Last week I had one of those eye rolling, “oh-brother” kind of conversations with my daughter. She had just returned from a funeral held for a long-troubled friend who had died in his early forties after years of alcohol abuse. The deceased was the husband of one of her dear college friends, also a man. The widower, too shaken to think in terms of a service, had left the funeral planning to the deceased’s estranged Irish Catholic mother, who had never been able to come to terms with her son’s homosexuality.
The service was officiated by an aging Catholic priest who never once mentioned the widower, and who called the deceased by the wrong name. He pulled out all the formulaic, tried-and-true prayers for the occasion. There was nothing personal, nothing pastoral about the experience.
On a philosophical level, I was discouraged by this story. On a maternal level, I wanted to throw something across the room. What a fumbled opportunity. What could so easily have been an experience of the Church’s ability to reconcile and heal, ended up being just one more reason for a whole group of friends to write it off. One more nail in the coffin of reasons not to belong to a religion.
I was still stewing over this funeral debacle, when I got the news today that Pope Francis had issued a declaration allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, his most definitive step yet to make the Church more welcoming to LGBTQ+ Catholics.
It reflects the Pope’s vision of a more pastoral and less rigid Church. Granted, there are rules to this declaration, which does not change the Church’s doctrine about marriage, but I’ll take it! When you think of the world-wide ramifications of this declaration, this is a very courageous step forward. Catholicism is a big tent. Wrangling the Western Church, the African Church, the Eastern Church, and the South American Church, with all their own vagaries, into accepting a declaration as controversial as this one, boggles the mind.
This is not the first time in my life that, just as I’m about ready to throw in the religion towel and become a spiritual recluse, the intuitional Church does something that astounds me and makes me once more remember why I remain a card-carrying Catholic. It also takes me back to this scripture:
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish,
but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pt 3:8-9
Spirit works outside of time. We are called to work for justice and at the same time to faithfulness. The two do not always seem to work in tandem.
Today, they did.