Today, we congratulate the US on the inauguration of Barack Obama, the culmination of an extraordinary story of the triumph of hope.
When he first emerged on the national stage at the Democratic convention in 2004, he was just a little known state senator from Illinois. he impressed with his convention speech, and several commentators noted that he could be a good presidential candidate in years to come – but few could have expected it would be so soon. What seemed a quixotic, premature quest hen he first announced his intention to seek the nomination, gradually took on greater plausibility, until eventually he triumphed in November in one of the strongest presidential wins in recent history.
He did so with a constant emphasis on the importance of bringing ‘change’ to the entrenched power structures , of ‘hope’, and of empowering ordinary citizens, of involving them in the political life of the nation. In achieving this triumph, he has transformed the political landscape of America, extending for many the bounds of what is believed to be possible.
Today the Church commemorates the feast of St Sebastian, martyr.
What do these have in common? Where is the link?
Let us begin with Sebastian. The word ‘martyr’ derives from the Greek for ‘bear witness’, and it is this aspect that makes the martyrs important: not their deaths in themselves, but the way in which they testify to those who have stood firm in their faith, in witnessing to the truth against the power of an oppressive state.
Obama, by determination, by steadfastly proclaiming the importance of hope and inspiring ordinary people, has brought at least the promise of changing Washington power structures.
As gay men and lesbians, transgendered and as other sexual minorities, we know what it is to be oppressed within the Church. We know what it is to be faced with the formidable power structures of the Vatican bureaucracy, of the might of the Papacy ranged against the truth which we know in our lives and in our hearts, against which it is all too tempting to give in to compliance, or to give up and get out of the Church. But always, there is hope.
I have noteed before John McNeill’s reference to an emerging ‘Kairos moment’ applicable to LGBT people in the Church. By this he means a “Catholic Church transformed from a Church based on obedience to external authority to a Church based on obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit which speaks to us from within ourselves and our experience.”(personal correspondence).
I believe that he is right, and I think there are glimmers, just hints of suggestions, that this is indeed beginning to happen (I will elaborate on these tomorrow)- but it will not proceed unaided. We need to add our voices, we need to work together to push the process along. I am not suggesting that it will be quick or easy – the change we need is bigger by far than that Obama intends to bring to Washington – but we have on our side the Holy Spirit. We have right and truth with us.
Yes, we can.