Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 editor Francis DeBernardo.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.
How will we get the entire Catholic Church to accept LGBTQ people as fully equal members?
I’ve been asked that question a lot over the years, and I’ve heard many different answers from theological arguments, to boycotts, to protests, to prayer vigils, to networking with other church reform organizations, to letter writing, to . . . . The list can go on and on.
Don’t get me wrong: I think that, depending on the situation, strategies like that can be helpful. But Jesus offers us a different strategy in today’s gospel. Today’s lesson from Jesus is “Don’t try to change other people. Try to change yourself. That’s more than enough work for you to do.”
Jesus’ directive is a hard one. Isn’t it a lot easier to point out other people’s faults and shortcomings than look at our own? But Jesus points out that if we don’t attempt to correct our own vision, then we are definitely not in shape to lead and guide other people:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”
These teachings of Jesus are among the most challenging in the gospel, especially coming after last Sunday’s lessons to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. They are challenging because they name very real weaknesses that we all share, and for which we constantly need reminders. Oh, it is so much easier (and dare I say, enjoyable?) to point out other people’s splinters than to acknowledge our own much bigger faults.
But, of course, there are the practical things that we must do, like the ones I mentioned above: theology, boycotts, protests, prayer, and such. We can’t abandon those things. I think Jesus’ lesson from today’s readings is that for those involved in Catholic LGBTQ social justice, the attitude we have towards the people who may be opposed to us is just as important, maybe even more important, than the work that we do.
A friend recently sent me the closing paragraph of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Christmas 1957 sermon entitled “Loving Your Enemies,” which was delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He wrote the sermon while in jail for committing civil disobedience during the bus boycott in that city:
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.’”
That’s quite a lofty goal. But it is also powerful and necessary if the justice that we seek is rooted in God’s love for all. How do we do that? I had some insight into that from another friend’s gift.
I recently received a collection of sayings by Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman who was killed at Auschwitz. I have found her thoughts to be very profound, especially coming from someone who lived through such horrors, violence, and daily threats to her life. Despite the chaos and terror that she lived through during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Hillesum found it within herself to write the following:
“I really see no other solution than to turn inward and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned from this war. That we must look into ourselves and nowhere else.”
Those two passages express to me the messages of last week’s and today’s gospel, as well as how we will move the entire Catholic Church towards LGBTQ equality: Love your enemies. And do so by working to change yourself, not them.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 27, 2022