Father James Martin: Lessons for all Catholics from six L.G.B.T. parables

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Since the first edition of my book Building a Bridge, about L.G.B.T. Catholics, was published last June, I have been privileged to speak at many parishes, colleges, retreat houses and conferences. At each venue, L.G.B.T. people and their families and friends have shared their experiences with me. Some were so powerful that they have become almost like parables for me. In the revised and expanded edition of the book, published this month, I share six of these stories.

In his now-famous definition, the biblical scholar C. H. Dodd said that a parable was a story designed to “tease the mind into active thought.” Stories have the capacity to open our minds in a way definitions cannot. This is one reason Jesus used parables extensively in his public ministry, as a way of inviting his listeners to see life from a new perspective.

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I hope these few stories about L.G.B.T. Catholics tease your mind into active thought.

Stories have the capacity to open our minds in a way definitions cannot.

1. One of my oldest friends is a gay man named Mark, who was once a member of a Catholic religious order. About 20 years ago, after Mark left the order, he came out as a gay man and began living with his partner, with whom he is now legally married. His partner has a serious, long-term illness, and Mark has cared for him for many years with great devotion and loving-kindness.

What can we learn from Mark about love?

2. An elderly man told me that his grandson recently came out to him as a gay man. I asked what he had said in response. He said that he had suspected for some time that his grandson was gay, and so when his grandson sat down to tell him, before a word was even on the young man’s lips, the grandfather said, “I love you no matter what you’re about to say.”

What can we learn from this grandfather about compassion?

3. After a talk I gave at a Catholic college in Philadelphia, a young man told me that the first person to whom he came out as a gay man was a Catholic priest. During a high school retreat, he decided to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, but he was so nervous that he was “literally shaking.” The first thing the priest said to him was “Jesus loves you. And your church accepts you.” The young man told me, “It saved my life.”

What can we learn from this priest about acceptance?

“I have a grandchild who is transgender, and I love her so much. All I want is for her to feel welcome in the church.”

4. A woman in her 80s, with snowy white hair and apple cheeks, came to my book-signing table after a talk I had given in Connecticut and said, “Father, I have something to tell you.” The focus of the talk had been on Jesus, not on L.G.B.T. issues specifically. I thought she might share an insight about Jesus or tell me that she had been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Instead she said, “Father, I have a grandchild who is transgender, and I love her so much. All I want is for her to feel welcome in the church.”

What can we learn from this grandmother about faith?

5. At a parish in Boston, a gay man and a lesbian woman were invited to respond to my lecture on L.G.B.T. Catholics, in the spirit of fostering a real conversation. In her response, the lesbian woman, named Maggie, chose to discuss a reflection question that appears at the end of my book: “When you think about your sexual orientation or gender identity, what word do you use?” My intention was to invite readers to reflect on biblical passages about names and naming and encourage them to “name” their sexuality.

So I had expected words like “gay,” “lesbian” and “bisexual.” But that night in the parish, Maggie said that when she read that question and thought of her sexuality, she thought of the word “joy.” It was such a surprise!

What can we learn from Maggie about sexuality?

What can we learn from these stories? What does God want to teach us?

6. And perhaps the biggest surprise: On that same evening in Boston, a couple stayed afterward to have their book signed. One was a transgender woman—that is, a woman who had begun her life as a man. The other was a cisgender woman—that is, someone born a woman who is still a woman. (I have tried to be mindful of contemporary terminology, though I recognize that these terms get dated quickly.)

The cisgender woman told me that the two had been married for many years, which confused me, since same-sex marriage had not been legal for that long in Massachusetts. She sensed my confusion, smiled and said, “I married her when she was still a man.”

I was reduced to stunned silence. Here was an apparently straight woman who had married a straight man who was now a woman. How had she done it? “Love is love,” she said.

Here is a marriage that almost every church official would probably consider “irregular,” to use the official ecclesiastical term. Yet it was a model of faithfulness. Even after one partner had “transitioned,” the marriage was still intact.

What can we learn from them about fidelity?

Overall, what can we learn from these stories? Where are we invited to see life in a new way? What does God want to teach us?

