On Saturday, 1 March 1997, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester celebrated Mass with lesbian and gay Catholics, and their families and friends. One of the Vatican2 e-mail forum subscribers sent us the transcript, noting that "From all the reports I've heard of the Mass, it was AWESOME, with nearly 1100 people turning up. I'm forwarding the text of his homily which friends in Rochester e-mailed me. It is beautiful and worth sharing. We definitely need more bishops like Matthew Clark. Go Matt! :)" I subsequently asked for and received permission by Bishop Clark to post the homily on the WWW.
Many friends have to stand along the wall, vision obscured by pillars and probably closer quarters than you might have hoped coming here. But thank you for coming. You're a visible encouragement to me to be reasonably brief so I don't tax your spirit or your legs.
Please satisfy my curiosity. I made reference to the fact that so often we have large gatherings at our cathedral, I'm always curious about how many, in fact have never been here before. If you've never been to Sacred Heart, would you just kindly raise your hand, I'd love to see it. WELL! Would you please come again? (laughter and applause) We can take that as a "yes" you will? You might like that invitation, but poor Fr. Mull, over here, the wonderful man who proclaimed the gospel, is the pastor of the church, Sacred Heart, and every time I say that, Tom gets about 82 wedding requests during the next week.
And the poor man is infinitely generous, but even he has limits. So please don't translate that immediately into a wedding next week anyway. And while I'm mentioning names, I want to recognize the presence of a very dear friend and marvelous supportive minister, Fr. John Mulligan who is vested here, next to Tom. (applause) I used to think I can't possibly survive one day past Bishop Hickey's retirement. And Bishop Hickey retired and God gave me John. Now I say, "What am I going to do when John moves on to greener pastures?" And I can just trust the Lord will be equally good to me another time.
I've climbed this little set of steps I don't know how many times in the last 18 years as bishop and I don't think I've ever climbed the stairs to preach better instructed on exactly what I'm supposed to say. (laughter--applause) The very last thing I thought I would be today was funny, I'll tell you that. But thank you for relaxing me. And I decided, having said that--that I've never felt better instructed --I've also never been more intense about climbing the pulpit. Not in the sense of being afraid of it, not in the sense of being anything but deeply joyful about this gathering, because I think it's absolutely right to do. (sustained, standing applause--40 seconds.) And I'm so glad that you affirm that in such a wonderful way. It is good for us to gather as a family all made to the image and likeness of God; to stand in the light of God's word during this Lenten season that we might be strengthened for our common journeys of faith; and that all of us might live as freely, lovingly and generously as God would have us do that.
What I'd like to do today in terms of my own reflections on the beautiful biblical readings that we have is centered primarily on an image in the gospel reading of the embrace. I think this story of the father and the boys, his children, really is meant to teach us above all things about who our God is and what our God is like. And I find that lesson, this lesson of the story of this family, to be powerfully symbolized in the embrace with which the father greets the errant son upon his return. Each time I enter and exit my room I see a batik done by someone a lot of us know, Kristin Malone, which is done in gold and oranges and bronze colors, and for me at least expresses so powerfully both the strength of the embrace and its tenderness -- tenderness in the sense of the embrace, though strong, clearly leaves the son free to move along as he will.
And in thinking about this day and that image, oh, even ten days or two weeks ago, I took myself one afternoon for my maiden voyage to Tinseltown. Have you been to Tinseltown yet? It's a wonderful movie complex, and the chairs are like easy chairs, and it's sort of stadium seating, so unless you're like a tiny, tiny person sitting back of a huge giant, everybody can see. And I went to a movie called Shine. Do you know that film? I don't want to give the film away for those who have not seen it but there's one particular image in this film that I related immediately to this gathering, this gospel reading and our common need for God's compassion.
Very briefly, the story is about a young boy who is a piano prodigy in Australia. He's extremely gifted, and developing his talents in beautiful ways. The counter theme is his father who is quite dominant, not only over the boy but over the whole family. And he wants the boy's talent as well, but he wants it developed according to his, the father's timetable, direction and design. And that dominance becomes clearer as the film unfolds. And at one point the boy tells the father that he has been offered a scholarship to the London Conservatory of Music. At that moment the father embraces the son, but it becomes clear that the embrace is not one of compassion, strength, tenderness and an invitation to freedom. It's an embrace that confines, and even hurts, physically hurts the boy. The father says, "I don't want you to go. Don't leave me. No one will ever love you like I love you."
