LGBTQ+ Vulnerability as a Pathway to Genuine Prayer

Mark Guevarra

Today’s post is from guest contributor Mark Guevarra. After being fired as Pastoral Associate for not revealing his relationship status, Mark has become an advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. Mark is a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California, with an interest in synodality.

Today’s liturgical readings for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

Today’s gospel is a continuation of Luke’s parables on prayer. Last week on Bondings 2.0, Michael Sennett, gazing at the widow who tirelessly pleads to the judge, pondered on persistence as a necessary component of prayer. This week we look at another component: vulnerability.

Brené Brown, a well-known speaker and author, speaks of vulnerability this way:

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. It offers both an invitation and a promise. When we dare to drop the armor that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

We see this from a theological perspective in the prayer of the tax collector in today’s gospel. His simple prayer exposes his utter vulnerability before God: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This opens up for him healing, reconciliation, and true freedom.

Many of us in the LGBTQ+ community know of such vulnerability, especially amid the fears and pains of coming out and the possible rejection and persecution. Nothing we can say or do will help. We are left to the mercy of God and trust that God has our best interests in mind.

This vulnerability has been so viscerally shared by many LGBTQ+ participants in synodal listening sessions around the world over the past year.

In a recent New Ways Ministry webinar on Global LGBTQ+ Perspectives on Synodality So Far, Ursula Halligan shares how it’s nothing short of a miracle that folks have shared so vulnerably and persevere in faith amid great challenges. Halligan added that participants in Ireland even courageously called for an apology for the maltreatment of LGBTQ+ people and a rejection of their faith by the institutional church. Thankfully, it was met with humble acknowledgement by at least some church leaders.

But while vulnerability is an ideal proposed, the parable also is a cautionary tale. Jesus is addressing those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. He contrasts the tax collector with a self-righteous religious leader.

The religious leader utters pure arrogance: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Compared with Brown’s definition of vulnerability, this prayer shows a lack of courage and rejects any experience of purpose and meaning to his life. Theologically, the religious leader doesn’t really need God since he’s done all the work required for his salvation.

The juxtaposition of the self-righteous religious leader and the tax collector teach a clear lesson, and yet Jesus—as well as Brown—recognizes that we humans can and do act self-righteously.

We are prone to feel arrogant self-accomplishment, such as when we dutifully celebrate Mass each Sunday, give generously, and serve in ministries. If I’m honest with myself, I can be self-righteous. I can boast of having the right kind of theology, praying the right way, joining the right church groups, and even venerating the right saints.

Practicing vulnerability and avoiding self-righteousness comes down to the right attitude when engaging in spiritual practices, participating in community, carrying out the mission, and reflecting on God. Our healing and right-ness with God doesn’t automatically come by the things we do. Rather, our healing and wholeness are gifts already given to humble and vulnerable hearts. This is how I read Brown when she speaks of “experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

And so, in these two parables we come to see essential components of prayer: perseverance and vulnerability. If, in our lives and our prayer, we persistently choose to embrace being vulnerable and avoid self-righteousness, our relating to God can be genuine. Just like the tax collector who cries out: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Mark Guevarra, October 23, 2022

2 replies
  1. William Glenn
    William Glenn says:

    Mark, thanks for your wisdom, insight and your own vulnerability. Appreciated seeing your words on the NWM page. Be well, and come back to Berkeley! Bill


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