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Anne Danielson
4 months 2 weeks ago

Dear Father Martin,

First and foremost, God did not Create human persons according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, for to do so would sexually objectify the human person, and deny their inherent Dignity as a beloved son or daughter, Created in The Image and Likeness of God, while denying God's Own Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery.
It is not Loving or Merciful to misrepresent our Catholic Faith by denying the Sanctity of being a beloved son or daughter from the moment of conception, and the Sanctity of the marital act, which is a rightly ordered sexual inclination within Holy Matrimony. Please consider addressing the issues represented in these human stories in The Light of our Catholic Faith.

Kester Ratcliff
4 months 1 week ago

>rightly ordered

Do you know where that idea of 'rightly ordered', or ordered according to its purposeful cause (telos) (that's a clue!), comes from? You're just arguing from the assumption that you wish to prove, i.e. it's circular, it proves nothing. If you read Aquinas interpreting his contemporaries' Christian ethics combined with Aristotelian ethics, what makes you accept the assumption that one act (notice implicitly how an 'act' is defined, too) can only have one purposeful cause (telos), and thus any other functions of that (structurally defined) act become 'disordered' and morally illicit? Can you think of any reason why Aristotle's concept of purposeful cause should be accepted? And generally have you thought or made a reasonable effort to think about what you're actually saying before imposing your judgements on other people?

Anne Danielson
4 months 2 weeks ago

"[4] Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: [5] For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh."

this cause (singular, proximate, demonstrative)

Richard Bell
4 months 2 weeks ago

The "cause" is not the difference in sexes of the couple. Context makes plain that the sexual difference is irrelevant.
Jesus had been asked about the lawfulness of divorce. In answer, Jesus gently chided the Pharisees for failing to find their answer in Scripture, then he said that the marital union is, as it has always been, a perfect partnership – a partnership so perfect that it is like becoming one flesh. Jesus implied that this union is God’s blessing, as it is not the kind of thing that could be achieved by man. Therefore, union in marriage is not to be put asunder by man. The nature of marriage shows that it is made by God; therefore, destruction of a marriage by divorce, an act of man, is rebellion, prohibited. Jesus neither declared nor implied anything about the qualifications for marriage.
What of Jesus’ explicit reference to the male and female? Jesus referred to creation of a man and a woman and to their union – the union of the man and the woman. Jesus had in mind a story in Scripture describing just that. But Jesus was driving to a conclusion about the nature of the union, not the sexual identities of the parties eligible for the union. Their different sexes are part of the story that Jesus referred to. Jesus’ repetition of that part of the story was his very natural way of directing the Pharisees’ attention to it. But different sexes of the couple is not a necessary feature of the story as Jesus used it. The only necessary feature of the story as Jesus used it is the couple’s suitability for a perfect partnership – a partnership so perfect that it may be likened to a physical merger.

Eternal Life
4 months 2 weeks ago

Read your post again and again.

Phil Jackson
4 months 2 weeks ago

It’s interesting how we find ourselves using Jesus’ parables to make their meaning any way a person wishes to make them fit their own personal narrative they’d like to promote. It’s as if a parable’s meaning 50-60 years ago is now evolving into what the social mores have evolved into years later. Yes, one is offered the flexibility of applying an explanation of Jesus’ parable but ultimately it’s meaning should remain the same. I have grown to become accepting those not of the heterosexual sexual nature; however, one must hold fast the institution of the true state of marriage of one man and one woman. After all, the perversion we see today only may follow a path which might find ourselves the “sky’s the limit”. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah anyone?

Andrew Wolfe
4 months 2 weeks ago

Such wordsmithing about "sexual identity" is absolutely weightless. Do you think these arguments are new? Do you think they have not been repeatedly refuted from the Apostle Paul through the CCC? Our faith is incarnate and the sexual identity God gives each of us is a gift both physical and spiritual. It is inconceivably self-contradictory to disincarnate human sexuality in order to excuse the carnal nature of same-sex sexual activity.

Christopher Lochner
4 months 2 weeks ago

"James Martin, S.J.: Why we should welcome people from the countries Trump just insulted." This is why I reject Fr. Martin. His concept of Christian love is almost solely political and self serving. Father would require a form of litmus test prior to dispensing of this love. This is not at all Christian but, hey, didn't he get an award? Yes, love those who present you with an award as a sign of Christian love. What malarkey. ( I cannot use the language he so well deserves) Have you no shame at all, Fr. Martin??

