I have said before and I will say it again, I love my church. It is on Washington University's campus in St. Louis, so it is about a 20 minute drive for me when I am home, but worth much more than that. It is Catholic, yes, but it is homilies like this one that give me chills and put my faith back in the Catholic church that has a reputation for being a bit boring.
Father Gary in this homily talks about good religion versus bad religion; something I have brought up here. One of the comments that Father Gary made at the beginning of the talk that hit home for me was this, "Healthy religion understands we need to listen lived experience of people across world especially those around us. If a religion can't be honestly criticized by its own and others, its not an honest religion and it will not be healthy." The Catholic church isn't ALL good. It has areas that can stand to be critiqued. We need to listen to its people and respond.
I can't help but think of one of my oldest friends Kelsey when listening to this homily. I have known Kelsey since Kindergarten, and have learned many lessons from her. The biggest one; making religion fit me, not trying to fit into religion.
Kelsey and I grew up in the Catholic church, going to a private Catholic school is how we met. While I still go to the Catholic mass, Kels has opted out, but has continued to deepen her relationship with Christ. For a period of time Kelsey, in a way, lost her faith. At least faith in the Catholic church. (Now Kelsey, if you're reading this, correct me if I'm wrong!) It was so difficult for me to see Kelsey lose faith in the Catholic church because I know she felt like she was being shamed. Why? Kelsey had the courage to admit she is gay during high school.
Unfortunately, I think the unhealthy part of religion got to Kelsey. Father Gary says in his homily that an unhealthy religion creates outsiders, and that's the truth. So many times a church seems to create rules and regulations for people to 'belong' but that isn't what Jesus wanted. That isn't what God wants. We hear, or observe so often, unhealthy churches preaching, "You don't sing the right way? You don't pray the right way? You don't name God the right way? You don't love like I love...you don't belong, sorry." But that just isn't right. The church, the Christian religion for that matter, should be about inclusion. It should be about love.
I got to stick around to see Kelsey change her faith yet again, and I am forever grateful to my God for doing so. She realized she can be gay and be loved. Loved by both her physical family and friends, and by her eternal Father. He's not going anywhere just because she is attracted to women. Why would He?
Father Gary made a beautiful point at the end of his homily. He said, "if we are a healthy religion, if any religion is healthy, it's deepening compassion. It's what it's for." I googled a definition of compassion and liked what I found. Wikipedia claims compassion to be "the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love..." Our religion isn't supposed to shame those that are different. It isn't supposed to create insiders and outsiders. It is supposed to be a "springboard into loving those who are other than us...which is the hallmark of a healthy religion" as Father Gary puts it.
I'm on that train. I'm all about loving people for who they are in the present. I'm all about making them feel a sense of inclusion, a feeling of being welcome. What grounds do I have to tell people that because they 'stray from the norm' that they can't practice my religion, they can't love my God? Who knows if I am the norm?
I urge you again to watch that video. I urge you to try and take into action what Father Gary talks about. Don't let your faith become toxic. Don't let your church make you feel ashamed.
(Love you Kels! Thanks for letting me talk about you!)