According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is not a feast that the church celebrates only one day of the year. The seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sundays are called Eastertide, when the church reflects scripturally on the mystery of the Resurrection.
Bondings 2.0 has created the “Out of the Tomb” series to present reflections on the liturgical readings for these Sundays and Ascension Thursday for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, by clicking here.
Today’s post is from Keith Henry, an independent management consultant, Catholic apologist, and spiritual director in San Francisco.
It was the spring of 1977 and Sister Agnes was the kindest and toughest of the nuns at my parish. We pre-teen boys on the playground had our tough talk. She knew the underlay as we poked fun at the lispy teacher who had just taken charge of the parish scouts. She knew that Anita Bryant and Harvey Milk were on the 5:30 news often enough. She may even have known our fathers’ seldom-hidden opinions about “the fags,” the “hippie boy scout,” and all outsiders. She rushed over and scolded us. “Don’t let me ever hear those hateful words. We Catholics are above that.”
I mark that moment as my coming out, the beginning of self-understanding as both Gay and Catholic. For a couple of years, I had been dreaming nightly of intimacy and of other boys I wished were gay. Sister Agnes’ words, brief as they were, helped me to know a more integrated truth about myself. Anita Bryant was wrong. My father was wrong. The new scout master is Catholic like us. The gays are not “them.” The gays are like us. Like me, anyway. And this tough nun saw the connection.
Today’s liturgical readings give us a path to move beyond the politics of “us and them.”
In the immediate chapters before today’s reading from Acts, we find a back story. Peter and John were leading a merry band of disciples who preached in the Temple precincts, in and out of debates with priests and scribes. The Judean powers that be could find little fault with these apostles, nor keep them in prison, nor comprehend the idea of a Risen Jesus, out of the tomb. How slippery these apostles who think that they can sanctify and govern themselves!
Today’s reading develops the story. “[The apostles in Jerusalem] sent to [the Samaritans] Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” Samaritans were Jews, too, but not Jerusalem-style. They had accents, read the Torah with their own alphabet and worshiped at Mount Gerizim, not the Temple. Their trafficking with foreigners lent them a Greek sophistication that made Judeans and Galileans uncomfortable at times. The Temple establishment found them suspect because they were odd. The apostles, however, rushed forward to share the Holy Spirit with them.
Our scoutmaster, like me and my friends, was fortunate to have an apostle who was like John and Peter. Unable to persuade our parents or the 5:30 news to accept a message of inclusion, Sister Agnes rushed forward to exhort us to our better selves. Her respect for our scoutmaster’s dignity and her tough compassion with us cemented her teaching that we are a Church of “we.”
Today’s second reading is written by Peter himself, and the gospel is written by John, so these texts can give us some insight about what these two apostles may have taught the Samaritans.
John likely taught these “outsiders” how the Spirit binds them to Jesus and the community of believers. Jesus promises this Advocate to his beloved friends to guide them a step ahead of their persecutors. The Holy Spirit comes to those who see the Lord and who know the Lord. When Jesus is gone, there is one way to see and know him. Love him. By loving Jesus, we see God. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, surely welcomed Samaria into this mystic relationship with the Lord.
Peter’s message to them was likely spiritual empowerment which he describes in his epistle. “[Defend yourselves] with gentleness and reverence and keep your conscience clear.” It’s so direct that it’s almost uncomfortable. For John, Jesus is a lover. For Peter, Christ is unapologetically Lord and Master. This Peter isn’t the dithering, questioning slacker of the gospel stories. No, Peter the activist, the protopope, the general reminds his troops to have blameless conduct and discipline. He is clear. Christians must not suffer and die as mischief makers. We must be blameless and pure and proud.
Peter may even have exhorted the Samaritans to “one up” the Judeans in their sense of observance and justice, so the priests and scribes cannot easily make fun of their traffic with Gentiles. John, too, would have wanted this new community of disciples to be proud of their newly found knowledge and love of the Lord. The Judeans can’t see beyond the strange Samaritan alphabet, but the witness of love may break through.
John and Peter lead us past the politics of us and them. The more our LGBTQ Catholic community articulates deep knowledge and love of Jesus, the more blameless our conduct, and the richer we are in proclaiming the Gospel. Our empowerment comes not from the volume with which we speak, but from the sound foundation on which we build our lives as Catholics. We love Jesus as deeply as John does. We articulate as reverently as Peter.
Every time a faithful Catholic role model is excluded as a “them,” I think of my scout master. He could have been easily dismissed, like many LGBTQ teachers have been. Sister Agnes’ words on the playground decades ago were simply more Catholic than the parsed and tardy chancery pronouncements of exclusion one often reads today. This teacher rushed in with a message of holiness. She boldly insisted on the righteousness of inclusion. And her love of the Lord was unquestioned. Gay and Catholic, we pray to live by her example as an apostle.
–Keith Henry, May 17, 2020