For a number of reasons the recent diocesan “Parish & School Policy on Issues of Sexuality and Gender Identity” bothers me. I just don’t like it. One big reason is that in the list of those being consulted in the process there is no mention of LGBTQ persons or their parents or caregivers. It is easier to talk about our LGBTQ sisters and brothers than to talk with them. It seems the system/institution is saying, “We are not searching for the truth, we already have the truth, and we will tell you what it is and you will accept and follow it, or else. In other words, if you want to get to God you have to go through us, because our way is the only way, we have the answers”. Also, it would seem that what the policy says is wrong looks like it’s wrong only in this diocese, and not in all dioceses, a number of whom have a much gentler pastoral approach, or other religious traditions who have an entirely different view on these matters. It’s kind of like a status offense, as a curfew that applies only to certain ages groups. What is also disturbing and not that far apart from this matter, is the American Bishops Conference, which as a group is pretty much a Francis free zone, and has contradicted or ignored him on several matters. I wonder what would happen if folks and priests were to ignore the bishops the way the bishops ignore Pope Francis. Fortunately there are a number of very pastoral bishops, but they are in the minority.
While on retreat I came across the words of a prayer by an anonymous Jesuit: “Help me to remember that, no matter what words I hear, the message is, ‘accept the person I am, listen to me’”. Also, Pope Benedict XVI in his homily at his installation as Pope, said, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, every one of us is important, every one of us is necessary, none of us is an accident”. We are, each of us, on all sides of this issue, created in the image of God and growing into God’s likeness, into who we are created to be. We don’t get to decide who is or who is not an image of God, or make rules others have to follow, because each of us is a unique image of God, even, or especially, people we don’t understand, who make us uncomfortable, or whom we fear, or just don’t like.
Our life is a series of journeys, one of which is the journey to self-awareness. Often it happens in fits and starts. Anybody who has spent any time raising or working with youth has experienced this. None of us gets to tell anyone else what kind of person they are. This is something each of us has to learn for ourselves. A good way to ruin a person is to tell a child, “you are wrong and I will not accept you unless you change into what I tell you to be, because I know who you have to be much more than you do”. Or even “you are not an image of God unless you change to what I say you should be”. There is a terribly high rate of suicide among teens and young people for just this reason. No doubt many of us can remember experiencing something like this as we were growing up, and for a lot of us it was not a pleasant experience. I remember being told I would be nothing but a dirty ditch digger”. Well, my first military assignment was infantry, and I did dig a few ditches. Maybe God isn’t finished telling us who God is. Maybe I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I am creating my own god to make myself feel safe and secure. Wandering and wondering, kind of a way of living and learning.
As part of my retreat I spent yesterday daytime and evening with an LGBTQ group from a Catholic parish at a local university, and some others. The whole day was a marvelous experience. The love everybody showed to each other and to me as an outsider truly was an expression of God loving all of us. The love in the talks and presentations was palpable. The liturgy was simple and heartfelt. The Sign of Peace was not just symbolic, it was real. People really cared about each other. I wonder if the folks who put this policy together had experiences like mine would they still have done it? My guess is yes. I have come to know some wonderful people in all this, and I am most grateful for this and for them.
It seems the policy puts law over Gospel. Jesus didn’t have such rules so we will make and enforce them. Maybe some good folks will decide they have had enough of the Church and just walk away. Regrettable, but understandable. Can we learn anything from science, or do we already have all the answers? We might look at our history here.
I believe God (as a verb) is happening in everything, and I ask, “what are you calling me to do here and now? How can I help you live our love and compassion here and now in this mess?” I’m concerned that I might not like the answers, oh, well . . . Won’t be the first time. Pope Francis teaches and urges a process of discernment. I did some during this past week on retreat. It is enlightening and at times difficult to keep my ego self out of it. In all this I am still trying to do it. I don’t have answers, just a bunch of questions, and some of them are disturbing. Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God; Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete”. I do believe this. I don’t know, just wandering and wondering.
Where am I? What’s going on? May I want to walk with the outcasts, to really want a conversion in my own heart that makes me aware and sensitive to the suffering Christ around me. May I really want to be more hospitable and open to all and everybody, to learn how to live more deeply in the Spirit of Jesus, a Spirit that welcomes. In whatever I do may I want to bring people together where they are separated, in the field hospital with its mess and smells, (something I did) which is our church, may I bring healing to the wounded, and realize I don’t have all the answers, just different questions, and to know everybody in my life has the need and the right to be in my life, we need each other’s gifts. Just sayin . . .