Going Beyond Fear

(Reblogged from November 20, 2013)

142 days ago I did the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I confided one of my deepest secrets to about 20 of my closest friends and confidants. A few weeks after that I shared that intimate story here, but took it down after meeting with my spiritual director because I felt that the intimate nature of the story should only be shared with those who know and understand me.

But the reason that I had shared in the first place was because my voice is unique in the current state events in our world. In a culture that deeply pits us against each other, pushing us into distinct, unflinching categories in which we must conform to certain ideals or be considered traitors it is difficult for alternative perspectives to flourish. For awhile I felt that sharing these details publicly could possibly put a train wreck in my big V vocation. But the universal vocation of the Christian is a call to holiness and in that call is to call others to holiness as well through faith, hope, and love. So I am going to share this again because people need to know that there is hope and love in Christ and that to the one who desires to know and do the Will of God no matter what the cost, there is no condemnation.

My Story (as it originally appeared)

“It is not good that man should be alone.”
Genesis 2:18

This post has been in the back of my mind for a very long time. I’ve tried a few different times to write it, but each attempt has been unsatisfactory. But as I contemplate the words that God spoke in the ancient garden, I realize that the longer I put this off, the longer I remain alone, and that that is not good. I’ve been bearing a very lonely cross for a very long time because I have been afraid at what it would mean to ask for help. But my shame has weakened me to the point where any attempt to bear it alone can only result in failure. I am confident, though, that if I just let my friends know about the burdens I bear that they will gladly help because I have some of the most loving friends in this universe.

As I’ve been trying to get myself comfortable with the idea of opening up to other people, which is something I absolutely fear, I’ve been trying to decide whether it is wise to make my cross public to the whole world, or if it is better to keep it between my friends and me. I have decided that I will follow the example of Christ who carried a very public cross through a very hostile world for the good of others. By sharing my cross in 21st century America, I will be unpopular, and that some very worldly people will think and say some very netherworldly things to me and about me. But I know that mixed in with them will be Marys , Veronicas, and Simons to help me and to give me courage. And I figure that by sharing my cross, others who bear the same cross in secret and struggle daily as I do, will find the courage to ask for help as well.

I think that some of you may have already caught on to what I’m going to say. I am a guy who is attracted to other guys. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. I don’t know how old I was when I realized it, and I don’t remember the context in which I knew, but I was quite young, and I was sitting in the basement of my parent’s house, and I just knew. Obviously I didn’t know what it was called or what it meant, that it wasn’t normal, and that it went against the order for which I was created, but it was something I just knew. I didn’t give it a second though. All through elementary school I was actually pretty girl crazy, especially in third grade when it came to Haley Mills, the girl who wore the “macaroni and cheese” colored jacket at recess, who I would chase around the playground singing “I feel good na na na na na na na, like I knew that I would na na na na na na na!” And of course in 7th grade there was my two year infatuation with Allison, which I realize now, looking back, made me look like such a pathetic little fellow following her around like an attention-starved puppy. But around that same time, what I knew as a very young boy began to emerge from hiding as I became a very young man.

By the time I was in high school, I knew what it meant to be “gay”, and I knew that I felt those things. But I didn’t want to feel that way, so I tried to ignore it and act straight. I think though that I completely and unintentionally gave off “gay” vibes, because there were a few times in high school when other kids asked me if I was gay. In fact, my mom even asked me a few times. I always denied it, and couldn’t understand where they were coming from because I thought I was a pretty good faker. Apparently I wasn’t. I honestly don’t know why I lied about it because it wasn’t like my non-religious family would have disowned me. And I didn’t have to fear my friends at school because they weren’t super conservative. Nevertheless, I stayed in the closet.

When I got to college, I flirted with the idea of coming out since I was financially independent and on my own at a decent sized college campus. However, while I toyed with the idea, I met some new friends and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It seemed like a perfect answer to my problems. Jesus would take away these attractions. Even though I loved my faith, things internally didn’t settle down, and I felt that my new circle of friends were much too conservative to confide in. Then I became Catholic, which partially was due to the Church’s very comprehensive natural law teachings on sexuality. The love and tenderness shown towards persons with homosexual tendencies was very very attractive. I realized I didn’t have to pray to become straight; I just needed to pray that no matter what I felt I would act in truth, not in passion.

All this time, however, I had kept up a charade of being attracted to the girls in my circle. I felt pressure, real or imagined, to work towards the end goal of a family with little blond children named Levi, Ezra, and Ruth running around. The funny thing is that I worked so hard at it, that there were moments when I thought that I had truly changed into a straight person. I went through emotional downs whenever I experienced rejection and emotional highs whenever I gained ground in pursuit. But in the end, when I went to bed at night, I was still the same guy as I was in high school.

