Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas Message: Love, Period

And even as the dignitaries and elite class of the church often don’t seem to get it—the simple message to love, period—ordinary Christians often do so. My Christmas reflections on how the church engages gay persons would be incomplete if I didn’t mention a Christmas card that brought tears to Steve’s eyes and mine.

It’s from a cousin of Steve’s father. As readers of this blog will recall, Steve’s father died this summer. As the first Christmas his family will celebrate without him nears, we are thinking of him, and of all he meant to us.

My postings at the time of Steve’s father’s death noted that he was a simple, strong, patient, and loving man—a model for his parish. He said little. What he did counted. It was noticed by his parish.

With two gay sons, he had to grapple with the question of how to fit gay human beings into the scheme of human life and into the church. He once told us that, after learning Steve was gay, he spent a day in total silence, thinking, praying, working through his response.

He decided that though he did not understand and though he still respected the teaching of the church, he nonetheless loved. And nothing could stop him from loving. Nothing could force him to pass judgment on what he did not understand—on those he loved.

That was it, and typically, he stood by that decision from the time he made it up to his death. The question of whether he would love and welcome his gay sons was non-negotiable. Even when some of his own children understood the teaching of the church to require them to reject and exclude, he refused to do so.

We will miss John this Christmas. As will his cousin, who sent Steve a beautiful Christmas message about his father. Steve’s cousin is a simple, “ordinary” Catholic, a married man with a large family, a man who works with his hands. Unlike some of Steve’s siblings, he never fails to address his cards to Steve without a greeting to me. Like Steve’s father, his cousin is a man of few words, gentle, patient, unwilling to pass judgment on others.

Here’s what his Christmas card this year says,

The last time I really visited with your Dad was on the 22nd of Dec. 2007. Our parish had a supper with our new Bishop present, we ate together, John and I, and shared many different things about farming, cattle, etc. I know Christmas will be much different for your family, with your Dad not here. Please know I will always refer to your Dad as a “Great Man.”

There’s the church as it has to be, if it wants to be believed when it speaks of God’s universal love. There’s the Christmas message Benedict and his henchmen should be proclaiming, if they want people to understand the gospel. What a church we would be if those at the top listened to those at the bottom . . . .