Yesterday our pastor, Father Mike, came to talk to the adult formation class. He was supposed to have a list of questions to answer, but he left it at home. So instead, he asked “Does anyone have anything they want to ask?”
One of the dads said “Sure” and opened up the can of gay marriage.
At which point, most people screwed themselves down into their seats. I know I did. When religious folk start talking about gay marriage, I listen fearfully, waiting for them to say the thing that means I have to get up and walk out, the thing that breaks tiny pieces off my heart.
Those pieces have names, children I have known and taught. Most of their faces blend down into one specific child, bullied into cutting precisely spaced lines up both his arms.
Three of those pieces belong to good friends, married almost as long as Shea and me, and their sweet son, who they had to fight to get baptized in a Catholic church. They are good moms, with a strong devotion to Mary, like most Catholic moms. They try to go to Mass every week, but sometimes the tension is too much.
Two pieces belong to distant cousins, together for almost fifteen years.
And two to the couple who have lived next door to my parents for over twenty.
Four to the family down the street, with their sweet and wonderful daughters.
One to a dear friend who is a fierce defender of our faith and also gay and drinks far too much to reconcile those two truths in his life.
So when people of God rail angrily against the dangers and threats of gay marriage, I want to hold these pieces of my heart up and say “But what about them? They are beloved children of God too. And we are hurting them in God’s name. We are turning them away. How can this be right?”
But it wasn’t like that yesterday. No fire and brimstone. No black and white. And best of all, no anger.
Father Mike explained the church’s position clearly, and the biblical basis for definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. He delineated between legal marriage and sacramental marriage. He revisited the church’s position on the sanctity of life and the way we are called to treat all people with love and kindness.
But then he said the thing that I have been waiting for a priest to say. I don’t remember his exact words but here’s the gist:
“This is a tough issue. And we have to struggle with it. It’s not enough to simply say one thing or the other. We have to engage it and pray over it and look to the Word of God.
Because we have these people in our lives who are good and we love them. So we have to understand that it’s messy.”
Shea and I stand apart from our church on homosexuality. We struggled with it. We prayed. We saw the people that God walked through our lives and we know that love does not come from evil. We contemplated leaving the church. We walked out of Mass when priests preached hellfire and brimstone and sanctioned bullying. We wrote letters to the bishop to complain.
We decided to stay.
We decided to choose love.
Love for our friends and family and their relationships. We witness and support their commitments, and share the struggles of marriage and parenting.
Love for anyone searching for who they are. I always tried to be a safe and soft place for my students to land when they were wrestling with life. Now we try to be safe and soft as a family.
Love for the goodness of the church, for our faith and traditions.
Love for the humility of Pope Francis and Father Mike who remind us that it’s messy.
I asked Father Mike yesterday if my friends would be welcome to sit in his church, as a family. To raise their son as a Catholic.
And he said yes. Because of the sanctity of life. Because we shouldn’t keep anyone from a relationship with God. Because Jesus called us to love.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I think Father Mike has the right idea.