I was recently blessed to attend a conference sponsored by Dignity USA, an LGBTQ Catholic organization. During the vibrant and powerful liturgy, we sang a song that is becoming increasingly popular in many Catholic parishes, “A Place at the Table,” also known as “For Everyone Born.”
For everyone born, a place at the table…
Yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy!
Each verse expands the table’s circle of welcome and equality. But at this conference, we sang a verse that I hadn’t heard before:
For gay and for straight, a place at the table,
a covenant shared, a welcoming place,
a rainbow of race and gender and color,
for gay and for straight, the chalice of grace
I was surprised to learn later that the verse is from the original hymn by New Zealander Shirley Erena Murray. Most Catholic and Protestant hymnals blatantly omit it, and even the original publication included these words only as an “optional” verse.How often do we proclaim at liturgy that “all are welcome” while simultaneously excluding LGBTQ people and others, sometimes literally writing them out of the guest list? The last scene of the long form of today’s Gospel invites us to take another look at our inclusivity.
How often do we proclaim at liturgy that “all are welcome” while excluding LGBTQ people? #RiseUpClick to tweet
Jesus’ parable vividly describes the inclusivity of God’s reign, reversing his listeners’ expectations of who is worthy to share the wedding feast. Religious leaders, elites, and other self-professed religious people presume their worthiness but refuse the banquet of justice. Jesus makes clear that the excluded and the oppressed are the ones not only invited to the table but most likely to accept.
And yet, the parable goes further. In a puzzling ending, one of the guests—a person who is presumably poor—is dismissed for not wearing a “wedding garment.” The exact meaning of the garment is mysterious, yet it suggests that it is not enough to be invited or to simply “show up.” The wedding feast—God’s reign—must be fully enacted. We cannot show up and then refuse the full participation of others, perhaps by keeping our eyes closed to, or being content with, the exclusion of others.
In our church, as in the Gospel, the feast has long been ready, but we have delayed it unjustly. Let us not only sing that “all are welcome,” but stand together clothed in full dignity and equality for all.
Michael Iafrate is Co-Coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) and served as the lead author of CCA’s “People’s Pastoral,” The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us. He is a West Virginia native, a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University (’99 and ’03), and is completing a dissertation in theology for the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. His writing has appeared in National Catholic Reporter and Religion Dispatches and in the collections Secular Music and Sacred Theology, edited by Tom Beaudoin (Liturgical Press, 2013) and the forthcoming Music, Theology, and Justice, edited by Michael O’Connor, Christina Labriola, and Hyun-Ah Kim (Lexington Books, 2017). He is also a singer-songwriter and old time musician.