Reading the gospels and taking Jesus’ words seriously can be a task that disturbs and disquiets us as much as it provides comfort and strength. More often than not, the parables and sermons recorded in Scripture offer surprising and challenging demands for attempting to live a Christian life.
Reflecting on the passage in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus calls listeners to “strive to enter through the narrow door,” (Luke 13:24), John T. Kyler, an author and editor, considers in a piece for U.S. Catholic one of Jesus’ unsettling demands as a roadmap for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ Catholics in the church.
Kyler explains that first-century listeners would have recognized Jesus’ image of the narrow door as one of two entrances into a city through the outer wall. The larger gate accommodated carts with livestock and supplies, and it could be slow-moving with long lines waiting to enter. In contrast, the narrow door was less busy and available for those unburdened with large cargo. Thus, the imagery “espouses invitation rather than restriction,” he suggests. “It is not about who cannot enter. Rather, it is an urgent call to self-reflection and discernment of our own priorities, practices, and values.”
In other words, followers of Christ have to let go of some serious baggage to enter into the fullness of the Beloved Community where none are excluded. To truly practice inclusion and affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, Kyler suggests three practices to jettison in our attempts to access that narrow door.
First, Catholics can lay down our need for control and black-and-white interpretations of the gospel. Kyler gives the example in John’s gospel of the blind man whom the disciples understand is being punished for either the sins of his parents or of his own shortcomings. Instead of answering their either/or question, Jesus offers a third option “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3) Their certainty of the man’s sin is dismantled, raising more questions than answers around their assumptions of his character.
“As Christians,” Kyler writes, “we must be willing to live with liminality, on a threshold between what is known and what is to be revealed. That is the space between crucifixion and resurrection.” The call is to accompaniment and encounter with one another rather than to judgment or exclusion. In the same way that Jesus’ emphasis on the narrow gate does not imply exclusion; God’s love and work extends to all. It is our need for certainty and barriers that lead us to attempt to limit that love and decide who is in and who is left out.
Second, the church’s tendency to cling to assumptions blocks our attempts to fit through that smaller door. “For too long our church has constructed a false and toxic purview that homosexuality is synonymous with immorality and promiscuity,” Kyler laments as he recounts a parish priest barring a trans woman from entering the sanctuary.
And yet, Jesus consistently upends the assumptions and expectations of his followers. From the parables to Mary’s Magnificat, “the entire gospel message is grounded in a great reversal of expectations” with the ultimate upending in the cross and resurrection. “An instrument of destruction and death becomes the source of life and love.” Letting go of our assumptions about the LGBTQ+ community opens us to evermore surprising and joyful ways of encountering God in the church and world.
Lastly, our tendency toward nostalgia distorts our view of the reality not only of the past, but of the possibilities of the present as well: “[W]e idolize a certain constructed narrative about the past that was never actually reality,” such as hearkening back to the “golden age” of Hollywood or of our own church.
The U.S. church is especially guilty of this tendency to glorify the past of “incense and stability, Latin and gender roles, birettas and traditional family structures.” Such uncritical emphasis on bygone traditions limits our imagination for the church of the future where LGBTQ+ Catholics are fully embraced and welcomed.
“But the past wasn’t perfect, and in thinking about tradition there is significant difference between nostalgia and anamnesis. When nostalgic, we ache for a past age, regardless of what it means for the present. When we embrace anamnesis, however, we actively remember the past in such a way that it is manifest in the realities of today. That is what we celebrate in the liturgy.”
It is a difference, Kyler points out, that enables us to bring the timeless elements of history forward while navigating God’s call to love and inclusion in the present age. Releasing our tight grasp on this nostalgia as well as our assumptions of one another and need for control of God’s love offers us the possibility at last of heeding Jesus’s call to the narrow gate and entrance into a fully inclusive reality of God’s kingdom.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2022