Fed for the Journey 

Today’s post is from Cristina Traina, a Bondings 2.0 contributor whose bio can be found here.

Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.

For LGBTQ+ Catholics, life in the church can often feel like a marathon with an ever-receding finish line. This spring’s Vatican ban on same-sex blessings, condemnations of supposed “gender ideology,” and some US bishops’ thinly veiled effort to exclude President Biden from the Eucharist (are we next?) can feel like ankle weights or worse. What’s to keep us from exiting the course at the next water stop?

We can take a cue from long-distance runners. Although I don’t run marathons, my niece and brother-in-law do. Like all marathoners, they hydrate and keep up their salts and sugars on the course, but they know that if they don’t eat well while training—high-quality protein, vegetables, healthy grains—and especially just before a race—plenty of low-fiber complex carbohydrates for energy—they won’t make it through 26.2 miles, no matter how many sports drinks they take in along the way. Advance self-care is key.

The Bible is full of similar advice for marathons of other kinds. Countless stories tell of God preparing people before hard and holy undertakings by feeding them, often miraculously. In today’s liturgical selections, we read that God fortifies Elijah with bread and water before he flees for his life to Mt. Horeb, where God later manifests to him in silence. Earlier, God not only insists that the Israelites dine on roast lamb and fresh bread before outrunning the Egyptian army but also follows up with quail every night and manna every morning to prepare them for the next day’s journey in the desert. The five loaves and two fish that Jesus distributes to a huge crowd multiply miraculously so that, even after they stuff themselves for the trip home, there’s more food left over than there was to start with, more than they could possibly have eaten.

It’s a short step from the literal lamb of the Passover to fleshly bread of life in John’s gospel for today, broken for everyday people in the Last Supper. As Pope Francis has reminded us, this too is miraculous, astonishingly generous food: “This Bread of Life has come down to us!” It is “not a prize for the good, but …strength for the weak, for sinners”—which means all of us, equally, queer or not. Jesus is broken for us, not because of anything good we have done, but completely gratuitously, out of love. Francis’s words, written before the Eucharistic fast that COVID imposed, strike an especially poignant note now. Contemplate this gift joyfully, Francis seems to say: to be church should be in “unending” “amazement at this reality,” the free feast that is given for absolutely everyone.

Be amazed, Francis says, but then get moving! If the bread is for everyone, so is the journey. Echoing scripture, Francis reminds us that whenever God provides a feast, it’s to prepare us for a task to which God is calling us:  Eucharist is “viaticum,” literally bread for “a journey which admits no division”–despite the tensions in the church. It fortifies us to reach out to people who, like us, are on the margins, who are losing hope and faith, who are victims of racism and oppression, who have the impression that they are not considered part of the undivided unity of God’s people. Each of us is responsible for keeping all of us together—as Paul says, overcoming “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling” with forgiveness and compassion. What a task, in our racially and politically divided nation! But what astounding food we receive to accomplish it.

Admittedly, Francis’s vision of a church united and powered by the “amazing” Eucharist can feel Pollyanna-ish, particularly to LGBTQ+ Catholics. So many of us feel fragile and wounded, betrayed by our church, even at times by Francis himself. Why journey with the people who cause this suffering?

Well, Francis said in June, because Jesus did. The Eucharist is born out of betrayal, not unity:

“It is on the night he is betrayed that Jesus gives us the Bread of Life. He gives us the greatest gift while he feels the deepest abyss in his heart: the disciple who eats with Him, who dips the morsel in the same plate, is betraying Him. And betrayal is the worst suffering for one who loves.”

Jesus never excuses Judas’s deadly treachery. Still, in the abyss of betrayal, Jesus responds with costly mercy and forgiveness. Francis says:

“[Jesus] gives us the courage to go outside of ourselves and bend down with love toward the fragility of others. As God does with us. This is the logic of the Eucharist: we receive Jesus who loves us and heals our fragilities in order to love others and help them in their fragilities; and this lasts our entire life.”

Much of the time LGBTQ+ Christians feel betrayed by a church that declares us unworthy, so we are ambivalent members of it (one foot in and one foot out, as a good friend of mine likes to say), not quite feeling included in its grace and its community, thus not feeling fully responsible for its ministry. But, as Francis insists, all are fed in the Eucharist, and to be fed is to be sent on a life-long journey of love and mercy—an ultra-marathon.

Cristina Traina, August 8, 2021

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