Real Life, In Person, Up Close, In the Flesh
Today’s liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) can be found here.
Pope Francis has been rightly acknowledged as a Catholic leader who has promoted a positive approach to LGBTQ+ people in the church. As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, even small supportive gestures or words for LGBTQ+ people have an immense effect globally. Francis has much to learn, particularly regarding gender identity, yet he still deserves recognition and applause for his efforts to spread a message of welcome and dialogue.
The pope, however, did not originate the idea of LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Catholic Church. This idea has come from the grassroots–from many decades of Catholic parents accepting their LGBTQ+ children, from pastoral ministers who did outreach to LGBTQ+ people even when threatened with ecclesial censure, and from LGBTQ+ Catholics themselves, whose testimonies and witness have shown the church that the Spirit of God is active in their lives.
I was reminded of this historical reality when I read the liturgical readings for today. The first reading from Acts offers a description of how the Christian faith spread in the church’s earliest days. While the apostolic leaders are mentioned, the ones praised in this passage are the ordinary Christians who gave witness to what faith and life in the Spirit are really all about. Trusting in that extraordinary message of God’s love and that God provides new life to all who suffer allowed these first Christians to transform their local communities and to spread the faith.
The same has been true of LGBTQ+ Catholics in the contemporary church. While the church’s greater openness is connected to some church leaders’ positive messages, the real, strong, and lasting change has occurred because LGBTQ+ people have continued to take an active role in the church community, even when they have been faced with discrimination, humiliation, and persecution. They persisted even when religious institutions outright rejected them, and they had to “break bread in their homes,” as Acts tells us the early Christians did. And most of all, they continued to live and celebrate “with exultation and sincerity of heart,” not doubting that God was with them despite their minority status and others’ denial of their existence.
Today’s gospel reading from John, which describes two post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his Apostles, parallels the story of the large number of Catholics in the pews, who, even before LGBTQ+ people were more accepted in society and the church, became aware of the holiness of their lives and welcomed them openly.
In the first appearance of Christ, the Apostle Thomas was absent, and he only came to believe that Jesus had resurrected when, during the second appearance, he put his hand into Christ’s wounds. Thomas had to have a real-life, in-person, up close, in-the-flesh encounter with Jesus in order to accept this new reality. Even more importantly, Thomas came to believe when he was able to encounter the places where Jesus was wounded, the places where he experienced pain.
The pioneering allies of years past, and even in the present, have been able to welcome LGBTQ+ people not because they read about them in a newspaper or saw them on television. These allies came to accept and love LGBTQ+ people because they experienced being in relationship with a real-life LGBTQ+ person or persons. Our Christian faith is an incarnational faith, and as such, it invites us into relationships with people in the real world, with all their woundedness and giftedness. And that relationship can be transformative, not just for ourselves, or for the people we encounter, but for the whole church, when we share that experience with others.
As I said at the outset of this reflection, Pope Francis truly deserves credit for helping to move our church toward more positive approaches to LGBTQ+ people. I can’t help but wonder that a big reason that Pope Francis has been so LGBTQ-friendly is because of his deep friendships with two gay men, Yayo Grassi and Juan Carlos Cruz. The pope follows his own recommendations to be open to encounter and dialogue with those who are different from us.
Our church is being transformed not only because of Pope Francis’ personal initiative, but because, like any good church leader, he is articulating the faith of the people in the church–those who live LGBTQ+ lives and those who have encountered them. Like the “stone rejected by the builders becoming the cornerstone,” LGBTQ+ ministry and involvement is now helping to transform our church into one that is more faithful to the gospel message of love and open to the power of the Spirit who constantly renews the world as Christians continue to develop the deposit of faith by their ongoing human encounters.
As today’s reading from Acts concludes, it is because of the actions of the ordinary people in the early Christian community, that “every day God added to their number those who were being saved.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 16, 2023
8 billion people on Earth none will be foresaken.
Beautifully said! Thank G*d for New Ways!
Dear Frank & all at New Ways ministry,
Thank you for this beautiful message today, brought back lots of memories. Yes for sure the love we have for our children who are gay is what kept us challenging the church, we are able to do it with all the knowledge that you Jeannine & Bob gave us over the years. Many, many thanks, love to all Susanne
Thank you so much, Frank, for reminding us of the crucial and wonderful role played by “ordinary people” (for me, they are much more than ordinary!) in dialoguing, welcoming and accepting LGBTQIA+ people in the church. They have supported me and encouraged me to keep going forward! They are the real changemakers!