Thoughts from New Ways Ministry
Today’s Gospel sets a pretty bleak scene. Cosmic catastrophe. War on earth. Oceans in turmoil. People dying of fright. It sounds like a disaster flick worthy of Hollywood. To be honest, most interpretations of this Gospel reading are lost on me. I harbor polite but thoroughly disinterested feelings toward the Second Coming of Jesus and the need for apocalyptic vigilance; these things do not offer much direction or inspiration for my daily life. But the kernel of this reading with profound meaning for me is the seemingly innocuous exhortation for Christians to “stand erect and raise [their] heads” in spite of awful circumstances.
What type of person can stand tall during terrible adversity, even when others shrink away? A person with integrity. Such a person knows what they are for and what they are against — and has the courage to consistently speak and act in accordance with these values. You can trust a person with integrity because they do what they believe and believe what they do. In other words, what you see is what you get. That type of wholeness — indeed, of holiness — gives a person strength and courage, even in the dire straits of today’s Gospel reading, when others readily die of fright.
What does a person with integrity look like in real life? Frank Mugisha is a Catholic LGBT rights activist who in 2014 said, “I am a gay man. I am also Ugandan. There is nothing un-African about me.” Mugisha risks life and limb to speak the truth about his sexual orientation in a hostile culture. He could have made innumerable (and understandable) excuses to remain in the closet and preserve both his privacy and his safety. But as a person of integrity, Mugisha chooses to advocate for his own rights and the rights of all LGBT Africans; he has the courage to stand tall, be seen, and speak his truth to church and state because to do otherwise would be a violation of himself and his values. I think Frank Mugisha hears and is responding prophetically to the Gospel writer’s call to “stand erect and raise your heads.”
In perhaps less dramatic circumstances than Mugisha, what does this call to integrity mean to us? Most LGBT people have struggled intensely to define their identity (e.g. Am I gay? What is my gender?) and their values (e.g. Should I come out to my loved ones? Should I publicly transition my gender?) in a less than welcoming church and society. Fortunately, many of these same LGBT people have chosen to stand tall, be seen, and speak their truth publicly. We must continue their work by choosing to be people of integrity, by sharing our stories, and by remaining faithful to our values. In this way, I believe LGBT people can cultivate the gifts of honesty and wholeness in our Catholic faith communities — by bringing what is hidden into the light, by encouraging each person to grapple with the hard questions of life.
As we begin this Advent season, each of us receives a call to stand tall and be seen for who we are. May we persevere in our efforts and, as the Psalmist writes today, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”
Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry