True Fasting

PopeFrancis-mercy“Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes?…

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!”

from today’s 1st Reading for Mass, Isaiah 58

True Courage

ChiSonoIoEven while there are many hopeful signs about the Church moving forward on the subject of God’s gay daughters and sons, there are some who still call for an expansion of “ministries” that ask LGBT Catholics to be less than who they are. One of these is called “Courage,” and Fr. Roger Landry’s commentary in the Boston Pilot’s online forum, Echoes, pronounces the virtues, nay necessity, of this organization for LGBT Catholics.  Here, in part, is my comment to the contrary. 

I have to agree with Ann Marie Rosa, while simultaneously taking great exception to Fr. Landry’s commentary.

What I find most strikingly off target with the tone and substance of his comments is the underlying assumption that God’s LGBT sons and daughters are somehow distinct from “the Church” and “Catholics.” Gay and lesbian persons are in every parish, every Catholic community, every diocese around the globe. Indeed, we are in many (most?) seminaries, rectories, convents and houses of religious men and women. Gay and lesbian Catholics are not so much looking to be welcomed by the Church, for indeed, we ARE the Church — just as sure as is every other person who embraces his/her baptism and seeks to live the Gospel with faithfulness and integrity.

What we are looking for, however, is an experience of Church that reflects the famous (and hopefully prophetic) words of the Holy Father. You will recall that Pope Francis was asked a question in the summer of 2013 about a “gay lobby” at the Vatican. After addressing that point in particular, Francis went on to say that, “if a person is gay and is eagerly searching for God, then who am I to judge them?” Fr. Landry, however, seems all too willing to go where the Holy Father chose not to. And so, rather than listening to the lived experience of God’s gay sons and daughters; rather than walking with us in faith through the joys and struggles of our lives; rather than listening to how we understand our unions to be both unitive and procreative; and rather than think that perhaps — just perhaps — his own judgment about the morality of our lives might be flawed, Fr. Landry instead pronounces judgment and prescribes what he thinks he knows is best for all God’s gay children.

I believe the Holy Spirit was at work in this most recent synod as it made history in addressing an issue hitherto swept under the rug. I pray fervently that the same Spirit will continue to soften the hearts of all those who stand in judgment of God’s gay children. All of us are created in God’s image and likeness. The diversity of human sexuality is only one of the many beautiful and glorious ways in which that divine image shines through humanity. May the work of the Spirit allow that diversity to shine even more brightly in the years to come.

First Time, now The Advocate — quite the year for Francis!

TIME-Cover-Pope FrancisTheAdvocate-Pope FrancisFor Pope Francis to be named Person of the Year by Time magazine … that’s understandable. After all, Pope Francis has captured the hearts (and, with his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, the minds) of countless millions around the world — Catholics and non-Catholics alike. But to be named Person of the Year by The Advocate, a leading magazine covering “Gay News, LGBT Rights, Politics and Entertainment”?  Now that’s progress!

Pilgrims, Lincoln, and Francis — Thoughts for Thanksgiving

Homily for Thanksgiving Day / Thursday, November 27, 2013

LincolnThanksgivingProclamationThanksgiving Day is that quintessential American holiday – as close as we come in the US to an exercise of civic religion. The observance of a special day for giving thanks for some perceived blessing – be it an observance by the settlers of Jamestown in 1610, or the celebration of thanks offered by Pedro Menedez de Aviles here in our own state of Florida in 1565, or be it that celebration about which most of us were taught, the one in 1621 observed by the settlers of Plimouth Plantation and the native Wampanoags of what is now Massachusetts – such celebrations have been a part of our national and cultural history for centuries.  During America’s first decades as a nation, there were various declarations of specials days of thanksgiving. As was typical, they were usually written with broad references to God or The Almighty or The Divine – Deist perhaps, but certainly not Christian, as some today would claim. Those early proclamations lead finally to the 1863 declaration by Abraham Lincoln which made the last Thursday of November an official federal holiday.

Students of history will note that this declaration of Thanksgiving was made during an unusual time, right in the middle of the Civil War – and it’s noteworthy that Lincoln called upon his fellow citizens to do not just one, but two things on that Thursday. The first is what you’d expect. In the proclamation’s words, Lincoln called upon Americans “to offer up such the ascriptions justly due to Him [to God] for such singular deliverances and blessings…” – translated simply, to give thanks.  The second was a little more sobering, a little more self-reflective, and a little more oriented toward being a call to social action. Again, in the proclamation’s words, Lincoln called upon Americans “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” to commend to God’s tender care all those who were suffering in one way or another due to the ravages of war, “our lamentable civil strife.”

