The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues. At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.
An Australian Catholic priest used the occasion of an anti-gay rant to educate parishioners and others about the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Catholic church.
According to Fr. Peter Maher’s blog, he preached recently in his parish, St. Joseph’s, Newtown, near Sydney, about a YouTube video which chastised the parish for its LGBT ministry. The video, shot outside the church by Michael Voris, is a tendentious diatribe that purports to be “news.” Fr. Maher, however, used this opportunity to spread a message of love and inclusion:
“Far from judging and vilifying lesbians and gays, as we heard from Michael Voris in his video about the Newtown parish Friday night Mass, I suggested that hearing the stories of lesbian and gay Catholics and how that had influenced my reading in order to better pastorally care for all Catholics might offer a new way of seeing lesbian and gay Catholics as gift rather than ‘the other’ for whom we might feel sorry.”
Fr. Maher explains what his experience in ministry has taught him about LGBT Catholics:
“What I learned from hearing these stories was that lesbian and gay Catholics are like all people trying to live their faith – they are searching for meaning and joy and authenticity in and through the Catholic community and the spiritual wisdom of the bible and church tradition. Catholics expect to find guidance and encouragement, as well as challenge, but lesbian and gay Catholics find all too often that they are asked to deny their sexuality or, at best, to be invisible.”
More importantly, he notes that the wider church stands to benefit from what can be learned form the LGBT faith experience:
“Theologians and spiritual writers are beginning to write from the perspective of the world in which we live and the life stories of lesbian and gay Catholics. If sexuality is a gift from God and if psychology and science are correct in finding that homosexuality is God-given, that is not chosen, then homosexuality must also be a gift from God. What might this gift be? Those doing theology with the insight of the stories of lesbian and gay Catholics and modern science suggest such areas as intimacy, friendship, faithful love and personal growth might be a gift to the church and indeed the world.”
In particular, heterosexual Catholics have the opportunity to learn about sexual morality from their LGBT brothers and sisters:
“Where traditional sexual ethics has dominated church teaching about heterosexual relationships and marriage; homosexuals have had to find the meaning for themselves of their God-given attraction and have made some astoundingly good gospel-based spiritual discoveries. While heterosexual relationships are struggling in the current climate of distrust of church teaching; homosexual relationships, lived according to gospel principles of love, seem to be finding a beautiful expression.”
The lessons to be learned from this episode are at least two-fold:
1) An attack on ministry to and with LGBT people can easily be turned into an opportunity to educate and promote the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in the Catholic Church. As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
2) LGBT ministry is more than just “helping” LGBT people, but recognizing that the wider church, in fact, has the opportunity to be helped by its LGBT members. The unique spiritual and personal journey that LGBT people live has gifts and blessings that can be of benefit to all in the church. If the church doesn’t welcome these people and gifts, it is denying many great avenues of grace for the rest of its members, too.
Thank you, Fr. Maher, for teaching us not only about LGBT gifts, but also about how to respond gracefully and forthrightly when ministry is attacked.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:
Say the Words , December 14, 2011
All in the Family , January 2, 2012
At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012
A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome, February 13, 2012
Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012
St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012