Although we often say that every day should be Christmas, in reality, it would be better for our souls if every day were Thanksgiving. We usually take too little time in our lives to pause and remember how blessed we are and how much thanks we should be offering to God. It’s a spiritual practice that takes cultivating, but one that is so rewarding. As the medieval theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart said, ““If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
Every year on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., Bondings 2.0 presents a bundle of gratitudes from the volunteers, board, and staff of New Ways Ministry. Below are this year’s selections, reminding us that God is always bountiful in blessing us!
Bob Brady, Board Member: I am grateful for all the people with whom I work to affirm LGBTQ persons and ensure that they enjoy the rights that all others enjoy, in civil society and in the Catholic Church. It can be discouraging sometimes, especially when successes once won slip away and have to be contested again. The courage and persistence of my partners, especially parents of LGBTQ children, teach me the way forward, keep me going and sustain my hope for full equality for all LGBTQ persons. Each of them is a blessing to me.
Catherine Buck, Blogger: I’m grateful for the amount I’ve learned about LGTBQ+ history, challenges, and joys over the past year, especially from my transgender and non-binary friends. I’m thankful to have found communities of Catholics who celebrate LGBTQ+ lives and stories, including at World Youth Day in Panama and the Call to Action (re)Imagining Vocations conference. In the spring I heard Fr. James Martin speak at my alma mater, La Salle University, and recently watched the school paint permanent pride flags across campus just in time for homecoming. It feels like our institutions are working, however slowly, to change for the better.
Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director: I’m grateful for the thousands of people who support the work of New Ways Ministry around the year, whether that be through prayer, moral support, financial donation, hospitality, sharing a story, or helping to make our Church a more equal and just place for LGBTQ people and their families.
Jeremy Dickey, Board Member: I am thankful for all who speak-up for those who are silenced by oppressive systems of injustice and inequality. I am especially moved by the witness of LGBTQ asylum seekers along the U.S. Southern Border. At a time when immigration is a flashpoint, these fearless sisters and brothers choose bravery through visibility in hopes of a fairer, more accepting life in the United States.
It has also been an especially difficult year for LGBTQ educators at Catholic institutions. I am thankful for these teachers—those known and unknown—some of whom have been unfairly terminated by their employers. Likewise, I am uplifted and energized by their students who have spoken-out in defense and support of their teachers. They truly are the future of the Catholic Church.
Dwayne Fernandes, Staff Associate: I continue to be appreciative of the personal stories shared with me over the course of the year. These stories, through hand-written letters from prison inmates, emails from members of the transgender community, phone calls from parents of LGBTQ children, conversations with gay priests, and LGBTQ voices on social media, have allowed me to revisit my own story and draw wisdom, empathy and integrity from the collective LGBTQ experience. Through these intimate stories, I realize that I am not alone. In connecting with the joys and struggles of others, I feel validated and embraced.
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Co-Founder: This year I have been most grateful for the recognition that Pope Francis has given LGBT people by his meeting with Fr. James Martin and LGBT+ Catholics from England, his condemnation of ex-gay therapy, his denouncing persecution of lesbian and gay people, and his restoring Fr. James Allison to ministry. It is comforting to have a shepherd who cares for his sheep, and a pope who practices pastoral theology and leaves the development of sexual theology to the people who live it.
Kevin Molloy, Blogger: I am grateful this year for the courage and persistence of young Catholics in their fight for justice for the LGBTQ community. I was particularly inspired after the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, recognizing that change is coming to the church. While the institutional church is debating LGBTQ inclusion, our young people are coming to demand much more. I am grateful, too, for my own students who are working to my make their campus a more welcoming place for the queer community. I have never been so hopeful that in my lifetime queer folks will move from the margins of church into the center, offering the entire Christian church their own gifts and spiritual insights.
Robert Shine, Associate Director: It seems odd, but this year I am grateful for an ecclesial institution: the Synod of Bishops. The gatherings of this body–to discuss youth last year and the Amazon region this year–are moments in which I have found incredible hope. Though deeply imperfect, primarily for its continued exclusion of women as voting members, the Synod of Bishops has become a key tool which Pope Francis is using to reform and renew the People of God. These words from the final document of October’s Synod on the Amazon summarize part of why I derive such hope:
“To walk together, the Church today needs a conversion to the synodal experience. It is necessary to strengthen a culture of dialogue, reciprocal listening, spiritual discernment, consensus and communion to find spaces and modes of joint decision-making and respond to pastoral challenges.”
What happened in October was near revolutionary for the church. Our task now is to ensure LGBTQ people and their families are fully part of the dialogues and discernments of a synodal church, included in the communion from which decisions are made and directions are set. Thankfully, I know from my work with New Ways Ministry that there is a wide and widening community of Catholics faithfully striving to make that happen. To all who struggle for equality and justice, thank you. It is good to be journeying together towards a church that is, in Pope Francis’ words, “home for all.”
Vernon Smith, Volunteer: I am thankful for the nuns. I often think, “Oh, thank God for the nuns! I am done with these men. The nuns are the ones! They give me hope.” No, I do not idolize them, and nobody is perfect. However, the power of their steadfast service in the face of institutional discrimination has always spoken louder to me than any bishop’s pronouncement. Some of them are among the Church’s most persistent and enduring voices for change.
A Catholic high school exchange with my teacher about 40 years ago exemplifies the nuns’ impact for me. In theology, Sister Roberta was explaining the concept of the primacy of a well-formed conscience. (And she explained ad nauseum about the “well-formed/well-informed” part, so that we were under no illusions that this was easy.) I then raised my hand and asked the question. “What if I have done everything I can to be as informed as possible, and my conscience differs from what the Church says I should do?” She looked me seriously, as if I had not been paying attention. She pointed at me gently and said, “You MUST ALWAYS follow your conscience.” In silence, she turned and walked back to her desk, and then the end of class bell rang. With that, I became a young man freed to start the complicated, painful journey of coming to terms with my own sexual orientation and coming out. She is by no means the only nun who has supported and inspired me. Many have become my LGBT+ supporting angels. I repeat, “Thank God for the nuns!”
Cristina Traina, Board Member: This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for the life and ministry of Barbara Marian: artist, performer, patron, and justice advocate. A resident of rural McHenry County, Illinois, Barbara and her husband Jerry Powers drove 80 miles to attend Mass and participate in the community of St. Nicholas Church in Evanston. Barbara was a staunch advocate of women’s ministries and of LGBTQ inclusion.