PopeFrancis-smilingAs tempted as I am to offer my own thoughts on what might be some 2013 examples of America’s “national perverseness and disobedience,” let me simply remind us that Lincoln’s declaration was two-pronged. It called not only for thanksgiving for blessings received, but also corrective action for our national failures and shortcomings. Certainly we all have many blessings for which we are grateful. To varying degrees, we all have so very, very much. We have roofs over our heads, more food than we could ever eat and more clothes than we could ever reasonably wear. We are blessed with jobs, or retirement security; and most importantly we are blessed with family and friends who love us and sustain is in times of sadness as well as joy. And so while we gather her on this day to give thanks to God for these blessings, the challenge of Lincoln – and more importantly, the challenge of the Gospel – is for us not to stand idly by when we have so very much and when so many millions – so many hundreds of millions – have so very little.

AbandonedHouseIn his Apostolic Exhortation published earlier this week, Pope Francis speaks about the Joy of Evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium).  I suspect you’ve read or heard the news coverage of this very important document. Some have called it a “tour de force,” perhaps representing a sea change for the Church.  In a long section devoted entirely to what Francis calls “The Inclusion of the Poor in Society,” he states that those of us who have so much should not only be concerned with the most basic needs of those living in poverty. He challenges us to go further.  Francis writes:

“Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a ‘dignified sustenance’ for all people, but also their ‘general temporal welfare and prosperity.’ This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.”

To some, those words no doubt, are challenging. Regardless of where one stands on the issues that the Pope addresses – regardless of where one stands politically or economically or socially – if reading or hearing his words is challenging, the Pope has done his job.  As we gather around this Eucharistic Table of thanksgiving this morning, let us do our best to follow in the footsteps of the one man – the outsider, the Samaritan – who recognized that his healing was not of his own making, but that his healing – like all things was a gift from God, giving thanks where thanks is always due.

Has a Catholic school teacher ever been fired for … greed? gluttony? advocating war?

When asked why long-time Catholic high school teacher Ken Bencomo was fired, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had this to say:

“‘However, if a teacher or school employee makes a public display of behavior that is counter to church teaching – such as homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, having a child outside of marriage – that can impact their employment status,’ said John Andrews, diocese spokesman.” [emphasis added]

KenBencome-MarriageBencomo, who is gay, married his partner in a civil-ceremony when same-sex marriage became legal in California after the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling on California’s Prop 8.

Why do institutional Church leaders always limit their understanding of “church teaching” to things related to sex?  Is this what they understand Christian life to be mainly about? Is this what they believe Jesus suffered and died for, i.e. so that gay people wouldn’t have sex and that the Church’s rules about marriage would be followed?

How many Catholic school teachers or administrators have been fired  for inadequately living up to the Gospel values of faith, hope and love? What Church workers have been disciplined for failing to do works of charity, or putting into practice the demands of social justice?  How many diocesan employees — including bishops, priests, deacons, and religious sisters and brothers — have lost their jobs because they failed in doing the corporal works of mercy of …

  • feeding the hungry?
  • giving drink to the thirsty?
  • clothing the naked?
  • sheltering the homeless?
  • visiting the sick?
  • ransoming the captive?
  • burying the dead?

My point is not that anyone should lose his/her job for failing to do these things, or otherwise inadequately putting into practice the mandates of the Gospel — because every Christian falls short in one way or another of our call to discipleship.  And yet, even if one accepts the particular “Church teaching” Mr. Bencomo is supposed to have violated, did Jesus Himself ever condemn or punish or harm anyone whom He believed to be failing in some virtue or Gospel value? For those unfamiliar with the Gospels, the answer is No. Even to the so-called “woman caught in adultery,” Jesus says, “Nor do I condemn you.”

Despite Pope Francis’ recent declaration of “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests, apparently many Church leaders feel quite well-equipped to judge and condemn their gay brothers and sisters.

Christianity really is this simple!

I’m always pleased when a pope emphasizes the name of this blog — and its significance.

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this [person] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.” [emphases added]

from: Pope at Mass: Culture of encounter is the foundation of peace (Vatican Radio)