It was unsettling. You don’t expect to sit at Mass and discover the person next to you is a man dressed as a woman – actually, a man who “is” a woman. It was a bit discombobulating. You don’t expect such an spectacle at Mass any more than you expect an elephant to walk up the isle.
Janet and I are still a bit jet-lagged so we went to a 7:00 AM Mass at a Catholic Church not far from home. He-she (I don’t quite know how else to refer to this person) sat a pew near us and in plain view. He was dressed conservatively and was obviously there not to make trouble but to participate in the Mass. Even so, it was distracting.
Long straw-colored hair, a man’s face and hands, a woman’s chest in a tight gray blouse and black jacket, black slacks covering a man’s muscular legs and conservative black high heels. He obviously felt conspicuous sitting by himself in the back neither looking to left nor right and avoiding eye contact. Am I sure it was a man? There was no doubt. He wanted everyone to know. When he walked up for communion in front of us any doubt I had quickly vanished.
My first reaction was to stare and feel revulsion – was I imagining this or was it really what it appeared. My next was to wonder what he-she was doing here and how he justified coming to a Mass with such turpitude. My next thought was that I should quit dwelling on this distraction and pay attention to the Mass.
My mind was swirling again. I had also just walked in to church and sat down with my own sins and problems. Maybe they aren’t worn on my sleeve obviously as his-hers, but who was I to feel superior. That’s what the Pharisees did. Who knows the life story of this lonely and mixed up man? What situations twisted him to make such decisions? Why was he at Mass? How should I respond?
I decided to reach out with acceptance and greeting at the Sign of Peace but for several reasons (including his keeping his face straight ahead and not making eye contact) it didn’t work. I thought to myself, “I’d rather have this man kneeling here where redemption is close at hand than to have him turned away.” Jesus would have reached out to him – not to condone his sin and deviance but to break through and bring healing.
The world is full of broken people – lonely, confused, hurting, sinful… Watching criminals go the to gallows in the 16th century John Bradford said, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Me too! I’ve been blessed, forgiven, healed. My childhood was idyllic. My godly parents helped set the trajectory of my life by being saintly examples of sinful Christians alway coming to Jesus for grace, forgiveness, direction and healing.
Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. I realized it is better for him-her to kneel in church seeking the face of God than to be pushed outside ignoring the life of faith. But it was still very uncomfortable.
I prayed for him and I prayed for me.