Monday, December 28, 2009

Why This Gay Man Takes Heart from the Feast of the Holy Family

Yesterday, Mum and I attended Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Port Macquarie. It was the Feast of the Holy Family, and as I sat waiting for the homily to begin I braced myself for a diatribe against perceived threats to the family – such as gay marriage. But I need not have worried.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some members of the clerical leadership in the Australian church who would choose to use such a feast day to malign the lives and relationships of gay people. But, by-and-large, I've discovered, the Australian Catholic Church reflects the wider “live and let live” ethos of Australian society. That, of course, is a far cry from the current
case in the United States.

What the priest at yesterday’s Mass did talk about actually resonated with me as a gay Catholic man. He noted that, contrary to the rosy, holy card images we’re so often presented with, the reality is that Jesus’ family knew conflict and misunderstanding – just like any other family. Of course, nowhere is this more evident than in the story of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple.

This story served as yesterday’s Gospel reading, and in it we are presented with a young Jesus disobeying his parents; confusing, perhaps even disappointing them – all so that he can be true to the person he knew God had called him to be. As I listened to the priest describe this popular story of the Holy Family in this way, I realized that it is something to which many gay people can relate. Accordingly, it’s something to which many families can relate.

Like Jesus, young people coming into awareness of who they are sexually often have to retreat from their families so as to attune themselves to and embrace what’s awakening within them. For many gay people, answers and support are initially found outside the family. Parents are seldom the first to know that their child is gay.

These were my thoughts as I reflected upon yesterday the young Jesus leaving his family and the caravan bound for Nazareth so as to seek out the wisdom and insights of those in the Temple. I’m sure that as they busily prepared to leave Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph had instructed Jesus “not to wander off.” And yet that’s exactly what he did. He required answers and experiences beyond those which his family could provide, and so he went in search of them. This to me seems a healthy thing; a sacred journey or quest, if you like.

Once found by his parents, Jesus, in a way, “comes out” to them. He’s not the boy they thought he was. There’s definitely something different about him. He challenges them, confuses them, and, no doubt, disappoints them. Yet despite all of this they accept him as he is and, as a family, they resume their journey home together.

Sound familiar? I hope it resonates with you - especially if you’re gay, because here’s the bottom line: God calls gay people to something very special; something very sacred. God calls us to journeys of faith and consciousness that often compel us to “wander off” and seek answers elsewhere, despite the disapproval of others - even our parents, even “Mother Church.” And, no, this “something” is not a life of sexual abstinence – as the clerical leadership of the Roman expression of Catholicism would have us believe. Rather it’s a life of abundance as the relational beings that God created us to be. And, yes, God created some of us with relational capacities that are gay in orientation. Accordingly, for most gay people, a life of abundance means seeking, building, and maintaining a loving relationship with another of the same gender – a relationship that is experienced and expressed as something that is both sacred and sexual. I’ve come to believe that the seeking, building, and maintaining of such a relationship is always about “doing God’s work.”

I take to heart and am nourished and encouraged by the journeys in consciousness and compassion conveyed in the trusting, loving and accepting relational dynamics of Jesus and his family. They are journeys in and of faith. And, for me, they are what make this family – and so many others – holy.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection
A Story of Searching and Discovery
What We Can Learn from the Story of the Magi
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
The Gifts of Homosexuality
The Challenge to Become Ourselves
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Gay People and the Spiritual Life
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
A Parent’s Prayer

Image 1: William Holman Hunt.
Image 2: Artist unknown.


kevin57 said...

Thank you, Michael, for a wonderful, insightful reading of this gospel passage. The homily I heard thankfully also looked at this incident in a fresh way. The priest focused on the need for parents to truly listen to their children, especially when they live in a way that their parents cannot understand or "accept."

Mareczku said...

Wow! That was so beautiful, Michael. We had a good sermon at Mass yesterday also. The priest confessed that he is not an expert on families since he is not married. In regard to gay issues, I must say that in over 45 years of going to Mass every week, I have never heard a word said against gay people or their families. I have never heard a word of condemnation of gay people from the pulpit. I consider myself fortunate.

Phillip Clark said...

Thanks loads for sharing this Michael! Ironically, I had the very same type of experience from the priest when I went to Mass this past Sunday.

I walked to a church near me because I had overslept and missed Mass earlier that morning at my parish. So I looked online and found a church near me that had a Mass at 5:30 pm. It was a "contemporary" Mass and I ususally don't attend these because I'm very much a "smells and bells" kinda guy =P But I thought, Mass is Mass, so I went anyway.

When I got there I arrived just as the Gospel was being read. As the priest delivered the homily I was moved by how charismatic and effusive he was! As he continued to speak I saw that he was a rather progressive thinking Father, in fact as he went on, I saw that he was VERY progressive. He mentioned the exact same things that your priest seemed to mention, that the Holy Family was not the perfect cookie-cutter family but was a rather tenuous one, especially with the incident of losing sight of Jesus.

The priest continued to mention how Jesus questioned, and how He saw nothing abnormal about doing this but saw it as part if His mission. He mentioned how Jesus questioned social and moral norms of the day, He questioned and pushed the Jews to look further than THE LAW, and consider the value of LOVE. The priest even integrated the incivility of the recent healthcare debate here in the States, and the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was such a progressive thinking message! And one that encouraged me! Basically, that Jesus, at the core of His being, was a Person who questioned all that was held as true and normal at the time and pushed boundaries, redefining what it meant to love in an intensely radical, new way.

And I was also stunned how this priest, not once, mentioned homosexual relationships as an "attack on the traditional family"

I wanted to thank the priest for his encouraging and inspirational words but my shyness got the better of me! I made sure to shoot him off an email when I returned home, still haven't heard from him yet but hopefully I will soon. :)

Merry Christmas, Michael, and to your family as well!

Anonymous said...

As a priest, I am a bit disappointed that you would go into any mass with some sort of preconceived notion of what the priest will preach about (e.g. threats to the family). While this may have been your experience, I don't think I've ever heard it myself nor preached on it while I was a priest.

It is disheartening to run into anyone who is sitting out there with any preconceived notions about what I am going to say, should say, etc. This is a new day, a new Sunday and I wish we were all authentically present to the eucharist as an experience taking place in the present time - not the past.