Dawnie Jens
4 months 2 weeks ago

no - none = zero - priest is no avenger of LGBTQ - he capitalizes on them = they are nothing more than "fodder" and a means to notoriety and $$$$$$

Phil Jackson
4 months 2 weeks ago

Interesting take which I’m inclined to agree

Jack Feehily
4 months 2 weeks ago

I only know James Martin from his public appearances and articles published in America. I like a lot of what he says, but I was very disappointed at the simplistic stories and questions posed in this article. They are thought provoking, but leave altogether too much unaddressed. I have no problem finding ways to love individuals whose behaviors sets them apart from traditional moral categories. But this is not the same as providing a cogent rationale for being able to include gay married couples and transgendered individuals as full and active members of the faith community. Do I welcome them in the parish I serve? On the rare occasions that such individuals identify themselves openly, yes. Will I ask them to serve as readers and communion ministers, probably not. Will I agonize over telling them why that is so? Yes.

Kevin Murphy
4 months 2 weeks ago

Unbelievable. Love is love? There goes the Church's teaching on sexuality. I like the line at the end that says "What does God want to teach us?" God wrote these "parables?" Father M exalts himself - again.

Tim Donovan
4 months 2 weeks ago

As a gay who who was often taunted growing up as being a sissy or more painfully, a faggot, I can understand Father Martin's desire to show that people who aren't heterosexual can be loving and very supportive of those they have relationships with. This includes family, friends, and sexual partners. Please excuse me from using this offensive word. I realize that for black people, being called a nigger is especially offensive, perhaps more so than gay men being called faggots. I suspect that a person's reaction to being called by a slur term is based on the individual. At one point in my life at age 32 (even after I revealed my sexual orientation to my family, co-workers, and friends) I was still so depressed that I attempted suicide. Now I'm 56, and although I still struggle with my orientation, I am generally at peace with being gay. This, despite having given into temptation and some years ago having had sex with men. However, I did regret my behavior, and did receive forgiveness and consolation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a compassionate priest. I have lived in a generally good nursing home since late 2015. I haven't told anyone that I'm gay, even friends/fellow residents, as I fear that some of the older residents may be very unkind to me (although I do get along well, with only a very few exceptions, with the other residents and staff). I am visited by my loving mother 2 or 3 times a week, and go out to family gatherings on holidays, birthdays, and on occasion go to my sister's house or a restaurant for dinner (sometimes followed by a movie). Although I still experience feelings of lust, I do my best to frequently read good books and watch good television shows as an "alternative." Without trying to seem "hyper- religious", I do watch Mass every Sunday and on holydays on television. Because I struggle with the temptation to look at pornography ( as well as other immoral acts), as an imperfect Catholic I do go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month with my parish pastor who visits me. Once a month I attend Mass celebrated at the rehab, and each Sunday I attend a Communion Service at the rehab led by an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Aside from distributing Communion, the minister leads us in the Mass Prayers and reads the First and Second readings, and the Gospel. Without being immodest, I do contribute a modest sum that I receive each month to Catholic. As well as secular charities. Although I am sometimes impatient, I do fairly frequently assist fellow residents with their personal needs.
Father Martin in my opinion means to be compassionate towards gay people as well as other people who aren't heterosexual, and I appreciate his concern. I do have a friend who's gay who I call on occasion to see how he and his family are doing. My sister who I love has a friend who is gay, often comes to family holiday dinners and other celebrations, but who, though raised Catholic (we attended Catholic elementary school in the same grade) is outspoken in her gay rights views and can be quite critical of the teachings of the Church. Frankly, I much prefer when she isn't present at family gatherings, but am polite when she is. People who aren't heterosexual should be treated with respect, and should feel welcome at Mass and other Church gatherings. However, I firmly believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Therefore, I believe that gay people who attend Mass, while being treated with respect, if they are known to be "married" or live with a partner, shouldn't play a role at Mass (as lectors, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc.). Nor should such people be employed at Catholic schools, hospitals, or other Church institutions. When gay couples adopt children, it's difficult for me to judge what's morally right. Certainly, we Catholics who support Church teaching on sexuality and marriage as I do, as sinful as I am at times and surely was in past years, shouldn't be in any way unkind to the children. Their gay parents undoubtedly love them. The children should be allowed to attend Catholic school, but the principal must be careful to ensure that their parents aren't permitted to assume any "leadership" positions in the school. This may be difficult, but it should be carefully accomplished. Also, the children must receive the sacraments; again, we shouldn't penalize them. But the parish priest should be careful and try to insure that the "married" gay parents don't play a prominent role in their children's reception of the sacraments.

