I’ll tell you what makes me angry

Late in high school, I got into an argument with my sister about gay marriage. I was opposed, since I believed it went against the “natural order.” I didn’t know anyone who was (openly) gay. My sister told me, “Just wait.”

As a sophomore in college, my closest friend on campus called me and said he needed to talk. He showed up in my dorm room with a Bible. He handed it to me, opened to Romans, chapter 1, and asked me to start reading at verse 26.

“God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.” And so on.

My friend told me that he’s been attracted to men for seven years, and for seven years he has asked God to take this attraction away from him, but God has not answered this prayer. A tortured soul sat before me. He was self-loathing. He believed he was being punished by God for some sin he committed.

Immediately and instinctively, in the deepest part of myself, I knew it wasn’t true. I knew God wasn’t punishing him. I knew he was created in love and is called to love, and I wanted him to be free from the terrible burden he felt.

His willingness to call me, to come to my room, to sit with me and to share what made him feel such shame – this honesty and vulnerability totally transformed me.

I felt compassion. I wanted him to experience agency and freedom. And I felt angry that anyone would be made to feel this way. I felt angry at religion, and religious leaders, for promoting the lie of heteronormativity. I wanted a revolution, so that no one else would ever again experience this kind of pain and sense of rejection.

It all happened in one moment.

This story, in different forms, has repeated itself in my life.

At age 18, a childhood friend started a five-year prison sentence. Throughout college, I visited him. Eventually, he was notified that the U.S. government had started a process to deport him. When he was two months old, he had been adopted from Mexico into a U.S. family. He was never made a citizen. He spoke no Spanish. At age 24, he was deported to a country he knew nothing about.

I’m still angry at the U.S. government. I’m still angry about imprisonment and deportation.

After college, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and I worked as a legal advocate for people who suffered from mental illness and were incarcerated. On the psychiatric unit of that county jail, I can still see “correctional officers,” dressed in riot gear, forcibly “extracting” people from their cells. I can still see a man, drenched in his own urine. I can still see a man lying naked, face down, after being medicated against his will. I can still hear a woman wailing, because she faced a “third strike” and life imprisonment.

I asked, “What kind of society do we live in?” I wondered, “Why them and not me?”

For three years, I made weekly visits to a juvenile detention center, where I listened to the stories of children who were locked in cages.

What kind of society do we live in? Why them and not me?

At my Catholic parish in Chicago, a woman presided at our Good Friday service, and I was in awe of her graceful liturgical presence. I came to know her as faith-filled, compassionate and prophetic. And I came to know that she experienced a call to ordained ministry.

Since Catholic leaders rejected this call, she pursued ministry with Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Just five weeks after her ordination to the priesthood, she died from colon cancer at age 45, and the local archbishop refused her a Catholic funeral and burial.

What kind of church do we live in?

I can’t live in a society or a church where this oppression goes unchallenged. It goes against our highest values and deepest convictions.

I dream of a church that radiates the revolutionary love of Jesus Christ in everything we say and do, thus helping transform our society.

4 thoughts on “I’ll tell you what makes me angry

  1. Thank you Luke for bearing witness to the conversions you have experienced – and continue to experience – in your journey. I hold in reverence the children of God you have named here: your close friend who came out to you as gay, your childhood friend who was deported to Mexico, those with mental illness who faced mistreatment, the children in the juvenile detention center, the Roman Catholic Womanpriest (her memory is a blessing). You embody here “finding God in all things” and your words resonate with Dr Cecilia’s challenge to find God in the smells of the slums (paraphrasing here).

    In his interview on the Commonweal podcast this week, Bryan Massingale references what Thomas Aquinas says about anger – that one way to sin against anger is by NOT being angry about injustice. As I sit with your words (aware that I may also be projecting my own experience of anger at injustices I see in ministry), I wonder what alchemy the Spirit might be about in you in “fine-tuning” this anger as a clean-burning fuel for mission, for justice, for liberation, for right relationship in church and society. What is the Spirit up to in making the fire of your holy anger offer not just heat, but light…light which shines in the darkness, and illumines a path forward?

  2. Luke,

    I am struck by how much “flesh” you have in your call story. God has graced you to be a witness to the terror and tragedy of harmful structures of our culture, our politics, our Church, and to witness them through relationships of the heart. I am struck by your instinct for compassion and the courage to trust what you know inside you to be wrong despite stubborn structures that have normalized oppression. You dream of a Church that lives out the radical love of Jesus Christ. This reminds me of the importance of taking time to vision our dreams of Church. Have you dreamed yourself into this Church of your vision? As you enter into a new stage of discernment in your life, how do you imagine yourself to be a part of the Church of your dreams? How might your own enfleshed experience direct you on your path?

  3. Thank you Luke. Your heart for the people gives me hope for our church. To your truths spoken I know that Jesus would say “Amen”. How do we do what Jesus would do as a church??

  4. “I can’t live in a society or a church where this oppression goes unchallenged.” So one challenges as best one can. But what do we do with the anger and the pain when we’ve done as much as we can and it’s not enough? When it’s emotionally just too much? Oppression perdures and we still live in this society and this church. What do you need to sustain and enliven you when you feel helpless and hopeless? Can you ask for what you need?

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