Today’s reflection is from Bondings 2.0’s Managing Editor, Robert Shine.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
Hope abounded in October 2021 when Pope Francis launched the “Synod on Synodality.” This multi-year process of journeying together as God’s people is seen by many as the most important ecclesial event since Vatican II in the 1960s. It is very likely to be the defining mark of Francis’ pontificate.
We are now almost two years into this journeying. Several stages have come and gone—local, diocesan, national, continental—frequently marked by listening, openness, dialogue, and reflection. LGBTQ+ issues were prominent at each stage, appearing in many national reports and six of the eight continental reports. The working document for this October’s assembly includes two references to LGBTQ+ inclusion, and an earlier document from the Synod office acknowledged just how prevalent the issue was globally. And now, there will be a number of LGBTQ-positive church leaders participating in the Synod assembly in Rome this October.
I confess: this synodal journey still very much excites me, and my hopes are high for it. I’ve often wondered what it must have been like to be a Catholic after Vatican II when there was such energy for reform in the church and justice in the world. It has been difficult to imagine.
I came of age in a different church where Benedict XVI was pope and clergy sexual abuse was what made headlines. While many challenges still remain for the church and the world, I now understand a bit better what that energy was like in the post-Vatican II era when so many prophets spoke up and so many Catholic justice groups started.
Still, some folks today warn me to manage expectations. These warnings come not from the Synod’s overt critics, but friends and colleagues committed to the synodal journey, yet who question that initial hope we once shared.
All of this was on my mind as I sat down with today’s readings which feature the parable of the sower. The readings did not excite me. Not only is it a parable everyone knows, but it is even a parable that Jesus explains outright. Many reflections on this parable focus on the “heroes” of this story: the seeds that fall on rich soil and produce fruit in abundance. These seeds, which Jesus explains, are the people who hear God’s word and understand it. They are who we should strive to be with rich inner lives and fruitful relationships with God. In short, the readings all seem fairly straightforward.
Yet, the bulk of the parable and Jesus’ explanation is not actually about the apparent heroes, the seeds in rich soil. Instead, more attention is paid to the failures: the seeds on a walking path that became a bird’s meal, the seeds scorched by the sun for lacking roots, the seeds strangled by thorns. Three-quarters of the seeds cast out by the parable’s sower simply died. If the seeds are God’s word, that is a pretty high failure rate for God being received.
Let us shift the parable a bit by casting LGBTQ+ people and allies as the sower. The seeds are our stories, our faith, our joys and hopes, our griefs and anxieties, our advocacy and ministry, being cast out across the landscape, in this case the Catholic Church. If we are honest, it is often true that our failure rate is about the same as God’s. We work so hard, take such risks, sacrifice quite a bit, and yet the seeds we cast fail: they come up against people who do not understand, people who accept us but with limitations, people who are allies until it becomes costly, people unwilling to cede their privilege to create equity for others.
I do not want to suggest that failure, whether about God’s word or our work, should be the focus. Failure is not the takeaway here. The takeaway is that even when the failure rate is high, God still produces good in great abundance. The church’s history is replete with stories of how the seeds of God’s word were planted in the rich soil of small communities or even a singular person with deep faith—who then had an outsized impact to change the world.
These past two years, LGBTQ+ people and allies have been sowing seeds of inclusion throughout the synodal process. It is likely many of those seeds, perhaps most, will fail. But it takes just a few seeds in the right soil for God to bring about tremendous good. We cannot know which conversation we had, letter we wrote, resource we shared, or prayer we spoke that will be the seed that takes root. So we must continue sowing broadly, preaching inclusion to anyone who will listen and witnessing to the holy nature of our identities and our love.
The journey continues through October 2024 with more highs and lows to come. But when I see how powerful the impact of pro-LGBTQ+ Catholics has been in this process so far, how can I not be hopeful? We will not get everything we seek. That is certain. I do believe, however, there will be many good fruits from the seeds we cast that are finding rich soil.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the Synod on Synodality, click here. For all of New Ways Ministry’s resources on the Synod, including a full list of October 2023 assembly participants with LGBTQ+ records, click here.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 16, 2023