Today’s post is by Grace Surdovel, IHM, who is a 30-year member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, Pennsylvania. Grace is a long-time educator in the areas of technology and art, and currently serves on the graduate faculty in the School of Education at Wilkes University in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Grace shares her own experiences as well as those of 22 other sisters in an upcoming anthology she edited entitled, Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious, which will be published this month by New Ways Ministry.
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Lk 1: 26-38)
In the gospel for today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception, we read the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her encounter with the angel Gabriel. The angel greets Mary and tells her that she has been chosen to give birth to Jesus, the son of God.
We can only imagine if we were to find ourselves in this situation. We would probably question what just happened. We would doubt what we saw and heard, and we would doubt our own worthiness of such a call. Yet, while none of us would dare aspire to such a calling, we are in fact called to serve God in our congregations, in our church, and in our world. We have found favor with God.
However, much like the questions Mary pondered in her heart, we too question our call and how we can carry the message of God to the world when so many in the hierarchal church still refer to our natural love as “intrinsically disordered.” Yet, despite these feelings of inadequacy and the fears we may carry in our hearts, we continue our lives of dedicated service to the people of God.
In a recent documentary entitled Francesco, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, Pope Francis called for the passage of civil union laws for same sex couples, stating:
“Homosexuals have a right to be part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
This comment, which is a major departure from centuries of denial of the basic humanity and basic human rights of persons on the LGBTQAA+ spectrum, no doubt took many in the Vatican and beyond by surprise, and we can safely assume that there were those who did not support this statement by the holy father. As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and a man well into his eighties, one wonders why Francis made the decision to make such a bold statement. Surely, he knew the response would be mixed at best.
While this support is far from the full embrace and inclusion of our brothers and sisters who self-identify on the LGBTQA++ spectrum and those of us within the vowed life of the church on this spectrum, this next step offers us a ray of hope towards this full inclusion. Perhaps, the comment was more of a call to action than a statement of belief on the part of Pope Francis. Perhaps, he was reaching out to those of us who identify on this spectrum to come out of the shadows and claim our Church as our own. As I continue to see the many pro-LGBTQAA++ decisions made by the holy father, I am more and more convinced that this is what is behind his decisions. While this may be a projection of my own desires, I find myself stepping further and further out of the shadows and into the light of God which I believe we are each called to enter. Much like Mary in our gospel reading, I step forward with my yes to the call of God.
On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, I pray that we, like Mary, may find the courage to speak our “yes” to God and claim our rightful place in the church and world.
—Grace Surdovel, IHM, December 8, 2020