Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent’s 40 days, when we try to pay closer attention to gifts of love, mercy, and forgiveness which God offers us all -year round. Catholic LGBTQ people and Allies have experienced that love and mercy in so many unique ways, through so many powerful experiences. Bondings 2.0 asked our readers to write short reflections on selected Lenten themes for today and for each of the six Sundays in Lent. The themes were chosen from New Ways Ministry online resource: “Journeys: LGBTQ Scripture Reflection Series.”
Below are readers’ reflections for Ash Wednesday. You can read the Ash Wednesday Scripture passage and reflection questions by clicking here. If you would like to consider submitting a reflection for an upcoming Sunday, please consult the guidelines, schedule, and submission form by clicking here.
Thanks to all who submitted reflections!
Submitted by: Julie Chovanes Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I am a trans woman and trans civil rights advocate. As an attorney, I have fought against the most powerful on behalf of my poor and disadvantaged clients: modern day lepers, trans people. I have won rights against the Trump Administration, acknowledging we can obtain the benefits we need. I have argued against Pennsylvania and New Jersey for Medicaid coverage for trans medicine and accurate birth certificates for trans people. And it is hard, because I can’t sometimes do my work without trans prejudice against me too–people mocking me for who I am. The one thing I have learned is without God I am nothing, and every time I wander away — every time — I cannot recover until I recover God. And so I come back, on Ash Wednesday–and every day I hope–and pray for the strength to do what I can to bring God’s Love to all.
And if I am feeling bad I go and read a wonderful note from a trans person thanking me for getting them the right to the right birth certificate after “46 years of hopeless hoping.” I feel holy almost, as if I ended someone’s painful wandering in the desert.
And if I am feeling really, really good this is what I think about my life:
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this woman, or her parents, that she was born trans?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this woman sinned, nor her parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in her.
(Adapted from John 9:2-3, KJV)
Submitted by: Brett Harris Location: Seattle, Washington
I sure didn’t go to seminary expecting to meet my future husband there, but that is exactly what happened. And it happened mainly for two reasons: 1) As John Lennon understood, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” and 2) God has a better sense of humor than any of his followers give him credit for.
That all happened thirty years ago. And as dramatic as the whole thing turned out to be, it was nothing compared to the thirty years that followed, during which Mark and I journeyed a vast wilderness together. With no Church, and cut off by many of our family members and most of our friends, we persevered. And through it all, God was available to us, a true shepherd whose Presence made itself constantly and unmistakably felt.
Mark died last spring. He had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2012, but we managed along together through death’s shadowy valley for seven years after that. Mark remains the kindest, bravest, and best man I have ever known. “You are dust, oh man, and unto dust you shall return.” Mark’s body has become ashes, but the very same Presence we both felt together safely enfolds Mark’s soul now, and I must tell you: because of that Presence I honestly fear no evil, because Mark and his Father both remain with me.
There is nothing I could feel more grateful for.
Submitted by: Dugan McGinely Location: New Jersey
On Ash Wednesday the reading from the prophet Joel calls us to “rend your heart, not your garments.” This poetic turn of phrase relates to the Jewish custom of keriah, in which people tore a piece of clothing they were wearing as a sign of grief over a profound loss. But Joel is calling for something deeper.
When I hear this phrase as a gay man, I think of the difference between who we are inside and what we choose to “wear” on the outside. I hear it as a challenge to reach deep down and expose ourselves even when it makes us feel vulnerable. The call to come out fully, not just in safe spaces. To repent for the times we have worn the clothes of the accepted rather than aligning ourselves with the marginalized. In a different translation, it says, “Tear open your heart, not your clothes.” We all know the feeling of having our hearts ripped open. It’s even scarier when we invite the possibility just by being ourselves. Yet the Holy Spirt calls us to courage, not fear.
The church also needs to rend its heart. To repent for its injustices against LGBTQI people when it teaches that such discrimination is wrong. To repent for not truly loving LGBTQI people with the “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” called for by the Catechism. This means loving all people as they are, not just superficially; not in the “clothes” of words, but in actions from the heart. This reading calls us to take the lead–to open our hearts for the sake of all.
This Lent make it a point to open your heart. Be authentically who you are to someone new.
Submitted by: Johanna Mackin Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
Over the past four years of my college experience, I’ve found a lot of reasons to leave the church. Every time I would go to Mass, or confession, there was a darkness in me. I blamed the Church for a lot of the world’s problems, but more than that, I blamed the Church for abandoning me. It wasn’t until I suffered an incredible trauma and was diagnosed with PTSD that I hit my breaking point, where I found myself begging for God to love me the way I’d felt God’s love before I found all of those reasons to blame the Church . I found a priest, and I started meeting with him. And as much as I never felt like I’d left God, that God had left me, I had to deal with the distance from God. Desperately I needed to bridge the gap. And most often, when I said that, my first reaction was, well, “God’s here with me.” Fr. Mac was the first person to tell me God wasn’t. He asked me what was standing between me and God, and slowly we’ve been working to break down the obstacles that were there. I’m healing. I had to come out to God, and to myself, and now I finally feel like I can come back.
