When Our Plans for Christian Living Meet Life’s Messy Reality

Today’s post is from Bondings 2.0’s Editor, Francis DeBernardo, whose bio can be found here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity can be found here.

Before working in Catholic LGBTQ+ ministry, I taught writing at a state university. The week before each semester began, all of the instructors would crowd the writing program’s offices to make copies of the syllabi, course policies, and handouts for the first week of classes. It was a quiet time on campus because very few of the school’s 37,000 students were around.

In this “calm before the storm,” the instructors would all joke with one another about how wonderfully quiet the campus atmosphere was without students present. We’d also admire our own and each other’s course outlines, noting how neat, ordered, and perfect they looked. We were always optimistic that this semester was going to be the one where everything ran smoothly and that we would really be able to get through to students, to give them the tools to become good writers.

One semester, during these idyllic pre-semester times, one instructor quipped to a group of colleagues: “Isn’t it perfect right now? Our lesson plans are all pristine. Why do students have to show up and ruin everything all the time?” Everyone roared.

But, of course, students did show up. And our neat and ordered plans for the semester got turned upside-down, inside-out, and every which way by the reality of a classroom full of students, each with a different set of needs, gifts, questions, problems, challenges, and backgrounds. But then again, despite the fact that our plans and outlines were constantly being adjusted, this glorious mess of humanity which is what made teaching so interesting, exciting, and fun.

Today’s second reading, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13, brought these teaching experiences to mind. It’s short, so I’ll provide it in its entirety here:

Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the holy ones greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

It’s a wonderful set of sentiments. I’d love to be always encouraging to others, to be able to agree with them all the time, and to be able to live in peace, greeting others with a holy kiss. Such a wonderful plan for Christian living! Wonderful, that is, until the other people show up with all their needs, gifts, questions, problems, challenges, and backgrounds. These other people always seem to ruin my plans for living an ideal Christian life!

Unfortunately, that is reality–especially the reality in our current church. Everyone (myself included) seems to have their own vision of what the church is supposed to be and do. For me, LGBTQ+ equality is high on my agenda. And I get to meet lots of other people who share that vision (perhaps just like you). Our plans and visions are wonderfully laid, but then there are all these other people whose own agendas are designed to thwart my own. How annoying!

While St. Paul’s advice is sound, I think better advice for the church today comes from a reminder in today’s gospel. It’s not the ever-popular John 3:16, but the verse right after that one, John 3:17: “For God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” When I read this line, I hear an echo of the line with which Pope Francis opened a new chapter in the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in the church: “Who am I to judge?”

For me, I’m trying to turn that line around. Instead of it referring to LGBTQ+ folks, I’m trying to apply it to anti-LGBTQ+ people. (Don’t ask how I’m doing. It’s not always a good day.) The global synod in which our church is currently engaged has made me realize the importance of not just talking, but also listening–and listening without judging other people. Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it, today’s gospel tells us. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just give up our penchant for judging people, especially people whom we really don’t even know? Pope Francis’ greatest advice to pastoral ministers is not to judge and condemn LGBTQ+ people. His advice goes even further though because he applies that same standard for all pastoral ministry. [1]

What would a church that didn’t judge or condemn other people be like? Maybe it would be like a community which genuinely strives to live the precepts that St. Paul offered the Corinthians in the passage quoted above.

Our world is messy, our church is messy, our lives are messy. The way to clean up this messiness is not by developing an ideal order that will only work as long as other people don’t show up. Other people are always all around us. Even if we are alone, they exist in our minds. We can’t escape them. We will never clean up the messiness, but perhaps by following the advice from today’s readings, we can learn to deal with it in a way where we learn to live with some of the mess, and perhaps even grow a bit from it.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 4, 2023

[1] To be clear, judging is an important part of being human. We make judgments frequently every day–and must do so. We develop our thoughts and opinions because of making judgments, and we must continue to do so. The problem comes, though, when we start judging other people. As one of my favorite spiritual authors, Anne Lamott, has said, “We can be sure that we have created God in our own image when we start to think that God hates all the same people we do.”


7 replies
  1. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    Francis: I really loved the conclusion to your post. It is a wise observation. You stated: “We can learn to deal with it in a way where we learn to live with some of the mess, and perhaps even grow a bit from it.”

    Consider the lotus flower. The lotus is a flower that grows in the mud. The thicker and deeper the mud, the more beautiful the lotus blooms. That reality likewise is quite profound and expresses this growth potential in a similar fashion. As followers of Jesus, this rings true in the same manner as in Buddhism. The great Masters are all onto something beautiful in which all of God’s creation is good and has a purpose.

  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Thank you, Francis. So true that the real world, the messy world, is where the Spirit of God is present. But about “judging”: Some judgments are unnecessary and hurtful, and some are necessary for the human race to thrive. I am making a judgment when I say the US bishops have made a colossal mistake in judgment for the last 50+ years in condemning “the world”, tearing down Catholic trust in their fellow secularizing citizens. At the same time they have failed to implement the collaborative vision of Christian reality embodied in Vatican II. As a result we have the shambles of the Supreme Court and “right wing” ideologues. I am making the judgment that New Ways Ministry is on the right path to shine a light in the darkness. I pray that the US bishops as a Conference grasp the goodness in the “world.”

    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Thanks, Paula! I agree with you. Please see the footnote at the bottom of the post. It refines my comments about judging that I made in paragraph 9. Thank you for all the amazing work you have done for so many years! Your ministry has been a gift to the church! Keep on making judgments!

  3. Lex McMillan
    Lex McMillan says:

    Well done! Amen! Your sentiments remind me of the good work being done by Braver Angels.
    Thank you!

  4. Terry Gonda
    Terry Gonda says:

    To quote the Mandalorian, “ this is the way” 🙂
    This is beautifully and sensitively written.
    I am once again reading Fr James Martin’s book “Building a Bridge”
    I’m on his chapter discussing this very thing.
    As someone who is helping create Synodality across Detroit, I look forward to sitting down and having tea with those who fired me and listening and creating healing for both of us.
    There is only one path for me to create respect for the LGBTQ community, and that is to give what I want to get. Speak our truth, and do it from love and respect.
    Everyone is carrying, something difficult. I find that mindset is what helps guide me. If I ask myself “what must someone be going through and have experienced to be behaving like this?“ and that changes everything for me. Even and especially for the bishops that do and say such hurtful things. Because then it’s harder to judge and it’s much easier to love when I sit and contemplate what many of them who are LGBTQ must have suffered with in their own journey. Then my heart breaks for them and I can refuse to feel like a victim of their brokenness. I can stand in my belovedness and see them in theirs. And know we are each trying our best.
    I’ll never ever do this perfectly, we all get triggered and get snarky and angry.
    And yet, after that, we can pause, and use questions like this and we can show grace for everyone of us, especially when we are the ones feeling under fire. That’s what Jesus modeled for us. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Barbara P. Cotter
    Barbara P. Cotter says:

    I have adopted the thoughts that we can Begin Again, and Again and Again because of Pentecost. Jesus said it is finished the new order is here and not yet and because of God’s Grace Love WE CAN BEGIN OVER AND OVER AND OVER GETTING TO SHALOM OR THE GARDEN OR WHATEVER IS AFTER THIS LIFE IS OVER. Amen.

  6. Rebecca White
    Rebecca White says:

    Thanks for the concept: Who am I to judge anti-LGBTQ folks? This puts a new light on my way of thinking about the issues we grapple with.


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