This past Monday we celebrated Memorial Day. I learned the origin of Memorial Day a few years ago. In 1868 General John A. Logan called for a "Decoration Day" which in 1971 was standardized as "Memorial Day". The spark that ignited General Logan’s actions are many and debated. One of them being in 1865 10,000 recently freed slaves held a parade in honor of 257 dead Black Union soldiers they had recently moved and reburied from mass grave at a Confederate prison camp. It now being June, Pride Month, this sparked an interest in me to discover the origins and purpose of Pride Month.
Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Riots that happened in response to a violent police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood of Manhattan. This was a pivotal tipping point in the movement where people fought back. Cities all over the country began demonstrating and commemorating this event, which has culminated into June being Pride Month.
The purpose of Pride Month, along with commemorating the Stonewall Riots, is to promote self-affirmation, dignity, equality as opposed to shame and social stigma. All good things for a marginalized group to want.
As a Catholic, as a youth minister, as a missionary, as a father, I've been challenged to continue examining myself in response to Gay Pride. I know what the Church teaches and I know, love, and trust her, with all of her flaws. But what I've been sitting with is where we go from there, from the teachings. How do we live? How do we love? Because, before those teachings come the two greats. 1. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." Dare we say the whole law and the teachings of the Church also depend on these two commandments?
There are many who say they are loving when they respond to people with scripture, catechism paragraphs, theology, philosophy, etc, when they share their experiences and struggles. "Tough love", one might say. But I always ask people, "When has that ever worked for you to change your ways, to help you feel loved and appreciated?" Most people respond to such harshness with more harshness and resentment.
People who prefer the "tough love" approach also like to point to Christ and tell how harsh and to the point he was. Which is true. He was very harsh, especially with the religious leaders and his own apostles. But when it came to those he was spending time with and reaching out to; when it came to the lost, the poor, the downtrodden, those in need of a physician: First: He saved them! (The woman caught in adultery). He broke bread and spent time with them. He fostered community and relationship. (Zacchaeus, woman at the well). And we don't know the time frame of these events, but at some point he did call them to holiness, to sin no more. But FIRST came love, invitation, relationship. The men who tore the roof open to lower their friend weren't met with anger and rage for destroying property. They were met with physical and spiritual healing, forgiveness. The apostles who fled when Jesus was hung on a cross weren't met with resentment. They were offered peace.
I've had LGBTQ youth in my ministries. I know I did not respond 100% correctly. I always wanted to affirm them and let them know they are still welcome. Many times I think I was too nonchalant because I would say something like "And? So?" followed with letting them know that doesn't change our relationship and that they are always welcome. But the answer to my "And? So?" is that them sharing was a big deal! None were offended by that and kept coming, but in hindsight and moving forward I know I could have done and will do better.
Within ministry groups there's always that question of "What do I do if someone comes out?" It's a spectacle we make with only this topic in my experience. But the answer is the same as to every other situation, begin/lead with love. Welcoming love. Love of invitation. Dignity.
We worry about the stats on suicide, depression, anxiety in teens on a broad scale. But we seldom zoom in on certain groups where those stats can skyrocket. LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts and 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. Within LGBTQ youth 28-40% have depression.
Why can't we change the question from "How do we deal with this situation" when someone comes out to "How do we love this person well?"
The reason we find it hard is because it's uncomfortable. But imagine how much more uncomfortable the youth is who is sharing and coming out! We like the scripture references and CCC paragraphs because they are easy and simple and we can regurgitate them on command. But, journeying with another person is exactly that, a journey. I think a journey is more satisfying and fulfilling than talking about aspects and cliff notes of journeys.
There is so much beauty in the Church and its teachings. So many things it is FOR. But so often we begin with everything the Church is AGAINST. Why not lead with the good, with welcome, beauty. No one plays sports or picks up an instrument because of the rules and scale exercises. In my study of recruiting many businesses like to attract people with money, benefits, etc. But those are surface level things. Studies show we are made for more than that. What people want is B.A.M., belonging, affirmation, meaning. We criticize people who get involved with groups and not their church, but if they aren't welcomed with belonging, affirmation, meaning in the Church, where else will they go? Answer: Where they can find it.
I got to spend some time with my cousins from New Orleans this past weekend, and one of them has a degree in social work and has worked with people struggling with drug addiction. I was particularly impacted when she shared the main thing she's learned from her work: that you have to meet people where they are at. Period. Some of the people she helped can't escape the environment that is feeding their addiction. Meet them where they are at. Celebrate the victories. Console when there are failures and setbacks.
Now listen, I'm not comparing being LGBTQ to drug addiction. What I am saying is that if we can meet people where they are at in drug addiction or any other situation, why not with LGBTQ? If Jesus is our model, he didn't wait for people to change.
To end, here's what I meditated on on Tuesday after reading the first mass reading from Tobit. It caused me to stop and then I started researching and then started writing. I never made it to the Gospel! After reading Tobit 3:1-11, 16-17 all I could think about was how many LGBTQ youth have prayed these prayers? Both Tobit and Sarah find themselves in situations where they have suffered and have been ridiculed and shamed. They prayed to God for death. They told him it would be better if their life was over.
In the end, I hope that if any more LGBTQ teens feel welcome and comfortable enough to share with me, if my own children come out to me, my immediate reaction is to let them know how much I love them. Let them know they are a child of God. Let them know that they are the apple of my and His eye. But also that I've been doing that already and none of that changes, and that our home, our church is (should be) a safe place.
Here's today's first reading: Tobit 3:1-11, 16-17
Tobit: “So now, deal with me as you please,
and command my life breath to be taken from me,
that I may go from the face of the earth into dust.
It is better for me to die than to live,
because I have heard insulting calumnies,
and I am overwhelmed with grief.
“Lord, command me to be delivered from such anguish;
let me go to the everlasting abode;
Lord, refuse me not.
For it is better for me to die
than to endure so much misery in life,
and to hear these insults!”
Sarah: The girl was deeply saddened that day,
and she went into an upper chamber of her house,
where she planned to hang herself.
But she reconsidered, saying to herself:
“No! People would level this insult against my father:
‘You had only one beloved daughter,
but she hanged herself because of ill fortune!’
And thus would I cause my father in his old age
to go down to the nether world laden with sorrow.
It is far better for me not to hang myself,
but to beg the Lord to have me die,
so that I need no longer live to hear such insults.”
At that time, then, she spread out her hands,
and facing the window, poured out her prayer:
“Blessed are you, O Lord, merciful God,
and blessed is your holy and honorable name.
Blessed are you in all your works for ever!”