For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Ish Ruiz, a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. His academic interests explore the intersection between social ethics, human rights, education, and marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, and religious minorities. A lifelong Catholic, Ish is dedicated to living out his faith through the practice of justice: he passionately envisions a Church that is open and inclusive to all.
Today’s readings are Isaiah 50: 4-7; Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2: 6-11; Mark 14: 1-15:47. You can find the readings by clicking here.
Palm Sunday is here! That joyful occasion when Jesus was greeted by the many in Jerusalem who exclaimed “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel!” Indeed a fitting welcome for a man who showed the world a new form of loving and for a God that, unbeknownst to the crowd, became incarnate to redeem the world.
But we all know how the story progresses: Less than a week after Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, the same crowd that yelled “Hosanna” started yelling “Crucify him.” Obviously, Jesus was not the messiah they wanted. They offered palms to welcome him and later nails to crucify him. The crowd that had rejoiced in welcoming a revered prophet later turned on him when they realized that Jesus came to turn tables and challenge them to a higher form of love.
The story of Jesus that we read and commemorate during Palm Sunday is similar to the experience of many LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters, and siblings. These children of God are received with resounding joy at some times in their lives, only to be later crucified when they present a model of love and identity that is challenging to the masses.
We know how these stories go:
- We exclaim “Hosanna!” when a gay man graduates from high school, college, or grad school. But we yell “Crucify him!” when he enters into a loving relationships with someone of the same sex.
- We exclaim “Hosanna!” when a lesbian embarks in an admirable profession that produces technological and medical advances. But we yell “Crucify her!” when we fail to support legislation that protects her basic human rights.
- We exclaim “Hosanna!” when transgender people produce wonderful creations of literature, music, and art. But we yell “Crucify them!” when they seek physical and social transitions that help them express and experience their gender identity.
- We exclaim “Hosanna!” when bisexual people call and participate in family gatherings. But we yell “Crucify them!” when we deny them the sacraments and other Church rituals because of a ‘homosexual lifestyle.’
- We exclaim “Hosanna!” when LGBTQ+ people do good work at teaching or ministering. But then we yell “Crucify them!” when we fire them for living authentic lives as Church employees who form their conscience.
LGBTQ+ people are supposed to be unconditionally loved and embraced, but when they challenge the Church by presenting a form of love and identity that is different, the Church often would rather cling to its comfort rather than receive LGBTQ+ people with an open heart and an open mind. What a loss! If only the Church were able to fully recognize and embrace the blessing that LGBTQ+ bring to the world, our Church would be a brighter place and a more authentic reflection of the Reign of God.
I recently had the pleasure of watching the new film Love, Simon, about a young man’s quest to live an authentic life as a gay person. It was a very tender film that portrayed the anxieties often faced by LGBTQ+ people who lead a double life so they can continue to experience the sense of “quasi-acceptance” from their loved ones. Often LGBTQ+ people prefer to remain in the closet and experience this unfulfilling state by accepting both praise and condemnation. It is hard for LGTBQ+ people to come out and risk losing the feeling of community if people do not accept them for who they are. It is a lonely way to live and not at all reflective of the communion of Christ or the culture accompaniment that Pope Francis wishes to see in the Church.
Not all in the Church wish to crucify LGBTQ+ people. Pope Francis, along with many bishops and priests, has offered many words of support to LGBTQ+ persons. Many Church ministers and fellow Catholics, too, wish to fully celebrate LGBTQ+ people. Just last weekend (March 15-18), I had the privilege to speak at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in the classroom. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw how many teachers and Catholic allies were interested in fully embracing LGBTQ+ youth and offer them an environment of respect, compassion, and sensitivity in Catholic schools. Yet, many are still resistant to this call to unconditional love out of fear or discomfort as evidenced by the harsh discriminatory statements, silence in the face of injustice towards LGBTQ+ people, exclusion from sacraments, and being fired from Catholic institutions.
Wile I was at the Congress, I had the privilege of attending Fr. James Martin’s talk on Building a Bridge in which he shares important insights of his book of the same title. Near the end of his lecture, he told a powerful story of when he witnessed a baptism of a baby girl at a parish in New York. He was struck in awe when the priest performed the ritual, lifted up the child, and welcomed her into the Church. Fr. Martin felt genuine joy at that moment that had changed the life of that young girl forever. He reflected on the truth: by virtue of our baptism, all people–including LGBTQ+ people–are welcomed into the Church and are seen as equals before God. LGBTQ+ people are as Catholic as straight and cisgender people, priests, bishops, and the pope.
As I heard this story, however, I had a sinking feeling. I knew that, if that young girl identifies as LGBTQ+ later in life, the exclamations of “Hosanna!” she received at that Church during her baptism might turn into chants of “Crucify her!”
We have to be a better Church. Only by fully and unconditionally embracing those in the margins, where LGBTQ+ people stand, can we fully embrace Jesus and participate together in His resurrection.
Finally, to my LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters, and siblings: hang in there! After crucifixion comes resurrection and life everlasting. I—and countless others–love you very much. You are a part of this Church: claim your place and hold steadfast. You are and will continue to be a witness of God’s grace for all who choose to see you as God made you: in God’s image.
–Ish Ruiz, March 25, 3018