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Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Outside the Camp

Love pulls us toward the center of a community. As LGBTQIA+ people, we have often had to build our own communities to find that center and experience that pull. But we can experience the centering pull of love even in the Church. Just a important, today’s reflection reminds us, we can be that centering force for others.

February 11, 2024: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46

Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11

I Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Mark 1:40-45

Outside the Camp: Radical Love and Inclusion

A reflection by Carter Fahey

How do you explain what it’s like to live on the margins of a group to someone who can never truly grasp the intimacies of your life or your day-to-day encounters with God? To another person who cannot know the complexity of your relationship to the Church? How can we reconcile Christ’s call for love with experiences of exclusion from faith communities? This is a question I’ve been grappling with for some time now, and it’s one with which many LGBTQIA+ people struggle daily.

As a Catholic and a trans person, I’ve spent countless hours contemplating ways to explain my experiences at the intersection of faith and queer identity, especially to those I encounter within the Catholic Church. I’ve come up with all sorts of analogies, metaphors, hypotheticals, and allegories, drawing from just about every source and medium imaginable. Even with all that brainstorming and storytelling, perhaps the most useful way to explain what it’s like to live on the fringes of a faith community comes not from any modern analogy or comparison, but from the biblical texts.

In the reading from Leviticus, we hear of the protocol, so to speak, that is followed when one is thought to be leprous: they are taken to a priest, examined, and declared unclean, then made to live outside the camp so that they do not infect others. In reading about the treatment of lepers in the biblical tradition, I am always struck by how similar these descriptions are to the contemporary experiences of LGBTQIA+ Catholics. How many of us have gone to mass hoping to be included in a community centered on Christ, only to sit through homilies condemning LGBTQIA+ people as a group to be feared? How often, in reaching out for guidance and compassion in our most vulnerable moments, have we been told that we are only welcome if we masquerade as someone we are not, or asked not to participate entirely? At World Youth Day in Lisbon this past summer, some people even tried to tell us that we, as a group of LGBTQIA+ people, simply could not be Catholic. We are told to live on the fringes of the congregation so that we do not influence others or cause scandal among the faithful. To be excluded from the community simply because of your identity is to be denied the dignity and humanity that are afforded to each of us as God’s children.

But where the Church so often denies us a place in the community, Christ brings us back to its center through radical love. In today’s reading from Mark’s gospel, Jesus receives the leprous man with compassion, not fear or anger, intending to heal him, not cast him away. In making the man clean, Jesus restores not only his health, but his humanity. Jesus brings the leper out of exile and back into the community that cast him aside. Jesus always recognizes our inherent dignity and worth, even when we feel as though we are living “outside the camp.” The Spirit comforts us and brings us into the communities that have tried to silence us. God’s love is inherently an attractive force; as we draw ever closer to God in love, we also draw closer to every other person who seeks Love. We are not, for Christ, simply a voice to be silenced or a topic to be avoided–we are beloved members of the community!

This love is not an invisible force; we can see it working throughout the Church, every single day. In my own life, I am blessed to witness community-building love in countless ways: in the DignityUSA community, in those who want to learn from LGBTQIA+ people through honest conversations, in priests working to include us more fully in the life of the Church, and in people doing their best to unconditionally love and respect their neighbors.

It was at World Youth Day, though, that I experienced the most profound demonstration of Christ’s love at work within the Church. Throughout the week, we encountered an overwhelming number of people who expressed their support and joy in seeing a group of young, Catholic, LGBTQIA+ people participate openly in the faith. Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, in responding to my question on the inclusion of transgender people in the faith, demonstrated what it looks like for the Church to engage with the radical love and inclusion that Christ calls us to. He not only reminded the crowd that there is an unconditional place for everyone within the Church and that there should always be a place for dialogue rooted in love, but grounded his words in action by meeting with us to hear about our experiences as LGBTQIA+ Catholics. In doing so, Bishop Fisher chose not to let us remain “outside the camp,” but compassionately drew us in as members of the community. While there is still work to be done, we should not fail to see the ways we are moving towards Christ and towards each other!

So, on this last Sunday before Lent, let us remember this radical love, especially when we feel ourselves on the fringes—of the Church, or any community—and seek to imitate it in our own lives as we advocate for inclusion. In turning to this inclusive love for strength and comfort, we too can experience the “joy of salvation” which we claim in this Sunday’s psalm response!

Carter Fahey (he/him) is from Boston, Massachusetts. He is a recent convert and has an interest in doing outreach work to Catholic communities to combat misinformation and create opportunities for community among LGBTQIA+ people.