On October 7, 2018, a small group joined in a lay-led liturgy at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, organized by the Honolulu chapter of Dignity USA in advance of Coming Out Day 2018. I was honored to be invited to participate in the eucharistic celebration and to offer this homily:
I think we all feel a great sadness this week. But through the sadness we remember these brave words:
“Look at me when I am speaking with you. “Don’t look away from me! Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happens to me.”
Those words could be your words. As we honor all those who have come out, or plan to come out, we pray that the church we love will stop looking away from its lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex(LGBTQI) members; that they will welcome them as fully as our faith tells us we should.
The word Catholic derives from the Greek katha holos—part of the whole. Thus we get katholikos or Catholic. But you know better than most that we are still less than whole. Today’s reading from Jeremiah challenges us to knock down barriers, “to change, to build and to plant.”
Nearly 20 years ago, the Irish theologian, Fr. Enda McDonagh called the kingdom of God “topsy-turvy.”
He said: “For too many Catholics, too many Christians, too many religious and non-religious people, gay and lesbian people are strangers who inspire fear rather than love, who are not given a priority in the preaching or promotion of the kingdom or reign of God.”
A good friend, the mother of a young man who came out to her several years ago, told me how his siblings received the news: Each of them said: “Ok Mom, now we can leave the church.”
They did not want to be part of a church that does not fully welcome their brother. But she said “No, I am staying. I want to change the church.”
You too are saying the same thing. We want to be part of a church made more whole. A church in the image of Jesus.
That wise Franciscan teacher, Father Richard Rohr has said this:
“God would ask of the homosexual relationship exactly what God asks of the heterosexual relationship: truth, faithfulness, long-suffering, and the continuing forgiveness of the other.”
He added: “It’s amazing how we are willing to avoid modelling and living these demanding virtues in favor of judgments about mere physicality that we can more easily measure, punish, and mandate. As others have said, the church continually slips into “spiritual materialism” while calling materialism a sin in others.”
The church has taken some small steps towards inclusion. It no longer considers the state of homosexuality a sin. Empathetic bishops like Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit worked with gay and lesbian Catholics to reframe the church’s teaching in more welcoming language. In the late nineties, he called on all gay and lesbian church workers, including priests and bishops, to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. There has been some building of bridges …but the fact that we are celebrating Solidarity Sunday here in this welcoming Episcopal church and not in a Catholic church, says that we have to do much more.
The list of church workers, teachers and choir directors fired after years of faithful service is too long: More than 80 since 2007.The interventions on the side of justice are too few and too dependent on the goodwill of a particular bishop, or pressure from a community, or lawsuits. This is the latest.
“The whole cosmos is about diversity and communion. The whole creation cannot be lying,” says Fr. Richard Rohr. We just have to do a far better job of caring for EVERYONE in our cosmos.
We are joined in prayer today because we believe we can make our topsy-turvy world better.
No one is born prejudiced. We LEARN to be prejudiced from our families and our communities. And yes, from our churches.
Our challenge, no matter what our sexuality or ethnicity or economic class, is to model Jesus. It is too easy, in our beautiful chapels, to forget that he began life as an outcast, that he entered the world where animals lay, born of an unwed mother in a refugee family, in a time and a place that was not kind to either.
He stood in his 33 years with those who were shunned. His good news drew in those most despised for their work –like tax collectors, or those despised for where they came from– like the Samaritan, or those excluded by their gender, like women, or those crucified next to him for their crimes. He was vilified by those in power. But today we pray to a prettified Jesus enshrined in stained glass and beautiful sculpture.
It is often hard to see Christ in some of what calls itself Christianity today.
When Archbishop William Goh recently urged the Singapore government not to decriminalize gay sex, to keep archaic colonial laws on the books, I hope Catholics in the pews responded by asking: is this what Jesus would do?
The more we assert it, the more we reclaim our church from the clutches of clericalism.
We have plenty of reasons to lament the failings of institutions: our church, our courts, our schools, our forces of law and order who kill first and ask questions later, especially of people of color.
But as a wise pastor said to me recently, the Holy Spirit is at work unmasking that which has been hidden. Catholics of good conscience are calling out the injustice of gay and lesbian Catholics being fired for going public about their love for their partners. We are calling out bishops who say these couples should not receive the Sacraments.
Too often our institutional church demonstrates that it is more comfortable with keeping truth in the shadows. Too often our church is satisfied with the observance of faith as calcified ritual or pious platitudes rather than as a lifeblood that pulses through our veins and moves us to acts of compassion and justice.
We can change that. We are church. We are salt. Through us the body of Christ endures.
Twenty years ago Fr. Enda McDonagh implored lesbian and gay Catholics to draw on their painful experience of being marginalized “and show us how you can set the rest of us free…by letting your vision and realization of the values of the Gospel be free to free us.”
You have been constant. You have been true. You have been faithful. So must we ALL be if we are to make this truly the kingdom of God.
Learning to see and listen
There is a Catholic Worker House in Palama, on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church on North King Street. From the surrounding encampments, people come up and knock on the door daily. They receive bags of food, their laundry is washed and folded, they charge their phones and they pick up their mail. These are acts of seeing and listening and service. These are acts of inclusion that welcome all parts to the whole. These are acts that rescue the houseless from invisibility.
This Solidarity Sunday we commit to seeing, listening, defending and including our LGBTQI brothers and sisters. We cannot wait for them to cry: “Look at me! Don’t look away. Does the assault on my rights and my person not matter?”
We come together to reject the violence of words and deeds against anyone. We reject the violence of excluding those who are simply being true to who they are. We pray that the doors of our churches may open more widely to truly welcome ALL as Jesus did.
In the words of Dorothy Day, “love, and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. . . If we love enough we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us.”
It is love that will sustain those who are gathering the courage to come out of the shadows to say who they are.
This is what John tells us today and it is what we must hold fast to: that perfect love casts out all fear.
Because if we have faith, we must believe that ALL of us, without exception reside in God and she in us. AMEN.