I had just gotten into my car after celebrating the monthly Holy Mass at a nearby nursing home. My phone was lit up. The first text I saw said, "Look up SCOTUS."
So, decision day was here. As social media exploded around me -- in chagrin, in outrage, in delight, in exultation, in triumph -- I quickly typed out the first of many Facebook commentaries for the day. Perhaps in another blog post I'll share these writing publicly. Perhaps not.
[At the end of the day I also noted that the overwhelming majority of my newsfeed was critical of the SCOTUS decision, reflecting the extent to which my online life is the echo chamber that we all solemnly recognize as being a Bad Thing. I know that some of my younger flock -- college kids on fire for the Lord and their faith -- were facing the anguish of being completely out of step with their peers, and one of my many incursions online today was to encourage them.]
A little while later I got a text from a seminarian friend, in a parish and a diocese that will remain unnamed. "I just got into an argument with a homosexual. So much for charity." I urged him to listen, and not argue. "Go apologize. Let him know that his clergy love him." I said a prayer for this interaction, and went about the rest of my affairs for the day.
A few hours later, another text message. "Well, after he spoke for an hour, and cried almost the whole time, there was a productive encounter." The details of the conversation are absolutely no one's business online, of course. That this conversation happened at all is both beautiful and providential. In all the discourse and verbiage that has been poured out this day, the news of this little encounter, this interaction, buoyed me, gave me hope. The Lord was at work!
I do think this is what our Holy Father urges us to all the time -- to accompaniment. Walking with the other. Listening.
We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives. (Evangelii Gaudium, 171)
One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow. (Evangelii Gaudium, 172)None of this of course means -- as so many both inside and outside the Church suggest -- that we ignore the truth of God's plan for human sexuality, for marriage, or the intrinsic sinfulness of all sexual activity outside marriage, including homosexual activity. [Inside the Church, this is the fruit of decades of a pastoral practice that has been an utter disaster, which is to say, a near complete lack of evangelization, of catechesis, as well as the poison of dissent and moral corruption. Indeed, as one of my priest friends pointed out, today's decision was made by an overwhelmingly Catholic Supreme Court!]
Although it sounds obvious, spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father. (Evangelii Gaudium, 170)If there is no concrete experience of love, of acceptance, of true spiritual accompaniment, in the Church -- where else will those who struggle with SSA, or identify as LGBT, go, but to the secular world that offers an embrace and acceptance? No one wants to live like a pariah, in shame, in hiding. [We should certainly understand this, as we fear that fate coming to us, to our institutions, as the juggernaut of social change now considers our carefully reasoned positions to be nothing but gussied up hate and bigotry, to be marginalized, eviscerated, and utterly demolished.]
How will anyone actually listen to what we have to say? How will they actually hear us as we lay out the beautiful vision of life in Christ? We cannot simply be content to shout the truth and then complacently tell each other that they just won't listen, so clearly their hearts are hardened and they have rejected God. I don't think we can let ourselves off the hook that easily. That is not the proclamation of the Good News at all.
If we have experienced great mercy, then we must also show that to others. The Lord Himself says that (Mt. 18:21-35). In a discourse I come back to frequently, from back in 2001, in a meeting with the lay movement Communion & Liberation, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said:
We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered–forgive me the use of this word–by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. ... however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.We must bear this mercy of the Lord, this call to repentance and to true life in Christ, fearlessly, and lovingly, to a wounded world. It is only out of this encounter that a true conversion, a turning of life, is born.
May there be many more such conversations, and encounters, in our parishes, in this Jubilee of Mercy ahead.
May this day not be one of sadness, for the victory is the Lord's, but one of a commitment to a renewed effort at sharing the joy of the Gospel, of human life lived fully and truly, in Christ. Let us always turn to Our Lady, always trusting in her promise, that Her Immaculate Heart will, indeed, triumph.
Courageous people who have embraced the Lord, and His Church.
The Courage Apostolate
The Desire of the Everlasting Hills