Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/Aleteia
It might as well have been a puff of white smoke, a test balloon of tolerance sent aloft for all to see, signaling a new choice, a new beginning, a new day.
The Vatican's preliminary document released from the first week of conversations among the Synod of Bishops called for a greater understanding of gay people. The headlines trumpeted as if they were the Hosts of Heaven, and a sense of peace and gratitude instantly warmed me. After millennia of aggression and disdain from the church, this new Pope Francis would include me and mine in his loving embrace, which we saw opening wider and wider the more we learned of his heart. We were welcome. At last.
But then, anger. Shame. No! Because these men say my existence might possibly, maybe be worthy of considering tolerating, that makes it so? Was I that weak in my own mind? Had all the years of claiming my identity, my power, my self been a total sham?
I am a Jew. I was not raised under the doctrine of the church, as so many brothers and sisters were, having to endure the constant lashing of prayers against their child selves. Why, then, would this reversal, this ray of possibility from someone else's house, stir anything in me, let alone these extremes of grace and fury?
I read the document, "Relatio post disceptationem."
And there it was. Fifty sections in, there it was, under the heading "Welcoming homosexual persons."
The answer to my question was a question, almost the first actual question in an exploration purporting to be about questions. "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?" Are we capable? Then another question: "Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" Are our communities capable?
The question that the stewards of Christendom were posing to themselves and their community about us, about gay people, was not are we worthy, but are they capable. This is a test of their own capacity as a faith and as a family and, in turn, of their own worthiness as children of God.
My heart opened to them, just as I had thought theirs had opened to me. How painful that must be to confront, and how brave, even to ask the question. Are we capable of allowing ourselves to face our past? Are we capable of confronting the divide between our hearts and our doctrine? Are we strong enough? Are we loving enough? Are we close enough to God?
And if they are asking, so must we. Once again, a question answers a question. Are we, the gay community, capable of allowing the church space to face itself, to grapple with the gap between its ideals and its realities? And just as they asked if they are capable of welcoming us without compromising their doctrine on the family and matrimony, so too must we ask if we are capable of allowing them this opportunity for reflection and growth without compromising our own strength and knowledge that we are not flawed beings and that we do not require their affirmation to affirm ourselves.
May we be capable. And so too may they. That is my prayer.