On Community, Discomfort, and Pride

Michael Sennett

Today’s post is from Michael Sennett. Michael studied communications and religion at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, IL. After he graduated in 2018, he began working at the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Chestnut Hill, MA as an Administrative Assistant and Media Specialist. Michael is a trans man and enjoys hearing testimonies of queer spirituality. He actively pursues opportunities to serve and minister to his peers. In the future, Michael hopes to obtain a degree in theology.

The liturgical readings for today, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, can be found by clicking here.

If I had a quarter for every time someone questioned why I do not leave the Catholic Church, I would have a boatload of money. Being openly transgender and Catholic, folks from nearly every background have quizzed me about why I remain. My response is consistent: God loves all of His children beyond human comprehension, and I am no exception. It’s a no brainer.

I must confess, however, that I’ve chosen to interpret this question at face value. Of course, God loves me; that is indisputable. But during prayer and reflection I dare to dig deeper, below the surface of what people are asking. It’s not a question of God’s love for me. Rather, people query my choice to participate in a Church that constantly disrespects the LGBTQ+ community and categorizes my existence as disordered. The question is why on earth do I allow myself to experience this treatment? Family, friends, and strangers have all pondered whether I sacrifice my dignity for a relationship with the Church. It would be dishonest to pretend I’ve never asked myself this question, but I can truthfully say I’ve never settled on an answer.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 10: 37-42), we encounter Jesus as he concludes giving the expectations for discipleship. Christ instructs his apostles that they ought not love their mother or father, son or daughter more than him. Disciples should take up their crosses and alter their lives. His followers must obey these commands, lest they be unworthy. Living a Christian life will be demanding.

If Catholic teaching places immense value on family unity, why does Jesus advocate for family separation? In the biblical context, the Roman Empire conquered many tribes of communal people and imposed its rule, causing a societal shift toward individualism. The narrower focus impeded peoples’ ability to unite. In order to re-establish community, Jesus encourages his apostles to break the cycle of individualism. Cultivating a relationship with Christ does not destroy human relationships. Rather, it solidifies them. To live in community is to live in Christ. But community requires discomfort and the growth that comes from being challenged. This work is essential to ensure all are welcome. Existing as disciples compels us to give up the familiarity of life as we know it to join fully in communion with Christ.

With those teachings of Jesus in mind, I grapple today towards an answer to that original question above: why do I stay in a Church that fails to be the inclusive community of disciples it is intended to be? The corollary question is what is my vocation supposed to be as a Catholic trans man?

Recently a friend of mine shared the wonderful news that he is becoming a Jesuit. Joining in his glee, I wished him many blessings on his journey, and I meant that sincerely, but my heart also sank to my stomach. Surrendering to my envy, I wondered with every fiber of my being why I’m not allowed to serve God as a priest. As swiftly as that tension filled my body, a harrowing reminder echoed in my brain: I can’t be married in the Catholic Church either. I was completely overcome by emotion. Omitting a church wedding may not seem important enough to fret over; couples routinely marry on beaches or in resorts. Despite the prevalence of secular weddings, my soul aches with sadness knowing the impossibility that I will ever be able to exchange vows in an official ceremony inside of the Catholic Church, celebrated by a priest. It may seem insignificant, but it matters a lot to me. Meaningful dialogue on these issues is absent, even discouraged. If I am afforded an opportunity to share my feelings, the reaction is generally that I am crying over spilled milk, that I’ve forced an issue out of a non-issue. Not only does the Church reinforce the message that I am unworthy, but it silences my voice as well. So, why do I stay?

Christ’s presence in community, a gift bestowed from God, rescues me from the margins. Although I have faced obstacles as a queer Catholic, my communities sustain me. I now realize it’s not about me enduring discomfort because of my identity in Catholic spaces, or even sacrificing my dignity to remain part of the Church, but that it is my mission to live faithfully and joyously, even if others are uncomfortable.

Community, both in the Church and outside of it, gives me hope. June, designated as Pride Month, celebrates the fruits of activism for the LGBTQ+ community. During the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Black and brown queer women confronted injustice and began the fight for queer rights. Marriage equality was legalized in June 2015. And in this very month itself, the Supreme Court ruled it illegal to fire employees based on their sexuality or gender identity. The work of communities is responsible for these victories. I draw hope, too, from LGBTQ+ affirming Catholic groups, such as New Ways Ministry, and the advocacy they do.

Justice will one day prevail from these communities of resistance and liberation. The Church will someday reflect the inclusive community of disciples living Christ that Jesus instructs us to be in today’s readings. I will keep engaging in difficult conversations about systemic oppression. I ask my neighbors take up the challenge of being uncomfortable so that I may experience justice too. The accompaniment by Jesus and the life-giving communities of which I am a part: these are why I stay in the Church.

Michael Sennett, June 28, 2020

5 replies
  1. Claire Jenkins
    Claire Jenkins says:

    I have often wondered about what my position is as a trans woman regarding which sacraments I can receive and which not. I assume I could marry either a cis or trans man but not a cis woman. But I have been baptised, confirmed and receive holy communion, penance and presumably unction if need be. Obviously as a trans woman I cant be ordained or not? I don’t think Catholic theologians have thought these through yet and thank God.

    Reply
  2. Anthony Durante
    Anthony Durante says:

    Thank you for your faith-filled and sincere reflection on Catholic community! The church, the body of Christ, is beautifully diverse, and the Holy Spirit unites and blesses us even if bishops refuse to see that. United in love, we will help the church recognize its God-given diversity and we will do this by our open, resilient, honest, presence.

    Reply
  3. Loved by God
    Loved by God says:

    I am elated that you have come to this so early in your life!!!! As a Vowed Religious for over 40 yrs, and a MA in Theological studies and faith formation, I am beginning to believe that as God put it! ” I am the beloved son of God in whom my favor rests! I found thru my spiritual director, Henri Nouwen’s book the prodigal Son. I am beginning to feel the love of the father for both of his sons as we are called to be the father in the world. my prayer for you Michael”continue to grow in love for God, yourself and for the Community.
    Peace!

    Reply
  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Michael, knowing you only through your (youthful?) image I think you may be selling your life short. I like to use the old word to cleave together (to be faithful to) to describe our union with God at Baptism. We are both together and can’t give up without the other. The Church isn’t part of the separation. Yes today’s limits seem very rigid and forbidding, but less so than half a century ago so don’t give up hoping for a new world view. A couple marries themselves, the Church only provides the venue, Finding a priest (male or female) to lead the ceremony when the right person comes along shouldn’t be very hard, don’t get worried about the party tent. Everyday I am angry at the unfairness of the world, but I still keep looking for ways to change it. Your becoming a married Jesuit (you certainly won’t be the first trans one) may take a lot of pushing but at no time are we promised to have a life with nothing to do.

    Reply

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