There is an encounter in the Christian scriptures that has the power to take one's breath away.
Jesus is invited to the home of a religious leader. A woman, an outcast and sinner, shows up too. Safe to say, she is not invited. In the scene, one of the most poignant in the Gospels, the woman positions herself close to Jesus, washes his feet with her tears (her tears!) and dries them with her hair. It is as if all the moments of this outcast's life, her sufferings and joys and sins and successes, are collected and reconciled in those tears and given to Jesus in the form of love.
But the host is repulsed by this encounter. Jesus, by authority of his own pure love, invites him to honor her dignity and faith (Luke 7:36-50). We're not told if the leader is changed by the encounter. Over 2,000 years later, we're still not sure.
In just a few weeks, throngs of Catholics will enter the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. These people will bring the same tears of love and faith brought to Jesus so many years ago. Fourteen families from our Equally Blessed coalition will be among them: parents of transgender or gay children who have been challenged over thousands of days and nights to love those kids unconditionally, who know viscerally what it means, in the words of the prophet Micah, "to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly" in their parental roles; gay couples with children who live by the promise to raise those children "according to the love of Christ"; transgender, intersex and gay persons themselves who are coming through a fire of marginalized existence into the freedom of God's beloved, finally knowing their "sin" is not who they are and whom they love, but what chases us all -- greed, fear, hate, hubris.
These Catholics have much to bring to the table of the World Meeting of Families. We are not the enemy of the many bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Pope Francis, who will also attend.
In fact, we are allies in the mission of the church to strengthen familial bonds, to unify the Body of Christ in her beautiful diversity, to bring Good News to the poor, to welcome the stranger and to bring hope to the brokenhearted. Our own hearts have been broken, sometimes by our own church, so we bring real experience to what Pope Francis has famously called "the field hospital" of the church.
We invite our bishops and our good pope to include us wholeheartedly in the "big tent" gathering of Catholic families in September. But if they don't, we will still be in the room. Like that woman in the Gospel, we will be there with our tears of redemption and love to mingle with many other Catholics. No question about that.
The real question is, will there be voices in the background gasping and whispering? We hope not. We hope for outstretched arms from fellow sinners and saints, for we are all of us in our great diversity, one body.
[Jim Smith is the associate director of DignityUSA and a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition.]