Today’s post is by guest blogger Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, a pastoral worker and writer and living in Albany, New York. Fran is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, and most recently to a new compilation, A Stranger, And You Welcomed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle B from Clear Faith Publishing. She blogs at There Will Be Bread (breadhere.wordpress.com).
Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
A scene in the new book Hidden Mercy, Aids, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear (Michael J. O’Loughlin, Broadleaf Books) relates the story of a gay priest who tries to change his orientation through various practices, all of which have seemingly failed. The methodologies were typical of a bygone era. He was given heterosexual pornography (ironically, a sin in and of itself), hypnosis, and even electric shock therapy.
Eventually an older priest advises the younger man that God made him the way he was. This message was the first positive affirmation he had ever received, and it was an epiphany that propelled him more deeply into his vocation and ministry. That priest, Fr. Bill McNichols, became a celebrated artist of sacred images who continues his work to this day.
We are reminded of the same thing in today’s liturgical readings: God made as we are. In the first reading, Ezra’s prophetic voice is unambiguous: “Do not be sad, and do not weep, rejoice.” In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot arbitrarily separate themselves from one another. Those who want to reject this person or that group are reminded that there are many members of one body. Think about “re-membering” as not just memories, but the very act of reconciling and restoring the entire Body.
Even when we are in the womb, we are shaped by our families, cultures, environments. Do this, don’t do that, be this way, not that way, and so on. The steady message of some conjured code of being will allegedly make us “better” so that God might approve and love us more. What folly! Our essential being has already been created by God. God already loves us, otherwise we would not exist.
The Eucharistic mission we undertake is the restoration of all as one Body in Christ. And all means all. We cannot consign those we do not approve of to the margins without God’s will bringing the margins into the center. Left, right, conservative, progressive, gay, straight, black, white, and all else, everyone belongs.
We are called by the Spirit to believe that everyone is invited to be present, not just those perceived as good or holy enough to get in. Gathered in from the margins, back into the heart of the God who loved us all into being.
Like Fr. Bill coming to terms with his sexuality, we might need a guide to help us grow into the person that God created. We also might need to be the encouragement for another person along the way. It is always about the gathering in of the Body, not the amputation of various parts of it. Let us explore three ways we might go forth.
1) Find joy. Ezra says this clearly in the Scriptures. “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep, rejoice…” We cannot be happy all the time, but happiness and joy are not the same. To the extent that we can, let us seek out a little joy, especially at Eucharist . Sadness is not squashed, but God invites us to joy. We might still feel sad, but when we acknowledge joy, things can shift. God’s holiness is meant to fuel our joy.
2) Change, or don’t change. Many of us think that if we could just change that one thing about ourselves, we would be OK. We also often think that someone else should change to suit what we think God wants. While we all have things we can all change about ourselves, we should never do so in hopes that God will love us more.
Sometimes we want to erase things we do not like or accept about ourselves or others. Fr. Bill who thought he could change his nature, and others encouraged him, because they thought God might want this. Then Fr. Bill met someone who urged him to be himself, not to undo the person God created. but by opening to joy and listening to the Spirit, we might be transformed.
3) Accept God’s invitation. Today’s Gospel story has Jesus proclaiming Isaiah’s prophetic words of bringing glad tidings, liberty, recovery, freedom from oppression. We are invited to be leaven and light for the world, and that means bringing the good forth. Will we free someone today? Heal someone? How will we bring this goodness to others? Will we be open enough to her the call to do so?
Being people for others often brings gifts right back to us. Free or heal someone, bring glad tidings to another, and see what happens to you. The dynamism of God at work in the Spirit overflows in these acts.
Find joy and bring glad tidings. If we can try any one of these things as we head into our week, the power of God’s healing love is unleashed into the world. In doing so, we open doors to others and even to ourselves, restoring and remembering the multitude of various parts and gifts that will all come to fruition in the one Body of Christ.
—Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, January 23, 2022