P04-12-14_18.09Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!

Exult, all creation around God’s throne!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Sound the trumpet of salvation!

In high school, we took a theology class called “Jesus of History, Christ of Faith.” Early in the semester, we had to write a paragraph about who we thought Jesus was and what we thought he came to do.

I wrote a few sentences. It was something standard, boilerplate. Jesus was sent by the Father. He saved us from our sins by his blood. He won our place in heaven for us.

I finished the exercise. I passed it up to the front of the row. As I did, I remember thinking ever so briefly: “Wait. Do I even know what any of this actually means? Why did it feel so dull and flat when I wrote it?” Continue reading

“Cold-blooded mercy”

LentGraphicI recently attended Wednesday Lenten vespers at my dad’s church. Dad is not Catholic. He belongs to a conservative Lutheran denomination. I go with him sometimes.

Part of it is about attachment to my heritage. My family has been active in that church for well over a hundred years. Back then, Dad’s grandparents and great-grandparents were relatively fresh arrivals from Germany. The congregation still rented a room adjoining a tavern. They would request that beery patrons hush during services.

Part of my attachment is also aesthetic. I appreciate the arresting beauty of the old building: the wooden altarpiece with its elaborate spires; the stained glass windows, dating from around World War II, that display ships, shields, swords, and emblems of the four evangelists; the paintings of Jesus knocking on a door, of an angel whooshing down from Bethlehem’s inky night sky; the Corinthian columns touched up with gold leaf.

And part of it is about deliberate immersion. From time to time, I seek to be around worshipers who are not like me. While the visual environment and liturgy at Dad’s church are almost Catholic, my fluid, humanistic Catholicism is unorthodox and dangerous in that space.

There, to a degree I have never heard preached in any Catholic setting, you are a sinner. Grace does not build on nature. Grace replaces nature. In Adam, all stand condemned. You are hell-bound unless you believe in Jesus’ sacrifice. “We are not good,” one of the pastors once said, “any of us.”

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Are “Homosexual Acts” Sinful?

In humble prayer, I approach this blog post despite my own fears. But in trust and obedience to God, my love, here it goes.

Homosexual sex can be a sin, but so can heterosexual sex. Neither is inherently sinful. Sin does not come from our actions but in our intentions behind our actions. Allow me to explain through experience:


Much to my surprise, I fell in love my best friend, a fellow woman. When I told her with wet red eyes, she responded with true friendship. “Rach, I thought you were going to tell me someone had died or something! You don’t have to be worry about me. This doesn’t change how I feel about you, honest to God. You have taught me so much about friendship this year. I’m not going anywhere.”

Although she said she could not reciprocate love for me in the form of physical intimacy, I did not love her any less. What wondrous new love this was for me—something truly unconditional. I thought, “This is the healthiest love I’ve ever felt.” But before the thought had a chance to settle, I grabbed it and tried to smother it. I lay awake for hours that night, disgusted that I could call these feelings healthy. I was confused at my disgust because I always supported the LGBT community. If it wasn’t wrong for them, why did I think it was wrong for me?

The next morning, I remember stepping in the shower and thinking, “God, it would be so much easier if I were just dead and did not have to deal with these feelings.” God scolded me with hot water and slapped it in my face. He washed me, purified me, and quenched my thirst. When I turned off the shower, the noise of my mind was silenced and all was quiet. I stepped out of the tub and vowed never to turn back to that place.

I allowed myself explore why I thought this love was healthy. I processed it they best way I knew how—writing. I wrote this:

“In the past, my physical attractions to men have been greedy and lustful. It was not about love. Now, I see it less as something that I want to receive and more of something I want to give… I want to show her that I trust her with all of myself, the good and the bad, the physical and the spiritual, the past and the future.”

I could not define that kind of love as sin. The devil does not have dominion over love. The devil was tempting me with suicide, not sexual attraction.

About a month after I told my best friend I had feelings for her, God sent me to a Bible Camp for a week of scripture reading with other college students. It certainly was not my idea. I thought I was far too fragile to be trapped in a room with Evangelical Christians reading the Bible that I they used to condemn me. But I trusted God to take care of me.

We read through the first half of the Gospel of Mark. Homosexuality was never specifically mentioned in the scripture. Instead of condemnation, I found a lot of affirmation. As Christ said,

“Whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer… It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7: 15-20).

Jesus went on to list things that defile including fornication and adultery. I sat by a creek to process this passage. What was God saying about sex? As I watched the water, noticed its clarity. As I listened to it dance, I realized that God was saying that what makes sexual acts sinful is the evil intentions behind them. The acts are actually made clean by God and beautiful as this water, but we make them murky by bringing our dirty intentions to it.

