San Diego Catholic Diocese Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan delivered the following Homily during the Mass today at St. John the Evangelist parish to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the “Always Our Children” message from the U.S. Bishops (full text):
Parents and family members of LGBT children – God’s children – and to all of you gathered today:
It is a joy to be with you this morning as we commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishop’s document, “Always Our Children.” This document was written then as “an outstretched hand of the bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family to parents and other family members” of LGBT children.
On this Day, we also celebrate the Catholic Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Here, we beg Mary, who is a mother and parent herself, to accompany with her prayers parents of children in the LGBT community and all of us gathered here as we seek to find a welcoming place for all within the Body of Christ, the Church.
Now, as we prepare to celebrate this Eucharist, let us turn to Mary’s Son, Jesus our Savior and Advocate. As we do so, let us call to mind our sins and ask our Lord for pardon and peace.
Today we recall a document written by the U.S. Bishops and presented 20 years ago to the parents of LGBT children. “Always Our Children” was written at a time when good and faithful church-going Catholics were witnessing society quickly change before their eyes and the Church seemed – in their eyes – to stand still. At that time, some parents who were faced with their children “coming out,” courageously reached out to religious leaders – including Catholic priests – for guidance. Though courageous, the sense of guilt and shame – coupled with tears – was a part of their conversation.
Other parents preferred to not talk about it with their pastors, while others would even dismiss their children in order to avoid conflict with other members of their faith. In many of these encounters with pastors, parents were met with love and compassion as they discussed their children’s “new way of life,” while – sadly – others were met with words of condemnation; even if the hard words of their pastors were meant to express truths regarding their children.
Today, we also celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Admittedly, this Feast Day is very important to me and the Rosary itself is my favorite form of prayer. (It doesn’t look like it, but I walk nearly every day and pray two rosaries out and two rosaries back. This way, I can take care of both my physical and spiritual exercises at the same time. I recommend it. It’s good for the body and the soul.)
As we consider this Feast Day, I am reminded of St. Pope John Paul II’s Pastoral Letter in 2002 on the Holy Rosary. In his letter, Saint John Paul urged Catholics to see the rosary as “a treasure to be rediscovered” in our lives. He reminded us to approach the Rosary as a way of going to the “School of Mary” in order to discover the mysteries of Jesus her Son. By meditating on the five Joyful mysteries of Jesus’ birth and childhood, or the five Luminous mysteries of the Lord’s Ministry on earth, the five Sorrowful mysteries of Jesus’ passion and death, and finally the five Glorious mysteries of His resurrection and the bright promise that awaits us all, we were encouraged to assimilate the mysteries of Christ as we discovered the mystery of our own being.
As I re-read his pastoral letter on the Rosary, I was struck by these words: “The mysteries of Christ are also in some sense the mysteries of his Mother, even when they do not involve her directly, for she lives from him and through him.”
These words, in light of our purpose here today, are particularly helpful as I speak to you parents. They need repeating: “Even when they do not involve her directly,” the “mysteries of Christ are the mysteries of His mother.” This is made perfectly clear in the annunciation account found in our Gospel today. Here, the Son of God becomes the Son of Mary. The mysteries of Christ are now incarnate within the Mother of the Lord.
Later, we read that Mary pondered these things in her heart. What parent doesn’t ponder the mystery of their child within their heart? What parent is not indirectly involved in the mystery of his or her child?
Returning to my earlier comments on those courageous parents who reached out to their pastors or faith leaders 20 years ago, and those who continue to seek guidance today, it is obvious to me that the words pastors choose to use when speaking of God’s children have an effect on their parents as well; even if indirectly. Again, the mysteries of Christ found in each child are the mysteries found in their parents.
This is why, in part, the pastoral letter, “Always Our Children,” was written for parents. For example, the bishops went to great lengths to include in the letter the following words for parents whose children were dying during the height of the AIDS epidemic: “Though HIV/AIDS is an epidemic affecting the whole human race, not just homosexual persons, it has had a devastating effect upon them and has brought great sorrow to many parents, families, and friends.”
