for the second Sunday of Advent are Baruch 5:1-9, Philippians 1:4-6,8-11, and Luke 3:1-6. You can view the readings here.

mountains and valleysZealous hope and urgency towards action emanate from the readings of Advent’s second Sunday, signaling the coming reign of God. Foremost in today’s readings, we hear the refrain that God’s coming kingdom is a great equalizer. In Baruch:

“For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”

And in Luke, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

In the lowering of mountains and raising of valleys, the ground is leveled and all walk forward together on equal footing into God’s goodness and salvation. In the Church and in society, this equal footing eludes us in deep ways. We fail to progress “secure in the glory of God” because  as a faith community, as a nation, and as a human family, we allow the marginalization of others.

LGBT ministry in Catholicism is largely a leveling ministry struggling against the marginalizing tendencies of some.

We endeavor to make low the mountains upon which the powerful reside when we structurally support welcoming parishes, when we engage theology for a healthier and more holistic understanding of the human person and sexuality, and when we witness against actions falling short of Gospel love.

We endeavor to fill to level ground those persons who are seen as “less-than” when we secure basic rights that protect all persons, relationships, and families, when we enable our loved ones and neighbors to take off the “robe of mourning and misery” to “put on the splendor of glory from God forever” by being who God created to be, and when we celebrate in community the love common to all, without exclusion.

The coming of God’s kingdom was imminent for the early Christians, who truly believed the Second Coming would occur in their lifetime during the first century. When Paul reminds the Philippians, “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus,” this is not idle speculation. This good work could find completion any day and John the Baptist’s exhortation to “Prepare the way of the Lord” hints at immediacy.

To our modern selves, it seems that Jesus’ return has taken longer than the first Christians desired. That said, we cannot allow a two thousand year delay to stifle the abundant hope and sense of urgency clung to by these earliest believers. Advent provides an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate our leveling ministry on the LGBT front.

At times, the mountains seem domineering and unconquerable, while valleys are so deep we cannot peer into their darkness. Today’s readings provide us the vital nourishment of unending hope and urgent action so we can, repeatedly at each new step, scale the mountains to lower them and reach into the valleys to exalt them.

Then, together as equals, we walk forward in the light of God to the coming glory that awaits us.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

From Secret Shame to Confident Trust: The Immaculate Conception

immaculate conception3Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates that Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her own conception, not that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the aid of sexual intercourse.

Can there be anything in this feast that speaks to those concerned with LGBT Catholic issues?  I think the liturgical readings of the day offer some salient points for reflection.

Before we look at some of the readings, though, I want to introduce an idea about Marian feasts that I heard in a lecture many years ago by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, the eminent theologian.  She said that we should always think about Mary not as someone who is set apart from the rest of the humanity, but as a foreshadowing of what God has in store for all of humanity.  So, while Mary was unique in being free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception and all through her life, we shouldn’t dwell on this uniqueness, but, instead, view it as God’s promise for his plans for all of humanity.

How do we know that God has this desire for us?  It says so in today’s Epistle reading (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12):

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.

“In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.”

That’s what God has in store for our future.  In today’s first reading from Genesis (3: 9-15, 20),  however, we get a glimpse of what humans have made of our humanity.   After the fall from Grace, God searches for Adam in the Garden, and Adam says:

“I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”

These poignant lines are ones that I believe all humans have experienced.  They echo the common experience of shame about one’s self which everyone has felt at some time or other, especially in childhood.

For those involved in the LGBT community, the line about Adam hiding himself probably echoes even more loudly.  Unfortunately,  that experience of hiding one’s self out of shame is what many LGBT people experience before they have come to understand, accept, affirm, and announce their true identities.   That experience of shame and secrecy is sometimes referred to as “the closet,” and  when people shed their shame, they “come out of the closet.”

Contrast the experience of Adam’s shame with Mary’s self-confident “Yes” in today’s gospel story of the Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38).   What has struck many about Mary’s attitude in this scene is that she is not overawed by the angel’s visit and message.  Indeed, she boldly asks the angel questions.  And she agrees to God’s invitation in a confident and trusting manner, ready to take on the risk of this amazing task.

What God has planned for us is to become more like Mary and less like Adam.  God wants us to be “full of grace” as Mary is and not full of shame as Adam is.   What I find most interesting is that the people who can help teach that lesson to others in the church are LGBT people who have come through the experience of coming out of the closet of shame and secrecy to live in confident trust and courageous risk.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Embracing the Superabundance of Love

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent are Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2, and Luke 21:25-28, 34-36. You can view the readings here.

As Advent begins, Catholics worldwide prepare themselves for Christ’s entrance into creation. In the already/not yet nature of Christianity, these weeks both anticipate Christ’s coming anew and celebrate  the Incarnation that brought us a historical Jesus. Each week we hear encouraging messages of hope, joy, and peace.

For LGBT advocates within the Church, we begin this Advent  on a particularly positive note with recent victories for marriage equality and as we witness a growing trend of acceptance, affirmation, and welcome amongst Catholics at large.

In this hope-filled Advent context, this Sunday’s readings seem jarring in their use of  harsh apocalyptic images to refer to the coming of God’s kingdom, which is elsewhere shown as peaceful and just. Catholic LGBT advocates also know of the harshness of a hierarchy doubling down in its oppressive anti-equality work as we struggle to ensure each person and every family are legally protected, at a bare minimum.

Luke’s gospel (Lk 21:25-28) has Jesus identifying nations in dismay, roaring seas, death from fright, and the powers of the heavens as signs of this new era when God’s justice will reign. Jesus’ further exhortation to be ready for what will surprise us and to remain strong during the trials seems a tall order. Jesus’ words can seem terrifying for the Christian — exactly the opposite of what we desire to aid us at Advent’s hopeful beginning.

