Today’s post is from guest contributor Christine Zuba. Christine is a Catholic transgender woman. She is a Eucharistic Minister at Saints Peter & Paul parish in Turnersville, NJ, and she is chair of the Transgender Ministry of Fortunate Families.
Today’s liturgical readings can be found here.
As we near the end of Pride month, today’s liturgical readings remind us of what we need to do as Catholics, and remind us as LGBTQ+ Catholics that we are ALL good in God’s eyes. In the second reading (Galatians 5:14), St. Paul tells us “ . . all the law is fulfilled in one word, thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” And in the gospel (Luke 9:51), the evangelist reports Jesus’ words: “The son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save.”
During June’s Pride events and parades, it’s not unusual to see some Christian anti-LGBTQ+ groups with their signs and bullhorns, preaching repentance or damnation. They try to paint us as evil, worthy only of condemnation. I always wonder, “What is it about ‘love thy neighbor’ that they don’t understand?”
One year ago, I was invited by Father Alex Santora to participate in the 4th annual Pride Mass at Our Lady of Grace parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, by giving the homily. Father Alex had surprisingly called me months earlier, in January, asking if I would be willing to be involved to reflect upon my life, my transition, and my faith as a transgender Catholic.
During that time also, in June, my 95-year old mother went into hospice. Seven years prior, Mom was 88 years old and the last person in my life that I came out to as transgender. Even though I believe she never fully understood, she accepted, and she loved, and it was important to her that I remained close to my faith. I prayed that God would not call her home while I made the two hour drive from her bed in northeastern Pennsylvania to Hoboken and back.
My drive was occupied by thoughts of Mom and of the upcoming Mass. My comments were to include my thoughts of the culture war that questioned my transgender existence, of a “gender ideology” of which I am supposedly a part, and of the disappointing and potentially harmful words toward transgender and LGBTQ+ persons we had heard recently expressed by some within the Church. I would also thank all the priests, deacons, religious and lay persons, bishops, and cardinals who truly welcome us as we are, and, of course, thank Pope Francis for his leadership.
I was also concerned upon how I would communicate all of this without becoming too emotional, telling myself “not to cry,” which could subtract from the important message. I love Our Lady of Grace. Father Alex’s message has always been one of inclusion to anyone and to everyone on the margins, especially the LGBTQ+ community. While Covid issues were still of concern, the attendance that morning was good. The Mass was also being recorded to the parish Youtube channel. At the start of Mass, as we started walking up the aisle, I kept telling myself to stay composed. I needed to do this for myself, for our community, and for my Mom.
A year has now passed since that day, and I reflect on what’s changed since that beautiful Mass. A few additional dioceses have expressed their restrictive transgender “solutions,” anything from non-use of correct pronouns and names to complete denial of sacraments. Politicians have continued their attacks with laws criminalizing transgender healthcare, as well as supportive families and physicians. State governments have retaliated against businesses and enterprises who dare even speak against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. After years of progress, it sometimes feels like it’s been two steps back.
There is also good news however. Within our Church, we do see signs of hope. We see signs of people wanting “not to destroy, but to save souls.” Through the Synod process there have been general and LGBTQ+-specific listening sessions, even within dioceses which have been less than welcoming in the past.
In January, Pope Francis called on parents to “not condemn their children if they are gay.” In May, in response to three questions presented by Father James Martin, S.J., Pope Francis responded that, “God does not disown any of his children.” In regard to LGBTQ+ Catholics who have experienced rejection from the Church, Pope Francis wrote, “I would have them recognize it not as the ‘rejection of the Church’, but instead of ‘people in the church’. The Church is a mother and calls together all her children.”
Pope Francis recently announced he would appoint 21 new cardinals in August, a number of whom have been welcoming toward LGBTQ+ people. Pope Francis will now have appointed 83 of the some 133 cardinal electors, thereby increasing the possibility his successor will also reflect his positions on key issues.
We know our Church moves slowly, often glacier-like. We want change and we want it quickly. We sometimes lament our current state and the way things are in our country. While there is still a lot of work to be done and there are legitimate issues that upset us, I often think about how blessed we are compared to many LGBTQ+ persons elsewhere in the world. Which brings me back to one year ago.
Following last year’s Pride Mass in Hoboken, there was a small reception in the parish center next door. A mother came up to me with her two children. They were about 10-12 years old. One child was gender non-conforming. With an Eastern European accent she thanked me for my words during the Mass.
She said that they were from Poland and that “things aren’t so good for us back there,” and that later in the afternoon they were flying back to Poland. Before doing so, however, she made it a special point to bring her children there, that morning, to Our Lady of Grace. She wanted to “show them what IS possible!”
Happy Pride, Every Day. Love our God. Love our neighbor. With God all things ARE possible!
—Christine Zuba, June 26, 2022