She Loved Prophetically

 

Here is one of those strange confluences in the spiritual life: Last night, I read that Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), died at the age of 92. In 1972, after her son was beaten at a gay demonstration and the police failed to intervene, she wrote a letter to the New York Post saying, "I have a homosexual son and I love him." Imagine the courage that must have taken in 1972. 

No matter what you think about the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, no matter what religion you are, no matter what political party you favor, I hope that you say a prayer for Mrs. Manford. For she loved prophetically. That is, she publicly expressed her love for a group of marginalized people before it was safe to do so. That kind of love might remind you of another person who worked in and around Galilee, publicly loving all sorts of people--lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, Roman centurions--when it was not safe to do so, at all. 

When I read about Mrs. Manford's death (I hadn't known about her story at all until last night) I thought of yesterday's first reading, from the First Letter of St. John, which begins this way: "Beloved let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love."

There is a lot of talk about gays and lesbians these days. But in every thing we say and do, particularly for Christians, love must come first. And not the love that condemns first, or judges first, or labels first. But the love that loves first. Because God is love. 

It is all the more important that Catholics lead with love precisely because we belong to a church that adheres to traditional teachings about sexuality and marriage. No one can ever mistake a respect for church teaching for a lack of charity toward our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens and, just as unfortunately, sometimes we are the cause of that. That's why it's so important to remember Mrs. Manford's message--and Jesus'.

Fifteen years after Mrs. Manford's prophetic act of love, the US Catholic Bishops published their pastoral letter "Always Our Children," addressed to parents of homosexual children. "Love, too," wrote the bishops, "is the continuing story of every family's life. Love can be shared, nurtured, rejected, and sometimes lost. To follow Christ's way of love is the challenge before every family today. Your family now has an added opportunity to share love and to accept love. Our church communities are likewise called to an exemplary standard of love and justice." 

May Jeanne Manford rest in peace, and may we always love prophetically, recklessly, prodigally, dangerously, eternally.

Chris Sullivan
4 years 3 months ago
I am very grateful and inspired by May Jeanne Manford's witness and I thank Fr Jim for sharing it with us and to him and all those who have followed in May Manford's example of showing genuine love, even when it costs. God Bless
Bruce Snowden
4 years 3 months ago
If it’s true that, “the measure of love is to love without measure,” then I’d say Mrs. Jeanne Manford did it in how she loved her homosexual son, doing so without measurement, I mean without moral judgmental determinations. She was his Mom and he was her boy and she allowed love to rule, as “another person who worked in Galilee” would do, as Jesuit priest James Martin indicated. Jeanne showed that, as Scripture says, “Love conquers all” fulfilling the fundamental mandate of Christ to “grow in love.” For those of us who cross over to the other side lacking full growth in love, there’s Purgatory, where not in length, but rather in intensity, love reaches maturity making “that which is and that which is to come” Resurrection, a reality. I’d venture to say that Jeanne Manford is already there, seeing up front and close the wonders God has prepared for those who love him, marvels that at present we barely understand, seeing only dimly in the dark light of Faith.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis listens to a question from Vera Shcherbakova of the Itar-Tass news agency while talking with journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The situation in North Korea, he added, has been heated for a long time, "but now it seems it has heated up too much, no?"
Gerard O'ConnellApril 29, 2017
Pope Francis greets children dressed as pharaohs and in traditional dress as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo April 29. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
Francis took the risk, trusting in God. His decision transmitted a message of hope on the political front to all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims alike, who are well aware that their country is today a target for ISIS terrorists and is engaged in a battle against terrorism.
Gerard O'ConnellApril 29, 2017
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo April 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The only kind of fanaticism that is acceptable to God is being fanatical about loving and helping others, Pope Francis said on his final day in Egypt.
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists in the Oval Office at the White House on March 24 after the American Health Care Act was pulled before a vote. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)
Predictably Mr. Trump has also clashed with the Catholic Church and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on many of the policies he has promoted during his first 100 days.
Kevin ClarkeApril 28, 2017