And, while some faith leaders, politicians, and celebrities were linking God’s wrath to this terrible disease, the bishops stated emphatically, “We reject the idea that HIV/AIDS is a direct punishment from God.” In some way, I hope these words offered some comfort to parents of those with HIV or who died from AIDS at the time. This is just one of the reasons for the pastoral letter.
It is true that “Always Our Children” was not warmly received by many Catholics in the U.S. It was too left-leaning for some; even though the bishops then made it clear that the letter was not breaking any new ground on sexual morality, chastity, and mature sexual development according to Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
The document was also too right-leaning for others; especially as the language used in the document regarding homosexuality seemed stilted and even offensive to many in the gay community. However, recall that the letter was “an outstretched hand of the bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family to parents and other family members.” And, for this reason alone, it was a start. It became an opening for more fruitful dialogue and civil discourse.
Twenty years later, the dialogue and discourse continues, but it isn’t always fruitful or civil. The unshaking ideologies of people from those without and within the LGBT community are daily blogged, tweeted, and Facebooked in ad hominem, yellow-journalistic, fake-news style where now the Mysteries of Christ and the Good News are lost and good people are directly or indirectly hurt. Such rhetoric has to stop! It is for this reason that, while the Church’s teachings and truths are still defined, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) wrote:
“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”
More recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, shared the same challenge for members within the LGBT community. In his book, Building a Bridge, Fr. Martin laid out the number of times LGBT members had spewed violent malice in speech. He argued that taking such a hurtful road is only “a perpetuation of a cycle of hatred.” Fr. Martin offered the alternative road: “Being respectful of people with whom you disagree is at the heart of the Christian way.”
Ad hominem attacks and lies about those with whom we disagree must always be avoided. As our Catechism states, “If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.” Civil discourse and fruitful dialogue cannot be forfeited by those who uphold the teachings of the Church and/or by those who struggle to incorporate our teachings within their personal lives.
The opposite of uttering falsehoods and deplorable verbal attacks is the Gospel of Truth. The Truth that begins with the Joyful Mystery of the Angel who spoke unto Mary. This Truth, the Son of God, became incarnate and now became Mary’s Son.
We read later that Mary pondered all of these things – the mysteries of Her Son – in her heart. And, like a good parent, she pondered these things as she accompanied her Son throughout his life; from the Joyful events of his childhood, throughout his mission to the sick, the sinners, and ultimately to the cross at Calvary. But, as we hear Jesus on the cross give Mary to the Beloved Disciple – the Church – we see that Mary accompanies us all. She stands by us all.
This is why, in our First Reading, we see Mary in the Upper Room with the apostles. And when the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, rushed upon Mary, he rushed upon her sons. Although many of these sons previously ran from the Lord and even denied Him, they were still her sons. Indeed, we will always be her sons and daughters, as well as brothers and sisters, of the Lord. There is no denying this.
And, to you parents, there is no denying your own sons and daughters, whatever their walk in life. You, like Mary, stand in the middle of your own domestic church and within the wider Church. This is your vocation. And for this, I thank you.
Like Mary, we stand with all members of the Church. With those who live in the heart of Christ, or in his bosom, and even in the peripheries. It is for this reason, the U.S. bishops 20 years ago, offered these final words in their pastoral letter, directing them specifically to our children:
“This message has been an outstretched hand to your parents and families inviting them to accept God’s grace present in their lives now and to trust in the unfailing mercy of Jesus our Lord. Now we stretch out our hands and invite you to do the same. We are called to become one body, one spirit in Christ. We need one another if we are to . . . grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
Though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt, or angry, do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.”
My brothers and sisters, these words offered by the U.S. bishops 20 years ago are my sentiments exactly. Be assured of my prayers for you. The Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries of Christ abide in you. With Mary, with all the Saints, with Pope Francis, Bishop McElroy, our priests, your parents and families, and all who love you, we will accompany you. And as we do, we will ponder the mysteries of Christ within you.