Thankfully, the second reading from First Thessalonians contextualizes how preparedness, vigilance, and prayer demanded by Jesus may be lived out. Paul writes to the emerging community in Thessalonica in this pastoral letter, the earliest book of the New Testament and thus in close proximity to earliest Christian belief.

Couched amid apocalyptic passages, the reading today comes from Paul’s blessing for the community. We hear two parts proclaimed. The first desires an increase in love and the second calls for a strong Christian witness by the early Christians (1 Thes 3:12-4:2):

“Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

“Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”

We in the 21st century Church find ourselves desperately requiring this same blessing that the Thessalonians received. Paul does not merely pray that they may love, but directly addresses Christ in his prayer. To quote the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Paul “asks for a superabundance of love directed within and beyond the community” where the apostles lead by their humble witness.

In this, Paul demands the Church’s ministers lead by examples of love, and we can hope that the bishops and other church leaders will do the same. Given present affairs, we cannot wait on them to be loving witnesses to Christ — this superabundance of love must come from the laity and supportive religious and clergy. In this preparatory period of Advent, when we begin life with Christ again, it is this superabundance that might be a powerful focal point.

Superabundance isn’t a sufficient amount; it isn’t even more than necessary. Superabundance is gratuitous. It is overflowing. It is uncompromised, unrestrained, and perhaps unwieldy.

A superabundance means all, without exception, find their places in community and all, without exception, find more love than would suffice for even the most suffering people. It means that LGBT persons with their loved ones, their children and their families, their friends and their allies are not merely accepted, but eagerly invited to participate in a life with Christ anew.

I challenge myself this Advent to extend beyond just working out of love for structural changes and legal victories. These are essential, but only loving an ordinary amount comes from a love that two millennia of Christianity has tamed far too greatly.

This Advent, while we ready the way for Christ, let us re-embrace the superabundance of love found amid the earliest Christians, unconcerned with doctrinaire thinking and always concerned with how the community enacted its faith-filled witness.

Then we can be Christians that will stand before Jesus when God’s kingdom nears, confident that in loving superabundantly each person we lived well.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Awesome Sights and Mighty Signs: A Reflection on the End of the World

Today marks the 366th day of the Bondings 2.0 blog, which means that tomorrow will be the blog’s first anniversary!  (2012 was a leap year, so there were 366 days in it.)

Anniversary times, beginnings and endings, are always good times to reflect and ponder.  The mood of this time of the liturgical year prods us to reflections about end times and new beginnings.  Last Sunday, we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the liturgical year.  This week, the scripture readings for Mass are all about the end times.  Next Sunday we will begin Advent, a season of joyful expectation.

Today’s Gospel passage, Luke 21: 5-11, offers some items to ponder for those who work and wait for LGBT equality in church and society.   If you are involved in such work, you probably often feel like Jesus’ early followers who asked him when the end times were coming and what signs would precede it. Jesus answers them, rather cryptically:

” ‘See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
“I am he,” and ‘The time has come.”
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.’

“Then he said to them,
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.’ “

Though “end of the world” talk is often scary and doom-ridden, for Christians, we know that the end of the world will usher in God’s reign of justice, the thing for which we most long.  What I see as one message Jesus offers us in this passage is that we should not be upset by cataclysms and catastrophes that happen to us as we wait for this reign of justice to be realized.

Jesus notes that there will be things that terrify us, but that we must remember that these are not the end of the story.  While we may witness battles and earth-shaking events, we also need to wait to see “awesome sights and mighty signs.”

I’m no prophet, so I can’t interpret what those sights and signs will be.  Indeed, I believe they will be different for different people.  Anything that reminds us that the struggles we are involved in are not the end of the story is one of those signs.

Our job is to remain courageous (“do not be terrified”) and keep firm in our faith that God will bring about the reign of justice for which we long, and work, and pray.

Stay tuned for Advent, coming next Sunday, when we will enter a period that celebrates our waiting in joyful hope for the Redeemer to enter our world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Can We Give Up Judging for Lent?

Today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 6:35-38)is perhaps one of the hardest ideals for human beings to put into practice:

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.”

I think this is harder even than “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” because human beings seem programmed to make judgements about situations, people, ideas.  We are constantly evaluating ourselves and others.

For those involved in LGBT ministry and advocacy in the Catholic Church, judging becomes an occupational hazard.  Since our goal is justice for all, we are eternally judging events, incidents, statements, people to see if these meet standards of fairness and equality.  If we want to make the world better, how can we not be judging these things?

I think that the dilemma can be resolved in two ways.  The first is understanding what is meant by “judging.”  We get a better idea of this definition when we read these lines in the context of the fuller passage in which it occurs:

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.’ “

The type of judging Jesus says we should avoid is judging which becomes condemnatory and unforgiving–the type of judging which puts the judge in a morally superior position and the judged in a morally inferior one.  Our judgements should never become occasions for us to think we are better than other people–even people who don’t share our thirst for or understanding of justice.

The second way to resolve this dilemma is to follow the example of today’s first reading (Daniel 9: 4b-10).  The reading, which is Daniel’s prayer addressed to God:

“Great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you
and observe your commandments!
We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;
we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws.
We have not obeyed your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our rulers and parents, and all the people of the land.
Justice, O God, is on your side;
we are shamefaced even to this day.”

Instead of placing himself in a superior position to his adversaries, instead of seeing himself as the arbiter and provider of justice, Daniel acknowledges that he is weak and flawed, and that justice comes from God alone.  He offers a model of how we should respond when faced with injustices:  not pointing figures, but recognizing how we ourselves fall short of the ideal.

Daniel’s example of humility and non-judgement of others is one we might aspire to for Lent.  Can we give up pride and judgement for Lent, as a way of drawing closer to the God of justice?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry