For the communities of Dignity/NoVA at Emmanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Arlington, VA and Dignity/Washington at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.
June 10, 2012
Today we celebrate a feast that has been a part of the Church’s liturgical calendar since the thirteenth century. In English we call it the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, but it’s also commonly known by the abbreviated version of its Latin name, Corpus Christi. Although I’ve never actually participated in it, one of the special ways in which this feast can be celebrated is to have a public Corpus Christi Procession. While the liturgical norms provide great detail on how to conduct such a procession, it essentially is quite simple. After Mass, the gathered community is lead through the streets of their city or town by the celebrant of the Mass. He carries the Eucharist, which in turn is held under a canopy of some sort – a sign of respect for our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
I couldn’t help but think of that image yesterday as a group of us – over 40 members of this community – joined with many hundreds of others in marching in yesterday’s Capital Pride Parade. Thanks to the artistic skills of Larry Ranly, we had our own version of such a Corpus Christi canopy. Constructed in the shape of a chapel, our lightweight canopy was draped in the colors of the rainbow, and it was carried by six of us as we walked the parade route behind a banner indicating that we were the Dignity/Washington contingent.
Even as I thought of that image in relationship to today’s Feast, I couldn’t also help but think of what this feast – the feast of Corpus Christi – means for me personally. For the past quarter of a century, it has been a very special day. Although it’s been quite a few years since I was in active parish ministry, it was on this weekend twenty-five years ago that I was ordained a priest. And so it was on this feast day that I had the great joy of presiding at the Eucharist as a priest for the very first time.
In the diocese where I was ordained, the tradition is that a newly ordained priest would often invite someone else – perhaps a close friend, maybe a classmate from another diocese, or someone who had been influential in one’s years of seminary study – to give the homily. And so it was that I asked my good friend Gerry – ordained several years ahead of me and who, sadly, has since passed away – to give the homily at my first Mass. In that homily, Gerry talked about the room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem that has been venerated as the site the “Upper Room” since the 4th century. In that room, there is a carving at the top of a stone pillar. It’s a carving of a mother pelican feeding here young with her own flesh and blood – a symbol of Jesus who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us, who gave us the gift his very self on the cross, a gift which we remember and receive again and again every time we share in Eucharist.
It you either marched in or were present for yesterday’s Parade, you know what a wonderful spirit was there – a spirit of celebration blessed by the beautify of a warm June day, but also marked by a sense of a changed or changing landscape for the LGBT community in the U.S. When we look at past Gay Pride events – events which have become the “High Holy Days” for the gay community around the globe – one cannot fail to recognize how different things are for us in 2012 than they were say, in 1987 when I was ordained … and maybe even before some of you were even born! So much has changed, in fact, that I’ve heard a number of people say over the past year or so that the struggle for gay rights and for the full inclusion of LGBT people in civil society here in the US is just a matter of time. I think perhaps the general consensus is that, although there are goals yet to achieve, it really is just a matter of time before the barriers toward such full inclusion in civil society are greatly diminished or eliminated. Indeed, I think there is strong evidence to support this perspective.
If that is true – and I hope and pray it is – I think it presents to us as LGBT Catholics an important time for reflection. At the heart of this is the fact that what can be said about civil society, the broader culture, and even many other branches of the Christian family tree … those things unfortunately cannot yet be said about our Catholic community. While there are many positive indications about where we as LGBT Catholics are today when compared with two decades ago … it is not quite so clear that the tide has turned, or that full inclusion of LGBT Catholics into the life of the Church at all levels is in any way imminent. If it is indeed, just a matter of time for such inclusion to come about, I daresay we’re probably talking in terms of decades and even longer, rather than months and years.
So if that is true, then what does this mean for us as a community of LGBT Catholics? Where do we want to be in 5, 10, or 25 years in terms of our relationship with the broader Catholic community … and how do we get there? What does this mean for how we will move forward in ensuring that popes and bishops and other leaders of our Church – as well as those of our lay brothers and sisters who still accept what the media call the church’s “official teaching” regarding human sexuality and the rejection of God’s image and likeness reflected in people like you and me – what does this mean for how we ensure that they understand that we, too, are members of the one Body of Christ? How do we share with our fellow Catholics at all levels of the church’s structure the truths of our own lives? How do we help them to understand that the there is indeed room under that Corpus Christi canopy for ALL members of Christ’s Body? How do we do all this and still remain faithful to our call to live our Christian faith in the context and tradition of Catholicism?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but if we are to take seriously the fact that through our Baptism we have been made part of that One Body of Christ, then I think we at least need to think about this unique moment in time, recognizing who we are, where we are, and being thoughtful about where we are heading. While I don’t know all the answers, I have no doubt that sacrifice will be involved. Just as that mother pelican gave her life for her young, and as Jesus gave up his very self so that we might have access to the fullness of life, we too must be prepared to give up and let go of what is non-essential, so that our voices may be unified and the core truth of our message will be not only heard, bur received.
As you’ve heard before and I’m sure will hear again … this year marks a very special anniversary. It’s the 50th year since the Second Vatican Council began its work in Rome in 1962. If you’re not familiar with that Council’s 16 Constitutions, Declarations and Decrees, maybe you should pick up a copy and add it to your summer beach reading list! There is in those documents great richness for today that goes beyond what is sometimes minimizes the Council’s work by referring to the “spirit of Vatican II, ” as the documents themselves paint a picture of a Church very different than what some current leaders would have us see. In the Dogmatic Constition on the Church, Lumen Gentium (#12), the Council Fathers wrote:
“The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.”
I don’t know how you could be more clear in declaring that every member of the Body of Christ has a role to play and a voice to speak in discerning matters of faith. As we claim our rightful place within the Body of Christ – as we become more fully what we receive in Eucharist – our task as faithful members of Christ’s one Body – is to discern rightly and to live out that discernment in faith and in hope and in dignity.