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.

Transgender Awareness Week: Promote Wholeness for All in Our Church

This week, November 14th-20th is Transgender Awareness Week in the United States–a time to educate and raise consciousness of transgender issues in society.  Of course, we in the Catholic Church need similar education and consciousness-raising.

A new article in The National Catholic Reporter gives readers a new awareness of why, as the headline reads, “The church must promote wholeness for transgender people.” Three theologians, , set the context for their examination of the topic:

“A significant number of people who are part of the church or engage its ministries are struggling with their gender identity, striving to live authentically and find a place in their churches and communities. In local parishes, transgender individuals attend weekly services. They seek to have roles in the ministry of Word or Eucharist. Some work or volunteer in the social ministries of the church, while others receive aid from these services.

“The presence of transgender people within the church and its ministries raises important questions. As a church that seeks to respond to the signs of the times and reach out with openness to vulnerable and marginalized people, we need to think about how we are engaging transgender people and what kind of environment we want to create for those struggling with gender identity.”

They note that in the Gospels, Jesus is always reaching out to the marginalized and stigmatized, “restoring them to wholeness and bringing them back into the fullness of community life.”  The choose the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-42) as an example of Jesus’ inclusive ministry:

“Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman offers two important insights for the church. First, Jesus reaches out with openness to people on the fringes. Second, Jesus is not fixated on what separates one from community; rather, his focus is on the Samaritan woman’s overall good or well-being and his actions are directed toward helping her grow in faith, restore broken relationships, and participate more fully in community. . . .

“This story is but one example from the Gospels that suggests a church seeking to be Christ-like and to mediate God’s love of humanity must reach out first with openness and compassion, not judgment, to transgender people, who are trying to live authentically. Transgender people . . . make a courageous and difficult decision to transition, often knowing that it may lead to rejection, exclusion and hurt.”

They offer an example of what even the smallest of welcomes would look like on a parish level:

“In imitation of Jesus, the first impulse of the church must be to promote greater wholeness for transgender individuals by listening, caring, supporting and offering community. This means, at a minimum, offering very basic gestures of welcoming respect, such as using a person’s preferred pronoun and addressing a person with their preferred name, recognizing their intent to live as the person they believe God created them to be, and refraining from judgments that might exacerbate struggles with gender identity.”

And for those concerned with magisterial teaching, they offer this information:

“There is no definitive teaching on transgender issues. Even if there were, it could not support treating such individuals in ways that make them feel like outcasts who are beyond the purview of God’s love and the church’s welcome embrace.”

But the theologians, who all have backgrounds in bioethics, also go into the more serious and profound medical questions regarding transgender health and transition surgery.  They acknowledge the complexity of the issue, especially when it is examined in the light of natural law theory, the Church’s traditional basis for such moral questions.  But, they also offer a challenge to this way of thinking:

“If we evaluate transition-related therapies with the natural law approach employed in prominent matters of sexuality and bodily integrity, we run the risk of focusing excessively on the physical and, especially, functional dimensions of transgender persons and could neglect their overall good and need for wholeness and belonging. Additionally, these principles are most easily applied to surgeries, especially sex reassignment surgery, which only a minority of transgender people undertake. These principles are not readily applicable to less invasive forms of treatment, such as hormone therapy, which has proven to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of gender dysphoria.”

In place of natural law theory to settle the question of the question of the morality of transition therapies, they offer a Gospel-centered perspective, which looks at the whole person, not just the physical level:

“People who transition are seeking to overcome what they experience as an impediment to living, loving and interacting from an authentic place. They are aiming toward the kind of wholeness and integration in body, mind and spirit that Jesus also affirmed in his teaching and healing ministry.

“If we think about the human person holistically and if we strive in imitation of Christ to help people flourish as whole, embodied persons, we might feel compelled to think differently about transition-related therapies. Rather than fundamentally altering a transgender person’s God-given nature or destroying reproductive function, we might see such therapies as fundamentally aligning the person’s body with their sense of self and restoring the person to greater wholeness.”

In their conclusion, they bring out both the similarities that transgender and cisgender people share with one another, as well as the gifted challenge that transgender people offer the larger community:

“Like all people, transgender individuals come to the church and its ministries in need of acceptance, compassion, love and care. They are often seeking shelter and support on the all-too-often lonely and confusing journey on which they find themselves.

“Because the causes of gender dysphoria are not well understood and transgender persons may challenge our conception of sex and gender, our first inclination might be to judge, even condemn. However, the Gospel calls us to love and be of service to these vulnerable and often marginalized individuals who are striving to be true to who they believe they are and are called to be.”

How we treat those who are marginalized is often an important test of how we are living the Gospel. The theologians conclude:

“As a church and through its ministries, we are called to reach out to transgender persons with a love through which God’s healing and reconciling presence may be revealed. If we fail in this task, we fail the test of the Gospel.”

I’ve only excerpted the bare-bones highlights of this informative and enlightening article.  I strongly encourage Bondings 2.0 readers to spend some time to read the whole thing.  You can access it by clicking here.   It would be a good way to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 16, 2016

QUOTE TO NOTE: Pope Francis on Overcoming Prejudice

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAt the Angelus service at the Vatican on Sunday, March 23rd, Pope Francis spoke eloquently about overcoming prejudice.  His words will surely ring loudly for those who work for LGBT equality.  Thanks to Martin Pendergast in England for alerting me to this text in English.  You can read an English-language news story of the talk here. You can read the entire text in Italian here.  You can view a video of the talk here.  The following are excerpts relevant to the topic of prejudice:

“Today’s Gospel presents us with the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in [the Samaritan town of] Sychar near an ancient well where the woman had come to draw water. Jesus found himself seated at the well that day “tired from his journey” (John 4:6). He immediately says: “Give me to drink” (4:7). In this way he overcomes the barriers of hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans and the mentality of prejudiced mentality toward women. Jesus’ simple request is the beginning of a frank dialogue through which, with great delicacy, he enters into the interior world of a person to whom, according to the social norms, he should not have even spoken a word.But Jesus does it! Jesus is not afraid. Jesus, when he sees a person, goes forward, because he loves. He loves us all. Prejudice does not hinder his contact with a person. Jesus places the person before his [the person’s] situation, not judging him but making him feel appreciated, recognized and in this way awakens in him the desire to move beyond his daily routine. . . .

“The Gospel tells us that the disciples were astonished that their Master spoke with that woman. But the Lord is greater than prejudices; this is why he was not afraid to engage with the Samaritan woman. Mercy is greater than prejudice. This we must learn well! Mercy is greater than prejudice, and Jesus is very merciful, very! . . . .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry