A local church in Albuquerque learned about my ministry with the LGBTQ+ community through my participation in the Pride Parade. They invited me to reflect on the following questions so that they might share my responses in their Church newsletter. I was touched that they asked, and I found the reflection meaningful.
1. What's been the general tone of responses you get when you attend pride events and festivals?
I have been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest for a little over a year and have discovered that a critical piece of my ministry with the LGBTQ+ community is reconciliation. One thing that has continued to surprise me is the impact that a simple, authentic apology can have on someone who has been profoundly wounded by the institutional Church. I find it surprising because the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community has been and continues to be so vicious and cruel that it is hard to believe a simple apology from an individual priest would be meaningful. Yet, time and again, it is. I think this willingness to receive the apology at all speaks in general to the human desire to be seen, and speaks in a special way to the inspiring resilience and heart of the LGBTQ+ community. This community is truly graced as one of the most loving, understanding, and accepting communities I have had the pleasure to experience, and they extend this openness and generosity to all.
2. Do you think your presence and support makes more of an impact specifically because of your ties to religion?
Yes. When I put on the Roman collar, I am no longer an individual, but a symbol of the entire Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it is the apology paired with the collar that has the real impact. When I visited a university last fall to give a talk, I met a lovely young graduate student who was raised Catholic. When she came out to her family, they did not accept her. This not only deeply wounded her, but it understandably led her away from the faith. After some time together, I looked into her eyes, called her by name, and apologized for all that she had endured. I explained that the Church was wrong on this issue, that God loved her into being exactly as she is, that she is an expression of God. She quietly cried. I was humbled and moved, taken aback by how these simple words offered some healing. Before we parted ways, she said smiling that she intended to attend Mass when home for Christmas. This interaction captures something that the Church does not seem to understand: when it persecutes people for whatever reason, it not only turns those people away from the Church, it can–and often does–turn them away from God. This is the true tragedy, for God’s greatest desire is to have intimate, dynamic, love relationships with each of us. I do all I can as a Roman Catholic priest to help restore this most central relationship.
3. Were there any big learning curves when you started your outreach to the queer community?
While some people desire the apology of the Church, others may want to have space to express their anger. Because in the Roman collar I represent the Church, people sometimes need to use me as a target for the pent-up frustration they feel towards the institution. In other words, it may be freeing, even healing, for someone who has been deeply hurt by the institutional Church to verbally attack or personally insult any particular priest. In these instances, I must submit to the experience and allow it to happen without retaliation, for I am no longer an individual but a stand in for the Church. As a priest it is imperative that in such moments I do not contribute to the emotional and spiritual harm the person has already endured. I enter into this work as a spiritual practice, asking God to help me grow in wisdom and charity.
4. Do you have any particular advice for someone who wants to start reaching out more?
The most important thing for any ministry is to pray–to lay ourselves bare before God over and over with the intent of listening to and receiving what God has to say. Pray in preparation for being with people, and once you experience being with them, bring that experience back to prayer. The point of any priestly ministry is to facilitate an encounter with the living God. It is not us but God who heals, who reconciles, who guides, who liberates. As priests we are simply helping to make people present to what God is always and already trying to give them. The only way we can be God’s partner in this work is through an uncompromising commitment to our own prayer life and to our relationship with God. It must come first, always.
5. Have your experiences and relationships with the queer community changed your experience and relationship with God?
One thing that the life of Jesus reveals to us is that we have an incarnational God—that is, it is God’s nature to incarnate, and so God expresses God’s self in all of material creation. The LGBTQ+ community is an ongoing expression of the living God. They continue to teach me about God’s resiliency, God’s creativity, God’s goodness, God’s joy. Of all the many gifts the community offers us, I would say its core gift is that it gives to all the world the experience of the unconditional acceptance of our loving God. Above all, though, the LGBTQ+ community reveals over and over the power of the paschal mystery: though they are crucified at the hands of injustice, they continue to rise and claim their rightful place at the altar of creation. This is the resurrection at work–the unstoppable power of God’s Spirit incarnating through the community to bring all of creation into alignment with God’s vision of justice and love. Through their participation in the life of God, they continue to bolster me in my own faith, for I see how profoundly God works through them and I am reminded one again of God’s ceaseless commitment to the good of the world.
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