Today’s post is from Michaelangelo Allocca, a member of St. Francis Xavier parish, Manhattan, New York. He holds degrees in religion from Columbia University and the University of Chicago, and has wide experience teaching religious studies, humanities, and Latin at the high school and university levels, and also as a catechist and retreat leader. Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
Dearly beloved, let us all gather today to share some groaning.
I never would have guessed that the liturgical readings for this Sunday would prove so resoundingly, “Yes, that’s how I feel, and how everybody I know feels, right now.” I’m not referring to the rain and fertility of Isaiah 55, and Psalm 65, nor the parallel metaphor of fruitful abundance in the Gospel’s well-known Parable of the Sower.
Instead, what feels absolutely right, and logical, and easy to identify with, is the mystery, uncertainty, confusion, and ineffability that runs through all of these readings. For a number of months now, and I feel quite confident that I am not alone in this, my prayer has largely been in the form of the inarticulate groaning to which St. Paul alludes in today’s second reading.
It is no accident that St. Paul describes it as specifically the groaning of labor pains — the noises associated with bringing forth a new life. In today’s second reading, St. Paul says:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God. . . .
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now. . . .
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
This passage is connected to both Isaiah’s and Jesus’ references to the fertility of the earth — as well as to the references to uncertainty and wonder in both readings. Isaiah assures us that God’s word will not return until it has accomplished God’s intention, which reminds us that this intention may remain unknown to us creatures.
Similarly, Jesus’ parable leaves a lot of details unclear: Which type of ground will we be? Or, placing ourselves in the sower role, on which type of ground will our seed land? We don’t know, reminding us that, as people in 12-step programs say, we can plan the plan, but not the outcome. We must act in faith as best we know how, leaving the final result to God
As LGBTQ Catholics, we live in a time that tosses us between signs of outrageous hope, and depressing instances of injustice and oppression. We see (for example) a steady stream of firings of dedicated, beloved parish or Catholic-school employees, simply because they refuse to lie about the nature of the loving relationships to which God has called them. While in June we were elated at the Supreme Court’s Title VII ruling that such employment discrimination is illegal, we are dejected over the ministerial exception ruling this past week that will permit religious institutions to continue to discriminate, anyway.
Concern that the court’s Title VII ruling will not help LGBTQ Catholics is fueled by Archbishop Gomez’s immediate condemnation of it, speaking in his role as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Yet, the dial is pushed back towards hope by the masterful critiques of Gomez’s position published by theologian Lisa Fullam and one published by theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler.
For me, the sign that the inarticulate sounds appropriate here are indeed the groans of labor, not the moans of the wounded, comes in statements such as those of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, and Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, who offered Pride month greetings to LGBTQ Catholics as part of a video produced by the Outreach 2020 Conference. While some may say their messages are “just words,” I am old enough to remember when the very notion of a Catholic bishop recording a greeting in support and celebration of Pride month was unthinkable.
This tension-causing uncertainty is, of course, not unique to our LGBTQ community. Since March, many of my conversations have included some allusion to “whenever/however this is all over,” with “this” being the unprecedented pandemic situation in which we all live. In this struggle, I have been guided by scripture and tradition towards the true theological virtues of faith and hope. I would like my faith and hope to actually be reasonable, optimistic forecasts based on a promising cost-benefit analysis of the situation at hand. The current situation has taught me that true faith and hope are the assurance that God’s loving hand is ultimately going to bring us where we should go, despite the lack of any clear clues which path to take through this wilderness, or how we will endure until our exile is ended.
Our scriptures abound with the hindsight stories told by our ancestors, expressing gratitude after exile or wilderness, which form the foundation of my faith and hope. Connection with the entire communion of saints — those with whom I zoom or phone or e-mail now, and those who have left me these legacies from centuries ago — helps me go forward, even while not quite sure precisely where “forward” is.
Returning to today’s liturgical readings, I am assured God’s Word is at work, just as the rain and the snow continue to bring forth life, despite my ignorance of how that rain and snow will get the job done. Similarly, if I try to sow the seed of God’s Word as best I can with the resources I have, God will determine the best fruitful outcome for that sowing. Finally, however inarticulately I try to express my thoughts and desires in response to our present challenges, I know that the groaning of creation resonates with the groaning in my own soul, to express the truth that new life is indeed being born.
—Michaelangelo Allocca, July 12, 2020