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This Far By Faith

The Church is home to all people of God

Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D. June 9, 2005

Within the past few months, I have done a lot of thinking about the Church as "home." As "home," the Church is not just a building; it is also a community of faith, the gathering of the faithful, the "people of God."

In baptism, we are received into God's family, and church is the home where that family gathers to celebrate God's unconditional love. Throughout our lives, church is the home where together we mark the pivotal moments, those moments that tell us who God is and who we are because of God's love. With other members of the family of God, we are like homing pigeons returning time and time again to celebrate births and deaths, baptisms and marriages, confirmations and the Eucharist. These sacramental moments are spent together in addition to our regular "family" gatherings at Sunday liturgies, pastoral council meetings, Scripture studies, choir rehearsals, adult faith formation sessions, youth groups and so many other vital parts of our lives as Christians and Catholics.

But as I have reflected on the Church as home, I have become more acutely aware of the number of people the number of Catholics who are no longer comfortable in their home. In fact, some are no longer certain that the Church is their home. Sometimes it is the circumstances of life that cause people to feel estranged or separated. Occasionally it is a misunderstanding of the Church's teachings that keeps people away. Often, individuals hide a deep pain that is rooted in knowing that, for whatever reason, their lives do not conform to other people's lives; or worse, they feel that who they are is unacceptable.

Recently I met with such people. Many of them were born into Catholic families, baptized as infants and attended Catholic schools. They have embraced the faith handed on to them. Others, through the examples of friends and having felt called by God, became Catholics through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. For all of them, being Catholic is at the core of who they are. At the same time, they are people who are not sure of "their place" in their home. They are people wonderful, good Catholic people who are gay and lesbian.

On two occasions, we came together to listen. At a first meeting, there were gay and lesbian persons. At a second meeting, there were Catholic parents of adult gay or lesbian persons. Among the parents were Catholics who have spent their lives as active members of the Church, helping to make it a welcoming home for many. They have given generously of themselves, even
though they knew that their own children felt unwelcome. These parents of gay and lesbian Catholics are extremely proud of their children. They see their goodness and their giftedness, but they also see the loneliness of their gay and lesbian children as no one else sees it.

As I listened, I could not help wondering:

We are called to BE church to one another, to be God's family to one another. In giving us this Church, God has given us a spiritual home here on earth. This spiritual home is to be a precursor of the home we will have for eternity when all walls have come down and we are truly and completely dwelling in union with God and with one another. Our task while we are in this earthly home is to do all we can to help each other grow into the home we will share in heaven.

To be sure that we do not leave anyone behind, to be sure that all are welcome in their own home, and to be sure that we promote genuine gratitude and reverence for the gift that each one of us is to the Church, we have begun to lay the foundations for a diocesan ministry with Catholic gay and lesbian persons.

A brief look at history:

reminds us that God's work is always hampered when human beings are afraid of differences in each other. A new ministry with gay and lesbian persons will push open even further the door to promoting understanding and compassion among all of us. It will open the door to "home" for many who are an important part of who we are, and to a segment of our family that has been apart from us for too long.

The message of Jesus is clear: "Love one another as I have loved you." In my meetings with gay and lesbian Catholics, I told them that God does not withhold love from any of us. I believe that wholeheartedly. God's love is unconditional and that is the gift God offers us in Christ Jesus: the gift of loving each other with that same Godly and unconditional love.

Please pray for this ministry. Participate in the work of welcoming the entire family into the home which is our Church, where all are embraced by God's unconditional love. Let us all dare to love as God loves.

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