Me, My Inner Catholic Boy and Coming out

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I moved out of the family home two months ago. Since then, I have not been to an LDS Church except to watch Priesthood Session of April Conference with my son. I have no immediate plans to attend sacrament meeting anytime soon, and I certainly have no plans to attend Sunday School or priesthood meeting anytime soon.

Have I left the Church? Im not yet prepared to say that. (In fact, Im prepared to argue that it is the wrong question. I believe a more correct statement is that the Church left me.) I have commented to a couple of people, however, that I consider myself on sabbatical from the Church as I continue to work through the complex process called coming out. Whether I ever return from that sabbatical remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I have allowed myself to explore feelings and beliefs from my past.

About six weeks ago, I went to a Catholic mass for the first time in 25 years. I didnt know how I would feel or what I would think. I was amazed that morning how many memories from my childhood came flooding into my mind, how many parts of the mass came back to me, how I was able to almost instinctively give some of the prayer responses after all this time. I was also touched, that first Sunday, by the priests homily, which struck me as far more profound and true than virtually any sacrament meeting talk I had ever heard. I came away feeling like I wanted to go back.

That opportunity came the next Sunday, as a (gay Mormon) friend expressed a desire to attend mass. So I took him. I found my thoughts that Sunday turning toward my mother, who had been raised Catholic and who died several years ago. As I have written elsewhere on my blog, these thoughts led me to ponder over the troubled relationship I had had with her. In light of recent events in my life, I came to see my mother in a new light, and I feel like I was imbued with grace to forgive her for the abuse I had suffered as a child at her hand.

That grace continued to bless me as new thoughts come into my mind about my mother. Just recently, for example in fact in the course of preparing an early draft of this post it occurred to me that both she and I had tried to achieve perfection in our respective families, only to become our own worst enemies.

Both my mother and I desperately tried to do the right thing she trying to be the perfect Catholic mother and have perfect Catholic children; me trying to be the perfect straight Mormon father and have the perfect Mormon family. But in both our cases, irony of ironies, doing the right thing got in the way of that which was truly needful the formation and nurturance of healthy, happy family relationships – a topic on which I plan to write more at some future point.

I bring this up about my mother because it made me think about the faith of my childhood and youth: Catholicism. Attending mass also seemed to be precipitating the endowment of grace I was experiencing with respect to my mother. I pondered over this.

I went back to mass the following week, ostensibly to give my son the opportunity to fulfill school requirements and to see a different religious service. The real reason, however, is that I wanted to go back: something was resonating with me. I was having spiritual experiences as I attended mass. I felt like I was reconnecting to something that had been lost. I also felt like I was at the right place at the right time during this part of my journey.

Because of these feelings, I began to consider the possibility of going back to the Catholic Church. I thought about it. I looked up what I would need to do to go back. I even communicated with my brother who is an active Catholic about it. (He proceeded to e-mail my (Catholic) cousin, after which I received an e-mail from this cousin, welcoming me back to the Church. I replied that his welcome was a bit premature, but I appreciated the sentiment.)

I went to mass again on Palm Sunday. I was beginning to feel other currents, however, that challenged the feelings I had been having about the Catholic Church. Specifically, I wondered whether I could ever feel at home in a church and faith that did not accept me for who I am, i.e., as a gay man.

Because I was out of town the past two Sundays, I havent been to any kind of church since Palm Sunday. During this time, Ive had an opportunity to think about my feelings. Though there are aspects of the Catholic faith that resonate with me, and perhaps will always resonate with me, I came to feel that I do not want to be part of a faith community that is not accepting of members of the LGBT community.

I came to realize, I think, that my gayness has in fact become part of my personal theology, my personal relationship with God, and I began to feel I cannot be part of a faith community that conflicts with that personal theology and does not affirm that personal relationship.

This was brought home to me in a recent discussion with my sister about religion, sexuality and faith. I realized, during the course of that conversation, that even though I have intellectually accepted that God created me the way I am and that He loves me for who I am, I am, nevertheless, not fully out to God.

I think there is still a part of me that believes that God cannot or will not accept me for who I am. That part of me, that person, has been well-entrenched within me for decades one of the many consequences of living in the closet for all that time and will not be easily silenced.

