Pope’s Homily at Synod’s Closing Mass Has Lessons for Those in LGBT Ministry

The synod closed on Sunday with a grand Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica where Pope Francis preached on the day’s gospel reading about the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52).  His homily underlined themes and messages from the synod which are ones that he frequently has touched upon. Several of them are applicable to those involved in Catholic LGBT ministry.

Pope Francis at the closing Mass of the synod on youth.

Describing Bartimaeus’ plea for help, and the responses to it given by Jesus and his disciples, Pope Francis described a model of ministry which was underlined time and again at the synod, and it’s one that is easily applied to LGBT ministry:

“[Bartimaeus] is blind and has no one to listen to him. Jesus hears his plea. When he goes to him, he lets him speak. It was not hard to guess what Bartimaeus wanted: clearly, a blind person wants to see or regain his sight. But Jesus takes his time; he takes time to listen. This is the first step in helping the journey of faith: listening. It is the apostolate of the ear: listening before speaking.

“Instead, many of those with Jesus ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet (cf. v. 48). For such disciples, a person in need was a nuisance along the way, unexpected and unplanned. They preferred their own timetable above that of the Master, their own talking over listening to others. They were following Jesus, but they had their own plans in mind. This is a risk constantly to guard against. Yet, for Jesus, the cry of those pleading for help is not a nuisance but a challenge. How important it is for us to listen to life!”

The pope provided a second step to a listening ministry:  being present to someone and responding to their needs, not to a particular agenda of the minister. The pastoral response should be one of actions, not merely words:

“After listening, a second step on the journey of faith is to be a neighbour. Let us look at Jesus: he does not delegate someone from the ‘large crowd’ following him, but goes personally to meet Bartimaeus. He asks him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). What do you want…
Jesus is completely taken up with Bartimaeus; he does not try to sidestep him. …me to do – not simply to speak, but to do something. …for you – not according to my own preconceived ideas, but for you, in your particular situation. That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.”

Pope Francis expands on this idea, rejecting a purely doctrinal approach to ministry, as well as a purely charitable response that is not truly rooted in love.  Instead, the pope opts for “closeness,” for solidarity with the person to whom one is  ministering:

“Faith passes through life. When faith is concerned purely with doctrinal formulae, it risks speaking only to the head without touching the heart. And when it is concerned with activity alone, it risks turning into mere moralizing and social work. Faith, instead, is life: it is living in the love of God who has changed our lives. We cannot choose between doctrine and activism. We are called to carry out God’s work in God’s own way: in closeness, by cleaving to him, in communion with one another, alongside our brothers and sisters. Closeness: that is the secret to communicating the heart of the faith, and not a secondary aspect.”

He defines this “closeness” as “being a neighbour” and details how we can be that:

“Being a neighbour means bringing the newness of God into the lives of our brothers and sisters. It serves as an antidote to the temptation of easy answers and fast fixes. Let us ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are capable of becoming neighbours, stepping out of our circles and embracing those who are not ‘one of us’, those whom God ardently seeks. A temptation so often found in the Scriptures will always be there: the temptation to wash our hands. That is what the crowd does in today’s Gospel. It is what Cain did with Abel, and Pilate with Jesus: they washed their hands. But we want to imitate Jesus and, like him, to dirty our hands. He is the way (cf. Jn 14:6), who stopped on the road for Bartimaeus. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5), who bent down to help a blind man. Let us realize that the Lord has dirtied his hands for each one of us.”

His third step for ministry is bearing witness:

“Let us consider the disciples who, at Jesus’ request, called out to Bartimaeus. . . . They go in Jesus’ name. Indeed, they only say three words to him, and all three are words of Jesus: ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’ (v. 49). Everywhere else in the Gospel, Jesus alone says, ‘Take heart’, for he alone ‘heartens’ those who heed him. In the Gospel, Jesus alone says, ‘Get up’, and heals in spirit and body. Jesus alone calls, transforming the lives of those who follow him, helping raise up the fallen, bringing God’s light to the darkness of life. So many children, so many young people, like Bartimaeus, are looking for light in their lives. They are looking for true love. And like Bartimaeus who in the midst of that large crowd called out to Jesus alone, they too seek life, but often find only empty promises and few people who really care. . . .

“[Jesus] sends us forth to say to each person: ‘God is asking you to let yourself be loved by him’. How often, instead of this liberating message of salvation, have we brought ourselves, our own ‘recipes’ and ‘labels’ into the Church! How often, instead of making the Lord’s words our own, have we peddled our own ideas as his word! How often do people feel the weight of our institutions more than the friendly presence of Jesus!”

I think that many in the LGBT community have often found “few people who really care” in Catholic churches, because those in ministry provided their own “labels” and “recipes” for them, when what they needed was “the friendly presence of Jesus.”  Slowly that is changing. I think that Pope Francis’ ministry lesson in this homily, as well as the spirit of openness to dialogue with which he led the synod, can help move the church to become a more welcoming place for all God’s beloved.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 29, 2018


2 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Excellent commentary. Good words from Francis.

    “I think that many in the LGBT community have often found ‘few people who really care’ in Catholic churches…” New Ways Ministry has for many years been among those few. New Ways Ministry has for many years been educating people in the RCC, and helping the numbers of the few to grow. New Ways Ministry has been in the thick of things when opposition from leaders at the top has been the most intense. And the work of New Ways Ministry has continued to be steady and patient, nurturing growth, preparing fields for the harvest.

    On a side note: I spent a couple hours last night watching and listening to the ceremony of the interment of the remains of Matthew Shepard in the National Cathedral. What a joy it was to see an Episcopal community, presided over by a woman bishop and an openly gay bishop, welcoming and celebrating people who are LGBT! What a difference between that ceremony, and the struggle of a Synod of bishops about youths, to hear and reflect the stories and calls from young people, few of them present in their midst and none of them allowed to vote. It is a contrast between an ancient church, full of accretions and detritus from the past, and a younger church, more responsive to its members and more open to change.

    But isn’t it true that much change comes from the ground? Although few bishops in the RCC may be open to LGBTQ people, many individuals and families are, some local communities are. And the Spirit of God’s activity is not limited to religion or church.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      That is a magnificent commentary, John. I am 1000% in agreement — (no, that’s not a typo!) — with everything you articulated. Credit where due: Pope Francis himself seems to be “the best of the bunch” among that crowd of otherwise sad, tired and emotionally stunted old men. They have no clue how to talk to today’s younger Catholics — and they seem completely unwilling to learn the appropriate language. The more’s the loss for the viable future of Catholicism, particularly in Europe and in the United States.


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