“He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” This line from our Hebrew Scripture today describes how people with a skin disease had to live in Jesus’ time. Jesus heals a leper in today’s Gospel, and sends him to a priest for the required ritual cleansing. As I write this, a storm of protest and criticism has been directed at Pope Francis. With his approval, the Vatican office of the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document, Fiducia Supplicans, authorizing priests to bless LGBTQ+ persons. Responding to the criticism, our pope and the Vatican emphasized that this blessing is not for LGBTQ+ unions or marriages. It is a pastoral blessing of the LGBTQ+ persons, and for that reason, the blessing is to be done in a non-liturgical setting, such as a home, or a venue other than a church. Blessings are common in Catholic life. The Church-authorized Book of Blessings has almost 900 pages and includes blessings for persons, buildings, occasions and objects — including vehicles! Laypersons, who share in the priesthood of Christ through baptism, may give blessings, especially in non-liturgical settings. And also, priests may decline to use the new blessing. And so, in one way, this new blessing permission is “no big deal.” When Jesus in today’s Gospel touched a leper — against Jewish law of his time — you can bet he caused an uproar! The upset over the LGBTQ+ blessing shows us struggling today, like people in Jesus’ day did, with the question of who is “in” and who is “out” of our Church. The Catholic Church is a formal institution, and as such it has structures and boundaries that give it an enduring identity over time and place. What Pope Francis is reminding us, however, is that God’s love is bigger than the Catholic Church. God’s love overflows to reach all those who are “outside the box” — like non-Catholic spouses, irregularly married Catholics, other faith communities, “fallen away” Catholics and, yes, LGBTQ+ people. The new blessing does not take away from the Church’s affirmation of the generative unions it celebrates in the sacrament of matrimony. This week’s Scriptures invite us to bless through our love and prayer those we know personally who are “outside the box” people.
— Blog entry by Sister Mary Garascia, illustration designed by Freepik