Changing the Church by Becoming Salt and Light

Today’s liturgical readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

I am often asked by Catholic LGBTQ+ people and their supporters what is the best way to help the Catholic Church become more accepting and welcoming of LGBTQ+ people.  I’ve worked in this area for over 30 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that none of us really have the power to change such a huge, global institution like the Catholic Church. We can only act locally, trying to effect change in our local communities, our local church leaders and fellow Catholics.

Today’s liturgical readings offer an even more radically local recommendation to effect change and build up justice: start with yourself. In the first reading, Isaiah’s advice has nothing to do with political strategy or community organizing.  Instead, he suggestsaa combination of Matthew 25 and the Ten Commandments:  feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, don’t lie, respect those in your family and community.

Isaiah promises that if we do these things, the following will happen:

“Your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of God shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and God will answer,
you shall cry for help, and God will say: Here I am!”

Those are wonderful promises, but I have to admit that these suggestions don’t sound very much like a concerted plan of action.  Where are the “to do lists,” the organizational charts, the schedules, budgets, the strategic plan?

Isaiah is sugesting that instead of focusing on our human ways of doing things, we need to adopt God’s ways, which never seem to make much sense if we compare them to human logic.  As St. Paul tells us today, our faith “might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

Isaiah is offering what in our present day is considered good psychological advice:  don’t try to change others, just work on yourself. Be the change you want to see in the world.

It’s much easier (and perhaps more fun?) to point out the faults of other people and admonish them to change than to try to change ourselves.  And how can changing ourselves really make any change in the church or in the world?

Jesus provides the answer to that question in today’s gospel. We are supposed to be the salt of the earth, he says.  To do that, we have to be on guard to make sure we maintain our own “saltinesss” because, “if salt loses its taste, . . .  it is no longer good for anything.”  We also have to be a beacon that “gives light to all in the house.”

But so much in society and the church continually seems to drive LGBTQ+ people into discouragement.How do we make sure that we don’t lose our flavor and our light in our lives?   Psalm 112 today continues the theme of working on ourselves and being the change we want to see.  Doing this will accomplish two things. For one thing, it will bring about justice:

‘The justice of just people shall endure forever;
Their horn shall be exalted in glory.”

Secondly, it will keep us steadfast:

“The just shall never be moved;
the just one shall be in everlasting remembrance.
An evil report the just shall not fear;
their hearts are firm, trusting in God.”

For those who work for justice for LGBTQ+ people, disappointment and discouragement are common outcomes which can often lead to burnout:  our light goes out.  Jesus wants us to keep that light alive and burning bright.  Renewal does not happen by doubling down in our efforts to change unjust structures. Instead, we have to change ourselves, making sure that we have not gotten so caught up in our ideals that we neglect the works of mercy and that we act justly so as to be a beacon of light to those who live in darkness.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 5th, 2023

9 replies
  1. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    What a wonderful reflection Francis. It feels like a healing balm to become that change which radiates to the ends of the Earth. Individually, we likewise are granted the ability in faith to see the change in the world even before it has actually happened.

  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    How about Both/And, Francis? Each salty individual and each salty ecclesial community, however large, radiating the light? Your 30+ years of strategizing have kept a light burning! Thank you for that.

    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Totally agree with you, Paula! Thanks for that qualification. I think that everything we do for change in the church is good if it is done out of love and with respect for others. Structural change is definitely important. I guess I was really speaking mostly to myself by reminding myself that working on “the little things” is just as important, too.

      • Vernon Smith
        Vernon Smith says:

        As I read this excellent reflection, the essence of Paula’s thoughts and Frank’s response passed through my mind … and then there they were, already stated in the comments to the article! Condemning the “other” with strident recriminations and severe judgment, even when one is on the side of right and justice, often does little to win the heart and mind. But focusing on one’s own improvement – struggling to be the change and radiate the light of truth and justice with respect for the other – is our greatest hope. Thank you for this exchange, Frank and Paula. Strategizing and planning are essential in the struggle for justice. They do become rudderless, even dangerous, when dehumanizing the other in a self righteous fight … But they can also be very powerful when love directed toward our supposed foe eliminates the need for our self-protective defenses. When we strive to make ourselves superior, it is folly. But when we are humble and honest with ourselves, the light of our hopes has the potential to shine and engage the other without limits.

  3. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    I don’t think you can improve on “be the change you want to see” – actions speak louder than any words. But in this age of communication, words matter as well. God bless each and every one.

  4. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    Your reflection went to the heart of what I’ve been feeling and thinking, that is, I spend so much internal energy being angry at the lies and violence propagated as “American rights” and hearing the church proclaim dignity and sacredness of life yet remains silent on gun violence that it seems hopeless.
    Then it occurred to me again, duh, that I can’t change others, but I can change myself. I started to pray for the “bad people” (I know, not helpful) to be touched by Truth, Justice, you know, God. Then I have to take a daily look at myself and ask: Where have I been selfish today? When did anger actually reveal condemning “them”? When did I let fear replace faith?

  5. Thomas Deely
    Thomas Deely says:

    Francis thank you so much I will continue to try to be salt and light as a straight Roman Catholic priest and Redemptorists you canCount on that


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