The funny thing is – I don’t think I’ll ever learn who I truly am until and to the degree that I come out to God and fall into His embrace. Doing so requires me, among other things, to shed the veneer of self-righteousness false identity that Mormonism provided for me. With this veneer, I didnt really need God, did I? My sense of self-acceptance came from living the Gospel, keeping the commandments and following the prophet. Shedding this veneer, coming out of the Mormon closet, requires me to stand naked before God, without the self-satisfying protections these practices afforded me.

In this regard, I am reminded of the words of James Alison, a gay Catholic priest of whom I have previously written:

The gift of faith is God’s way of enabling us to relax into God’s embrace if you believe someone likes you, you relax. The masks come down. You’re able actually to let go of the tense self-presentation that accompanies being with someone who you’re not sure whether they like you or not. So the gift of faith is a habitual disposition to relax in the presence of someone who likes us.

Im trying to learn to relax into Gods embrace without the mask, without the tense self-presentation; just me, just as I am.

Invictus Pilgrim blogs at http://invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com.

 

11 thoughts on “Me, My Inner Catholic Boy and Coming out

  1. Catholicism has more room in it for LGBT people than Mormonism. A recent poll indicated that American Catholics support gay rights more than any of other major Christian group, more than the American public as a whole. Of course, that Vatican doesn’t support gay rights, but there isn’t such a “follow the pope” mentality in Catholicism as there is a “follow the prophet” one in Mormonism.

    I’m also thinking about how a number of universities are Catholic-owned, but yet there are LGBT faculty and groups in many if not most of those schools that don’t always have as much leeway as they would at public universities, but are nonetheless extant. This is compared to BYU where the best you’ll get is a lecture by William Bradshaw (which is fine, no insult there); any LGBT culture is underground.

    With that said, I’ve wondered which faith will budge first officially on gay equality/female ordination. I think it’ll be Mormonism, which might seem contradictory to what I’ve just said, but I also think the Vatican can hold out longer because of the sheer size of the Catholic Church.

  2. I had a similar experience when attending my LDS grandfather’s funeral and praying with my family afterward. It really did feel good.

  3. The roman catholic church has really done a poor job of including women or understanding sexuality. At least the lds church accepts that a married couple can use birth control.

    Not only that, but the state of Catholic education in the US is varied. Some schools teach biology and evolution (as well as historic events like the inquisition) but over the years I’ve spoken with many people who were not taught this information.

    I guess all of this is to say, if you find comfort attending RC services, that’s great. I think as long as a person is aware and keeps boundaries, that’s fine. I would also be wary of donating money. I believe there are some splinter/reform groups that ordain women and may agree with gay marriage. Personally, I would be much more apt to look at those movements rather than the main church in Rome.

  4. You might also consider the Episcopal church. There are branches that have, as they say, all the smells and bells of Catholicism, but are also much more accepting of homosexuals. (Though, admittedly, it is a fraught issue in the wider Anglican communion.)

  5. Of course you must already know that the LDS church has no problem with same gender attraction. Only with acting on those feelings.

    The LDS church is nothing more than scafolding for us to create ourselves. We often think that the church is demanding and that we need to live in some sort of confinement. We see the gospel as a list of do’s and don’ts that create a feeling of bondage.

    I suggest that these feelings are not a correct view of reality and that the veneer that you speak of comes from within, not from the church. Christ wants us to lose ourselves in the service of God but at the same time, he values who we are with all our gifts, talents, fears and weaknesses. We do not supress these but acknowledge them and offer ourselves to Christ.

  6. @Peter – Yes, I am aware that the official position, to the extent there is one, of the LDS church is that feelings of same-sex attraction are not sinful in and of themselves, that they are not depraved, unnatural and impure – despite comments to the contrary in General Conference by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. We all know that he was misunderstood and that the deletion of his offensive comments was only to clarify his true intent.

    I wonder if you are aware of the degree to which your opening comments are found offensive by many gay members of the Church. To me and to many others, they convey an attitude commonly found among members of the Church who treat homosexuality akin to alcoholism, drug addiction and other “problems.”

    The concept of the LDS Church being merely scaffolding is an appealing one – if only it were true in practice as well as theory. I know that there are members of the Church who are truly Christ-like – and it’s not due to the scrupulousness with which they adhere to a list of dos and don’ts. But such people are the exception and not the norm.

    I’m afraid you misunderstood my use of the word “veneer.” It is common knowledge that many members of the Church believe that the Gospel consists of keeping the commandments and following the prophet. My point was that this is not what Christ asks of us. He asks us to come unto Him. Thus, the more limited understanding of what following Christ is all about is referred to as a veneer.