Charles Monsen
4 months 2 weeks ago

Maybe the best few paragraphs I have read on this issue - thank you for your story. Some people get very heavy crosses - I don't think there is a vary good explanation why. But those who pick them up, and carry them like you are doing should be an inspiration to the rest of us.

Tim O'Leary
4 months 2 weeks ago

Tim - Thank you for a very honest post, and I think it is a perfect counterpart to the "parables" of Fr. Martin - and the more authentic expression of Christian love. Jesus said "He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:38). You are certainly carrying your cross! I read this quote from GK Chesterton on another article today: "We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world." Tim - you are moving the world. God Bless.

Dawnie Jens
4 months 2 weeks ago

faithful and fervent practice of our faith we discover the real spiritual means by which to ‘do battle’. In the end, evil in our lives—in all its forms—must be drowned in a sea of goodness.

La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas. (Roughly translated as: The devil's greatest trick is to persuade us that he does not exist.)

Carol Cox
4 months 2 weeks ago

How difficult it must be to simply want to be welcomed into a church where judgements are left to God? In my own home I have welcomed a number of refugees from "The Land of Misfit Toys", if you will. Folks who were outcast by their families and friends when they revealed that they were LGBTQ. How do you abandon someone like that? These incredibly, gifted, talented gay men in our circle taught me how to properly change a baby's diaper, cooked for me when I was ill, sent me flowers in abundance to my hospital room and always told me not to worry about my husband or my son. All of these beautiful gay men died from AIDS/HIV and I was at their bedsides to care for them. When the last surviving friend was hospitalized and none of the physician residents wanted to drain the volumes of liquid that had amassed in his lungs, I was the one barking orders for them to get the job done. And, it did get done. When he was ready to leave the hospital, but, the staff took their sweet time, I simply put him in a wheelchair and pushed him out of the hospital. When people asked me what they could do to help, I told them. His friend, a restauranteur sent dinner every evening. Another friend, a record executive, told me that she did not have the time to help; but, asked was there anything else that he needed that she could provide. I told her that he had no medical insurance so we could not get the medications that he needed. She immediately went to the local pharmacy and set up an account for him so that we could get his meds. When he died, I had no means to bury him and at the time, there was only ONE
funeral home who even accepted the bodies of AIDS/HIV patients. I called and told them the situation. They said that I would need him to be declared dead by a physician. I called a physician that he had known through AMFAR and he agreed to come. I asked the funeral home how much cremation would cost - $350.00. Another friend came through with that as well. So, when you want to criticize the LGBTQ community, understand that they are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins, nieces, nephews and they are loved beyond measure by the families they "made" to find this love. Fr. Martin has chosen to "pastor" to this oft overlooked LGBTQ community and as such, it is his responsibility to advocate for them. To make scurrilous, demeaning, inflammatory accusations against Fr. Martin is simply not Christian-like. In the light of our Catholic faith, "Love one another as I have loved you."

Dionys Murphy
4 months 2 weeks ago

Carol, thank you for this beautiful Truth.

Quiero más Justicia
4 months 2 weeks ago

The world is full of nice people. But that's not what Jesus came to teach us. That's just ONE PART of his teachings, like in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we should be nice to one another. The rest of his teaching has to do with becoming a child of God, getting to know the Father and be as ONE with him through Jesus. By justifying and affirming the LGBT in their iniquity, Mr. Martin will never help them get to that heaven, because their intrinsic disorder blinds them from seeing God eye to eye. God didn't make His rules for nothing.