And I think of this embrace in the gospel today, so different because it expresses a real love and a respect for freedom, and a reverence that I think God has for every person made to God's image and likeness. God always calls us to become fully who God wants us to be. And to trust us enough that we will respond to that precious gift with everything that's good and noble and wonderful about us. And who at the same time, recognizing that we can be selfish and prone to sin, is always ready to reach out and to restore and to heal and to send us off again to become the wonderful person we're meant to be. I'd simply like to say this afternoon to you, dear sisters and brothers who gather here, that I hope we have a deep sense of solidarity one with the other. And that we reverence, respect and honor the freedom of one another, just as God honors those precious, God-given gifts in us.
To my brothers and sisters, gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, you have told me over years of conversations with you and you have relayed to me through friends with whom I have spoken, that far more often than not, our faith community seems forbidding; that in it you feel unwelcome; that your own struggles, issues, questions, joys, sorrows, talents, needs, gifts, are not respected as they should be. I hope I can say with confidence that this gathering this afternoon symbolizes a widespread sentiment among the people of our diocese, that we'd like to do a better job on that. And we would like to convey to you in a much more rewarding and genuine way, the respect that we have for your integrity, your goodness and your gifts. And at the same time, I hope that we could say to you with equal honesty that we are the weaker to the degree that we do not enjoy the wonderful gifts God gives you for the sake of the community.
So may I ask you please to forgive us for all the ways witting and unwitting that we have failed to honor and respect you. And I may ask that after extending that invitation, I hope in the name of our whole community, that you would be willing to step forward with us to share our journeys, enjoying the good things that we have and sharing the good things that God gives you, so that together having made this mutual commitment, we might show more clearly, rightly, and lovingly, the face of Christ to all of our sisters and brothers who yearn for meaning and for value in life. I hope that you will accept that invitation as coming from our whole community, and in a very honest and sincere way. Please do join us for our worship, our struggles, our service and allow us to make right the things that perhaps we've made wrong in the past. I would be very grateful to you if you would consider that invitation.
And lastly I would like to say to you that not only does this event mean a great deal to me because of the season in which it occurs, the season of Lent, it also means a great deal to me in light of our unfolding Synod experience in which all of us have committed ourselves to--as our first priority--to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ and of our faith. And it seems to me, and I speak only for myself in this regard, but if you can identify with it in some way please do so, with it. The very fact that we have convened this gathering and invited people to it has raised, in me at least, a very strong awareness that all of us have a great deal to learn about gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I, my mail, my conversations are filled with what I can judge to be unfortunate presumptions about gay and lesbian people, a lot of stereotyping in a very negative way and a lot of lack of information that all of us need to have if we are to understand one another in ways that I really believe that God wants us to know one another's hearts.
I think, for example, of how we all need to be as much in touch as we can possibly be with biblical scholarship as it applies to this question. Because I'm afraid the bible is used in ways that are not life-giving, but destructive as it's quoted about gay and lesbian people. I think we need to learn from the human sciences the research of which has yielded a lot of new information that I believe we have not as yet integrated into our knowledge and value systems and which we do not appreciate as elements which can alter honestly held but incorrect assumptions about other persons in our community.
And lastly, and I think in a certain way, above all, we really need to know the faith and life experience of gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. Do we know their stories? Do we know the challenges they face? Do we know the richness of their spirit? Do we know the ways in which their faith has been tested? Do we know how some of our conduct and patterns can make their journeys more painful than they need to be? I raise these questions, not in any sense in the spirit of accusation or blame, but simply to convey, as best I can, what our sisters and brothers who are gay or lesbian have said to me and what has been said to me by their mothers and dads, grandmas and grandpas, and other people who love them, who are concerned that their offspring, whom they cherish, are not held in equal regard simply because they are gay and lesbian persons.
I'm going to stop there, but I'm going to stop with what I hope is a word of encouragement, that as we continue with our Eucharistic liturgy today we might be -- accept into our hearts and contemplate the image of the embrace. That we might remember the ways in which we have been embraced as we have returned from where the son was--that graphic description of being beyond where even we thought there was hope for us and know the loving embrace of our God. And remember ways in which we too have been privileged to offer that kind of embrace to sisters and brothers who have struggled. I hope that we can leave this liturgy using once again that image of the embrace to know truly, as it was not true in the embrace in Shine, that in the embrace of Christ we know, no one will ever love us like he did. And I just hope that we can be the more mindful today because we gathered that we are meant to embrace one another in precisely the same spirit--conveying to all of our sisters and brothers, our support for them as they seek to continue their journeys of faith.
Once again, thank you very, very much for coming here this afternoon. Let us continue with our prayer.