My heart is broken. A dear friend named Tom (not my husband) died suddenly last week, and his loss makes me weep and cling to every memory I have of him.
What’s unusual about the depth of my grief is the fact that Tom was not a family member, a long-time friend, or a beloved neighbor. Tom was someone I met with seven times in a zoom faith sharing group. Faith sharing is a misleading title for what goes on when you gather with others to read and talk about faith and the Gospel. Yes, it brings the scriptures to life. Yes, your spiritual life blossoms listening to the insights of others.
But the kicker is that faith sharing turbocharges relationships. As one faith sharing friend explains it, you learn people from the inside out instead of from the outside in. In ordinary relationships, trust and vulnerability can take years to develop, if ever. They are natural outcomes in faith sharing relationships.
I met with Tom during a four-week Advent faith sharing group last fall. The members of this group live in different parts of the country, but we coalesced so well that we all signed on for zoom faith sharing together for the six weeks of Lent. I actually got to meet Tom in person in February when he staffed the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s booth for Catholic Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Persons at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California.
Last Thursday we gathered on zoom to pray and reflect about the readings for the third Sunday of Lent. The Gospel was the story of the woman at the well. Alone, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well and asks her for a drink of water. She responds to him, “how can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Then comes an aside from the Gospel writer, “for Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.”
The territorial and religious in-fighting that underscores this passage led us to talking about building bridges in today’s polarized world. Tom suggested that the initial step is to get both sides onto the bridge and not to worry about meeting in the middle.
This came out of his lived experience - his years of laboring in the field of LGBTQ+ ministry in the Catholic Church. Tom once said that he got more pushback from gay friends about being Catholic than he did from Catholics about being gay. Knowing how to finesse getting both sides onto the bridge was part of his successful ministry strategy.
We then talked about God’s mercy and how stingy we can be with our own. We asked ourselves: Where do I need to risk God’s mercy more in my own life and relationships?
Of the seven of us on the zoom call, not a single person responded that they needed to be more loving toward Putin, or the Church, or the neighbor with the barking dog. Each one of us shared something much closer to home. Each either shared that they were stingy with God’s mercy with their spouse or with themself. Tom shared that despite the amount of good he knew his ministry was doing, he still held onto a lingering doubt that at the end of his life, when he stood before God, God still might not accept him for who he is - a Catholic gay man.
The rest of us were aghast that this kind of doubt could still be living in the soul of such a magnanimous person. It reveals just how much negative cultural noise penetrates into our souls and psyches despite our best efforts to keep it at bay. Knowing him “from the inside out” as we did, we recognized a case of someone being stingy with God’s love for himself. A few hours after our faith sharing, Tom went out, played tennis, and then died of a heart attack.
Tom’s final comments to our faith sharing group will live in me for the rest of my life. I think he hit the nail on the head of what it means to be Catholic today. No matter how evolved, self-aware, faith-filled, mindful, woke, preceptive, enlightened, spiritual, open-minded or well-informed any of us claim to be, we cope with an insistent doubt that we are not quite enough in the eyes of God. We are stingy with God’s mercy towards ourselves.
The Christian life is about a relationship with God that transforms us into more compassionate beings. But many Catholics carry the scars of believing in a finger wagging God who is a law giver and judge with requirements that must be met, as opposed to a God of love and justice who is a a God of relationship and transformation.
Tom’s final comments were amazing grace - an examination of conscience of sorts that, just hours before his death, exposed to the light of day that small insistent doubt living inside him.
I would like to believe that in the turbocharged environment of that faith sharing community of believers, Tom was able to lay that doubt to rest moments before he met his loving maker.
If this blog has at all enticed you to consider starting a small faith sharing group of your own, Halleluiah! If you need help, contact me and I’d be happy to walk you through a few simple steps to get you started. email@example.com