This Thursday, my mother, Beverley, and I will give a talk at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, “Always Consider the Person”: Homosexuality in the Family.
What are some ways that Catholic families can respond to a family member’s disclosure that they are same sex attracted, or the announcement that they are gay or lesbian? Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic who embraces and Church teaching, and his mother, Beverley Belgau, will share their own stories as a way of highlighting some of the challenges faced by same sex attracted Catholics and their families. They will also talk about how Catholics should respond with both grace and truth to gay or lesbian friends or family members who struggle with or reject Catholic teaching on chastity.
I’m both excited and nervous about the talk, as I expect you can probably imagine. Over the last few months, I’ve seen the usual negative internet comments from both sides. One of the beautiful things in the last week or so, as the press coverage has really heated up, has been how many old friends and strangers have reached out with encouragement and prayers. It is truly an important topic for the Church at this time in history, and I hope that my mom and I will be able to present the truth of the Church’s teaching with grace and love.
Regardless of whether you’re ecstatic that I was chosen to speak, or wish the organizers had picked someone else, I hope you’ll be able to join me in prayer that the event will reflect the heart of Christ and help the Church to be more faithful to Him in her ministry to gay people.
The title of the talk comes from Pope Francis’s America Magazine interview from September 30, 2013:
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better.
In the last few weeks, I’ve done a number of media interviews. I get asked a lot about various news stories concerning gay issues. But in my own preparation, my heart is drawn especially to those in the Church who suffer in silence—the seventeen-year-old kid who fears that obedience to the Church’s teaching means a life of loneliness; parents whose child has come out, who are afraid to talk about it with their friends in their parish; the older person who struggles to be faithful to the Church’s teaching on chastity but doesn’t know where to find support. I think especially of youth who have been thrown out by their families or have decided to escape a difficult home situation by running away. These are the ones who most need to be accompanied with mercy, the ones the Church must learn to fulfill her Lord’s calling to accompany with mercy.
In last Sunday’s readings, I was struck by these words from the Letter of James:
The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.
Debates about homosexuality can be very divisive. Conversations on both sides are often driven by anger. Pray that my mother and I will be able to speak about the Church’s call to righteousness in a way that will be gentle, peaceable, and able to be heard amidst the noise.
Pray, too, for Pope Francis and the other presenters. This is a big event—especially for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but for the American Church as a whole, as well. The truth and beauty of Catholic teaching on human sexuality has been neglected for several decades, and the speakers at the World Meeting of Families face a daunting task as we try to spark a renewal in that teaching in the American Church.
Even if we do not always see eye-to-eye on God’s plan for human love, I hope you can join me in praying that our hearts will be open to seeking God’s will, and showing His love and mercy to one another. Pray that the World Meeting will be permeated with the “wisdom from above.”
I will pray for all of you at the conference liturgies, and at the Papal Masses this weekend. May God bless and guide you all!