Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
From a very young age, I found myself incredibly attuned to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the promptings come in quiet moments like a dance class or a rehearsal. Sometimes they come in confusing moments like a budget meeting at work or a difficult phone call with a loved one. Like many people fighting for equality in our community, we will witness something happen on the CTA or in our workplace that just does not feel right. And in those moments, we have a choice. Whether you call it the Holy Spirit, Inspired Wisdom, something beyond yourself, or a combination of the three, if you have a heart for Social Justice, I can assure you that you have been called by some type of prompting to act in a way that speaks to equality that feels so difficult sometimes that your heart just might burst.
On Sunday, June 16, 2013, I participated in the choir at the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach’s (AGLO) 25th Anniversary Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Francis George. My Girlfriend and I have been part of the AGLO community for over two years. We served on the 25th Anniversary Committee and the Liturgy Committee that helped to prepare the spiritual events such as retreats and creative Liturgies to celebrate this milestone. In October, when we heard that Cardinal George was the requested preference for the Celebrant by the AGLO Board of Directors, a great deal of tension spread throughout our Community. While this Mass was to be a great honor for our organization, it also felt hurtful and confusing. Why would a man so full of hate and backwards theology towards the LGBTQ Community be asked to preside at the Mass celebrating their organization? The conversations did not stop for the next six months. Would we attend? Would I do more than attend and sing in the choir? Would I protest outside? Would I stay home and take a well-deserved nap? I decided to attend the Mass, fully supporting my friends protesting outside, and fully supporting the community I had spent the last two years ministering to.
I have to commend the Cardinal for his homily on a weekend with very difficult readings on which to preach. What he had to say could have been much worse, but he kept it surface level and vague about the necessity of confessing our sins. Talking about sin in a room full of people whose personal lives you fundamentally disagree with never sets anyone up for success. When the homily was over, the room took a collective sigh of relief thinking that the worst was over. There were even comments from the Baritones behind me and gestures of wiping the sweat from their brows to make their neighbors laugh. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit had something else in mind.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist began with nearly ten different clergy on the Altar with the Cardinal. Many of the Priests had served our Community for years and it was incredibly beautiful to see each of them wearing different robes and stoles in the green shades of Ordinary Time. It was even more profound to see them smiling, happy, and genuinely proud to be there. After the Priests and the choir participated in the Eucharist, the choir anthem started. Be Thou My Vision, an Old Irish hymn often attributed to the poet Dallán Forgaill, began to play and the choir stood tall and proud.
Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ from the Cardinal makes you feel like something special is happening. Something different and profound. It brought me back to my third grade First Communion in a lace, white dress where the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin smiled at me and placed a small wafer in my hand like it was a precious piece of gold not to be chewed like the piece of gum our mothers always asked us to spit out when we became too obnoxious. Receiving Communion from the Cardinal made me feel like I am a part of history, a validated member of the Body of Christ, both as a skilled musician who has poured my life into ministry and as a lesbian. Singing the words Thou my best Thought, by day or by night is sung sincerely, with fervour and delight, thanking the God who gave you life that you are here and present in this Mass.
But all of those feelings quickly went to the wayside when I saw a man approaching the altar with his hands outstretched to receive that same Grace and is denied. This gentleman’s brightly colored rainbow sash caught my attention as he approached the Cardinal. I love watching the way couples and families interact while leaving their pews for Communion. When I’m able to sit with my Girlfriend at mass, she always steps out of the row and allows me to step in front of her as we walk up the aisle. My Father always did the same thing when I was a little girl. It feels safe, protective, and inviting. Countless LGBTQ couples did the same thing for their Partners at mass. But this man didn’t. This man, whose Partner passed away a few years ago, approached the altar expressing his identity with a piece of clothing. And because of that piece of clothing, was marginalized and practically spat upon by a man who should feel honored to hold his position, not entitled to further his personal agenda. The Cardinal, with Host in hand, raised the Bread to greet the next person in line, made eye contact with the man, realized who he was, and placed the Bread back onto the plate. The Cardinal then held the man’s hands and blessed him with the sign of the cross before the man walked away, empty handed.
In that moment, I thought my heart was going to shatter into a thousand pieces. I felt humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed to be worshiping the same God in the same room as the Cardinal. Here the choir was singing High King of Heaven, my victory won and my rose colored glasses were ripped from my eyes. Who had won? Whose victory were we celebrating here? Certainly not the victory of the Risen Christ over the grave. Certainly not the Christ who came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Certainly not the Christ whose peace passes all understanding. This man was still standing – a teaching encouraged by the Catholic Church to symbolize that the Eucharist isn’t ended until all of its members receive the Host – as tears beginning to well in his eyes. The Holy Spirit said go, and I did. I left the choir space in the middle of the hymn, to which I apologized to my Choirmaster for later, and got back in line. I was the last person to receive Communion and after I did, I turned right around and walked to the fifth row and waited for this man to meet my eyes. The obscenities started to fly out of mouth of a heckler a few rows behind the man as the heckler began to call his neighbors attention out of prayer and to the act that was happening just out of their reach. When the man’s eyes met mine, I whispered “the Body of Christ” and gave it to him. He then spoke a hushed and emotional “Amen” as I turned to rejoin the choir.
Apart from bringing Communion to my fellow musicians, like organists, pianists, and drummers who are unable to leave their music stands on most Sundays, I’ve only brought Communion to one other person in my life. In 2011, I attended the Easter Vigil by myself at a parish in the suburbs I have always wanted to worship with. They are renowned for their dynamic energy and inclusive approach to ministry. After arriving and finding a seat early, I began talking with a woman who had also never been to this parish before. After talking about our jobs, what brought us here, and traditions of previous Easters, I handed her a hymnal and encouraged her to sing her heart out. When it came time for Communion, I turned to exit the pew, but she stepped aside allowing me to step around her. I gestured to the aisle and said “Aren’t you going to join me?” She lowered her head and said “I can’t. I’m divorced.”
We need to be better. We need to be kinder to ourselves and to our Community. This life is incredibly difficult already, without the added burden of being denied Communion because some man in a robe, who you were taught to respect, told you whether or not you were good enough. Let this be a reminder that we need to witness to our Community the love and grace of our Mother and Father God – especially when hecklers confront us after mass and continue to scream obscenities, reminding us that, in their minds, we aren’t good enough for the Kingdom of God. May we dance, sing, and move as Creation intended us to – Heart of my own heart, whatever befall.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
About the guest blogger
Brenna C. Cronin studied Theatre for Social Justice at Western Michigan University. She serves as a Music Minister for several parishes in Chicago and as a Counselor for Camp Ten Trees, a Seattle based summer camp dedicated to ending homophobia and transphobia by fostering creativity and individuality. She lives with her gorgeous Partner in Rogers Park and celebrates life with fantastic dinner parties and dancing with the 5Rhythms community.