The 28th of June is the feast of St. Ireneus, who was a disciple of a disciple of John the Evangelist, who was later Bishop of Lyon in France (before there were any Frenchmen), and whose most famous phrase is probably: “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.“ Our humanity is something worth celebrating.
This was brought home to me recently as I returned to Toronto from my annual retreat in Combermere, Ontario. It was almost 9:00 PM when I got off the Greyhound bus with my little knapsack and started walking up Church Street toward our Jesuit house (Arrupe House) on Isabella Street.
Church Street, you may or may not know, is in the heart of the gay community in Toronto, and the rainbow banners were out everywhere because, as it so happened, it was Gay Pride Day. The marches (there had been three of them representing different groups) were long since over, but the celebrations were still going strong, and hundreds and hundreds of people were making their way down Church Street as I tried to make my way up.
Music was blaring at deafening volume at almost every intersection, and people were singing and dancing in the streets. Many were dressed in outlandish costumes and body paint, and some hardly clothed at all. If the glory of God is humanity fully alive, these people were more than fully alive. It struck me that what they were celebrating was, in fact, their humanity and not just their sexuality.
There were many heterosexual couples taking part as well. Some, who were older, were probably parents walking that day for their gay children. Others may have been there for a brother or sister. Some may have been there just for the spectacle, but everyone was indeed celebrating.
During the homily at Mass on the feast of St. Ireneus, I spoke about my experience on Church Street two days before, and I received a note afterward from someone who had been present at the Mass thanking me for my sharing. She said, “It was a very profound and meaningful and moving experience for me to hear you mention Pride Parade in liturgy. You had it exactly right when you said it was about their humanity! Normally I would have been there with our daughter. Your naming it evoked in me the call to name it in prayers. So thank you. It was a great blessing for me.”
It was a blessing for me too!