The following is the text of a homily preached by Deacon Ray Ortman at St. Victoria Parish, Victoria, Minnesota, on Sunday, January 12, 2020, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Gospel text: Matthew 3:13-17).
Some background material can help set the context of this message. In September 2014, Archbishop John Nienstedt (now retired) demanded that Jamie Moore, the parish’s music director, resign because of his upcoming marriage to his fiancé. Many parishioners and pastoral staff were devastated. Deacon Ortman, who is also the parish business administrator, was ministering there at the time. The following homily provides news about the parish related to the firing.
Hugs, tears, emails, applause, and other expressions of support were offered for the simple message that all are loved by God unconditionally, and that all are welcome. Several parishioners even came back to Mass a second time to hear the message again, some bringing loved ones or children that they thought really needed to hear that simple enduring message that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
‘THIS IS MY BELOVED’
“This is my beloved Son.” My beloved. What a joy to hear those words! What child does not want to hear those words, need to know that they are loved? Jesus needed to hear that from His Father, too. A declaration of unconditional love. Coming at the Baptism of our Lord, before Jesus began His ministry, those words convey the truth that God’s love did not depend on anything Jesus had done. He hadn’t done anything yet! Rather, God loved His Son for who He was: His Son, his child. Could it really be that simple?
Over the years, I have been blessed to have baptized hundreds of children. Each time I see the love that their parents have for them. So full of pride and joy. Their babies haven’t done anything yet either, except maybe smile and coo delightfully. But it doesn’t matter! They love their children unconditionally, and they would do anything for them. Anything so that they would know love. Their love. God’s love. That’s why they come to the Church. Isn’t that why we all come to the Church? To experience and to receive God’s love and the warmth of the family of God? And to love God and each other in return? We are all God’s children! We are all infinitely lovable and loved. I think we all know this. But sometimes we forget. I know I do.
Sometimes I think I have to earn God’s love, that I’m never good enough. That I’m not worthy of such amazing love. That it comes with an asterisk or a loophole that leaves me out in the cold. But that’s not true! We know that God loves us no matter what because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” [Romans 5:8] Sometimes I think we also forget that God loves everyone else too. That we are invited to love everyone with the same kind of love with which God loves us. Unconditionally. Regardless of what we’ve done or haven’t done. Regardless of who we are or who we aren’t.
Often we dwell on incidentals, things that tend to separate us from each other. We judge, we fear, we do not understand the things that make us different — oftentimes the very things that make us special, unique and precious. That make us ourselves. We would remake our brother or sister in our own image, rather than in the image of God who calls all of us beloved. Sometimes these things which divide us are easy to spot, like white or black, thin or fat, English- or Spanish-speaking. Sometimes they are not that obvious: the scars and hurts that we bear from life’s journey, including the struggles that too often come to define us but that are not us: poverty, disease, addiction or a criminal record.
The Church opens wide her doors to all of these. Indeed, she is dedicated and compelled to seeking them out preferentially in the name of Jesus. Ours is and must be a mission of welcome, compassion, healing and love, because we share in the mission of Jesus. The same Jesus who gave us just one command in John 13: “Love one another!” Here in our parish, we have many wonderful outreach ministries to the poor, to the sick, to the homeless and those in prison. This is Christ’s love in action! This is beautiful. It is already changing the lives of God’s children for the better. And ours too. I’ve seen the smiles that grace the faces of many a cheerful giver.
From our parish survey last Fall we also know that you want to do even more to welcome and to love unconditionally those who feel unwelcome by the Church or alienated from God’s love or from ours, especially our gay brothers, our lesbian sisters, our bisexual and transgender neighbors and loved ones, and anyone else who identifies as LGBTQ. If we cannot look them in the eye and say “I love you” without condition, without “if this” or “but that,” then we have work to do.
If we cannot believe and declare that God names each of them “beloved” just as much as any of God’s other children, without “if this” or “but that,” then we have work to do. I think we do have work to do. But it is a joyful labor, a labor of love. And if love is really at its heart it is not really a labor at all, it is a joy!
Each of us is precious and unique, worthy of understanding and worthy of love. We are all Beloved. But when we withhold that love (or worse), we cause hurt, we inflict pain, and we sow alienation. For many years, our sign outside has read, “All Are Welcome.” Until now that message has been mainly just an aspiration for the welcome that LGBTQ persons deserve, and we have experienced firsthand the hurt when we have fallen short.
So let’s commit together that we will keep working on this. We have learned much already about love, and we have so much more to learn. And there is no better way to learn more deeply about love than by giving it away. So let’s begin by making it a priority to offer unconditional love to all who feel marginalized in our church, and especially to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. For some of us, this may be something we are already doing. For others it may be a challenge. That’s okay. To be open-minded and to search deeply with a heart of love is a good start.
According to your survey responses, that same invitation of love and welcome should also be extended more expansively to divorced persons. How could anyone deny access to God’s love to those who feel so keenly unloved? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Really, it’s just as simple as “I love you.” That doesn’t mean it is easy. Family is never easy. Right? But it’s worth it.
That’s why Jesus came in the flesh in the first place, to inaugurate a great Family Reunion! It wasn’t easy, but He did the hard part. Not, as Isaiah reminds us, with shouting or fanfare. Nor with anger or imposing change upon anyone. But rather with gentleness and patience. With God holding us “by the hand,” gently assuring us that all of us are welcome and that all of us are beloved.
—Deacon Ray Ortman, St. Victoria Parish, Victoria, Minnesota. Delivered January 12, 2020. Posted on Bondings 2.0 January 16, 2020