    I totally agreed with the second and third sentence of your concluding paragraph. The inescapable conclusion, however, that one comes to in reading these two sentences immediately after the first sentence in this paragraph is that you equate losing and offering ourselves to Christ with the church, i.e., being faithful members of the church, i.e., keeping the commandments. This is precisely the point I attempted to make in my preceding paragraph, i.e., this is what most Mormons believe. The problem, especially for gay and lesbian Mormons, becomes what happens when what Christ supposedly “values”, i.e., “all our gifts, talents, fears and weaknesses,” stops short (according to the Church) of an essential element of our God-given identity: our sexuality? This is the point at which the gatekeeper – the Church – loses its legitimacy.

  7. @Alan – I hear what you are saying about the Catholic laity. I also know that there are voices within Catholicism that are forging a brave new path with respect to a place for homosexuality within the theology of Catholicism. I think particularly of Rev. James Alison, a gay Catholic priest.

    The problem for me again becomes one of the “gatekeepers,” the priests who hear confessions, the bishops who take anti-gay stances, etc. If I were to “come back” to the Catholic church, for example, I would need to go to confession. Officially, the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality is very similar to that of the Mormon church, i.e., being gay is not a sin, but acting on that IS a sin. So, right from the getgo, I am confronted with an issue of integrity: wherein lies integrity – in confessing a “sin” when I don’t believe it to be a sin, or refusing to confess what I do not believe to be a sin, receiving absolution, then participating in the Eucharist? I guess I need to talk to some gay practicing Catholics to get a wider, better perspective.

    @Others – Thanks for your comments. I am planning to visit with the Episcopalians and see how I feel about them. I was an Episcopalian during my college years and am generally familiar with the doctrines, church, liturgy, etc., but that has been, ahem, a few years ago, before the gay issue assumed center stage position.

  8. If it wasn’t obvious, I have strong opinions about the roman catholic church. Much of the same criticism that I’ve had of the lds church doctrine, practice and theology, frankly. I’m just more familiar with mormonism.

    I wish you luck finding a spiritual or faith tradition that works for you, invictus. I have attended both a unitarian service and an MCC service, and I found both interesting. The unitarian church had pamphlets out about performing gay marriages (this was over ten years ago). I think there are churches and faith traditions that respect human rights and dignity.

  9. Interestingly, I recently saw an article that said American Catholics are the most accepting of LGBT people in the country, more than other religions, even more than the general population. While the theology says it’s unacceptable, you’re more likely to be accepted by a group of Catholics than you are anywhere else as a gay man.

    Happily, in practice, Catholics are largely divergent from the official teachings and doctrines of the church when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity, sexuality, family planning, and many more issues. We’re all just waiting for the clergy to catch up with the rest of us and see reality.

  10. I don’t understand why people, gay, straight, or otherwise, have so many problems with organized religion. If you don’t believe the tenets, such as those related to homosexuality, then why are you concerned with being accepted? Believe as you like, surround yourself with those alike, and stop this type of reverse courtship. it irritates me that homosexuals want the right to live as they wish, without prejudice or being told what they should or shouldn’t be, yet homosexuals want to interfere with someone else’s right to simply not condone their choices. Two wrongs dont make a right.

  11. I dont understand why people, gay, straight, or otherwise, have so many problems with organized religion.

    It’s important to point out that it’s not all organized religion that rejects homosexuality. There are churches that actively celebrate homosexual unions.

    If you dont believe the tenets, such as those related to homosexuality, then why are you concerned with being accepted? Believe as you like, surround yourself with those alike, and stop this type of reverse courtship.

    The CoJCoL-dS (and the Roman Catholic Church) may require that their members submit to doctrines laid down by living human authorities. But, again, it’s important to recognize that not all religions are like that. Yet another argument for The Community of Christ, where they believe that doctrinal revelation is showered down on the entire congregation — so criticism of traditional beliefs is explicitly allowed.

    it irritates me that homosexuals want the right to live as they wish, without prejudice or being told what they should or shouldnt be, yet homosexuals want to interfere with someone elses right to simply not condone their choices. Two wrongs dont make a right.

    Sure, that’s a reasonable request. But it’s not a request that presents religious-based “morality” as being particularly selfless or moral.

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