The National Catholic Reporter recently carried an extended quotation from Pope Francis, which he spoke at a jubilee for priests on June 2, 2016. Though not about LGBT issues, I thought it had an important lesson for people involved in Catholic LGBT ministry and advocacy. Pope Francis said:
“Mercy makes us pass from the recognition that we have received mercy to a desire to show mercy to others. We can feel within us a healthy tension between sorrow for our sins and the dignity that the Lord has bestowed on us. Without further ado, we can pass from estrangement to embrace, as in the parable of the prodigal son, and see how God uses our own sinfulness as the vessel of His mercy. Mercy impels us to pass from personal to the communal. We see this in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, a miracle born of Jesus’ compassion for His people and for others. Something similar happens when we act mercifully: the bread of mercy multiplies as it is shared.”
When I read this quotation, I couldn’t help but thinking about all the amazing people I have met (and continue to meet) in my work with the Catholic LGBT community. The story of almost every single one of them begins in fear or shame as they discovered their orientation or identity, or came to terms with accepting and affirming the orientation or identity of a loved one.
But the story doesn’t even end there. Having experienced God’s mercy, these people have felt compelled to share it with others. And so they have made outreach to other LGBT people or loved ones of LGBT people a ministry of mercy.
They have moved, as Pope Francis eloquently puts it “from estrangement to embrace.” They have developed from “personal to communal.” Their outreach multiplies God’s mercy, just as Jesus in the Gospel multiplied bread and fish.
Another lesson for Catholic LGBT people and allies can be found in this quotation. This statement can remind us that if we want change, we must be the change (as the old saying goes). It reminds us that renewing or reforming the Church is not done only by changing policies and theology (though that is important work) but by acting mercifully toward one another. If we sometimes think our actions are futile, this quotation can remind us that what is important is not what we accomplish, but how much we treasure and share God’s mercy.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry September 10, 2017