On the recent Feast of the Holy Family my mother and I attended Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Port Macquarie, Australia. I’m currently in the “Great South Land” – visiting my parents, family, and friends – from my “other home” in Minnesota, USA.
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, the Australian Catholic Church, I’ve discovered, 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.
Born and raised in rural Australia, Michael Bayly now lives in the US where he serves as the executive coordinator of the Minneapolis-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM). He is also the editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice, and a co-chair of the Minnesota-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. His book Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective was published in 2007 by Harrington Park Press. He established his blog The Wild Reed in 2006, as a “sign of solidarity with all who are dedicated to living lives of integration and wholeness – though, in particular, with gay people seeking to be true to both the gift of their sexuality and their Catholic faith.”