The Feast of the Holy Family, celebrated today, focuses our Christmas celebrations around three people. United under unorthodox conditions, Mary, Joseph, and their child, Jesus, became a family, and one venerated for centuries now. Lately, “family” has been in the news for Catholics as marriage equality expands, and Pope Francis calls for an examination on family life during next fall’s Synod of Bishops. With all this in mind, what can the Holy Family say to LGBT people and their families today?
Writing at Believe Out Loud, Rev. Kittredge Cherry wonders how “queering” the Nativity could change the way the Holy Family is thought of, and in doing so, how family life today is understood. She previously displayed scenes with two Marys or two Josephs, and writes of these changes:
“Obviously this is not about historical accuracy, but I believe my nativity scenes are true to the spirit of the Christmas story in the Bible: God’s child conceived in an extraordinary way and born into disreputable circumstances…
“Love makes a family—including the Holy Family…
“Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBT parents and their children.”
Other insights come for Sr. Laurie Brink writing at U.S. Catholic who questions idyllic family depictions that dominate culture. Speaking from her own experiences, she asks what makes a family a family? Her conclusion is that family “has less to do with the accident of biology and much more to do with the choice to love.” Sr. Brinks continues:
“What makes the holy family holy? Some might say the presence of the divine child Jesus. But I think holy is also an attribute of Mary and of Joseph. Both are given—and both accept—the opportunity to be conduits of divine action and love. Luke and Matthew both paint remarkably similar portraits of God’s invitation to Mary and to Joseph in which both make the choice to become an unconventional, ‘good enough’ family. God holds out the same invitation to us. Are we willing to accept that our own ‘good enough’ families can also be holy?”
For decades now, same-gender couples have chosen to build families that are precisely these “conduits of divine action and love,” even if the broader society (and, more slowly, some of the leaders in the Church) is just recognizing this reality. Marriage equality is one tangible sign that the goodness of families led by LGBT people and those that have LGBT members is increasingly affirmed and equal to other family structures. Rapidly growing acceptance of children or siblings who come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is one way. The witness of couples who remain together after a partner undergoes a gender transition, or who remain supportive of one each other, is yet another way.
Just as the Holy Family, in their unorthodox arrangement, witnessed to God’s inclusive and diverse kingdom, so too do the many families who include LGBT people living prophetically. The hope now is that Church leaders will listen to Catholic voices and begin to receive gratefully the gifts such families offer our world.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry