In May of 2012 I was asked by two ministries at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City – Gay Catholics and Catholic Lesbians – to give the homily at their annual anniversary Mass. Our parish was celebrating 19 years of LGBT ministries, and I was celebrating 16 years since being baptized at this beautiful parish. This event came just weeks after the Vatican – under Pope Benedict – appointed a bishop to “rein in” US Catholic nuns for being too feminist.
The Anniversary Mass was a fantastic celebration. The sign of peace was based on the Ubuntu greeting “I am who I am because you are who you are.” There was water from the Jordan River, rainbow fish lapel-pins for all, and such a spirit of joy. These were the words I spoke on that memorable occasion.
The message in these readings, in this gathering, is clear: Let nothing separate you from the love of God. God loves you just as you are. God loves you passionately, personally, authentically.
When we let ourselves feel it, feel the truth and the aliveness of God’s love for us, we know that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
But what can keep us from feeling it? We all probably have answers to that one. Here’s mine: Shame.
Shame creates the sort of separation, the sort of schism, that can trick us into believing that there is Otherness, where in fact – in the truth of God’s love – there is only communion.
When it comes to shame – and entering the struggle against shame – I have a hero.
This hero of mine crossed a line, a margin, few of us cross in our lifetime (at least consciously. I think we all unconsciously cross this margin, back and forth, within our souls, all the time). This person was born one gender, and crossed over, to embrace her experience of being the other gender.
Ironically, I only got to know this person after she had crossed over yet another margin – between life and death. I was asked to create and lead this person’s memorial service. And as I spoke with the people who had known this person at different stages in her life – who had loved her, and cared about her, and failed her – and as I opened myself to the spirit of this person, it was as if she was crossing back over the margin between death and life to share some important wisdom. And this is what I heard:
There is no shame in being more than someone else can hold.
And there is no shame in not being able to hold all of someone else.
And this brings me to the miracle we celebrate this evening. 19 years of LGBT ministries here at Xavier. A ministry of presence that says, “Let nothing separate us from the love of God.” A ministry of wisdom that knows, “We need to keep growing into all of who we are.” A ministry of conscience that recognizes that people are being shamed for being all of who they are, and that this shame can create an illusion of separation. A ministry of action and compassion, that knows the miracle of the body of Christ. That IS the Body of Christ.
As individuals -- and even as families, as organizations -- we can never really hold all of someone else, and there’s no shame in that. But the miracle of the LGBT ministries is that together, when we leave room for others to be all of who they are, we all get to experience being held by God’s love. Miraculously God’s love unifies us in an experience of being one in the Body of Christ.
The Catholic Church takes very seriously the call to be the Body of Christ in today’s world. But…you know the key difference between the institutional church and the body of Christ?
Institutions have margins, but resurrected bodies don’t.
So, when anyone is feeling marginalized and feeling the pain and the shame that comes along with it – that’s not the Body of Christ doing the marginalizing. It’s the Body of Christ being squeezed and pinched by the limitations of the institution.
When we feel shamed and marginalized in the Catholic Church we NEED to communicate that pain, because it’s a sign. And it’s heralding some good news. It’s a sign that the body of Christ is growing, and needs a roomier dwelling place.
The institution is having trouble keeping up with the growth of the Body of Christ. And there’s no shame in that. What structure could keep up with such a One? But you know what?
I think shame has a lot to do with what is going on. I think some of our brothers in Rome might be ashamed because some of our sisters in America are doing some things that they don’t know how to grasp, and they don’t (yet?) know how to emulate. But the tragedy is, our brothers are projecting that shame instead of recognizing it.
They aren’t recognizing it as theirs, and instead they are unconsciously projecting it, talking about “shameful behaviors” that others engage in. And the marginalization kicks in. And so, all of us as members of the body of Christ feel shamed, not recognized. And it’s causing schisms.
It’s as if they’re looking in our direction, but they can’t see us. Like those disciples on the road to Emmaus who couldn’t see the risen Christ? And maybe, just maybe… we’re looking in their direction, but we can’t see them? Maybe we resort to shaming too?
I sometimes do.
When I look at Pope Benedict and see a figurehead of a hierarchy that is abusing power, I want to say, “Shame on you!” But I know in that moment I am separating myself from an experience of God’s love.
But…when I look at Pope Benedict, and imagine the little boy he once was -- a little boy growing up in the day-to-day reality of Nazi Germany – I can only imagine the shame that infused his environment, and the confusion it must have caused. And instead of thinking “Shame on you!” I have this moment of recognition, and think, “Oh! shame in you.” And I recognize him, because I too have shame in me.
And it all just makes me want to pray for the end of shame.
As we heard in the Gospel reading tonight, the resurrection happens on the road – even when we don’t recognize it. And we are all at different places along that road. But our task is the same: let nothing separate us from the love of God.
I want to end this reflection on a personal note. I want to celebrate what the LGBT ministries at Xavier have meant to me, and my family.
I’ve crossed margins of my own. I am ethnically Jewish and in my mid-twenties, I discovered that I was Catholic. Now, I understand that in Catholic families, when someone comes out as Gay it’s a big deal. Well, in Jewish families, when someone comes out as Catholic it’s a big deal too! [laughter]
It wasn’t easy. But I had to do it. Because I am Catholic. For whatever reason – beyond my knowing – God made me Catholic. And I wanted – I needed to live that out. But in order to do so,
I needed to experience the Body of Christ in community. God led me here.
And it’s no coincidence that: Just as, in 1993 Ann Citerella was here to found the LGBT ministries; in 1995 she was still here, to be part of the RCIA group that prepared me for baptism.
And it’s no coincidence that when my baby daughter was baptized here ten years later, and my parents came for the event, they didn’t feel shamed for being Jewish, as they expected to. They felt welcomed. John Uehlein chose a Hebrew song for the meditation at that day’s Mass, and they heard it.
And last year, when Tony and I wanted our kids to have an authentic experience of Christmas, it’s no coincidence that we joined the toy drive organized by Catholic Lesbians. And as we all gathered – women and men and children-- to wrap presents and eat pizza together, our kids understood that the gifts they picked out and wrapped were going to children in need.
A couple of weeks ago my 6-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom, I think I know who the real Santa is.” I thought, Oh no! OK, here we go. “Really? Who?”
You know what she said?
She’s right. And you all are teaching her that. Thank you. Thank you. Please keep ministering.
I am Catholic. Because. We. All. Are. Catholic.
Homily for the 19th Anniversary LGBT Image by Jim LePage, Mass Revolting Beauty