Tears stung my eyes and my emotions welled up as I took part in recent Good Friday services. I tried to identify the source of my emotions. Sadness? Grief? Of course – this would be expected as we commemorated the brutal death of Jesus the Christ. Yet, there was something deeper going on within me – something mingling with the tears . . . . That’s it – it was anger! We’re doing it again, I thought. We keep on doing it again – over and over! Jesus was tortured and put to death in the most horrific fashion that the occupying Romans could muster, not to mention being deserted and betrayed by those closest to him. Why was he put to death? It was because he dared to challenge the religious establishment. He dared to love and embrace those in the margins – those who were despised and outcast from the temple and society. He dared to turn the church law upside down in order for all to really understand what the love of God really means, even if it meant going against those in power. . . and, yes, even among God’s people, we continue inflicting the violence . . .
Yes, we continue with the persecution of people throughout the world who dare to speak and act prophetically, often at a severe cost – torture, banishment, excommunication, and even death – at the hands of religious and civil authorities and individual members of society. This includes those of us who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, created as we are by a loving God, who have no choice but to speak our truth and work for a society which is loving and inclusive, as Jesus taught us to do. The abuse continues, though, in spite of information from reliable science along with the testimony of our lives that a wide diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity is indeed quite natural and has always been with us. (My heart is freshly broken as I write this post. Last night, I learned of the news of the 23-year old African American transgender woman who was beaten unconscious in a Dallas apartment complex where she lived three months ago was shot to death yesterday on a Dallas street! I was also informed in the same message that an 18 year-old transgender person from Louisiana was recently kicked out of her home and was homeless – looking for a safe place to reside. Our circle is feverishly working on finding immediate and long-term resources for this precious person.) Quite naturally, then, I continue to be frustrated, frightened, perplexed; and, yes, angry at this situation. It seems that we, as a society, often take two steps forward and one step back when it comes to issues of social justice and our ability to embrace “the other”.
So, what to do as we continue to experience these constant waves of crucifixion? In the midst of this latest round of internal malaise and despair, I have prayerfully turned to some mystics of our time. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton insists that “we must have complete faith in the resurrection” In his 2019 Easter homily, he recounts a time in the life of Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador when, in the height of violence in his country several decades ago, a reporter asked him, “Why don’t you flee the country, leave? They’re going to kill you.” His name was on the death list; everybody knew it. But the archbishop said, “Of course I’ve been threatened with death many times, but I don’t believe in death without resurrection. Even if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” (1). I must also remember that, even though there is often a “one step back” within our “two steps forward”, these steps still are an important part of an evolutionary process within our own God-given humanity, which is part of the cycle of dying and rising. Sr. Ilia Delio breaks this open so well when she states, “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well – Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life . . . . To live Christ is to live community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community” (2).
I therefore must believe (not always easy) that, in our often difficult “rubber meeting the road” moments in our ministry to build a just, loving, and inclusive community for all, death is not the end nor does it signal defeat. On the contrary, we must be prepared for our small and large deaths – which will inevitably lead to resurrection. I must believe and trust that to live Christ is to live community and to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of this community. As Gumbleton said of Archbishop Romero (a human being who experienced his own process of evolution), “Here is a person who, like John in the Gospel, has complete trust, belief, confidence that Jesus is risen from the dead and that his resurrection is a sign, a promise of our resurrection that we too will rise from the dead and share everlasting life and joy, fullness of peace and happiness forever in our risen life” (1). These words have helped me to articulate what is honestly on my soul: “’Yes I believe, but help my unbelief because it’s a struggle.’ Sometimes we think that faith is a gift and once we have it, we’ll never falter. Not true. Faith is a choice” (1). Thanks, Bishop Gumbleton.
- Gumbleton, Thomas. “Have Complete Faith in the Resurrection.” Easter Sunday Homily, St. Ambrose Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan. April 21, 2019. Accessed from World Wide Web: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/peace-pulpit/have-complete-faith-resurrection
- Delio, Ilia. Christ in Evolution (Orbis Books: 2008), 180.