Today’s reflection is from Bondings 2.0’s editor, Francis DeBernardo.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found by clicking here.
Who is the god I believe in? Who is the God I believe in?
That repetition wasn’t a typo. To me those are the two distinct questions that are asked in today’s first liturgical reading and the gospel reading. I think those are questions that all people of faith need to answer, and I think that LGBTQ Catholics and allies, in particular, cannot escape answering them.
In today’s first reading, Joshua offers the Israelites a choice. They can worship their ancestors’ gods from across the river, they can worship the gods of the Amorites, on whose land they are living, or they can worship the god Joshua calls “Lord” who brought the Israelites out of bondage. Joshua chooses the last one, as do all the Israelites, the text tells us.
In the gospel, we read a story where people who have heard Jesus preach have begun to start to disbelieve him. Jesus asks his apostles if they, too, want to leave him. Peter answers for all of them: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
In the first story, people are asked which deities are important to them. In the second story, though, Peter’s answer describes a particular feature of God that Jesus has exhibited: he has the words of eternal life. From their experience with Jesus, they have come to understand that he is a reflection of the God who offers eternal life, and that his teachings will lead them to this reality.
To make the distinction between those two questions clearer, let me phrase them a little differently. I think the first one can be rendered: what is important to you? What do you value? What guides your life decisions?
The second one can be rephrased as: How do you understand the God revealed in the Scriptures? What role does God play in your life? What are your images of God?
Because of so many negative messages that LGBTQ people have received from Christian leaders, especially Catholic ones, I think this group has often experienced a certain necessity and urgency to find answers to those questions. Many others may not have experienced this necessity in the same urgent way.
Having been told that they are sick, criminal, sinners beyond redemption, and having experienced rejection, and having lived part of their lives in fear, shame, confusion, and secrecy, all have given LGBTQ people an advantage in answering that first question: Who is the god that you believe in?
The experience of marginalization, oppression, and the closet, which almost all LGBTQ people have felt to some extent, requires individuals to become introspective to a greater degree than the general public. Their human need to be open and known fully often presents choices: authenticity or popularity? Truth or acceptance? Freedom or advantage? LGBTQ people end up asking themselves “What do I truly believe in? What are the values that I want governing my life?” In other words, “Who is the god I believe in?”
In the spiritual realm, LGBTQ Catholics–and LGBTQ folks of other faiths–go through a similar process. Having endured negative messages, exclusion, and rejection from religious figures and institutions, they have had to look deeply into themselves to question if and how God is working in their lives. This journey is often a maturing one, where people give up their older, more childish images of God as a Santa Claus or a harsh judge intent on punishment. And they discover that God is truly all love and has created all things well. I think that many would answer the question “Who is the God I believe in?” very differently after they have come out than they would have before they came out.
In today’s gospel, we read about Peter making a declaration of who God is for him: the Holy One who has the words of eternal life.
But, now I turn to you, dear readers. How would you answer the two questions that began this post: Who is the god I believe in? Who is the God I believe in?
Please share your ideas in the “Comments” section for this post. Feel free to share, too, how your answers to these questions may have changed over your life.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 22, 2021