Today’s scriptural reflection is from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director. Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
There are two parts of the call to be a prophet. The first part is in today’s Old Testament reading:
“I say to myself, I will not mention God,
I will speak in God’s name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” (Jeremiah 20: 9)
These words are from the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, who, like most prophets, did not want to be a prophet. God had other plans.
Replace “God” with “LGBTQ identity,” and you have the basic pattern of most coming out stories. I have listened to hundreds of such stories in almost 30 years of being involved in Catholic LGBTQ ministry and advocacy. Despite great differences of geography, social class, education, economic situation, ethnicity, race, and many other factors, the story is still the same:
“I tried to deny it and pretend it wasn’t true and that if I just avoided thinking or speaking about it, it would go away. But that didn’t work. It just came back with intense strength. I could not make it go away. It was a part of me. I got to the point where I just couldn’t hold it in any longer. In order to live, I had to accept it and tell someone about it.”
But it’s not just the literary pattern that is the same. The substance of both stories is also identical. For Catholic LGBTQ people (and, I suspect for other LGBTQ Christians, too), coming out is a not only a declaration about personal acceptance of one’s identity. It is also a declaration of coming to know God’s love burning in their hearts and bred in their bones. That’s part one of being a prophet.
It’s not a profound insight to point out this similarity. But it is a reality that must be told because it is one that I think most Catholics who are opposed LGBTQ equality do not realize. They fail to understand that often coming out is less a personal decision to tell others the truth about oneself and more a courageous response to the irresistible call of God to accept divine love.
I’d like to end this reflection here on this nice note. But there’s a second part to being a prophet, which is explained in today’s Gospel.
“Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised. . . .
“Jesus said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 21-24)
Let’s face it: that’s kinda harsh.
While it is important to go through the first part, coming to accept oneself and to accept God’s love, it doesn’t mean the rest of the path is going to be easy. Jesus promises not a rose garden, but the Cross. Everyone experiences the Cross differently. For many LGBTQ Catholics and allies, the Cross today is being treated in a second class way by some in the Chruch. In whatever form it comes, the Cross is inevitable. Expecting only good to come once we respond to God’s call is what Jesus describes as “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s not surprising, therefore, why a lot of people don’t want to be prophets. Oh, sure, the first part of being a prophet, accepting yourself and accepting God’s love, can feel liberating and dizzying. It can be a time of great joy.
The second part, not so much. There’s simply no way to sugarcoat it. And it’s this second part that is the part that takes up most of your life.
But, as Jeremiah illustrates, some people just can’t stop themselves. The call is so strong that it can’t be avoided. But, it’s more than that, too. As Jeremiah illustrates, the prophetic call is a part of the experience of faith: it is essential to our being. In other words, people are prophets just by being authentically who they are and relying on God’s love and mercy. LGBTQ people and allies are not the only people who experience the prophetic call, but the call to them is often offered by the call to come out and to invite the church and the world to accept them in the unique way God made them.
Living a life as your authentic self is not going to please everyone. In fact, just by being yourself, you may actually unintentionally end up challenging or even threatening some people, structures, and institutions. You don’t have to get on a soapbox and scream out diatribes on a street corner. You just have to be yourself. There’s freedom in that, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy for you. Today’s Psalm reminds us, however, that God will always protect and save us:
“You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63: 7-8)
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 30, 2020