St. Patrick’s Day, an iconic feast day celebrated by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, has lately riveted an epicenter of opinions concerning its 2015 parade in New York City. Clergy and lay people alike have swarmed social media discussing the simultaneous decisions by parade organizers to open its ranks in next spring’s parade to a single gay group marching under its own banner, and His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s role as the parade’s Grand Marshall and calling the organizer’s decision wise.
The fact that a strong reaction by many fervent Catholics criticizing this chain of events has reached into my own email inbox is no surprise; however, the severity of condemnation toward all parties involved – by way of threats of withholding tithing, leaving the Church, or lining the streets of the parade with counselors to engage the gay group marching – has signaled an alarming need for each Christian to self-examine their own understanding and call to discipleship.
In April 2013, when I arrived in New York City for my final interview in my current position as the Assistant Director for the Family Life/Respect Life Office, I rode a bus next to a young man who after 10 minutes of conversation, shared that he was a strong advocate for the gay community, and a member himself. It wasn’t long after his inquiry of my reason for visiting NYC, that he discovered my faithfulness to the Catholic Church and love for Jesus Christ. Then, in the 10 minutes remaining while conversing with him before my stop, he and I reached a apogee of mutual understanding of our mutual difference of beliefs, and I prayed silently that for perhaps the first time of his life, he encountered a Catholic man in myself who respected him just as much as I respectfully disagreed with his lifestyle.
I am a sinner, though I hope that my encounter with this man and each person I meet can manifest the eyes, words, and touch of Jesus Christ.
The swarming criticism surrounding the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City should call every Christian to consider not what a gay group’s duty may be to renounce its lifestyle to follow the way of Jesus Christ and the Church, but instead, what a Christian’s duty is to examine his or her call to compassionately encounter every person – gay or not – as a person called to be a son and daughter of God. This role is the “missionary disciple” role that Pope Francis calls every person to in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. No person will find his home inside the Church attractive until he finds an attractive “home” in his friendship with a Christian who points the way.
This paradigm of encounter is the way St. Patrick himself walked in the fifth century. After escaping more than 5 years of captivity in pagan Ireland, the 20-year old Patrick received a dream of the people he left in Ireland, calling out to him “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.” After decades of studies and formation as a priest, and later ordained a bishop, Patrick returned to Ireland in 433 A.D. preaching the Gospel, bringing thousands to conversion, and building churches across the country. Just forty years of his presence in Ireland brought the country to a birth into the Church. St. Patrick manifested himself as a patriot of Ireland and a patriot for Jesus Christ.
How then should the Christian perceive its duty to the circumstances of the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City which, I may say, resembles a modern-day Ireland?
Perhaps, until we each personally find ourselves remaining faithful to the Gospel while approachable to every person, gay or not, we ought to more deeply commit ourselves to Christian discipleship. Until our gay friends beg us to walk with them equally as much as we beg they consider the Gospel message, we ought to examine how we may become compassionate messengers of truth. And when they encounter the truth of Jesus Christ through us, turning from the prevailing gay lifestyle to authentic Christian friendships, we can together with them praise the saving power of Jesus Christ.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is an opportunity to celebrate not only the Catholic heritage of this great saint, but also the example of Christian discipleship this patriot gave to Ireland. Let’s give the same heritage of fidelity and compassionate example to our neighbors this coming year.