By Father Frank D. Almade
Some sermons, and columns, are best begun with a personal story. Let me share this one.
When I was assigned to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore for theological studies, it was the first time I lived outside of Pittsburgh. I was also the only Pittsburgher in my class. I was lonely for the first several months. But over time I made friends. One was Joe.
We were very different personalities, but for some reason hit it off. For the next four years we enjoyed meals together, went on vacation in the summer, worked on his genealogy research, and complained about the faculty with our classmates. I even shared he and his family’s pain when in our third year his younger sister was tragically killed in an auto accident.
After ordination we went our separate ways, focusing on priestly ministry in our own dioceses. We met again for the 10th anniversary of ordination at Alumni Day at St. Mary’s Seminary, and caught up over dinner.
Joe’s life in priestly ministry had been difficult. He described several assignments as a parochial vicar, a couple of contentious pastors, a fruitful ministry he had working with gay and lesbian Catholics in a neighboring diocese, and the discovery of a form of epilepsy which affected his emotions (which blessedly he was able to control with medication). Then Joe stopped, cleared his throat, looked me in the eye, and said, “Frank, there’s also something I never shared with you. I’m gay.”
I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that he might be gay. He was just Joe, my good friend.
It must have been the Holy Spirit who prompted me to say, “Joe, I’m glad you have been able to come to this realization, and have the courage to share this with me. You will always be my friend.” And we hugged.
Around that time I was invited to be one of several priests to celebrate Mass a couple of times a year for a group of gay and lesbian Catholics who were meeting weekly in our diocese. Remembering my friend Joe, I readily accepted the invitation.
It is a fact that not every human being is attracted to persons of the opposite sex. A minority seem to be attracted to persons of the same sex. If this is true of humanity, it is also true about the church. But LGBT Catholics (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender, to use the current nomenclature) have rarely been acknowledged publicly in the Church—except for their alleged violations of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments. Many LGBT Catholics, down through history and even to this day, are rejected, subjected to verbal abuse, and in certain cultures even been physically abused and jailed.
Over the past two generations there have been a number of unsung outreaches to LGBT Catholics in parishes and dioceses across our country and the world. My friend Father Joe, and many priests, sisters and lay ministers, have provided assistance and accompaniment to these, our brothers and sisters in the faith. One of these priests is the noted Jesuit author, Father James Martin. Four years ago he wrote a hope-filled invitation to conversation about this subject in “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.” A revised and expanded edition of this small but significant reflection came out earlier this year.
The subtitle of the book comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives.” (#2358)
Father Martin uses the metaphor of a two-way bridge to illustrate how LGBT Catholics and the rest of the church (particularly its bishops and priests) can encounter and come to know each other. He describes how each “side,” if you will, is called to meet in the middle, to overcome seeing people as strangers or “the other,” and to find common ground in their shared faith in Jesus Christ.
In the spirit of dialogue and listening, and attempting to build a bridge to a neglected portion of the Body of Christ, I would like to host a meeting to explore how our parish can be more welcoming to LGBT Catholics. This meeting would be held within the Catechism’s virtues of respect, compassion and sensitivity. It will be open to gay and lesbian members of our parish, or any other parish, and any family members, friends or allies who are interested in starting a conversation and beginning an outreach. It will be held on Tuesday, November 24, at 6:30 p.m. in Keane Hall, underneath St. Maurice Church. No registration necessary. Usual masks and social distancing.
In preparation I invite all to pray Psalm 139, a beautiful meditation for people of faith about how our Creator acts in the world. “For it was you, O LORD, who formed my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”