Reports confirm there is no ‘bleeding host’ in Utah. When photos of a consecrated communion wafer covered in red liquid emerged, some were shouting “miracle!” Extensive scientific testing proves that the red color encasing the wafer was simply red mold, not Christ’s blood. The takeaway? No miracle. Nothing to see here.
Miracles in the Catholic Church are, to put it charitably, a pet peeve of mine. They are used to ‘prove’ God (huh?) or ‘confirm’ sainthood (popular acclamation being too difficult to control). Using miracles in ecclesial as well as popular contexts straddles the line between faith and superstition, too frequently dipping into the latter. Miracles must be proven empirically to be miracles. Faith is jettisoned. The ‘bleeding host’ (and testing done upon it) exemplify this mentality.
What bothers me most about this common understanding of miracles, though, is that, in seeking the superstitious and super-natural, we miss the real miracles God performs in our world. 2015 was a year of miracles, miracles of love. I want to reflect on a few now so they are not lost.
In composing Bondings 2.0’s year in review materials, it was striking to Frank DeBernardo and me that there were far more candidates for “Best News of 2015” than for “Worst News of 2015.” (You’ll get to vote for which stories you think fit these titles, starting on December 26th here on this blog.)For LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, it was overall a year of growth and progress, despite some negative moments.
No, sacramental marriage equality did not happen. Doctrinal articulations about homosexuality remain fixed and teachings about gender identity remain harmfully ambiguous. But miracles happened:
- Frank Mugisha, David Kuria, Jackson Mukasa, and other LGBT advocates in Africa continued their courageous witness for human rights, despite threats of imprisonment and violence, as their nations planned for Pope Francis’ visit;
- Irish voters approved marriage equality in a popular referendum, voting for equal rights not in spite of, but because of their Catholic faith.
- The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics launched in Rome, just before the Synod on the Family;
- 1,000+ Catholics affirmed their solidarity with fired church workers at Call to Action’s national conference, taking a stand for conscience protections and labor rights;
- Historically-Catholic nations led on expanding rights for trans* and intersex communities;
- St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregan apologized for firing a lesbian counselor and quickly implemented a nondiscrimination policy protecting LGBT employees;
- More and more bishops began speaking for respecting and welcoming LGBT people.
There are many more positive news stories from 2015, but what these specific moments mentioned above reveal is the Spirit working explosively in God’s people. Miracles are not against nature, but rather divine bursts of God’s grace which empower nature to stretch beyond observed limitations. In other words, the aforementioned moments are real miracles, really occurring.
For more than three decades (for starker contrast, a decade longer than I have been alive), church leaders sought to silence and punish, suppress and break prophetic voices and ministries. They failed.
In just three years, with the freeing space created by Pope Francis, LGBT advocates began harvesting the fruits that so many have courageously, and often quietly, tended to for many years. Cultures of fear are, slowly, ceding to communities of acceptance. Pope Francis expounds ever more forcefully his call for mercy. Love, in all its divine forms, is expanding in our church.
2016 will soon begin, and speculations abound for how the Catholic Church will continue to be reformed and renewed in the coming year. As someone who watches ecclesial happenings, I have some of my own. For one, I hope the institutional church will seriously enact a post-marriage equality agenda–meaning that church leaders will start focusing on the human needs of LGBTQI people, rather than obsessing about preventing same-gender marriage. The Passion is still being replayed daily in LGBTQI people’s lives, when discrimination causes undue suffering and violence spills out Christ’s blood. Institutional responses to this reality remain inadequate at best and, in their worst forms, sinfully complicit.
But what I will be watching for most closely in the coming year is how God uses Her people to enact more miracles and expand love in a wounded and divided creation. The People of God incarnate these divine bursts because the Spirit is alive among us, renewing the fires first lit during Pentecost in each time and place, and enabling us to be co-creators of God’s Reign.
As we end a year of miracles, may we evermore be God’s miraculous instruments for inclusion and equality in 2016!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry