She Loved Prophetically

Jeanne Manford holds a photo of her son.

 

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. 

Advertisement

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Chris Sullivan
5 years 4 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
5 years 4 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.

Advertisement

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

A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.