Text: Homily at Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory

Canon Pat Browne, Catholic Dean for London & Westminster, gave the following homily last night, at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, during the LGBT Tenth Anniversary Mass.

I think it was St Francis of Assisi who looked at the cherry tree and asked it to give glory to God. And then the cherry tree blossomed. It became all it could be! In doing this it fulfilled all its potential. You saw it in its full glory. It felt fulfilled and God saw all that he had made and found it very good. It did him proud.

This is Vocations Sunday. A Vocation is a call from God. I would like to put it to you that the basic vocation to which all of us is called is to do what the cherry tree did - to become all that God created and means us to be; to fulfil not part of our potential but all of it. When this happens we feel the joy and excitement of what it is to be full alive. And we honour what God has done in creating us and we give glory to Him.

But to do this we need to know our identity - who we are.

I have a friend in my parish and she often invites me to concerts. She gets the tickets free from John, her, as she calls him every time, "my gay friend." I have never met John but they are very close. But after hearing her refer to him in this way for the umpteenth time, I challenged her and said: "Do you not think it is an odd way to describe someone? We don't say I am going out tonight with my straight friend. Do we?" Why not just call him my friend John?

If we describe each other as humans in this very limited way doesn't it in some way diminish us? To describe me as a white person, a black person, a straight person, a gay person does not get to the essence of who I really am. In fact it divides the human family into ghettos. I may take great pride in that I belong to a particular group, and there is nothing wrong in that but to lock myself or allow others to confine and define me in terms of one particular group completely misses the mystery and richness of any one human person. It speaks of invisible walls - walls that lock some people in and lock others out. There is much more to the human person than that they are black or white, straight or gay, Christian or non-Christian.

So in what does my truest identity lie?

It is 20 years ago now that I was given a 6 month sabbatical - 6 months off work to refresh and do something for myself. I spent three months of it in the US. On the day I left London I went from being somebody to being nobody. In London I was someone important. In terms of a job I was Cardinal Hume's Secretary. In terms of talent I was a gifted singer. In terms of family I was Jack and Lucy Browne's son. In terms of people I knew, I could name drop the names of famous people I had met and got to know in some cases. And I had lots of good friends.

When I arrived in the States, all of this was taken away. I was nobody and no one knew where I had come from. Nobody knew me. I had no status. Nobody was particularly interested in who I knew or what I could do. My friends who loved me and supported me were the other side of the Atlantic.
It was a lonely experience, but one that forced me to look at where my true identity lay. Jack and Lucy Browne are now dead. So too is the Cardinal I worked for and some of my closest friends. My voice is nothing like it used to be. I don't mix in exalted circles anymore. This raises the question for me: Who is Pat Browne? When all of these things and people are taken away - who is Pat Browne?

It is only when I can answer this that I will know my true worth, value and vocation and can happily be, without trying too hard to convince, my truest self.

My worth and value comes in terms of Relationship. Yes the relationships I have with family members and true friends but most of all from the one relationship that will still be there when all these others have been taken away from me. After all, our parents die. Some friends move on or we let them go or they reject us. The one relationship that is always there for me when all the others have gone is the relationship with Jesus Christ. I no longer call you servants, he says. I call you friends.

This is the relationship that lasts when all the others have gone. From it I am given a deep sense of how valued and loved I am. This gives me the confidence and freedom to develop my gifts. Jesus tells us in today's Gospel, he will always be there for us because he is the Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for his sheep. Other - the hirelings - come and go. As soon as the wolf comes, they run away.

Sometimes in life there is a person who truly loves us. And what a gift that is. But no matter how much they love us we will have to separate. One of us will die first and leave the other.

Jesus says I will be with you always. It is in relationship to Him - the one that is always there for us - that I discover how deeply and permanently loved I am. When I begin to respond to this love I truly find out who I am and have the confidence to become who God means me to be.

Share this story