A reflection given at Bread for the World by Bernárd J. Lynch, St Martin-in-the-Fields on 12 June 2019
Readings: John 14.1-3
If you bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill you to break you. The world breaks everybody and if we survive we become strong at the broken places.
God/Love breaks our hearts as it were to make them bigger . . . Broken heartedness is part of ALL Love . . . In the army of Lovers only the wounded may serve.
God/Love as you know is for the heart . . . It is for the heart that God/Love is God/Love. It is our hearts God/Love wants and our friends ask us for . . . The problem is, so many of us do not have our hearts to begin with . . . For the gay/lesbian person the order of the heart is reversed from birth. Up to very recently – and still for most LGBT people in the world – everything in Church and state, parents, teachers and family told her or him that they should not exist . . . And if they do exist then their existence is not normal. The gay child has usually and most extraordinarily to teach the parent how to love him or her as a gay person. So many of us in childhood as gay people were hated for who we are, and loved for who we are not.
Perhaps though, at one time or another each of us has seen the Garden of Eden. A time of transparent credibility. A time when we desired to give our heart’s to God/Love and God’s/Love’s desire for co-equality and justice in our world. But we have no sooner seen the garden than we see the flaming sword. (The cost of being truthful, open and free.) Then perhaps, life offers us the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or . . . It takes strength to remember. It takes another kind of strength to forget. It takes a hero or heroine to do both. And the world is mostly filled by mad people who remember and mad people who forget. Those who remember, court madness through pain – the pain of the recurring death of their own innocence. Those who forget court another kind of madness – the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence. Heroes and heroines are rare.
When I started my work for justice with LGBTQI people and people with HIV/AIDS, I had to hold in mind forever two ideas that seemed antithetical. The first idea was ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of the fact that to side with the marginalised I too would be marginalised. To be with the oppressed I too would be oppressed, shunned, ostracised and denied justice like those for whom I was seeking justice. The acceptance of this fact, totally without rancour or hatred, was/is one of the greatest challenges to faith. Formed as we are by those who have the deepest necessity to despise us, the beginning of our history, the reason for our existence, the cornerstone of our identity. The danger is we carry inside – as gay or straight — what the world has taught us, rather than who we are in God/Love.
In the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is commonplace. All people alive experience injustice of one kind or another. But this does not mean that we could ever or should ever become complacent. The second idea is of equal power: that one must never in one’s own life, accept injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and is laid to our charge that as soon as we set out on the road seeking justice, that we are duty bound to keep our own heart’s free of hatred and despair. I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain. (Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the person who hated. This is an immutable law.)
Some moments in life, and they needn’t be very many or seem at the time very important, can make up for so much in that life; can redeem, justify, that brokenness, that bewilderment, that death with which we all live. Some moments can invest us with the courage not only to endure, but also to profit from our endurance. Some moments teach the price of the human connection:
If we can learn to know our own brokenness, then we can know the brokenness/injustice of the world, and so briefly, but transcendentally we can be for each other instruments of joy, freedom and Hope. This is a great gift and Grace. (AIDS)
What gets me through as an inside outsider working with people with AIDS and those on the margins of society for the past forty years is some kind of faith in Life/Love/God, that totally transcends religion and of which in a way all religion is a denial. A FAITH OF THE HEART. Not a heartless faith. As my friend Sister Patrice Murphy, the AIDS patient representative at Saint Vincent’s hospital in Greenwich Village New York said, ‘you will have to transcend the Church and religions to find God.’ This was the early eighties, a time of unspeakable grief and loss, when Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques refused to accept even the dead bodies of our young AIDS sisters and brothers and hundreds of AIDS patients died of starvation in New York city hospitals, because nurses and orderlies were too scared of catching the virus to serve food to their wards. Shunned very often by families and friends they died ignominious and lonely deaths. (My own Church blamed people with AIDS for getting the virus.) This faith/Hope is more important, than Husband/Wife, Lovers, Families, or Friends, Riches and Vocation. It is I believe the rock foundation of all of these . . .
It is the raison d’ệtere of an authentic humanity born from the joyful realisation that there is nothing in life but God . . .
I do not subscribe to the superstition that one’s understanding of an event alters the event. No, it the event, which does the altering, and the question one faces is how to live with times brutal alterations.
We invent saints and martyrs very often to prevent us drinking from our own cup. The Christ of the Gospel of freedom, justice, joy and liberation is not for adoration but imitation. On this road, the crucified is no stranger . . . And in the tomb of death we find Hope . . .
We have a saying in Irish, “Is air scaith a chéile, a mhaireann na daoine.”
We live in each other’s shadow.
We do indeed live in a world of shadows. Sometimes we barely get enough light to take the next step . . .
But, we are only asked to take that step for which light has been given.
Part of the wonder of age is that we are reassured, that the complexities of life are not ours alone. In spite of peculiarities, extremes and failures, you and I are no different from others in our eccentricities, pathological desire and secrets. I am not out of step with other ‘normal’ human beings, walking around inside their own human skin. Everyone — from the highest to the lowest — is wounded. Everyone is hurting. Everyone is imperfect.
Personally, I believe that I have been lucky. After all no one gets a full loaf. With others who have discovered and uncovered the God of our hearts I am grateful for the Bread given me.
“Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid” . . .
As an out married gay man and priest, ‘the word has been made flesh for me’ FOR ALL OF US . . . our cup of joy does overflow if we take God’s Love as true . . . The truth crucifies us and sets us free . . . And for this we give thanks. Life is a Eucharist . . . Amen.
Revd. Dr. Bernárd J. Lynch
Saint Martin in the Field’s
Bernárd J. Lynch (born 1947, Ennis County Clare, Ireland), was ordained in 1971, is a priest and a psychotherapist, renowned for his human rights work with HIV and AIDS community and the LGBTQIA community