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 grace of God is scandalous to the Catholic Church.
Today’s gospel contains the parable of the workers in the vineyard. At the end of the workday, the laborers who harvested the grapes since dawn balked at the revelation that they received the same pay as the workers employed later in the day. Their frustration is understandable, even predictable. Imagine toiling in a field all day long under the blazing sun only to realize the person who worked half the day or only one hour earned the same wage—it seems simply unfair!
Yet, no one was actually cheated. The landowner paid the first workers exactly what he promised them. Their anger is directed at his generosity, and it reflects the workers’ self-righteousness.
Compassion and mercy compelled the landowner to pay every laborer equally, even if they did not earn it by societal standards. The last is first and the first is last. This is the meaning of God’s grace. No matter the circumstances, the Lord is generous with compassion and mercy for all.
Matthew’s Gospel does not explain why the latter workers had not been hired earlier. According to the story, they stood idly, waiting for an opportunity. Perhaps the other employers chose laborers who appeared to fit the bill and ignored the workers with whom they were unfamiliar. The last were not avoiding work, but patiently waited to be chosen.
The narrative of the first and the last is a present-day reality for the Church that refuses to recognize the gifts of the marginalized, such as the Black community and other people of color, women, LGBTQ+ folks, people with disabilities, and others who do not align with cultural expectations or familiarity. Yet God embraces the last the same as the first; no more, no less.
Like the disgruntled laborers, the righteous are scandalized by the Good News of the Gospel. Scripture is selectively quoted and hurled at LGBTQ+ folks and attempts are made to limit their roles in the Church, because surely no one is entitled to the same compassion and mercy as the “first” in the field. Despite the discrimination and hate, queer Catholics retain their resilience and continue with the triumph of Christ, because God is generous.
Why are people scandalized by the fact that LGBTQ+ people receive the grace of God? It starts with church leaders. Far too many LGBTQ+ Catholics have been exposed to preaching that not only disrespects and condemns queer lives and experiences, but also extols efforts to change us. While the Church officially does not approve of conversion therapy, plenty of clergy have had a hand in encouraging folks to undergo it, despite the known emotional, mental, and spiritual damage it inflicts.
Priests and bishops will often remind the faithful that, according to the Catechism, “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (CCC 2357) and that LGBTQ+ persons are called to chastity. Yet we are rarely “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358) as the Catechism also directs. When consciences are being formed by bigotry instead of love, acceptance is not possible.
Cisgender, straight Catholics are not taught to view themselves as disordered, therefore it might seem natural to believe they deserve better than the “evil” sexual sinners. They were able to resist temptation after all—they must come first in God’s eyes. The realization that LGBTQ+ folks are also beloved by God exactly as they are surely presents a challenge to the way the faith has too often been taught. Instead of re-examining and re-building their faith, some Christians reject the truth and perpetuate homophobia and transphobia.
Pope Francis recently reaffirmed the parents of LGBTQ children that the Church “loves your children as they are, because they are children of God.” Yet, many queer Catholics do not experience love from misguided church leaders and peers, and that in turn can hinder their relationship with God. We must continue down the path of discipleship through advocacy, so that LGBTQ+ people know they are loved and welcomed only by God, but by their faith communities as well.
Old habits surely die hard, but the cross of generosity is ours to take up and bear for the fruits of a more welcoming Church and world for all. Boundless love may seem scandalous, but as Isaiah tells us in the first reading,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.
–Michael Sennett, September 20, 2020