Today’s reflection is from Brother Jay Woods, OFM, a member of Holy Name Province, is in his final year of studies for his Masters of Divinity at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. Br. Jay’s ministry with the LGBTQ community includes at parishes and ministry sites throughout his Province and Chicago. Br. Jay was ordained a deacon on September 26th .
Pax et Bonum! Blessed greetings to you on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, a special time for members of the Franciscan family. It’s so special that we actually begin our celebrations on the evening of October 3rd by remembering his death, with a liturgy called the Transitus. One of the meditative readings about the saint’s death is from St. Bonaventure’s chronicle entitled The Major Life of Saint Francis. I was struck by a particular sentence. Suffering from illness and waiting for Sister Death to take him Home, St. Francis called his brothers around him and “spoke at length about preserving poverty and patience and the faith of the holy Roman Church, placing the Gospel ahead of other observances.”
Now what does all that mean for us in 2020 as we continue to face a global pandemic, racial tension, the decay of our Sister Mother Earth, and the corrosion of basic human rights? How can this encouragement from the little brother of Assisi give us hope 800 years later?
As I reflected on this reading, I prayed for the LGBTQ community in our parish, and I received my answer. The Franciscan vow of poverty is understood as sine proprio – nothing of our own. What we have we share with our community. Preserving the vow of poverty shifts our spirit toward stewardship. When you don’t own anything, what you do have you cherish and care for more.
I have seen that the LGBTQ community holds responsible stewardship as an important virtue. Because so many LGBTQ people have experienced oppression of some form, within the community there is deep care for one another, which often spills over into care for other oppressed people. “Until we are all free, we are none of us free,” wrote Emma Lazarus, the American lesbian poet. At a time when the abuse and murder of our transgendered sisters of color is at a staggering rate, nothing could be more important than unity within the LGBTQ community to work to end these tragedies.
St. Francis also charged us to preserve and persevere in patience, which can be difficult to do these days. And yet, we must take note and celebrate that the LGBTQ community, through its patient efforts and undying hope, has won rights because of its perseverance. The fight for marriage equality was a slow battle that was won through the patient persistence of so many of our siblings.
But, on a more local level, I have also witnessed those who have shown great hope and patience in loving their parents and family, even when that love was not reciprocated. Before I joined the Order, I volunteered at an outreach and day center which worked with LGBTQ youth and young adults who were experiencing homelessness on the North Shore of Massachusetts. I remember fondly one of my Catholic clients who had been kicked out of her home by her parents for identifying as a lesbian three years previously. Yet, her hope was so great that she never let anyone speak ill of them. She patiently continued to love them knowing one day they would reunite.
I continue to be deeply moved by the profound faith of LGBTQ Catholics I have met in my ministry. They have an incredible hope as they look toward the future, even if all they hope for comes in little shoots of grass, and not large branches. As a vowed religious I, like many, struggle with the often contradictory teachings between the institutional Church and Scripture. Scripture tells us: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35), “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8), and “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). And yet the institutional Church uses degrading words as “intrinsically disordered” and often replaces ministry with doctrine I continue to be inspired by LGBTQ Catholics who know in their hearts that they are members of the Body of Christ and that no man -made (gender used intentionally) rule will ever cut them from that Body. And Praise God for that because together we are all made whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
A few weeks ago “hope sprung eternal” as Pope Francis told 40 parents from the group Jonathan’s Tent that “God loves your children as they are” and “the church loves your children as they are because they are children of God” These comments from our Holy Father are truly promising shoots of grass.
Lastly, St. Francis directs us to “place the Gospel ahead of other observances.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a great love story from which flows hope for peace and justice.
As a friar, I have had the wonderful experience of journeying with an amazing parish’s LGBTQ Catholic group and their family and friend group here in the United States. Their zest for life and zeal for their faith is on fire with the Spirit! They are inspired to proclaim the Gospel with their lives. Sadly, however the ecclesial situation in this part of the United States is such that the hierarchy keeps them from being able to evangelize and from sharing their beautiful authentic selves outside of their parish community.
Imagine, for a moment if Jesus heard of the Roman centurion’s dying servant and instead of journeying to his house replied to the request, “I’d love to help but you’re not one of us. Sorry. You’ll have to convert first.” Jesus saw no barriers and neither does this parish’s LGBTQ group. They don’t despair or become despondent– they get creative! They have come up with imaginative ways in which they can evangelize the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel gives us hope in scattering the proud and bringing down the mighty while also raising the lowly and hungry in their dignity. We have hope because Jesus challenged the authority of his day to metanoia and advocated for those on the margins. We have hope because, like Representative John Lewis, Jesus “got into good trouble”. We are hope because we will continue to carry the torch towards justice and peace.
—Brother Jay Woods, OFM,. October 4, 2020