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 Third Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28. You can read the texts by clicking here.
Today’s reflection is from Ronald Amiscaray, a queer and trans-feminine Asian American living in the city of Chicago. He is applying to MFA programs in Poetry.
The nature of Advent is that it is both like the snow that glistens and the ground that does not. Like snow that falls and glistens in the quiet of night, Advent is filled with hope, joy, and familial love. Underneath the snow, however, is the ground that doesn’t glisten—the reality that waits to be faced once the snow melts.
The holidays can be a difficult time for queer people of color (POC) who have grown up in Catholic families. For many of us during this season, there is no choice but to see the ground that does not glisten. This, too, is Advent.
In some respect, I was lucky with the way my family reacted after I had come out. It’s not to say it has been easy, though. I often chose to avoid their ignorance, to see only the glistening snow. This year has been different, however, in that I find myself reflecting on both aspects of Advent. What prompts this shift is today’s reading from the Gospel of John in which Jewish leaders send out messengers to question John the Baptist and the work he is doing. The priests and the Levites ask John, “Who are you?”
I ask myself the same question today, as I have since I was sixteen. The process of understanding my identity still poses a question to me in the way the priests and the Levites scrutinize John.
Am I white? No.
Am I straight? No.
Am I cisgender? Also no.
Am I a believer? It depends on what you mean by believer.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist finally responds with something other than ‘no.’ He says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” His response is appealing because it’s not so clear cut. In the face of assumptions, John identifies himself in a way that does not answer them in the way they want to be answered.
The priests and the Levites seek an answer that fits within their paradigm. Yet, John decides that they must do the work to understand who he is and what his purpose is. The inquisitors’ problem is the system that they use to perceive the world and to understand those things that do not immediately fit into their worldview. Knowing this, John responds with peace of mind about his identity and with hope that they will see what he sees.
In our Church today, it is not easy to respond with the same kind of peace. Claiming an identity in the Church can be empowering, but it can also be divisive and detrimental. As someone who is queer, trans-feminine, and Asian-American, holding on to my Roman Catholic identity has been an arduous journey. When your identity is anything other than what the Church condones, receiving compassion and understanding is hard to come by, most especially in the U.S. Church where the face of God is exemplified often by a white, cisgender man perceived to be straight.
Many times, it has felt as though I am in the middle of a desert, crying out. What choices are available to me as a person who does not conform to the Catholic ideals for gender and sexuality? What modes of spirituality are acceptable for a Chinese-Filipino person in a Western religion? Do I forego my family’s culture and history to fit into the mold of the all-American? This journey has caused a lot of resentment to build up in me towards the Church, the one place I perceived to be all-loving in nature.
The reality is that flaws penetrate the Church’s walls and its people. I remember sitting in a crowd of Catholics listening to a speaker who reminded us that God created “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I remember my Chinese-Filipino mother telling me that I could be gay but that I must “act like a man.” I remember reading and re-reading the Catechism where it states that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. And I remember the discomfort of hearing an aunt proclaiming a reading at Mass with a thick Filipino accent. I wished that if any non-white person was going to read aloud to a congregation of U.S. Catholics, it would be best if they did it in an American accent to hide their difference.
I have occupied many metaphorical deserts—situations in which I don’t fit in or belong. I cry out to be seen, to be heard, to connect, to love, to be loved, and to live. The question of identity turns into a cry of hope and unconditional love: it is a cry for the Way. When John the Baptist said he was making straight ‘the way of the Lord,’ I think he was crying out for hope and unconditional love. The Way involves seeing and hearing others, connecting with those who have been othered and marginalized. The Way is about loving them, allowing them to love, and letting them flourish in life.
Of course, we are called to this vocation every day of our lives, but especially so during Advent. Yet, it’s easy to forget that vocation during the Advent season. Wreaths, garlands, Christmas trees and lights, not to mention the gift giving, distract our attention. While I can allow myself the time to be in awe of their decorative beauty, I need to see them as symbols of the Way, sacramentals that beckon us to shed light on our hopes and our hard realities so that they may come together.
During Advent, Jesus asks us to come as ourselves, just as he did into this world. If we are to do this, we must confront what the decorations are shedding light on: both the snow that glistens in our lives and the ground that doesn’t.
—Ronald Amiscaray, December 17, 2017