For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ Catholics writing on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in church contexts. This series is entitled ” ‘Fear Not to Cry Out’ : Challenging White Supremacy and Anti-LGBT Prejudices to Prepare the Way for Our God.” The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b;64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19;1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37. You can read the texts by clicking here.
Today’s reflection is from Christian Rodriguez, a current master’s degree student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
Advent is often described as a time of cultivating hope, and I sometimes also see it as a time to cultivate patience. As a gay Hispanic man worshiping in and working for the Church, patience and hope are virtues that I am obliged to foster.
Of the 70 million Catholics in the U.S., 30 million identify as Hispanic. Certain parts of the southwestern U.S. Church have played a great role in welcoming Latinos, yet the rest of the U.S. Church lags behind in this regard. It was only recently that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ leadership began to reflect the U.S. Church’s diverse face. Thankfully, on Latino inclusion, progress is happening.
When I think about parishes I am connected to in Los Angeles, the integration of the Hispanic community into church life has been very fruitful. Not only have the festivals at these parishes been graced with delicious fresh tacos and handmade pupusas, the parishes have also benefitted from the import of inculturated spiritualities. Some of my white friends in these parishes have begun to foster devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Blessed Miguel Pro. The faith of parishioners in integrated parishes increases because of their inclusion of diverse groups of people.
Latinos were the first Catholics in what is now the United States and because of historic oppression and contemporary institutional racism, it has taken over 500 years for them to begin to gain traction creating integrated and inclusive spaces. Knowing how long it has taken for Hispanic people to get where they are in the U.S. Church, what hope is there that LGBTQ+ people will begin to experience such a welcome in the Catholic Church?
On the positive side, many parishes around the U.S. offer us a vision of what an LGBTQ+-inclusive Church can be. This past summer, my parish collaborated with two other parishes to host a booth at Pride. Present at the booth were priests and lay people alike spreading love and offering reconciliation on behalf of an institutional Church model that does not yet exist. Yet, it was undeniable that this Church does exist! At the table, there were people who had been hurt and estranged from the Church; there were tears, hugs, and laughter; there was hope!
But the Gospel reading for today can be frustrating because it may take so long for queer people to experience this same welcome in their local communities. It offers the placating line, “you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.” We must ask ourselves, “Is that enough?” Can we be told to just keep waiting for some day that may or may not come in our lifetime?
For us LGBTQ+ identified folks this is what can be so hurtful about the support we receive from well-intentioned family and friends in the Church. They point to figures like Pope Francis and Fr. James Martin. They tell us: The Church is changing! Things are better! and The Church is different now! These statements are true to a certain degree, but they fail to acknowledge that things are not where they should be regarding the inclusion of queer people in the Church.
The vision of an Advent Church is that of this Church which is already-and-not-yet. There is room for mourning and sorrow, and there are reasons for hope and joy. The hope that we have for the Church is the same hope that the Holy Family had for the birth of Jesus. God had done great things for them, and they expectantly waited for what God was yet to usher in. They were confident in the strength they had to help bring forth God’s greatest gift, Jesus.
Similarly, God has done great things for us when we first begin to come to terms with our sexuality, and we expectantly wait for God to bring forth a Church that offers unconditional love. We are confident in the strength we have to help usher in that new reality. This is the heart of Advent hope. This Advent hope is what lends credence to the words our well-intentioned allies give us. This is the Advent hope that gives us the strength to continue journeying in a Church that still has room to grow.
Confident in the strength we have to be co-creators with God in the project of ushering in a new ecclesial reality, our patience and our hope are no longer simply grounded in figures like Pope Francis or Fr. James Martin. They are grounded in the same patience and hope that the Holy Family had as they awaited the coming of Christ. This is what makes St. Paul’s words today so striking, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. [God] will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
As queer people in the Church, we have been called to be beacons of Advent patience and hope. We have been gifted with the strength to struggle for a better Church and the hope that we need to accompany us through this journey. Parishes that have embraced changing racial demographics are reminders of the benefits of inclusion for those parishes worried about welcoming queer people into their communities. We need not settle for parish communities that do not know how to embrace diverse membership.
My ardent desire and prayer for this Advent is that we can recognize the ways in which we journey with the Holy Family, rooting our hope in the conviction that God will bring forth good things, and confident in our own strength to be co-creators of that new ecclesial reality.
—Christian Rodriguez, December 3, 2017