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Excerpt from a LGBTQ+ Activist’s Memoir this Pride Month

In this compelling and deeply affecting memoir, Greg Bourke recounts growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, and living as a gay Catholic. The book describes Bourke’s early struggles for acceptance as an out gay man living in the South during the 1980s and ’90s, his unplanned transformation into an outspoken gay rights activist after being dismissed as a troop leader from the Boy Scouts of America in 2012, and his historic role as one of the named plaintiffs in the landmark United States Supreme Court decision Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.

You can read the introduction to his story in his own words, and read how his faith and his sexuality come together not just to define him but to allow him to grow.

Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our pope and Joseph our bishop, and all the clergy.

—Catholic Mass Eucharistic Prayer II

Charity. Charity. From the Latin, caritas. It was a word I’d heard a million times at Mass, but like so many others, I’d hear it once and move on without thinking. Of course you want to help people in need. Give till it hurts if you can. Be kind to yourself. All good ideas. But was that it? Were charity and caritas the same, or had something been lost in translation? Was there something more mysterious, maybe even mystical, going on there? I don’t think I ever thought a lot about it until that one Saturday evening at Mass in the summer of 2016.

As sometimes happened during the Eucharistic Prayer, I was zoning out when our pastor, Father Scott Wimsett, came to those four words: “The fullness of charity.” I’d heard them so many times before, they’d lost all meaning, but this time was somehow different. It was like I had been falling asleep at the wheel of my car while driving, and I had that sudden jerk back to alertness. I looked up to see what was going on. There was Father Scott, and there was the congregation. Nothing was out of place, nothing was unexpected. What was that all about? But I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Until then they had no meaning for me. What had just happened?

Over the last few years, every week when I hear those words at Mass, they have had a similar though not quite as dramatic effect on me. For me they’re a weekly wake-up call, a call to attention, to alertness, to action. At first, I didn’t understand why I was having that response to such a simple phrase. In time I began to understand it was God calling me to bring a message to anyone who might want to hear about the fullness of God’s love and why we should all persist at pursuing it in God’s name.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, charity/caritas is defined as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (no. 1822). That’s quite a lot to live up to. The part of the Eucharistic Prayer most commonly used in Mass calls for all Church members to unite in a full and complete state of charity. We pray for the entire Church to be united in love. But we’re tacitly acknowledging that the Church has not yet achieved a state in which we have total love for God above all things and a love for our neighbors as ourselves. Charity is something to be pursued diligently and prayerfully even as we recognize the many obstacles and barriers to a state of fullness and completion in God’s love. Full charity is a mountain top too difficult to reach. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Hearing those words each week serves as a reminder of my decades living openly and authentically as a gay man and a dedicated Roman Catholic. Living my life striving for the fullness of charity has taken me places I could not have imagined when I was growing up in a working-class family in Louisville, Kentucky. I never could have seen my bitter standoff and ousting by the Boy Scouts of America or my battle for samesex marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court. The call was always there, but, as with so many people, I ignored it at times, or it was too difficult to interpret.

After prayerful reflection, I’ve come to realize that the Church cannot be full of charity or anything else as long as its doctrines and teachings are designed to condemn, marginalize, and push away the LGBTQ community. Each week we collectively pray for the Church to become complete in God’s love and charity. We know we’re not even close, but we understand it’s something to which God wants us to aspire. Failure is not an option.

Beyond my fourteen years of Catholic school and more than sixty years of actively practicing my Catholic faith from the pews, I can’t cite any theological credentials to write on these things. But when one feels God’s persistent call to do something, it is better to forge ahead, whether you feel qualified or not. God’s call can be relentless. You know God’s work is much more important than anything you wanted to do for yourself, but it’s not a mountain top too far.

(excerpted from the introduction)

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