50th Anniversary Homily

Homily for DignityUSA’s Fiftieth Anniversary
July 7, 2019
Chicago, Illinois
Sam Albano

Reading I: Numbers 11:16-17, 25-29
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 12:4-14, 24-27
Gospel: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

The reign of God is at hand. And the Spirit of God is upon us.

My siblings in Christ—members of DignityUSA and our guests from near and from faraway: The grace of Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be will all of you.

It has been said by others that families with gay sons are fortunate families. And so I am grateful to be joined by my fortunate family this morning, if you would allow me to welcome my father Joe and my mother Barbara. Thank you.

At my first Dignity conference in Minneapolis, about halfway through the opening ceremonies, I turned to the person sitting next to me. And I said, “Wow, they make a lot of speeches here.” And he turned to me and he said, “Oh Sam, this is just the beginning.” Well now they’ve given me a microphone, and it’s my turn.

My friends, I extend my heartfelt congratulations today on our fifty years of faith and service and ministry.

These words I’ll offer this morning are the reflections of a sibling in Christ and a fellow pilgrim on the journey. And they’re offered in a spirit of humility and profound respect for all the wisdom and experience that’s contained in this room.

As we heard on Friday, it was Jesus who said: “The Spirit of God is upon me.” Because “God has anointed me.” Were we too not anointed with that same Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism? Indeed, the Spirit of God is upon us.

In our first reading this morning, we are introduced to two surprising prophets: Eldad and Medad. And like all good prophets, they’re going around, and they’re causing a little bit of a stir. We’re not told exactly what they said that had the people so riled up, but we know that they were prophecying. And their prophecying has people talking—and asking some questions: What are these things Eldad and Medad are saying? Who gave them permission to go around talking about God? They’re not in charge! Are they even ordained? And so Joshua, really trying to be a good advisor, goes to Moses and he says: You have a problem on your hands. You really should step in and put a stop to this.

This story should sound familiar to us. For fifty years, we’ve had people talking. And like the message of Eldad and Medad, our message has generated a bit of a stir. We’re all familiar with our message. But let us just briefly review:

We transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and queer people are intentional, necessary, and beloved members of God's creation. We were given life in order that we might reflect God's goodness and that we might be sharers in God's work of loving, of serving, and of raising our world to new life. We possess a Christian vocation in this life; we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and we are promised a place in eternal life. Our names are inscribed in heaven. Our sexual orientation and gender identity are neither negative nor neutral. These are, in fact, gifts given to us to perceive the goodness of our Creator and the greatness of our calling in Christ.

We continue to appeal to our Church’s leaders to recognize this. But even as we wait for our whole Church and our world to get on board, we will not wait to love, to serve, and to minister to one another. We will not wait to fulfill God’s call in our lives and our community. We will go on with the business of being the transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and queer people God has created us to be. We will do it with reverence, with conviction, and with effectiveness, trusting always in the Holy Spirit.

By simply saying and doing these things, we are being a prophetic people. The Spirit of God is upon us. And yet, like Eldad and Medad, we are sure to encounter skeptics.

But what the skeptics and what Joshua didn’t perceive in today’s first reading was that Eldad and Medad also had also received the spirit from God and were, in fact, doing exactly as God had commanded them do. And when we look to the scriptures and the lives of the saints, we see that most often, our God calls the people our world would least expect. This is the story of Dignity is it not? And Moses really understood how God works. Didn’t he? “If only all of God’s people were prophets,” he said. And today, our wider Church and world is still trying to wrap its mind around this strange and surprising way that God works.

By accepting the call to be church, DignityUSA continues to show our fellow Catholics what is possible. We know that our work has saved a few people’s lives. Our work has allowed others to die with a sense of dignity and compassion. And our work has restored more than a few people’s faith over this past half-century. So let us pray this morning that DignityUSA will continue to be a faithful and prophetic voice for God’s people.

We hear in this morning’s gospel, “The reign of God has drawn near.”

This reign of God draws us into a kingdom in which no one is excluded. St. Paul tells us that each one of us receives from the same Spirit; each belongs to the same Body; and no one can ever say to another, “I do not need you.” This is the nature of the Church.

Therefore: Our bishops cannot say to us, “I do not need you” and be telling the truth. Those of us who are white do not have the privilege of saying to our friends of color that their needs and concerns are not our priority. We who are lesbian or gay, do not have the privilege of saying to our intersex or transgender or queer siblings that they should sit quietly while we attend to more important business. We who are Americans, who love our nation and seek to be good citizens, must also recognize that the Body of Christ extends beyond our borders and seashores, as we saw last week. There is only one Body of Christ. As we have learned on this journey together, we cannot afford to discount the wisdom or experience of any generation living among us. And even we who have been marginalized cannot say to our leaders and friends in the institutional Church that we are the Church and they are not. Truly, no one is excluded.

