Attending Mass on Sundays, and listening to the priest’s homily, are primary ways by which Catholics practice their faith. These experiences can, therefore, impact the faithful’s lives and the lives of loved ones quite deeply, even determining whether Catholics join or remain in a parish.
Therefore, good homilies matter–especially when they touch on LGBT issues.
This is the argument of Brian Harper of the National Catholic Reporter, who takes up this question in his recent column, “What we say and how we say it.” Harper opens by describing an experience he and a gay loved one had at Mass, which they attended on the Feast of the Holy Family, which is the Sunday after Christmas. He wrote:
“[T]he priest saw fit to treat the congregation to a litany of what he perceived to be the most serious threats to the family unit. Homosexuality and bestiality topped the list.
“Even Catholics with orthodox views on sexuality should have found the homily brash and insensitive in its delivery. I was embarrassed, angry, and, perhaps most of all, disappointed by the missed opportunity. A great deal of modern society sees the Catholic church as judgmental and repressive, a reputation that moments like these make hard to refute.”
Harper said his gay loved one was unsurprised by the priest’s words, as this prejudiced homily was “what he had come to expect from the church.” This experience returned to Harper after the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past June. Prejudice was so openly displayed as in both instances.
The incidents provoked deeper reflection for Harper, reflection that he suggested would be good for the church as it grapples, slowly, to be more inclusive:
“But how many of us know how LGBTQIA Catholics and non-Catholics alike feel? Not just about hot button issues, but how they feel as they go about their days, enduring slights at work, during their free time, or, God forbid, at church? . . .
“I think all Catholics would do well to accept the notion that unflattering assumptions about our religion are not solely the result of others misunderstanding or rebelling against it. The fact that Catholicism has been a source of comfort for many does not mean it has been for all. We ought to consider the implications of this realization.”
Harper’s column, which you can find by clicking here, ended by suggesting that Catholics should respond to the LGBT question by listening, as it is “one of those instances that calls not for others’ conversion so much as our own.”
This ecclesial conversion may be particularly important given a new study from the Pew Research Center, reported on by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, in the National Catholic Reporter. The study surveyed U.S. Christians on what matters when they look to join a new congregation. Reese commented on the survey findings:
“[W]hat matters to people looking for a new congregation is good preaching, feeling welcomed, and the style of worship of the congregation.”
While Protestants generally rated these factors higher, 71% of Catholics said feeling welcomed by religious leaders was important and 67% said preaching was important. Reese wrote that “these are numbers pastors can ignore only at their peril,” and these factors will likely rise as generational demographics progress.
Too many LGBT Catholics and their families have experienced damaging homilies and insensitive pastoral care, like the homily described by Brian Harper. It is sad to consider just many Catholics have been excluded by condemnatory language or uneducated clerics. If church leaders are really interested in evangelization, ensuring that parishes are welcoming and safe spaces for every person is a necessary step. They could begin by simply ending bad homilies against LGBT people and their loving relationships.
And for those church ministers who might be preaching during next year’s Feast of the Holy Family, or just anyone interested in reading moving words about LGBT families, check out Deacon Ray Dever’s reflection on the Holy Family by clicking here, or Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on the feast by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry