How Can I Stay? Finding Manna in the Desert of Exclusion

Sr. Tracey Horan

Today’s post is from guest contributor Sr. Tracey Horan. Tracey is a Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana and hails from Indianapolis, IN. She has ministered as a teacher, community organizer and advocate accompanying migrant communities for over a decade, and has written on justice issues for HOPE Magazine, Global Sisters Report, Messy Jesus Business and A Matter of Spirit.

Today’s liturgical readings for the Feast of Corpus Christi can be found by clicking here.

“How can I stay?” This was the question that haunted me during the spring months of 2021. I had just been approved for tertianship, the year of preparation for final vows as a Sister of Providence, when the Vatican announced that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. After hearing that announcement, the questions came: how could I stay in an institution that made God’s love so small, so exclusive? How could I commit my entire life to an institution that hurt people I love with statements like this, that seemed to forget Jesus said “Take this, all of you and eat it?”

This dilemma hit closer to home one weekend last summer when I was visiting family members in another city and went to Mass with them at a parish I had never attended before. Among my relatives in attendance was one who identifies as LGBTQ. She hadn’t attended Mass in years because of her experience of rejection in the Catholic Church, but she put on a brave face to accompany the group. I prayed that at the very least she would experience a bit of welcome in exchange for her openness to walking into an environment where she risked exclusion and hurt.

Early on in the Mass, I could feel we might be in troubled waters. Something about the priest’s condescending demeanor had me on edge. My instinct was confirmed when we got to the homily, and the priest started condemning what he called a relativism that made people believe they could “love whoever they want, and be whatever gender they want.” I don’t remember much else, just that his rhetoric escalated, my blood was boiling, and I was so aware that his words were hurting my family member. She soon walked out, and a couple of us followed her.

I could not bring myself to receive the Body of Christ in that church. The Jesus I love and follow could not be present for me there, not in a nourishing way. This kind of eucharist, void of extravagant love, could not feed my spirit. Instead grief, hurt, and more questions settled into my belly.

The next week I began my annual retreat. The question remained front and center: How can I stay? I wandered our motherhouse grounds, sat in fraught silence, and paged through the gospels looking for answers. The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we celebrate today, happened to fall during my retreat days. At Mass, we sang the song “All Who Hunger,” and the words echoed in my heart:

“All who hunger, gather gladly
Holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wand’ring,
Here in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
All around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal
Taste and see that God is good.”

As I hungered for a more radical welcome in our Church, as I came from the wilderness of exclusion, I felt the Holy One inviting me to taste and see the welcoming embrace of Christ that is bigger than any homophobic homilist’s words. I heard our Savior invite me to come from the wilderness of pain and hurt to find the food that is all around me: the manna in communities like New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA, and FutureChurch. I felt my brother Jesus affirming the truth of his expansive love, and assuring me that if I stayed in that truth, I would be fed.

The perfect symbol for the nourishment LGBT Catholics and allies can find in the midst of our journey toward justice and inclusion is desert manna. The simple, small perfection of a typical Sunday host does not quite fit. Desert manna acknowledges both the years of struggle and God’s faithfulness in feeding us. This manna, I wrote during my retreat, is more real and raw.

“This is now-or-never bread,
Bread of the moment,
That comes just when you think
The hunger will overwhelm you.
You cannot plan for this bread
Or control it
Or hoard it in case the hunger returns.
You can only savor this bread in the desert
After weeks of wandering
And wondering when it will come,
If it will come.
With the whisper, a persistent prodding
That lulls you foolishly forward
With a craving for manna
The bread you know
Will touch your lips
Just when all seems lost
You don’t yearn for the wilderness,
Only the dangerous,

As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ today, may we who hunger for radical welcome gather around our dangerous, satisfying manna and find ourselves fed, even as we wander in wilderness.

Sr. Tracey Horan, June 19, 2022

8 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Like many people, some priests are not above using their position to browbeat or bully. Sometimes that speech is cloaked in a concern for the ‘sinner’ that is both false and transparent. I used to think it was just the elderly clerics who would eventually disappear with attrition. I was mistaken. The challenge for us and those family and friends of ours is to discern the real message of the Christ and to remember that the angry ,judgmental version that can drive you away is flat out wrong.

  2. Sarah Hennessey
    Sarah Hennessey says:

    Tracey, thank you for your wise words, for finding the manna, for your righteous outrage, and especially for staying. We need you. Blessings!

  3. Nancy Olson, PA
    Nancy Olson, PA says:

    Community is the answer! Some of us who find it hard to stay in the church have formed our own community, the Beloved Community, where all are welcome and we are safe. Some continue to stay in the church but gather with the Beloved, some find that Beloved is enough. The Sisters of Providence are your community and they will hold you up through it all. “Lean with all your weight on Providence and you will be well supported.”

  4. Sharon Kreuz
    Sharon Kreuz says:

    I am with you my sister on this desert journey. I, too, have been on my last nerve with this Church……..and yet I stay. My history, the reverence, the quiet calling of the Spirit through the beauty of nature, acts of kindness, unexpected grace all beckon me back on the ragged road I question. But for now, I remain, in the pews and on the desert journey. My love to you!

  5. Julia
    Julia says:

    I, too, have a nephew who is gay and he has left the church because of his non-acceptance. I am so sad that he has been judged unworthy to receive the sacraments because of who he is! He didn’t “choose” to be gay; he just is. He is a loving, caring individual who is extremely gifted. The church is losing this talented young man and I grieve for all of us. I am a Dominican Sister and my other nephew asked me if I would stop loving my gay nephew. I said, “Of course I haven’t stopped loving him…I never could. ” I know God has not rejected him, but his church has judged and condemned him. I believe that God cries with him and with me. Did Jesus reject Judas, who was to betray him? No…he hoped Judas would ask for forgiveness. Did Jesus forgive Peter for denying him…yes he did. God’s mercy so outweighs our own…we need to try and be more like Jesus!

  6. Lorraine Kirker PA
    Lorraine Kirker PA says:

    Beautifully said, Tracey. As a Sister we both know and love told me a few years ago that if we leave no one will listen to us. Outside we have no voice, we have no power to be the change our church desperately needs.

  7. Jane Fischer, PA
    Jane Fischer, PA says:

    Tracey, when I asked Betty Donoghue (RIP) how can I stay? How do you do it? She said, “We are the church!” Thank you for sharing this piece and your prayers with us. I went to the local Gay/Pride festival yesterday in Jasper, Indiana, wearing my PA shirt and spent time chatting at the booth sponsored by the Sisters of St. Benedict. We all have work to do in our church. Bless you! Jane


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