Today’s reflection is by Allison Connelly, a Bondings 2.0 contributor whose bio can be found here.
Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the crowd that whoever is to follow him must take up their cross. As a queer Catholic, I have been told many times over by other Catholics what my cross is. In their telling, “carrying my cross” as a gay person means committing to celibacy for life — no sexual relationships for me! It means accepting the violence of homophobia, or at least accepting with my role on the margins of the Church. “Of course,” I am told, “straight Catholics have crosses too — we all have crosses to carry. But because you are gay, your sexuality is your cross to bear.”
At first, when I was coming out in my early twenties, I believed what I was told: it did feel hard to be a gay Catholic, and, at times, the language of “carrying my cross” helped me to make meaning out of that hardness. But as I’ve grown more confident in my identity as a queer Catholic, and as I’ve reflected more on what it means to be gay in the Church, I have come to a different understanding of what it means to “carry my cross.”
My perspective began to change as I shifted from understanding my sexuality as a burden to understanding it as a gift. My sexuality is a blessing. It teaches me to be honest with myself about what I want and what I need. It encourages me to challenge norms and defy binaries. It has brought me into a community of radical, weird, holy people who experience the world the same way I do and who push me to be my whole, blessed self.
My sexuality has been a gift on my spiritual journey, too: because I am queer, I feel a proximity and connection with the Jesus who, in the queerest manner, also rejected the typical ways of being and doing by promoting peace in a time of war, by feeding those who others would have left unfed, and by including those on the margins in his most intimate social circle. My queerness brings me closer to myself, closer to Jesus, and closer to others in the beloved queer community who mirror the person of God on earth. If my sexuality brings me so much meaning and connection, how could it be my “cross”?
Returning to the Gospel reading, we find the famous and much-quoted line, spoken from Jesus to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” (or, as drag queen Bianca Del Rio would say, “Not today, Satan, not today!”) I am most interested, however, in Jesus’ next sentence, also spoken to Peter: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” For me, people who view my queerness as my cross are thinking as humans do, not as God does, because I know deep within myself that God created, blessed, and loves me as a queer being, not by accident or by circumstance, but intentionally and on-purpose.
In some ways, Jesus’ explanation to his disciples that he must suffer and be rejected mirrors the queer experience: there are times when I have tried to explain to my straight friends or family what it is to live under the constant threat of homophobic violence, only to be met with well-intentioned misunderstanding, dismissal, and invalidation. But I don’t want us to only focus on the violence of homophobia and transphobia. I also want us to remember the joys and celebrations of what it is to be queer. I want us to talk of gender euphoria, moments of tender intimacy, gender-affirming medical care, soft queer love, fabulous glittery Pride parades, drag queens dancing at gay bars, or flirting with a cutie over a chai tea at a lesbian-owned coffee shop. These, too, are parts of the queer experience, unattainable to those straight folks who are thinking and acting ”not as God does, but as human beings do.”
So, if our queerness is not our cross, what is? Jesus tells us that we must “lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel.” A few chapters after our Gospel reading today, in the same Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us exactly what the Gospel is, in two commandments: “The first [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: our God, is one; You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second [commandment] is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk. 12: 29-31). One important way we we love God is when we love the way God created us, queer or trans, gay or straight. Carrying our cross means serving God and neighbor. We love our neighbor when we celebrate the way God created them: by being anti-racist, by caring for our non-Christian siblings, and by working for an end to the wars that take the sacred lives of so many. Carrying our crosses means working for justice and liberation in every aspect of our queer, holy lives. With this perspective, we can think and work not as humans do, but in the mysterious ways of the Divine.
—Allison Connelly, September 12, 2021