Thursday, December 1, 2011

Matthew Shepard's Birthday and World AIDS Day: In Remembrance

Today Matthew Shepard would be 35 years old.  Except that he died 13 years ago when Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson tortured and murdered him, and left him to die hanging on a fence.  Because he was gay.  He was 5'2" and weighed little more than 100 pounds when McKinney and Henderson beat him to a bloody pulp.

The video at the top of the posting is Dutch band A Balladeer's "Poster Child" commemoration of Matthew.  It fits, somehow, that World AIDS Day falls on Matthew Shepard's birthday.  A young man whose life was snuffed out by hatred before his time: he deserves to be remembered.  His parents deserve to know that his brief life made a profound difference--as have the lives of every one of the multitudes of people who have now died from AIDS.

Steve and I talked today to a friend who has been living with AIDS for years now.  He tells us he read a meditation piece at our local commemoration of World AIDS Day.  At the commemoration, he saw another friend of ours whose only son died of AIDS as the epidemic got underway.  Our friend tells us this friend found today's service painful.  It opens a wound that has never entirely healed inside her--the loss of an only child, before that son had had time to live much of his life.

I'm thinking of all of this today in light of the response of some religious groups to those who are gay, to those who are living with AIDS.  Early today, I landed on a Catholic blog site, the Catholic Caveman site, due to a link a friend emailed to me.  Since the link showed me that this group of Catholic male bloggers (not one of whom appears to have the guts to reveal his identity as he blogs) use the word "faggot" casually and defiantly to refer to their gay brothers, I thought I'd use the site's search engine to search for that word throughout the postings on this Catholic blog.  I was sickened by what I read, as you may also be if you click on the link I've just given you.

And I wonder what these Catholic gentlemen would ever do or ever say if they had the chance to meet Dennis and Judy Shepard.  Would they tell them that their son was a dirty faggot who deserved what he got?  Would they tell that to my friend who lost her only son, as well, to AIDS?

How does a group of Catholic men run a blog that features a picture of a priest saying Mass under its header, which has the inscription Ora pro nobis at the top of its page, followed by an image of the Blessed Mother, and which then has a row of saints' pictures beneath the Marian image: how, I ask, does a group of Catholic men run a blog with these features, and then write, casually and hatefully, over and over on their Catholic blog site, "faggot," "faggot," "faggot"?

Does it ever occur to these Catholic men, I wonder, that the Blessed Mother to whom they invite us to pray lost her only son, too?  That she had to stand by powerless and watch as those who murdered her son hurled ugly taunts in his face while he hung, as Matthew Shepard hung on a fence alone in Wyoming, on the cross?

Correggio, "Sorrowful Mother," Church of Holy Sepulchre
Where are those Catholic cavemen when the gospel account of Jesus's passion is read, I wonder?  Are they standing with Mary and weeping at what unbridled hatred can do to people who don't deserve torture, humiliation, crucifixion, being beaten to a pulp and hung to die on a fence?  

Or are they among the men doing the taunting as the victim dies on the cross or the fence?

After having read the passages on the Catholic Caveman blog site that I discovered when I searched the site for one word alone--the word "faggot"--I'm pretty clear about the answer to that question.  

The world deserves something better from followers of Jesus and Mary than what some Christians seem intent to offer it.  May the memory of Matthew Shepard and of the many lives we've lost to the HIV virus, and may the courage and compassion of Matthew Shepard's parents, continue to open doors to healing and love in the world in which we live.

Where those doors are opening in the world is where we can find Jesus still alive in our midst, I'm convinced.

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