Monday, May 2, 2011

Me, My Inner Catholic Boy and Coming Out

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? I’m not yet prepared to say that. (In fact, I’m 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 didn’t 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 priest’s 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, 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.

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.   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. 

Because I was out of town the past two Sundays, I haven’t been to any kind of church since Palm Sunday. During this time, I’ve 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 didn’t 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.” 

I’m trying to learn to relax into God’s embrace without the mask, without the tense self-presentation; just me, just as I am.

The journey continues …


  1. Beautiful. Thank you. I too have reflected upon our Mormon confidence in promised blessings, with 'doing all that we can do' to the degree that we put on a certain smugness that gets in the way of developing the true compassion that the Savior taught us to have.

  2. Thank you, GeckoMan. I always appreciate the feedback.

    Following on your comment - Some of the compassion we do not perhaps develop is towards ourselves. We cannot have compassion for ourselves when we are either so smugly self-confidently righteous (which I think is a more apt term for what I was trying to get at than "self-righteous) that we see no need for compassion or so filled with self-loathing that we could not possibly reach out to ourselves and love ourselves, let alone believe that God could love us.

  3. While you may feel vulnerable and timid in your nakedness, remember that who you are IS God's creation and that he loves you. He loves your intelligence, your questioning, ... he loves you, he loves you before you come out to him because he already knows and accepts you and is waiting for you with open arms for you to come to him AS YOU ARE and to accept his love.

    There is nothing that you must be or do - just let him love you.
    The church may have left you but God's "active gracious love" has not.

    May you find the sweetness of relaxing into that embrace, one day at a time.

  4. This journey truly is Lear-like in that truth seems to require us to stip off all that we are made of - or think we are - and rage naked and mad into the malestorm of self-discovery.

    "I pray you bear me henceforth from the noise and rumour of the field, where I may think the remnant of my thoughts in peace, and part of this body and my soul with contemplation and devout desires."



  5. This is really great - thanks for sharing your spiritual journey of coming out to God. I found this quote applies directly to me:

    "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."

    This part in me does not seem to be shrinking away very quickly in me, although I do succeed in ignoring it more easily. Maybe being part of an accepting church will help - but so far none of them seem to match my theology.

  6. I have a strong belief that the church beliefs that influence the perception of God you believe in will affect how you see your self. If one tries to continue to hold on to believing in a church that condemns it, it is like being in a dysfunctional relationship: the mirror held up to you in which you see yourself is always theirs, which is not an authentic reflection of who you ARE nor is it a reflection of God's infinite and graceful love.

  7. @Trey - Thanks, as always, for your literary reflections. :)

    @Libellule - Thank you for your insight, which I think is a stunning one. Hugs.

    @Paul - Echoing Libellule's comment, I definitely think being part of an accepting church - regardless of their "theology" - would help. My quest continues ...

  8. You might be interested in Dignity, the Catholic organization for LGBT individuals (kind've like Mormons have Affirmation):

    I don't know if you have any around you, but in Philadelphia there is a Catholic congregation that is welcoming to LGBT individuals

  9. Mister Curie - Thanks - I've heard about Dignity. The main thing they and the Catholic Church has going for them is that, in the US, the overwhelming majority of the laity is much more gay-friendly than is the case in, e.g., the Mormon Church. That's a huge leg up, but there's still the issue with the ecclesiastical hierarchy and official doctrine, however.