Today’s post is by Janet Rozzano, RSM, a 64-year member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Janet has ministered in elementary and secondary education, community leadership and member support, and chaplaincy work in senior living centers. She has been active in the LGBTQ community since the mid-1980’s, supporting individual sisters and helping to educate religious communities regarding their lesbian members. Janet recently retired and resides in Burlingame, California.
Janet shares her own experiences, along with those of 22 other sisters, in an anthology entitled, Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious, published this month by New Ways Ministry.
Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
I’d like to share with you some thoughts and questions that stirred in me as I read this Sunday’s scriptures and asked “What’s in it for us LGBTQ people?”
Today’s first liturgical reading is a lament about a world that is messy, imperfect, not always hopeful, often unjust, full of suffering, unhappiness, and unanswered questions. We could mistakenly think the passage was written by someone in the past few months, instead of by Job more than two millennia ago. Like it or not, and without denying its goodness and beauty, this messy, imperfect, unhopeful world is where we LGBTQ folks find ourselves today. In light of this fragile reality, I would invite you to consider three possible lessons from today’s gospel.
First, let’s look at those who came or were brought to Jesus for help.
“They brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons…”
While we LGBTQ people know that our sexual and gender identity is not an illness, many of us have at times had to contend with a variety of “demons.” The dictionary defines “demon” as an evil or undesirable emotion, trait, or state. For example, the demon of fear sometimes paralyzes me. At other times, a demon of false stereotypes has led me to doubt the truth and goodness of my lesbian identity.
How can we identify and deal constructively with the demons lurking in the shadows of our life? Perhaps, like the people in the gospel, we simply have to admit the incompleteness of our human condition, and then seek the divine or human help we need to prevent our demons from getting the upper hand.
Second, let’s look at those who heard Jesus teach and witnessed his cures.
“Everyone is looking for you,” the disciples tell Jesus. The crowds are “amazed” and “astonished,” and just before today’s gospel reading begins, Mark quotes them as saying “What is this? A new teaching with authority.”
I wonder if we are living at a moment in history when, in many areas, including our notions of human sexuality, we are being called to a deeper and clearer expression of our human reality and of the good news of the gospel. Like those early listeners of Jesus, we LGBTQ folks may find ourselves happily “amazed and astonished” when we are presented with words and actions of Pope Francis or others in our church which take a more welcoming and inclusive view of us. But, no matter what our position on some of these issues, I think all in the church are called to some conversion here.
Can we set aside preconceived notions and open our hearts and minds to thoughtful study, dialogue, and possible change? Perhaps the lesson for us here is that, as the quote attributed to Gandhi says, we must be the change we want to see happen.
Third, let’s look at Jesus himself and his actions in this gospel which describes his cure of Peter’s mother-in-law.
“For this have I come…preaching and driving out demons.”
Jesus “approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.”
In a few words, Mark gives us a telling snapshot of Jesus doing the work his Abba missioned him to do. The mission is deceptively simple: to accept and to share the good news of God’s unconditional love for each one of us and for all creation.
In the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law, we see an instructive example of how Jesus carried out his mission. He approaches the sick woman as she was, no questions asked, no behavior requirements. He reaches out and touches her, not put off by whatever may be wounded or broken or less than perfect. He helps her up from a bed of pain, up to restored and renewed well-being, up to join the community of family and friends. And after dinner, Jesus spent the rest of the evening approaching, touching, and helping other townspeople crowded at the door to see him.
What a great gift we have in this brief account of Jesus’ mission and methods! Many of us know from our experience how Jesus has approached, touched, and helped us to understand, accept, and rejoice in who we are as members of the LGBTQ community.
So what are we being called to here? We can find one answer in today’s reading from First Corinthians. St. Paul reminds us that what we’ve been given in our own life and experience, we are meant to share freely in Christ-like service to others. Just as Jesus entered into our experience, so must we approach others on their own turf. “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak,” Paul says.
In our work for justice for our LGBTQ community, are we willing to risk meeting others where they are, seeing them with empathy, even when we disagree with them? Perhaps the lesson for us here is Jesus’ own command: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Easier said than done, yes; but let’s join Paul in saying “All this I do for the sake of the gospel.”
I spent time thinking about these reflections in light of the events of the past few months here in the United States. The readings capture much of what we ‘ve experienced and are still living through today: a messy world; demons causing havoc among us; old values crumbling and new understandings rising out of their ashes; heroic acts of love, kindness and generosity in the midst of the pandemic, protests, and all the insecurities we face.
The final words of the poem that Amanda Gorman read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration spoke to my heart as a prayer not only for the country but also for our LGBTQ community as we meditate on this Sunday’s readings:
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
– Janet Rozzano, RSM, February, 7, 2021