Today’s post is from Chris Kellerman, SJ, a Jesuit deacon in Louisiana. Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,” writes St. Paul in the second reading of today’s liturgy, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
It is remarkable to me how relentlessly Scripture preaches a gospel of love. On nearly every page we see a statement or example of God’s love for us or a reminder to love one another. In his first epistle, St. John teaches us how God’s love for us and our ability to love others are intimately linked: “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Since God loves us, we can love others. And when we love others, we’ve fulfilled the law.
We read it in the Bible over and over. It’s like the sacred writers know we are going to continually try to make a life in God about something other than love, so they have to keep reminding us not to do so. Their message, like God’s love, seems too good to be true—and yet they assure us it is not. God’s love is relentless, passionate, and absolutely real. It is everything.
It was a long time before I experienced God’s love for me in the way that I think God wanted me to. I was always keeping God’s love at bay, convinced that the little glimpses I felt of it were something else: my imagination, perhaps. Wishful thinking. While I knew I was supposed to believe that God loved me, I didn’t feel it, because deep down, I imagined “God’s love” as something more like God’s approval.
One evening at Mass, however, a priest said something in his homily that cracked my distorted image of God and rendered it useless. The only reason Scripture can tell us that we need to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, the priest said, is because God already loves us with God’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
God’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength? That’s how God already loves me? With that kind of passion? No, not me. It couldn’t be. I yearned to believe this priest’s words. That God would love me that completely, that intensely, seemed too good to be true, and yet I desperately wanted it to be true.
A few days later, while walking along a sidewalk on a rainy morning, it hit me. I stopped moving, and I closed my eyes in a fruitless attempt to keep them from filling up with tears. Of course the priest’s words were true. Of course God already loves us with such passion. If God’s love were merely approval, or merely an absence of disgust, could such a petty thing really be the love of God? No. Absolutely not. The image of God’s love that I had unconsciously and devastatingly written off as too good to be true was indeed the truth.
I felt the force of this truth with such dazzling intensity in that moment that it was as if the Holy Spirit had flooded my soul with a consolation that was both tenacious and benevolent enough to rip open seas and lighten burdens all at the same time. I knew in that moment that the only love worthy of the God of Jesus Christ was the one envisioned by Scripture: a love that was relentless, total, intimate, and life-giving. And so I let God love me.
I realized something else on that sidewalk. God’s love is extravagant and beautiful, but it is also necessary. It is not icing on the cake but is the cake itself. It is our daily bread. Precisely because of that fact, I find myself deeply disturbed by how the Church’s current teaching on sexuality can push LGBTQ Catholics into a psychological and spiritual state that makes the powerful experience of God’s relentless, overwhelming love nearly inaccessible.
Our current Catechism states, as a corollary to the Church’s condemnation of same-sex genital actions, that the “inclination” of homosexuality is “objectively disordered.” This teaching is highly problematic. As we all know, sexuality is fundamental to our humanity. It encompasses far more than genital experiences, for it impacts the basic ways we relate to one another. The catechism’s teaching ends up implying that non-heterosexual persons’ ability to relate to themselves and others is corrupted at the roots. But if LGBTQ persons are fundamentally flawed in the way they relate to others, how can they love or be loved by anybody? How can they even experience God’s love for them?
The answer, of course, is that LGBTQ persons are able to love, and they do. The teaching is simply wrong, and, even worse, it is harmful. It causes some LGBTQ Catholics to live in an anguished state of second guessing their every move. I fear that some LGBTQ Catholics are never able to really “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:9), not because of their sexuality, but because the Church’s current teaching drills into them that they cannot trust their own ability to recognize, give, and receive love.
Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit poured forth so abundantly at Pentecost never has been found exclusively in the statements of Church documents. The Spirit is not sealed up in a catechism. We ourselves are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and we who are involved in LGBTQ advocacy can assure those who have been traumatized by the Church’s teaching that God’s love for them is not too good to be true, is not being kept at bay by whom and what God has made them to be, and is not some riddle that they must spend their lives torturously trying to solve.
We who have experienced God’s not-too-good-to-be-true love for us get to be prophets of the gospel of love, the love of Jesus Christ—the love that is our daily bread. We get to announce it relentlessly and passionately. We get to love like God loves us. And that, St. Paul says, is the only thing we owe to one another.
—Chris Kellerman, SJ, Septemeber 6, 2020