Although I never physically acted on my attraction to my friend, I could not say that act would have been inherently sinful. It could be sinful if I touched her without her consent or tried to pressure her into becoming physical. Even if she did consent it could become sinful if we used each other for selfish gain. But just as God blesses a married husband and wife when they honor each other through sex, he blesses a committed same-sex relationship when they honor each other through sex.   

Sex can be sinful if it comes from a place of lust. Love that is unconditional, selfless and pure is not sinful. May Christians recognize that same-sex relationships are not any different than opposite-sex relationships; they both face the same temptation for evil and potential for good.


For more posts like this, please read my blog “Christian Bidentity” about my experience as a bisexual Catholic woman.

The Baptism of the Lord: “Different”

Sunday was the observance of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, by John. Liturgically, it makes Jesus a grown-up after about two easy weeks and then closes the Christmas season. This year, it also provided a homily that I am hereby stealing and sharing with you.

Saturday night, my pastor told us: many moons ago, he was on staff at the Chicago archdiocesan seminary, Mundelein-St. Mary of the Lake. He used to lead the seminarians on their ten-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was good for him, because he got out of the buildings here at home to go breathe where Jesus did.

A highlight of each pilgrimage was the Jordan River. Father and the seminarians would dress in white baptismal robes. They got into the river and lowered themselves beneath the surface, until the water came all the way over their heads. They emerged and renewed their baptismal promises. Do you reject…? Do you believe…?

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The Virgin Mary, or, Awkward Conversations After Mass

Last night, besides New Year’s Eve, was also the vigil of Mary, Mother of God. Mass was over, as was our rousing piano-accompanied recessional of “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above.” I was dropping my missal in the rack, preparing to give myself a glancing blow with the holy water and depart via the side door.

An elderly woman stopped me. She is the one who invariably sits three or four rows ahead of me–while Catholics no longer rent pews, it seems we surely do own them–and who always insists on a bear hug, even though I barely know her name and she thinks mine is Jeff.

“Can I ask you a question?” she said. “Maybe you know and maybe you don’t.” I said shoot.

Seeing as it was a feast of Mary, and seeing also as she’d only been Catholic for a year and maybe didn’t know these things, and further seeing as how the church teaches Mary is a perpetual virgin–correct? Yes, I nodded, that’s the official teaching–she wanted to know why Jesus has siblings.

Her face was very intent and very concerned.

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The mouthpieces of God

Chicago. Brown Line. Clark and Lake, City Hall and the County Building. A man gets on my train. With a roar, he begins to preach.

He tells us he was perverse and sinful but Jesus saved him from the world. He tells us the devil is everywhere. He tells us to stop our lying and our fornicating. He suddenly departs one stop later, mid-sentence, at Merchandise Mart.

When I later broadcast the encounter on Facebook, one of my friends chimed in: “Wow! The American Prophet!” I have to admit I’m really hoping not.

But the phrase stuck. And the phrase, along with the image, came back to me when I heard last Sunday’s first reading:

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I call you friends

“Dear Ellacu: For years, I’ve thought about what I’d be saying at the Mass of your martyrdom. I’ve had the same feeling as I had about Archbishop Romero. His martyrdom was inevitable, too, and yet I never wanted to admit to myself that it would finally come. But your death was so likely that it was simply impossible for me to get the idea out of my head.” –A Letter to Ignacio Ellacuria (1990) by Jon Sobrino, S.J.

“Friendship saves. Friendship liberates.” –Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P.

Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, aged seventy-four, is not someone you immediately notice when he walks into a room. On Monday, the slight, gray-headed man in the unseasonable blue sweater tentatively crept through our classroom door. He almost whispered his “hi,” adding offhandedly that “my name is Jon.” It took me several seconds before I got it.

Sobrino is at Boston College to teach his summer course on “The Crucified People.” He warned us that his health was bad. He might get exhausted and have to leave early some days. It’s already happened a couple times. He sits at his desk, speaking softly and simply, but very intensely, while reflecting theologically on the 20th century martyrs of Latin America. To a great extent, he had to invent that theological reflection. No one before him had done it.

He keeps asking us if we understand what he is saying. We do. Sometimes he feels he does not have the right English words. So he speaks in Spanish to his co-teacher, Barry University theologian James Nickoloff, who translates for him. The first morning, someone brought Sobrino a styrofoam cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Sobrino, a Salvadoran Jesuit whose lifestyle steers clear of many consumer conveniences, looked mystified as he tried to locate the tab on a rather elaborate lid.

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