I wrestled with today´s readings and it reminded me of Jacob fighting with God at Jabbok. Sometimes we have to struggle - with God, with the Bible, with our Church.
Today, first we hear the beautiful account of a feast prepared for us by God in Isaiah, then St. Paul´s heartening account of faith that endures in all circumstances… and then there is the Gospel - a parable of a generous invitation to a feast which some ignore. And those who refuse are punished in really gruesome ways. And the last verse tops it: Many are invited but few are chosen. What are we to do with that? How can we soften the meaning of this verse?
Sure, we could ignore it, we could just take the shorter version of the reading and pretend that the hard-hitting verses are not there at all. But I suspect that is not how we discover our God, a God who invites us to take off a veil: an intransparency that covers the true nature of things! We have to stick with the text. We have to stick with all our questions. We have to struggle and we know that somewhere in there, God is there to be discovered.
To stick with it is a feeling I know well! My partner and I are asked all the time why do we stick with the Catholic Church. Isn´t that a terrible place to be a same-sex couple? Sometimes that’s true. And we cannot gloss over these moments, these parts of our experience with the Catholic Church that make it painful. But in the same way, we cannot also deny that our Church is a life-giving place of beautiful encounters and really transformative experiences. And I, as someone who converted to Catholicism, have really been invited to this feast - to the table of the Eucharist and to the community of the Church - and I cannot just walk away from that.
I imagine that not only LGBTQ Catholics but many of us feel that sometimes the Church is a place where we are very well fed and sometimes it’s a place where we go hungry. St. Paul in today’s second reading tells us that we can bear that when we are centered on God, centered on the one who strengthens us in all circumstances.
I think that St. Paul has another lesson for us. He shows us that, just like him, it helps us when someone notices, when someone “shares in our distress.”
couple of months ago, Germany debated and
ultimately approved a law allowing equal marriage. And in the time, what stung
me the most from the Church officials was not the position of defending the
“traditional view of a family” --
after all I know from other countries
that the debate as it took place in Germany was quite polite and open and
really constructive. But what stung me was one official who declared that
discussing same-sex marriage so much is really not appropriate because it is a
marginal issue that doesn’t deserve so much attention. That hurt-- because I
think this sums up so clearly what many LGBTQ persons and families and many
others experience in our Church. This feeling of being unimportant, of being
overseen, of being expendable. We are reduced to a hotly debated issue and the
humanity of us goes lost in the process. Under the defense of a
doctrine, the lived experience of people for whom getting married is a major
life experience and a decision that shapes their life-- that is lost.
What different, positive experience I have made with my family, our friends, the pastoral workers in our parish and our diocese who have taken the time to get to know me and my partner and who have really shared in our joys and in our distress. There, together we have had a glimpse of the heavenly feast where the veil is taken off and we see that we are all children of God, are all fed by God’s love. A pastoral worker recently told me: “In the Church I serve, there has to be a place for everyone to come as they are, without having to hide or distort any part of themselves.” That is our Church at its best and that is a glimpse of heaven on earth.
I cannot tell you that I am fully reconciled with today’s readings, or the Church as it is today. I can only invite you to wrestle with it. And to stick with it. And to use your faith to guide you to accept the invitation to the feast. Accept it, despite not being able to understand every detail of the picture, every word of the text. It is the encounter and our desire to know the distress of each other that will help us to arrive at this heavenly feast.
I leave you with two movements of a prayer by a German Jesuit by the name of Peter Koester.
My life is a bowl, ready to receive and ready to give. God, make stronger what brings me closer to you and help me to recognize what takes me away from you. Help me to bear the tension between what is and what is not yet, between desire and fulfilment.
Petra Dankova is a social worker with nine years of experience developing and leading projects for displaced women, men and children. She has worked extensively with both faith-based and secular organizations and focuses on the fields of psychosocial assistance, education and rights-based community development. She is an external lecturer of social work with migrants and refugees at the College for Applied Sciences Würzburg - Schweinfurt, teaching courses on gender-sensitive social work, human rights and NGO management. She collaborates with the initiative Willkommen mit Musik connecting music, psychosocial care and integration for newcomers to Germany. She holds a Master in Social Work from Boston College and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame. Originally from the Czech Republic, she currently lives and works in Germany.