Do We REALLY Believe That God Loves Us?

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

9 replies
  1. Peter Canavan
    Peter Canavan says:

    Thank you Chris, once again, for reminding us how much we are all loved by God and that God loves our sexual identity whatever it is! Amen! Alleluia!!!

    Reply
  2. Steck
    Steck says:

    Hello Deacon Kellerman,
    I was so happy to read your ideas about how you answered the question, “Does Jesus Love Us?”.
    I am in total agreement about the LGBTQ community feeling shunned by the Catholic church. I am relieved to know that our Deacon is in the process of starting a group at our church, which is going to be called “Out Loud”. I am a heterosexual, and I shouldn’t even have to tell you that! There has been resistance from our pastor who believes that “homosexuality is a sin.” He also said, when I questioned him “if an LGBTQ individual wanted to receive the Holy Eucharist, would you let them receive it?” He said, “he would”. He also said he had to abide by church dogma, and he would always do so. I am distressed by the Catholic church’s tunnel vision. He has asked me why I think so many are leaving the Catholic church, and my response to him was, because “the church is not keeping up with the times” and “priests should be able to marry” and “women are not utilized in the Catholic church to the extent they could be, and in fact are treated as subservient members.”
    I believe that we are all children of God, and if God has changed the brain of those who love the same sex, then we should accept them as a planned gift from God. If they are existing and contributing like any other person, why the prejudice and injustice towards them? When I sing the song “All are Welcome” at mass, I feel that I am lying to the congregation, and that is tragic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this most important topic. How do we make changes for the future? Pope Francis has given permission for a special few priests from remote areas of Africa to be married. He said this would not be happening in the near future. No one has dared ask about the role of women in the Catholic church being elevated. If our Church is to remain vibrant and grow, change is inevitable. If not, we will be stagnant and not be living the life that Jesus wants us to, which is to “Love one another”. Mary T Steckart SNC Parish De Pere, WI

    Reply
  3. Bradley A. Leger
    Bradley A. Leger says:

    A wonderful post, spoken so prophetically. So many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have been for too long traumatized by outdated, insensitive official church teaching and civil law. It is always a great breakthrough when we are able to deconstruct this notion of having a nature which is “intrinsically disordered” and to allow ourselves to fall into the arms of a loving Creator who made us as we are: in God’s image and worthy of being loved – by others and by ourselves.

    Reply
  4. Hal
    Hal says:

    Thank you for this great article. I am a gay-married man (39 years together) who left the church years ago. My husband and I have lived under the shadow of the catechism’s “intrinsically disordered” teachings; your description of how they scar the souls of LGBTQ Catholics is spot-on.

    I am to old and spiritually damaged to accept this kind of divine love. But I hope that at some time your viewpoint will prevail, and that young Catholics will grow up with the belief that God Is Love, as opposed to God is Rules.

    Reply
  5. Mickey
    Mickey says:

    Dear Chris, Thank you for this beautiful reflection. It is safe to say that you are well on your way to becoming a terrific- and relevant- preacher. Keep at it. As St. Francis de Sales used to say: ‘BE WHO YOU ARE AND BE THAT PERFECTLY WELL.”

    Reply
  6. Maurice Richard
    Maurice Richard says:

    Thanks for your insights deacon Chris. . . When God’s Spirit leaves an indelible mark within of love and compassion to the core of who we are, we can not help to proclaim the all encompassing to all God’s children, including his LGBTQ children, whom God created so beautifully and imaginatively.

    Reply
  7. Fran
    Fran says:

    Dear Chris, i found this post by accident and it was a revelation, i feel that you’ve just helped me me find my god, i was raised in a catholic family and went to a catholic school, and like you say, i was traumatized whith the teachings of how my feelings were wrong and sinful, that pulled me to years of denial till i couldnt deny who i was anymore, but that was in conflict with my church, or that was what i thought, i felt that god was my enemy, and i took him out of my life for years, recently i was trying to find him again but everything i readed was negativity from religious people towards people like me, till i found your article, the part about how we should love god because he already loves us with passion got me, ive been crying for an hour now, i feel i finally openned my eyes, till now my life was so full of pain and hate, i thought nobody could love me ever, but god loves me and the feeling is overwhelming. Sorry for making this so long, its just the thoughts anf feelings that come to me right now, also english is not my mother language, so my apologies if its difficult to read. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

    Reply
    • Bradley A. Leger
      Bradley A. Leger says:

      Fran – Thanks so much for posting your message. I was deeply moved by your words. I, too, for so many years, was terrified of who I was as a gay man. Although I never felt that “God would send me to hell for being gay”, nor was I angry at God, I was nonetheless very confused with this God who created me – considering myself as “damaged goods.” Would people really love me if they really knew who I really was? Of course, Catholic church teaching as well as civil laws and societal attitudes were grinding me into years of despair, depression, and anxiety – accompanied with buckets of tears. I finally got to the point that I had to do something about it and make some serious effort into finding some peace within my soul – or die. Several revelations had to take place along the way, and one of them was to be able to name what I had been experiencing: trauma. This opened the gates to begin the process of healing within my soul, walking with some great therapists and spiritual directors. Another great awakening that I had was this: what kind of loving Creator would create me as a gay man, only to disallow me to love fully as any precious human being would? This did not make any sense to me. Thus, this also played a major role in the further evolution of my image of God. The Mystery that I call “God” is not one of aloofness and judgment, but one of love. This is all a journey, and it is a beautiful one. Many more tears of healing will come (I have cried many over the years, and they are still coming). Please do not give up on this loving God, Fran. Try to connect and walk with some good people and resources who will be understanding and affirming of who you are. There are also many people within the Catholic church who are speaking and acting prophetically within LBTQ+ issues, and I am grateful for them. Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community does not have to be contradictory with being a person of faith, which includes being Catholic. In fact, I have evolved enormously and deepened my relationship with God over the years as I have embraced my authentic self which was created by a loving Creator. It is a great gift.

      Reply
  8. Marco Cipolletti
    Marco Cipolletti says:

    Bradley, I agree with your opinion of Deacon Kellerman’s post. And I love your statement: “fall into the arms of a Creator who made us as we are: in God’s image and worthy of being loved -(by God), by others, and by ourselves”.

    Reply

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