Quiero más Justicia
4 months 2 weeks ago

Martin reduces Christianity to being nice. Being nice is one of the consequences of knowing God, among other blessed consequences. But just
by forcing nicety in people you don't make them children of God. First you find the kingdom of Heaven, everything else comes after it. Not the other way around.

Lisa Jochaniewicz
4 months 2 weeks ago

-

Lisa Jochaniewicz
4 months 2 weeks ago

...

Susan Olenski
4 months 2 weeks ago

I feel that many responders think they are called to correct every idea that differs from their own or what they were taught to believe. Jesus spent a lot of time teaching His listeners that what they deeply believed was absolutely most important was not.

Susan Olenski
4 months 2 weeks ago

I feel that many p

Susan Olenski
4 months 2 weeks ago

I feel that many p

Dcn Cliff Britton
4 months 2 weeks ago

I have addressed Rev Martin in this forum before. I am surprised at myself that I can still be stunned by his comments.

Eternal Life
4 months 2 weeks ago

Cliff , me too.

Eternal Life
4 months 2 weeks ago

EXCUSE ME!!!

Excuse me!, Fr. Martin.
LGBT or whatever they're called has no place in the house of God. Please get this inside your head!
Stop this your filthy project.

LGBT or whatever they're called should be allowed to live their lives as they wish but they MUST cease seeking moral legitimacy from the Church for their way of life. The Church cannot grant such legitimacy and even if it ever does, it's null and void because the scripture is superior to the Church.

The Jesuits must quit in their vain efforts to rewrite, rephrase, reconceptualize, or de-contextualize the letters of the Holy Scripture in order to accommodate all manner of acts under the supposedly infinite mercy of God.

While we do what God says we should do as clearly Written, we must allow him to determine our fate on the Last Day.

There must be limits to this bizarre Jesuit intellectualization of every questionable human acts in order to give them a meaning in the light of the gospel. The Gospel is not an ambiguous document.

We are now dealing from all angles the revolutionary acts of a Jesuit papacy, almost trying to tear the church apart... many Cardinals have gone into 'hiding' and those who braved to speak out were profiled as rebels.

The Church has never been so confused..

Andrew Wolfe
4 months 2 weeks ago

Father Martin, are all of those in your first five stories committed never to engage in same-sex sex acts?

frank o'shea
4 months 2 weeks ago

Jesus came to save sinners Fr.Martin.
This you know.
Also you know He never told them be at peace in their sin.
What Jesus did say to all was - "Go and sin no more".
I do not understand your refusal to acknowledge this and affirm to all in your abominably-inclined life-path.
When you blatantly deny Him, you do so for all eternity so clearly you do not believe in eternal life.
Wake up!

Jorge DiPaola
4 months 2 weeks ago

Father Martin. You are a champion of compassion and common sense. It is interesting to read all these comments. Your approach is not simplistic as somebody mentioned. It is what the Gospel call us to do. At the end of the day... some people want a church for the few and pure....and they do not understand that they will have to live with all of us "sinners".
Please Father Martin, keep up your wonderful work!

Jorge DiPaola

Dolores Pap
4 months 1 week ago

Amen, Jorge. I'm with you..

BRIAN RAGEN
4 months 2 weeks ago

Let’s imagine that wherever a same-sex marriage or relationship is mentioned in these “parables” we instead found the term “plural marriage” and that wherever “gay” or “lesbian” appear we instead found the word “polyamorist.” Would that change our reaction to them? If so, why? If not, what does that tell us about Fr. Martin’s project?

GONZALO PALACIOS
4 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you! My prayers are that your message reaches everyman, especially the decision makers and the supervisors of the spread of Christ's Love on Earth. "It is God, the Omnipotent Love who replicates Itself in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (as He/She did in Mary's womb) creating One out of three, the two ministers plus Love, the Spirit of Jesus," in Mary, the Unwed Mother of God, page 37-38. For more ask me for a copy, gpgpalacios@gmail.com . Gonzalo T. Palacios

Tim O'Leary
4 months 1 week ago

What a perfect example of the gender confusion that is raging today. "Everyman"; "God as "it" in "replicates itself"; Jesus as "He/She in Mary's womb"

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