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 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found by clicking here.
From time to time, I consider the institutional Roman Catholic church’s sins: the moments when our churches relegated people of color to the furthest pews or participated in the enslavement of Black people, the violence of the Crusades, and the ways leaders in the church have worshiped wealth, abused their power, or upheld bigotry. Certainly, this list is long, and it includes the mistreatment of LGBTQ people, too.
Even so, I venture that for every time there was sinful exclusion, oppression, or violence, there also was some expression of opposition. There were sisters, bishops, and lay leaders who took steps toward racial integration long before it was mandated by the government. There were reformers, like St. Francis of Assisi, who lived a life opposed to clerical opulence. There were movement leaders, like Dorothy Day and Dom Helder Camara, who took up causes for social change even as critics accused them of siding with the Communists.
When it comes to LGBTQ inclusion, I am eternally grateful for Sisters in my own congregation who offered their pastoral presence and accompaniment to the gay community long before it was deemed acceptable in many Catholic circles. I celebrate Sisters like Marilyn Therese Lipps, who accompanied HIV-positive people in the 1980’s, many of whom were gay men. I enjoy a bit more freedom to be a public ally today because of the courage of people like Sister Marilyn.
It’s easier to recognize these champions of truth and the errors of their opponents in hindsight. We can look back and celebrate with some clarity those who we imagine would have been “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham,” as today’s Gospel according to Luke describes. We can also imagine their opponents wallowing in some version of the “place of torment.”
Discerning action in the present moment, without the help of hindsight, is more difficult. For those of us raised to avoid breaking the rules or disobeying authority, we may resonate with the rich man’s pleas. We could get on board with the psalmist’s admonitions to “secure justice for the oppressed” or “set captives free” if we knew for sure it would turn out okay in the end. Paraphrasing the rich man, we want to ask, “Abraham, could you just rise from the dead and make it really clear to us what kind of ‘repentance’ you are looking for exactly? You know, before we go off the deep end and lose our jobs, friends, or retirement funds?”
Such uncertainty about how things will turn out is exactly what makes actions for justice prophetic. We risk paying a price, and we do it anyway. Sometimes that price is obvious and public, like a person who is arrested for civil disobedience at a protest or loses their job when they come out as queer at their workplace. More often, though, the risk is more subtle. In daily life, we might risk questioning someone’s homophobic comments when it would be easier not to say anything. We might risk greeting someone different from us or sitting with them at lunch. We might risk reminding someone about our preferred pronouns when letting it go would feel safer.
The truth is people are not either in the “rich man” category or the Lazarus category. Each of us tends to toggle between the two on any given day. Some days, we find the energy and courage to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” Other days, we prefer to walk right past the injustice at our doorstep, pretending we didn’t see it. If Abraham shows up from the dead and rebukes us, we might reconsider. But, so often we are tired and stressed. We lounge in complacency, stretched out on couches, as Amos observes.
How do we discern the risks we might be called to take in the here and now? And how do we find the energy and courage to act prophetically? In my experience, we can only breach the chasm between our complacency and the pursuit of righteousness when we do so with others. We need to surround ourselves with psalmists who will sing what is possible, prophets who will remind us of the costs of our inaction, supporters from the heavenly realm who will show up to lovingly rebuke us when we are off track.
Only in gathering such a beloved community and leaning in to hear God’s voice in our lives can we discern the justice we are called to create today, before it is safe or popular. Might that voice be inviting us to push for fuller inclusion of LGBTQ people at the eucharistic table? Or perhaps we can hear a still, small voice urging us to join with others to oppose discrimination against LGBTQ people at Catholic institutions. Maybe it’s time to have a conversation with our parish leadership about joining the ranks of LGBTQ-friendly parishes and faith communities. Every prophetic step – every letter, every conversation, every prayer – matters. As my community’s foundress St. Mother Theodore Guerin said, we may not live to see it, but we will have sown the seed. And others will reap what we have sown.
—Sr. Tracey Horan, September 25, 2022