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Proud and Prophetic in a Mercy Context

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By Sister Janet Rozzano

The title for this blog came to me as I struggled to find a good focus for my reflection. As I often do, I turned to the dictionary for starters. One definition of pride is “delight or elation arising from some act, possession or relationship.” For the word proud, I found “very pleased, exultant,” and “having proper self-respect.” So, who or what am I proud of as a lesbian Sister of Mercy?

As we celebrate Pride Month 2021, I’m proud that I am able to be open about my sexual identity within and beyond my Community. I’m delighted that so many people with whom I’ve shared my story have been affirming and supportive of me. I’ve been elated when, in spite of my personal reticence, I’ve been able to support other lesbian and gay folks, or to help educate others about the experience of being lesbian or gay in a not-always-welcoming world.

Early on in my own journey of coming out, however, I realized that I was also being called to tap into the prophetic aspect of our vocation, called to see, say and do something about injustice, about the discrepancy between what is and what God’s Word calls us to. My firsthand experience of being part of the marginalized LGBTQ+ community heightened the urgency of this call.

Two events stand out in my mind regarding this call and its demands.

The first public gay and lesbian event I attended was the national convention of DignityUSA in 1983. Then-Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen had welcomed the organization to celebrate Mass at the cathedral, and because he would be away while we were there, he videotaped a short welcome speech. He was later reprimanded for allowing us to use the space.

In 1988, the local Dignity chapter in San Francisco was denied permission to continue celebrating its weekly Sunday Mass in a Catholic church. Since I had been part of this Sunday community for several years, I chose to walk with them from the church where we had been having our Sunday Masses to the cathedral in San Francisco, outside of which we held a prayer service. How well I remember the song we sang that night, by queer folk and protest singer Holly Near:

We are a gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are a justice-seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are young and old together and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are a land of many colors and we are singing, singing for our lives …
We are gay and straight together, and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are a gentle, loving people and we are singing, singing for our lives…

— Holly Near, “Singing for Our Lives”

In the years that have followed, I’ve continued to respond in various ways to this mission of “loyal opposition”—speaking out, writing letters, educating others, walking in protest.

How do I do that in a spirit of Mercy? As simple as it sounds, Catherine’s Suscipe has always been a strong anchor for me. Most important for me is the sentence, “Take from my heart all painful anxiety.” Fear is often my first reaction in situations of conflict or public protest, and Catherine’s words calm and reassure me. I also find grounding in her desire to surrender herself entirely to God’s loving Providence. After all our discernment about how to address a particular injustice, in the end that is what we must do. Catherine herself sheds light on this when she says: “We must act as though success depended on our own exertions, but pray as though success depended on God.”

It is in joining deep prayer and contemplation with a sensitive reading of the signs of the times that Catherine met the needs of her time. I think she would see our welcome of, understanding of and work for justice in the LGBTQ+ community as a very real need of our time. If she chose a Scripture to encourage our work in this area, I can imagine her suggesting the prophet Micah’s words: “…Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God.”