When we say that no one is excluded, we must also admit that no one in this room is let off the hook. If we are intentional parts of God’s creation and if we are intentional members of the Body of Christ, then if the image of God is to shine forth fully in this world and if the Church of Christ is to be made manifest in all its fullness, then our participation is required.

When we get down to it, we see that the work of the Church is not the work of an institution or a corporation. And the work of Dignity is not primarily the work of an organization or a board. It is the work of people like you and people like me, united as one in Christ.

As we look around this room, we witness a multitude of gifts with which the Holy Spirit has blessed us—and the many roles that people play in our Dignity movement. We see in this room prophets and business people. We see writers, speakers, musicians. There are project managers and healers; artists and lawyers; dancers and political leaders; accountants and sages; teachers and computer technicians. There are those who set a superior example for us by way of their faith, their generosity, their hard work, or their relationships. And without question, there are people sitting in this room whom God has sent with gifts that we do not yet know and have not yet anticipated. This is the Body of Christ: God’s tapestry of many threads, the Spirit’s symphony of many parts.

And so I ask you to consider this morning: What gifts has the Holy Spirit given to you that you can share? What form of service can you offer to our Church and our Dignity movement?

Yes, the Spirit of God is upon us. But the Spirit is not upon us to act in our place and to loose us of our responsibility in God’s creation. Rather, the Spirit gives us the gifts we have to share and to build up the whole Body of Christ. No one is excluded. My friends, we are Christ’s Body, and individually parts of it.

As we look forward to our future, we surely do so with hope. Even so, it is not unreasonable to assess some of the dangers that lie before us. We could probably list many. But the greatest danger that we face is the same danger the Israelites faced as they wandered the desert. See, from time to time, they forgot who their God was. They forgot to be guided by the law their God had given them. And they prayed to people and things and ideas that were not God—not because they were malicious people, but because they were forgetful—and sometimes desperate. And if we are honest, we are not so different from them.

It can easy to make idols of parties or ideologies or philosophies that seem promising to us. Especially today, there is a temptation to advance our sincerely-held beliefs by shouting, by building up divisions, and by seeking the destruction of persons who are in our way. But these actions do not serve to renew the face of the earth. We see that passion, reason, and even good intentions do not always produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

So how do we resist this sort of spiritual forgetfulness? Well, our first Dignity convention in 1973 had as its theme “The Spirit is Calling Us.” And still today, the Spirit calls to us, as a loving parent, as a dear friend, as a faithful lover. Again and again, the Spirit invites us to listen to God’s dream for our lives, for our community, and for our world. Therefore, prayer must always serve as the foundation of our work and ministry as Dignity.

The life of social justice is not opposed to the life of contemplation. In fact, if we wish to know what justice is, we must know who our God is. And if we wish to know who our God is, we pray. Prayer is, in the end, a responsibility that each of us has as individuals—not only to our God—but also to our communities and to our world.

In today’s gospel, we meet seventy-two more disciples, sent forth with a message to proclaim. And did you notice what they were like when they returned to Jesus? On this return, their sense of wonder and awe is palpable. They can’t wait to tell Jesus about what they have heard and seen. And they almost can’t believe the incredible work that God has accomplished through them.

We are no different than the seventy-two. When our work and our ministry is deeply united to a life of prayer, we can only watch in wonder as the fruits of the Spirit shine forth like this morning’s dawn over Lake Michigan. To our surprise, we discover that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control inexplicably spring up within and around us. And we’re confused because we didn’t manufacture them. Where it come from? They spring up because we permitted the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. And when we are bearers of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are those not the moments in which we are truly most ourselves?

Our conference theme has been: “True to Ourselves, True to the Spirit.” But these are not two independent statements, two separate assignments. For there is only one assignment. Because when we are true to the Spirit, we are already being true to our deepest selves, we who were created to be temples of that Spirit.

And so, like the seventy-two, we are now sent out. We are sent to proclaim the message of God’s love and Christ’s acceptance for all of our LGBTQI siblings. We are sent to minister where our clergy and bishops dare not trod. We are sent to be firm, loving, and sometimes annoying prophets—prophets to our beloved Catholic Church, to the people of our communities, and to the leaders of our nations we love and call home. We are sent to be witnesses of faith—to be Catholics. (And yes, we can use that word. They can’t take it away from us.) We are sent to pray and to live in friendship with the one who first loved us, whose love for us has no end. We do each of these things in our own manner, knowing that we are no less important than the person sitting to our left, or the person sitting to our right—but also knowing that we are never sent out alone.

And so, as we go forth from this great city on a Great Lake, let us do so with confidence that the reign of God is at hand—and the Spirit of God is upon us.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.