Today’s post is from Allison Connelly. Allison is a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary studying liberatory approaches to disability theology. She identifies as queer, disabled, Catholic, and United Church of Christ, and is a co-author of Dear Joan Chittister: Conversations with Women in the Church. To read Allison’s previous writings for Bondings 2.0, click here.
To read the scriptures for today, please click here.
Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and the celebration feels a little pointed this year. Major themes of today’s Solemnity according to the U.S. bishops include secularism, nationalism, and political leadership. Public theologian Elle Dowd adds that this Solemnity is “a day set apart to resist the rise of fascism, nationalism, and godlessness.” My response? We’re coming out of an intense election cycle, in the middle of a poorly-managed US response to a global pandemic, on the heels of yet another white supremacist gathering, at a point when the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing cases from religious organizations seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And I am being asked to reflect on secularism, nationalism, and political leadership?! It seems that the liturgical calendar once again hits a little too close to home.
I feel conflicted about this particular feast day, the same way I feel conflicted about all Catholic warnings of “secularism” and “hostility against the Church.” I know from personal experience that for a large number of Catholics, a key complaint about secularization is that their LGBTQ discrimination is less tolerated. For example, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia recently, which involves the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, explains, as have many others, that it is a case “which asks whether our country’s laws allow religious institutions to discriminate against LGBTQ people.” Too many Catholics long for this “license to discriminate,” denied to them, in their understanding, by a secularized society. There is no bone in my gay body that supports this type of “counter-cultural” Catholicism and the erroneous ways it plays out in public life.
However, today’s Solemnity and today’s Gospel give us insight about how we are really supposed to live out our faith in public. And it does not include discrimination. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that his true followers will feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) echoes his words, suggesting Catholics’ call is to “serve the poor, educate the young, welcome the migrant, visit the prisoner, heal the sick, bury the dead, and love others.” The bishops continue:
“[T]he kingdom of God calls us to a whole life of worship and service in the public square. We cannot worship on Sunday and then deny Christ’s teaching in the way we run our ministries throughout the week.”
I agree: we are in fact called to oppose a “secularism” which devalues the sanctity of human life by turning away immigrants at the border, killing Black men on death row, and murdering transgender women for not conforming to gender norms. But that call is to do justice, not to enact bigotry. I hope that LGBTQ-negative Catholics realize this call is to live in a way that is in contrast with societal sins. I hope that the bishops realize that their call to worship Sunday and do justice Monday cannot include discrimination.
Our Solemnity today is also a harsh critique of nationalism and other dangerous ideologies. This Solemnity, less than 100 years old, was founded to oppose the violence of Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler. Today, we can understand the Solemnity as opposing false ideologies, like the white nationalism that has become increasingly prominent over the last four years. We know that God’s plan for the world is bigger than any government or nation—yes, even bigger than our upcoming Catholic president!—and that our ultimate loyalty is to the call of God. In the U.S., we need this reminder more than we usually do after a chaotic election season. As the USCCB notes:
“Nationalism…divides our loyalties. It is good to love one’s country, but ultimate loyalty is due only to Christ and his kingdom. Ideologies that ask us to put our nation above Christ and his Church are incompatible with service to the kingdom.”
Writing for Vatican News, Fr. Antony Kadavil gives us an image of Christ as King by describing Jesus’ work as “a saving and liberating mission: freeing us from all types of bondage, enabling us to live peacefully and happily on earth, and promising us an inheritance in the eternal life of heaven.” For Catholic LGBTQ advocates, we must not be swayed by legislative establishments that come and go or despair at court rulings that harm. For non-affirming people, this Solemnity asks them to give up the ideologies of homophobia and transphobia. The call for all of us is to remain faithful to God’s liberating call of justice, righteousness, and compassion, no matter the political climate of a given moment.
As we begin Thanksgiving week, may today’s Solemnity be an opportunity to reflect on our priorities. Do we truly place the liberating call of God, displayed through Christ, above all other temptations and idols? What individuals or ideologies do we prioritize in our lives and witness? May today be a chance for all of us, LGBTQ Catholics and allies, to re-dedicate ourselves to the justice-seeking call of God as we bring forth the community of heaven.’
—Allison Connelly, November 22, 2020