Submitted by: Adolph Dwenger Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
One of the worst times playing “hide and seek” as a kid was when no one found me. They had stopped looking for me and decided to play football. I could hear their voices even in my hiding! Everyone knew I was too small to be the most valuable player, so why search for me?
I often think the Catholic hierarchy prefers that I stay hidden too. I am to remain quiet so no one has to acknowledge I exist. And if I insist on making my presence known, I am directed to the sidelines because I am a distraction to the Church’s playbook of winning God’s love.
Except there is no “winning” God’s love. God’s playbook is about accepting unconditional love and expressing it toward others. There are no secret tackles, penalties for fumbles or step by step narrow strategies.
The smudge (it never seems to look like a cross) on my forehead on Ash Wednesday is not to block the glare like “eye black strips” but rather to clear my head of reasons to hide–reasons to deny God’s love for me …… for everyone.
Looking in the mirror at the smudge of dust I can almost hear God’s whisper: “Show your face. C’mon, stop hiding. My love is enough for you.”
It all begins with the smudge.
Submitted by: Michaelangelo Allocca Location: Brooklyn, New York
“Gather the children – even infants at the breast!” Sure, ‘infants’ is a stretch, but borrowing a bit of prophetic poetic license, this line of scripture points me towards another passage of Joel, the one quoted at Pentecost, promising that when the Spirit is poured out, our children will prophesy, and our young people will see visions. That, to me, is the most powerful prophetic cry of the Ash Wednesday scriptures.
As an out gay Catholic who is also an educator, I am incredibly aware of all the ways the bridge, to steal from Fr. James Martin SJ, still needs building. As moderator of the gay-straight alliance group at a Catholic high school recently, I saw firsthand great progress, but at the same time the arid and dark wilderness still around us.
I heard the voice of God, guiding through this darkness, in the prophesying visions of the young. My students taught me where the Spirit was calling us: I never had to tell them what our group should do; they told me what they hoped to do, and I just tried to make it happen.They taught me the courage needed to say, “dude, we don’t use that kind of language at this school, not even ‘just joking around’,” instead of just laughing along, as is far easier for most teenagers … and adults. As long as the Spirit speaks through the visions of our young people, I have faith that we can follow them joyfully through the desert places.
Submitted by: Don E. Siegal Location: Three Rivers, California
Today’s reading from the Prophet Joel brings to mind Gregory Norbet’s lyrics to the hymn “Hosea.”
“The wilderness will lead you
to your heart where I will speak.
Integrity and justice
with tenderness you shall know.
“Long have I waited for your coming
home to me and living deeply our new life.”
My wilderness has come to me late in life. In the fall of 1978, I met the love of my life, Bill. We were both pinball wizards; that’s how we met—playing pinball. The following February we made a commitment to live our lives together. As with any long-term relationship, there were good times and bad times, health and illness, and joy and sadness. Bill and I had thirty-one years together. Bill passed away in September of 2010 at age 81. My wilderness is the loneliness of living by myself. Yes, I have friends and acquaintances, but that is not the same. Bill and I were both active in the Church, and I still remain involved. I am currently exploring whether and how to become an advocate for welcoming LGBT persons in the parishes of our diocese.
Submitted by: Michael J. DeLeon Location: Louisville, Kentucky
“From dust you come, to dust you will return.” As a gay Roman Catholic man my first response to this Ash Wednesday reminder is “Equality at last.” I know in my mind that God loves me equally–it is only humans who have decided that God’s love is only for some. As Christians we are taught that God’s love is unconditional, yet we impose a long list of judgments.
The plight of the LGBTQ Roman Catholic is not easy for everyone to understand. We are often asked: “Why do you stay where you are not wanted?” My husband and I feel a calling to embrace the faith we grew up with, the faith we shared at the onset of our relationship. At the same time, it is disconcerting that the church that we love can be so cruel to our brothers and sisters.
Many LGBTQ Roman Catholics are like us: the love we and they feel from their families and fellow parishioners is very disconnected from that of the church hierarchy. Why are so many church leaders not like Jesus in demonstrating unconditional love? Thank God for those leaders in the Roman Catholic Church who love unconditionally, and we offer prayers for those who unjustly act against LGBTQ educators and lay people.
“If we leave they win” is the mantra that my husband and I have for embracing our Roman Catholic faith. It is ours until dust we return.
—Edited by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 26, 2020