The Sunday Project

An Empty Wilderness of Identity

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time |

By Patrick Flores | Website
Mountainous island surrounded by water
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First Reading
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." And now the LORD says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength -- he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:1-3

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos'thenes, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading
John 1:29-34

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness, "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

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Does the Catholic Church encourage LGBTQ youth to pursue paths that are harmful?

A woman asked me that Thursday. She’s a reporter, writing a story about a young lesbian woman who committed suicide last month and whose parents believe the Church is at fault.

I took a deep breath and quickly went back in my mind to my late high school years, to those closeted days and empty nights when I felt like an island surrounded by an ocean of water and wondered desperately why I hadn’t been made of water too. The waves hit me, eroded me, washed up foreign debris and shells that would whisper just sink away when I held them up to my ear. 

Both high schools I attended were large enough to have thousands of us moving through the halls and hundreds of peers whose faces and lives you glancingly recognized. She’s in band. I had a detention with him freshman year. She parks by me and sometimes gives a ride home to that new kid. Even with so many individuals, the contours of everyone’s lives felt generally known and mapped out in our heads. What is high school if not learning to draw the borders of social status and relationships in even more intricate ways?

There should have been dozens of us, statistically. Yet for all the constant vigilance to mark every person I saw in terms of their real, potential, and very much imagined status relative to me, I was incredibly unaware of even a single gay person at my school. Or bi. Or trans. Or queer in any way that wasn’t intended as a deeply ironic joke. The island was not just isolated, it looked out over the horizon and concluded all life must be beneath the surface of the sea.

In church I was encouraged passionately to prepare for a life of loving a woman and when I went off to seminary I was told to offer my desire to love a woman to God on behalf of a congregation in need. This was the order of the world, of my church. Those of us who were aberrations were hidden, implicitly told to keep silent. I knew the disappointment and pain I would bring if I tried to share who I really was.

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist looks across to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” There is the obvious – call it classical – theological understanding in which this is true. Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins. But there is also another level.

The world I grew up in felt like an empty wilderness of identity, a place I learned to hate and hide myself. But it was decidedly and demonstrably better than the world of generations before. When I learned to look and fear less, there were indeed icons and heroes in the queer world who had fought for me, who represented me, and who were waiting for me. By the time I fell in love I already had a legal path to marriage all laid out for me. Torment and torture and death at the hands of another were never real possibilities that I feared. Only at my own. Society, graded on a curve, had gotten better.

As much as I hated it at the time, the culture wars had come to include me precisely because so many had decided to fight on my behalf.

Sin, we are often told, is defined as missing the mark. Our actions go astray of their rightful spot, but the Lamb takes away them away. Sometimes, though, the sin which is taken away is where a culture has missed the mark. Not immediately, not wiped clean and forgotten in a confessional booth. But with time, slowly, steadily.

Church fathers and mothers teach there is personal sin and there is structural sin. The latter being that type which takes on the very fabric of society because it is so ingrained. Sin which is inherited by generations because it seems so inherent. Prevalent. A fact of life.

I grew up believing the solitary brokenness I felt would last a lifetime. I would never know the companionship of queer friends, the respect of affirming church members, the love of partner who considered me forever his. And yet.

Not long ago a friend of my family from church asked if she could attend my wedding to my soon-to-be husband. She told my mom, I just want to be there to celebrate them. It’s so rare these days when couples find love.

The erosion I sense used to feel like disintegration of my self. Now I can see how much it was the world that saw me as inherently disordered and broken that was slowly being eroded away. Grain of sand by grain of sand, the sin of the world being taken away.

I will make you a light to the nations, Isaiah writes in the first reading, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.

I will make you break out from the depths of the ocean and bring life where none could previously grow. An island which is not isolated but an oasis. And through the mist you learn to see just how many islands there really are in this world.

Yes the Catholic Church encourages us to choose paths which are harmful and cause us to hate ourselves. I told the reporter the church is far from a healthy place for queer persons. Not really. But the Lamb of God is at work, taking away the sins of the church along with those of the world. 

Behold, the Baptist said when he saw Jesus approach. 

Then he plunged him under the water and watched him rise like an island, giving life and light to the world.