Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida
No matter how old I become, it never ceases to amaze me how fast the calendar seems to move at this time of year. It feels like the transition from summer to autumn had just recently begun, but now Halloween and All Saints Day are already behind us, Thanksgiving will be here before we’re ready, and the mad rush to Christmas will take off immediately after that. In spite of all that craziness, this remains my favorite time of year, a time for gratitude and faith, a time for traditions and celebrations, and most of all a time for family and friends.
But there is a another side to this season of course, as the holidays only seem to amplify the sorrow that so many of us hold in the silence of our hearts, a sorrow born from loved ones that are no longer with us, from broken relationships, from fractured families, and from the struggle to just make ends meet. Though we are surrounded by images of perfect family celebrations for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is impossible to ignore the pain so many of us hold inside, as we go about our business, doing our best to maintain the positive outward appearance that the season seems to demand. My heart goes out to those families who struggle through the holidays. The Church does what it can to help people find solace in the joy and the hope inherent in the Christian faith that we celebrate in a special way at this time of year.
As the parent of two adult LGBTQ children and an advocate within the Church for this community, family divisions at this time of year over a gay or trans child are especially painful for me to witness, both personally and pastorally. In fact, a Bondings 2.0 blog post years ago that told the heartbreaking story of a woman whose Catholic family refused to allow her to come home for Christmas with her same sex partner is what motivated me to finally become a more vocal ally and advocate within the Church.
So many of these family divisions find their origin in misguided understandings of what the Church teaches. I’ve encountered too many Catholic parents who somehow have concluded that they will personally be seriously opposing Church teachings if they accept and support their LGBTQ son or daughter in any visible way whatsoever. That represents a misunderstanding of what the Church has stated about the need to treat LGBTQ individuals with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and to avoid unjust discrimination against them. I believe it also represents confusion about the family obligations that they willingly embraced when they entered into the sacrament of marriage. Finally, and most importantly, it contradicts in a fundamental way the teachings of our Lord’s entire public ministry–a ministry that was decidedly one of inclusion, not exclusion.
Let’s be honest. There probably aren’t too many Catholic parents who are thrilled by everything their adult heterosexual children do. But are they rejecting them away because they no longer attend Mass on a regular basis? Are they refusing to attend their wedding because it’s taking place outside the Church? Are they not allowing them to come home for Christmas because they’ve moved in with their boyfriend or girlfriend? With very few exceptions, I’m confident the answer to each of these questions is a solid “no.” Catholic family members are constantly-making the decision to love, support, and accompany each other through life and are doing so at peace with the certain judgment of their consciences, which the Church clearly states we must follow. And there is no reason the same cannot be true for Catholic families of LGBTQ individuals.
Along with all the other busy-ness of this season, our church recently completed another annual observation by marking Respect Life Month, as well as the annual observation of 40 Days for Life, an international Christian prolife effort supported by many Catholic dioceses. The theme established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for this year’s Respect Life Month was: “Every Life: Cherished, Chosen, Sent”. It was encouraging to see the number of recent articles that took this to heart and expressed the observation that treating LGBTQ individuals with respect and compassion is in fact a pro-life issue. Additionally, several other recent articles that bemoaned the increasingly toxic, hateful atmosphere towards LGBTQ Catholics that has been fueled by a few vocal organizations and websites.
When it comes to respecting life, we can’t have it both ways within the Church, and we certainly can’t have it both ways within the domestic church that is the family. We can’t be espousing the respect life message that is fundamental to our beliefs as Catholic Christians, while at the same time we’re slamming the door in the face of our gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender child. If we speak on behalf of the Church, we can’t be preaching respect life, while at the same time we’re leading parents to believe that they’re doing something morally wrong by loving and supporting their LGBTQ children.
I’d suggest that we all need to turn to the beautiful prayer that the USCCB gave us for Respect Life Month: “May we show by our words and actions that every human life is cherished and chosen.” Let’s take that to heart. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s open those doors and open our arms. Let’s welcome them all home for the holidays.
—Deacon Ray Dever, November 11, 2018