Is Light for LGBTQ+ Catholics Coming from the Day of Wrath or the Sun of Justice?

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Michaelangelo Allocca, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

I’ve known New Ways’ director Frank DeBernardo since the mid-80s, when he helped train me to take over his position at the weekly newspaper of the Brooklyn Diocese. When inviting me to write for this Sunday, he said that “it has those apocalyptic-like readings which I think only someone like you can handle.” I joked that he sure knows how to sweet-talk a guy, but I did indeed take it as a compliment, and I (obviously) said yes. 

A few weeks later, I received another compliment, which immediately moved me very much, but only later struck me as a different way of saying the same thing. I was helping to lead a retreat for my high school. As a Jesuit institution, we frequently repeat the Ignatian exhortation to “find God in all things.” During a discussion, one student said, “Until you, I never realized that someone could take ‘find God in all things’ literally.”

I honestly don’t know what that teenager heard or saw from me that showed him that. It may just be that in the few hours we had been on the retreat by then, I had playfully – but seriously – mentioned my thanks to God not only for the stunning autumn colors on the beautiful grounds of the retreat house, but also for the bounty of our shared-snacks table, covering all the basic food groups: fresh fruit, chocolate, and crunchy-salty things.

You are seeing some of those colors in the illustration for this post: it’s a photo I took during that retreat. In it I can see the words of today’s reading from Malachi and the gospel. Those fiery trees look like the “day … coming, blazing like an oven,” as well as “stubble … set on fire.” But I can also see, from the end of the reading, “the sun of justice with its healing rays.” While on this retreat, where each morning and evening I was met with such dramatic sights, I also saw Luke’s “awesome sights and mighty signs … come from the sky,” and reflected that these few days there gave us a brief respite from the “wars and insurrections, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom” that fill our world right now.

In the imagery of Malachi, gorgeously illustrated by this photo, I see the talent ascribed to me by Frank, as well as by that teenager. The prophet’s poetry is both terrifying and comforting, as is God’s world when seen with wide-open eyes, able to recognize dark and light commingling. Even the line about “stubble … set on fire” evokes another line from scripture that speaks pure hope, using exactly the same physical image. In the book of Wisdom, we hear the souls of just people who have died will “shine, and dart about as sparks through stubble.”

Beyond the images, the content of the retreat highlighted my spiritual practice of seeing, and accepting, both the fire that destroys and the sparks that dance. As a gay man in the Church, I am constantly torn between the “glass half-empty” and “glass half-full” views – or more in keeping with the imagery at hand, the question of “Is that light the coming Day of Wrath, blazing like an oven – or is it the Sun of Justice, with its healing rays?” Anyone who has been around me for a while can tell you my favorite answer to an either/or question: yes.

Never is the tension more obvious than in a setting like that retreat. Teenage American males being what they are, there were certainly moments when I noticed one or two being a bit squirmy at sitting in a small room with a man who is gay and has no desire to hide. I am well aware that some of them probably use homophobic slurs or jokes when there are no teachers around to overhear them. I could list many other details that can add to the “blazing like an oven” perception.

But to view things through the “sun of justice” lens: even those kids who squirmed still sat there and listened, and opened up and shared honestly themselves, despite their discomfort. And while it’s disappointing that young people still use “gay” as a slur (for example) at all, the benefit of age is knowing that at least now, they won’t do so in the presence of adults. Only a few years ago, I remember them saying it right out loud with no awareness of anything amiss about it. Progress is maddeningly slow sometimes, but even then, it’s progress. 

Perhaps easiest to overlook is the most positive sign of all, that is, the very fact that I am an out gay man teaching at this Catholic high school, being asked to help lead a retreat like this, with nobody expecting me to put any part of myself in the closet to do so. There are still a LOT of Catholic high schools where this would not be possible, and that shows how far we have to go before the “coming day” of the end of Time. But I have the opportunity to demonstrate – “literally,” as that young man said during the retreat  – seeking God in all things, and I am pretty sure my presence might help some queer kids feel less isolated and helpless, and that sure sounds like the sun of justice with its healing rays.

Michaelangelo Allocca, November 13, 2022

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