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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

939: We are not an institution for the perfect, but a place where marginalized people can find home

Day 939: Tuesday, October 11, 2022

We are not an institution for the perfect, but a place where marginalized people can find a home.

From Jim Fredericks:

Please know that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as part of the preparation process for the Synod on Synodality in Rome next year, has prepared a summary of the discussions about issues facing the Church that have taken place here in the United States. I strongly recommend this document for study and discussion. Here is a link:

Reflection by Jim Fredericks:

Pope Francis has asked Catholics all around the world to come together and reflect on the future of the Church and the Church’s service to the world.

This week, Pope Francis is asking of us by reflecting on what is a difficult subject for some in our community: the Church’s responsibility to welcome LGBTQ+ people, to recognize their dignity as human beings, and to accompany them as they accompany the rest of us on our one journey of faith.

Let me begin with a story.

When I lived in Hawaii, I met a man who from Kalaupapa, the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. As a child, a doctor diagnosed Kawika (“David”) with Hansen’s Disease. Then, the Board of Health for the Country of Honolulu officially declared that he was a leper and sent him into quarantine at Kalaupapa.

I am choosing my words carefully. Kawika was “diagnosed” with Hansen’s disease, but he was “declared” a leper. Hansen’s disease is a medical condition resulting from a bacterial infection. Like AIDS, Hansen’s disease is hard to contract. Leprosy, on the other hand, is a social stigma, not a medical condition. Kawika didn’t contract leprosy, he was made into a leper by being forced to abandon his family and move to the colony of lepers at Kalaupapa.

A while back, Susan Sontag wrote a fine book entitled Illness as Metaphor. Some illnesses, like AIDS, are more than medical conditions. We have made some illnesses into metaphors for something wrong with our humanity.

This is certainly true of leprosy. More than a medical condition, leprosy is a metaphor for people who are “unclean.” Leprosy means pollution and contagion. Someone with Hansen’s disease needs treatment. Anyone with leprosy is to be spurned.

Illness as metaphor can be seen in the Gospel today. Jesus enters a village as he makes his way through Samaria. Ten lepers meet him and keep their distance.

This was to be expected. Anyone declared a leper was required to dwell outside of town, in the margins, and avoid contact with people. To be a leper meant much more than having a problem with your skin. It meant you had a problem with your soul.

They stood at a distance from him and raised their

voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"

These ten human beings want to be cured of the bacterial infection that afflicts their skin. They also want to be freed from the loneliness imposed on them by being ostracized.

There are no more lepers confined to Kalaupapa today. The leper colony on Moloka’i is now an historical site operated by the Federal Park Service. And yet, we still are making people into lepers. This is true in our country, and it is true in our Church. We still declare some people unclean and confine them to the margins. We still require that some people live outside our village.

In preparation for the Synod on Synodality, the bishops of the local churches of the USA are listening to their people as they express their concerns for the present and their hopes for the future. Now the bishops have produced a summary of what the people of our churches are saying that bears careful reading.

The document, which is being shared with Catholics around the world, recognizes the polarization of opposing camps within the American church and even the opposition of not a few American bishops to the vision of Pope Francis. Then the report switches from polarization to marginalization in our local churches.

Many people in the local churches of the USA are talking about LGBTQ+ people who are

“marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the Church.”

In other words, too often, we make Gay people into lepers.

The bishops’ report tells us poignantly that some families

“feel torn between remaining in the church and supporting their loved ones.”

The report also says something dear to the heart of Pope Francis:

“People noted that the Church seems to prioritize doctrine over people, rules, and regulations over lived reality. People want the Church to be a home for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. They want the Church to meet people where they are, wherever they are, and walk with them rather than judging them; to build real relationships through care and authenticity, not superiority.”

The bishops’ report also says something of importance to us all.

“In order to become a more welcoming Church there is a deep need for ongoing discernment of the whole Church on how best to accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.”

We can do this at Saint Leo’s (and in all our communities). We have members of our community ready to give leadership in this regard right now. In fact, an initial step for this work is being planned. We promise to keep you in the loop.

I hope you will commit yourself to this work of the Church.

We are not an institution for the perfect, but a place where marginalized people can find a home.

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