For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalm 89: 2-5, 27-29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38. You can read the texts by clicking here.
In Luke’s Gospel today, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in her home in Nazareth to tell her that she will bear a son, whom she should call Jesus, who will be called the Son of the Most High. Being a young woman of common sense, Mary asks, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
Two days ago, the Gospel reading from Luke was the story of another birth announcement. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in Jerusalem as he was performing his priestly service of offering incense in the Temple sanctuary. Gabriel delivered the news that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, whom they were to call John. Zacharias, too, had common sense and he questioned Gabriel. “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” For his intelligent probe for more explanation about this strange announcement, Zacharias was struck speechless until John’s birth.
Did you ever wonder about the unfairness in these two stories? Zacharias was punished, but Mary was not; yet both of them questioned Gabriel’s news and asked for some clarification. A (male) friend of mine suggested it was a biblical example of gender discrimination–this time the male being the object of prejudice. Naturally, I don’t think this is the point!
I’ve been puzzling over Gabriel’s change of behavior in the six months between the two announcements. Was Gabriel on a learning curve? Had he discovered that human beings have good judgment and perspicacity and that they ask sensible questions before making commitments? I like to think so.
I like to think that I’m on a learning curve like Gabriel, but it sure takes me more than six months to “get it.” In the early days of my LGBT ministry in the 1970s, my women religious superiors understood the need for the church to accept LGBT Catholics, but I was dubious about the rank and file sisters of my community, who were suspicious and sometimes antagonistic. But they, too, were on a learning curve so that, by the mid 1980s, LGBT ministry was proudly acknowledged by most of the sisters as a work of the community.
I experienced other learning curves too. In the 1990s, in my meetings with the Vatican Commission that examined my work, Fr. Bob Nugent and I were asked if we had written about same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage? Of course not! This was barely being discussed even within the LGBT community. We were writing about, and advocating for, non-discrimination and acceptance of the human dignity of LGBT people, not same-sex marriage. We were talking about jobs and civil rights and the recognition that LGBT people had expectations, longings, values, and ethics like heterosexuals. Same-sex marriage was an impossible dream in the 1990s, but in this century, the learning curve of U.S. Catholics about same-sex marriage has steadily escalated. In the last ten years, we have seen the majority of Catholics now supporting same-sex marriage.
With all the learning going on, it does seem that, as Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible for God.” Six months after he appeared to Zacharias, Gabriel got it right. Indeed, nothing is impossible with God! Gabriel’s parting message to Mary nourishes my hopes.
I hope and believe that one day all LGBT people will be welcomed by their parents, brothers, and sisters to family celebrations. Their families will feel proud of them, just as one day our gay priests and brothers and our lesbian nuns will not feel shamed into thinking that they make their communities “look bad” if they come out.
I hope and believe that one day LGBT people will not fear losing their jobs in parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic institutions because those groups will have anti-discrimination policies based on performance, not on sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, or personal beliefs.
I hope and believe that one day my Church’s sexual theology will not be held hostage by procreation, but will hold up an ethic based on love and commitment.
When I ask myself, “How can this be?” I think of Gabriel’s learning curve and his last words, “Nothing will be impossible for God.”
–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL