Here is one of those strange confluences in the spiritual life: Last night, I read that Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), died at the age of 92. In 1972, after her son was beaten at a gay demonstration and the police failed to intervene, she wrote a letter to the New York Post saying, "I have a homosexual son and I love him." Imagine the courage that must have taken in 1972. 

No matter what you think about the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, no matter what religion you are, no matter what political party you favor, I hope that you say a prayer for Mrs. Manford. For she loved prophetically. That is, she publicly expressed her love for a group of marginalized people before it was safe to do so. That kind of love might remind you of another person who worked in and around Galilee, publicly loving all sorts of people--lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, Roman centurions--when it was not safe to do so, at all. 

When I read about Mrs. Manford's death (I hadn't known about her story at all until last night) I thought of yesterday's first reading, from the First Letter of St. John, which begins this way: "Beloved let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love."

There is a lot of talk about gays and lesbians these days. But in every thing we say and do, particularly for Christians, love must come first. And not the love that condemns first, or judges first, or labels first. But the love that loves first. Because God is love. 

It is all the more important that Catholics lead with love precisely because we belong to a church that adheres to traditional teachings about sexuality and marriage. No one can ever mistake a respect for church teaching for a lack of charity toward our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens and, just as unfortunately, sometimes we are the cause of that. That's why it's so important to remember Mrs. Manford's message--and Jesus'.

Fifteen years after Mrs. Manford's prophetic act of love, the US Catholic Bishops published their pastoral letter "Always Our Children," addressed to parents of homosexual children. "Love, too," wrote the bishops, "is the continuing story of every family's life. Love can be shared, nurtured, rejected, and sometimes lost. To follow Christ's way of love is the challenge before every family today. Your family now has an added opportunity to share love and to accept love. Our church communities are likewise called to an exemplary standard of love and justice." 

May Jeanne Manford rest in peace, and may we always love prophetically, recklessly, prodigally, dangerously, eternally.

Comments

BRUCE SNOWDEN | 1/9/2013 - 5:51pm

If it’s true that, “the measure of love is to love without measure,” then I’d say Mrs. Jeanne Manford did it in how she loved her homosexual son, doing so without measurement, I mean without moral judgmental determinations. She was his Mom and he was her boy and she allowed love to rule, as “another person who worked in Galilee” would do, as Jesuit priest James Martin indicated. Jeanne showed that, as Scripture says, “Love conquers all” fulfilling the fundamental mandate of Christ to “grow in love.”
For those of us who cross over to the other side lacking full growth in love, there’s Purgatory, where not in length, but rather in intensity, love reaches maturity making “that which is and that which is to come” Resurrection, a reality. I’d venture to say that Jeanne Manford is already there, seeing up front and close the wonders God has prepared for those who love him, marvels that at present we barely understand, seeing only dimly in the dark light of Faith.

Chris Sullivan | 1/9/2013 - 5:13pm

I am very grateful and inspired by May Jeanne Manford's witness and I thank Fr Jim for sharing it with us and to him and all those who have followed in May Manford's example of showing genuine love, even when it costs.

God Bless