A Letter to the Couple at Mass

05/15/2015 04:35 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

To the Married Couple at Mass:

I saw you enter the Sunday morning service recently at a Manhattan parish. You were a few moments late and sat down as the congregation began to sing the Gloria. I watched carefully and wondered if you were real. Had a married gay couple really come to worship at a Roman Catholic Church? I would not have been so surprised if we had been at an Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Universalist service. Many of these churches have supported LGBT relationships for several years. The Catholic Church is another story, though.

After watching you for a while, I could tell that you were married because of your matching rings and the way you sat close side by side. You were just like any other young couple in the congregation. You were not self-conscious and you were not making a political statement. You were just being you. At Mass.

I imagine that it was not easy to be at Mass together. Church life for LGBT Catholics can be an incredible challenge. When you were younger and coming to terms with being LGBT, you probably read the church's catechism, which characterizes gay sexuality as "objectively disordered" and gay sex as an act "of great depravity." When you experienced your first romance, you probably knew that the Church would not see any of the good that came from it. When you got married, it was not in a Roman Catholic Church, because the institution does not believe that same-sex marriage is a real possibility. Throughout your lives, you must have seen how much social, spiritual, and political capital the Catholic hierarchy has squandered opposing LGBT progress. Our own Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose annual financial appeal was announced again on the Sunday I saw you, has been on the front lines of the culture wars against LGBT people for years. If you listened to some of the Catholic rhetoric on LGBT rights, you may heard that your marriage is a threat to humanity and civilization as we know it.

Because of all this, it must have required a lot of courage for you to show up at church alongside the one you love. The act of worshiping together in your community of faith, which for most other couples is simple and routine, is neither simple nor routine for you. Still, though the church may have done much to hurt you and make you feel unwelcome, you came.

Your presence did not go unnoticed. Many other parishioners saw your public relationship on Sunday, and many will see you in the future when you come again. Your love for each other is a prophetic sign before God and the world. Through your lives together you show that your love is the same as any other love that becomes concrete in self-sacrificing and life-giving relationship. This is the same love that Jesus Christ embodied when he entered the world and offered himself as the total and world-changing self-gift of God. This is the love that we celebrate at Mass.

Your witness to love is key to transforming our church into a community that welcomes all people and recognizes God's work in all loving relationships. Last Sunday, you showed our parish that you were ok being gay, married, and Catholic. Your participation in worship showed that your conscience is clean before God. Your comfort with each other and other believers was a sign that you, with all LGBT believers, are an integral part of the body of Christ. It was good for the church that you came to Mass. Your participation and presence were transformative.

The Catholic Church is an institution that changes slowly--often agonizingly so. The church's timeline stretches across millenia, and its responses to social changes are frequently measured by decades, or even centuries. In the meantime, lives rapidly pass by and suffer from the tradition's intransigence. Today, LGBT Catholics lose their faith and are forgotten by the pastors charged with their care. Marriages are devalued by an institution embedded in modes of thought from centuries past. The gifts that LGBT couples bring to the church go unrecognized. LGBT believers suffer because church leadership refuses to acknowledge, or even dialogue with, the signs of the times.

In spite of the spiritual harm that parts of the Catholic Church commit against LGBT believers, there are signs of hope. LGBT Catholics continue to attend and be involved in local parishes. These believers live out true Catholic faith, which Hebrews 11:1 describes as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The church is broken, but LGBT Catholics have faith that God is working to fix it. The presence of LGBT Catholics in parishes testifies to God's grace working to bring the church to conversion. God never gives up on sinners, or sinful religious communities. As more and more LGBT Catholics are public about their sexual orientation and Catholic faith, the church realizes that LGBT individuals are a gift, rather than a threat, to the body of faith.

In local parishes, more and more priests and ministers are moved by God to reach out to the LGBT community. In New York City, nearly a dozen LGBT friendly parishes and ministries work to heal the hurt caused by the church in the past. Pope Francis, perhaps more than anyone else, has advocated for pastoral work that reaches out to heal those who are spiritually wounded. He has called for a church that acts as a "field hospital after battle" by going outside itself to meet people where they are at and learning from the ways that is has failed to act as an agent of healing in the past.

In conclusion, I want to thank you both on behalf of all LGBT Catholics. Thank you for your witness to same-sex love. Thank you for coming to church and being you. Thank you for looking beyond the pain you have experienced and becoming a source of healing. Your love for each other and other believers is a share in the love of God, which, in the words of 1 Corinthians 13:7, "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." This love is not passive, but works to change the world for the better. Your love, with God's love, is transformative for the church. Please keep your love coming.


An LGBT Catholic