"Our Exodus was Actually a Rebirth"
We sang, we cried, and as the Hawaiian melody "Song of the Body of Christ" says: "we come to share our story." In Hawaii, it is the greatest honor an individual can give you to ask to spend time with you – to listen to your story. That very hot, 1987 June evening in St William's Chapel on Georgetown campus, the 200 of us bravely faced the beginning of our apostolate. I remember it as if it were yesterday, and not ten years ago. After Eucharist, those of us standing around the walls and in the choir sat down on the floor. We listened, we cried, we broke bread, we heard President Healy of Georgetown feebly apologize to us. But what we don't often remember is that our expulsion from Catholic space for worship was not sudden.
It was not like the first Pentecost that the apostles, Mary and the other women faced. For almost two years we had been planning for a new home. We knew the implications of Cardinal Ratzinger's infamous Halloween of 1986 letter describing us as "intrinsically evil and objectively disordered." The simple fact of the matter was we had outgrown St. Williams and were coming under increasing liturgical scrutiny from the archdiocese. Ten to 20 people stood in the back of church every week; the space was inaccessible. This we recalled every time we lifted Albert Marsinetti up the staircase in his wheel chair. And they refused to turn the heat off even in June. Some of us fondly referred to the chapel as Our Lady of Gehenna. You know, that town in between Bethany and Rehoboth. But as the second reading tonight reminds us, you must stop your quarreling and your cravings for things that are not of God. Our exodus was actually a rebirth for us. We were freed from the confining space, freed from the Metro inaccessibility and handicap inaccessible space, freed most importantly from the watchful eye of the Archdiocese. I'm reminded of a recent article I read in my "Call To Action" newsletter. It seems our brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity in Georgetown are being threatened with the expulsion of the Jesuits for the following reasons: real bread, inclusive lectionary texts, inclusive music, and lay homilists, including women. When I think back at how we lived in the same fear . . ..
Instead of being a people who lived in darkness . . .
We began to see the light.
During that last liturgy we made time to share story. To hear of the baptisms and holy unions we had celebrated. To hear of the three funerals we had and how AIDS had started to really impact us. To hear the cries and fears of being forced out of our Church. The church of our youth and families. What did this mean? How would we survive? Would we die as a community? Finally, in answer to our pleadings, we heard the lone sound of a mournful clarinet (from me) that sounded the deep lyrics of an old 70's folk song, "In Remembrance of Me:"
"In remembrance of me, eat this bread. In remembrance of me, drink this wine. In remembrance of me, hope for the time when God's own will is done. In remembrance of me, heal the sick. In remembrance of me, feed the poor. In remembrance of me, open the door and let your neighbor in, let them in."
The Gospel today calls us to that same sense of welcome we sang about ten years ago. The melody, now dated – yet the text, still true. It goes on: "Take, eat and be comforted. Drink, and remember too, that this is my body and precious blood shed for you."
We drank, we ate, we hugged, we cried, we laughed. . . . The following week we met again outside the chapel that had for so long been our home. . . . We heard the hard words of Jesus to the Apostles in the tenth chapter of Matthew: "And if anyone does not welcome you or listen to what you have to say, as you walk out of the house or town shake the dust from your feet. I tell you solemnly, on the day of Judgement it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah as with that town."
We did. In true Dignity panache, we threw handfuls of kitty litter at the walls and doors of the chapel, and proudly held our paschal candle aloft and processed the whole way to St Margaret's. Half of us waited in vigil, singing and praying, awaiting the knock on the door where we were able to finally welcome all of us together at table once more. What we learned was that our community was more than just the structure. That like the early Christians under persecution we would find a way to worship. Our house is much stronger than mortar and stone. It is built on love and family. I would like to take this opportunity to have you welcome my mother in attendance here tonight. This is not her first visit with us nor will it be her last. We would grow and thrive. In the words of that last song we sang:
"In remembrance of me, search for truth. In remembrance of me, always love. In remembrance of me, don't look above, but in your heart, look in your heart for God. Do this in remembrance me."
Blake Velde is a liturgist, liturgical environmentalist, and pastoral musician. He currently serves as the Director of Music for Dignity/Washington's 4:30 Sunday Liturgy.
D.C.'s Gay Catholic Group Celebrates Its Silver Anniversary. By Heather Elizabeth Peterson.
©1997 Blake Velde