After becoming Catholic, I became fixated on the Priesthood. It seemed perfect for a guy like me. An opportunity to serve the Lord while remaining single and celibate. I wouldn’t have friends trying to set me up or asking me why I was still single at 50. I began meeting with a spiritual director, but I was very afraid to tell him about the struggle, so I kept it secret. Sometime during that time I learned about the Vatican policy on admitting men with deeply rooted homosexual attractions to the seminary. To me, that signaled the end of discernment to seminary. The Church, who has every right to decide who she will and will not admit to the Priesthood, has said that at this time, she will not admit such men. The next meeting with my spiritual director I told him that I had discerned not to go to seminary and why. He did not accept my conclusion and told me that this was not a good enough reason to not go to seminary. He urged me to reconsider. I left that meeting frustrated and in tears because I felt that he was counseling me against what the Church was counseling me to do.

That same summer, I started spending lots of time with a girl I met at school. She was amazing and when I was around here I couldn’t think about anyone else. I felt things for her that I had never felt for another human being. I thought that maybe just maybe I could date her, fall in love with her, and marry her, have kids with her, and be faithful to her, and so after a long period of “are we dating” we made it “official”. But after six weeks I grew frustrated lying to myself and to her about what I was struggling with. I was so ashamed of my cross and was so burdened by it that I didn’t think it was fair for her to have to share that burden and I wasn’t sure that she would even want to, so I broke up with her telling her I had to truly figure out who I was. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Shortly after breaking up, my roommate came out of the closet, and it only served to aggravate me more as I faced my own struggles and the future and what I was going to do with my life. I spent the next few weeks in a state of inner sorrow and anger. I tried throwing myself into the Mass and into serving at the Newman Center every Saturday evening. But I literally felt nothing. I still remember the day when my FOCUS discipler asked me something along the lines of “what do you desire?” and I had no answer because I felt that nothing in the world could fill the void I felt in my heart. He looked at me with such pity and I couldn’t even muster up the desire to be startled at the revelation. I felt like an empty shell just floating along with no purpose and no feeling at all. And a few months later, when my ex started dating again, I became devastated. My already numb soul climbed to a greater level of emptiness. During all of this, I maintained a façade of a normal college student having fun with friends and protesting doing homework. But none of it mattered; I was faking most of it.

Over spring break I went with some friends to visit a religious community near Peoria and I thought back to what my spiritual director had said about the priesthood and the fact that the one girl I might have been able to love was unavailable, I decided to apply for seminary. I want to be clear here: this was a last ditch decision, it was something I didn’t really want to do, but I did anyway. I started my application on Easter Sunday 2011. I knew though, that if I was going to get in, I would have to lie at some point along the way. I omitted anything very specific about sexuality on the application, keeping everything very general and broad. Everything seemed like it might end up working out until I realized that I would have to do a psych eval with a psychologist and that to get past that point I would have to lie. Moral implications aside, I wasn’t sure I could lie during the interview because a psychologist would know I was lying. I could maybe try it though. For weeks I hemmed and hawed over whether I would be honest, keeping me out of the seminary, or if I would lie so that I could be admitted. I chose the former. After the eval was done, I waited for the inevitable call saying that my application would be denied. I became so stressed out each day, that after a few weeks I snapped and I did some things I regret.

A couple of days after one such regrettable evening, I received a call from the vocation director of the diocese saying that my application was accepted. I was shocked and confused. Clearly they hadn’t seen the eval. I didn’t say anything about it though, because despite all my previous apprehensions I really was excited. I quickly told all of my family and friends about it. But that call had been a little premature because it turned out that I still had to do an interview with the seminary. The interview was a disaster from start to finish. The seminary was out of state and the diocese had elected not to fly me down for a face to face, so we set up a skype connection at the diocesan offices. This was an unusual circumstance that the seminary directors were not happy with, and they told me so at the beginning of the interview. I felt like an idiot. I had no idea that they felt that way and I was angry at the vocations director for placing my admittance in jeopardy. Then they started by asking me about the results of the psych eval. We talked about one thing and one thing only. You don’t have to guess what it was. By the end of the interview they essentially told me that they would recommend I don’t go to seminary, but they would still admit me if the bishop chose to send me.

It was still early July and it took a few more weeks until the vocation director contacted me. He asked if we could meet as soon as possible. We met at a young adult gathering in town and took a walk in the park to discuss the recommendations of the seminary. He asked me a lot of personal questions, and by this time I was just dead tired of this whole process. I didn’t have the strength to manipulate the truth or make excuses. By the time we returned to the gathering, he had explained that though the Church did not hold past absolved sins against me, there could be scandalous consequences if it ever came to light that a priest had formerly engaged in certain behaviors. It just wasn’t something the diocese was willing to risk without some progress being made on my part. He said that as a seminarian (since I was considered a seminarian at that point) the diocese would be willing to pay for psychological therapy if I wanted and that they would revisit my application in a year if progress was made. While I was relieved to not go to seminary, I was also angry about all of the time I had wasted, and how inefficient the process had been. In a fit of childish pride, I began to ignore all calls and emails from the vocation director. Needless to say I did not take the diocese’s offer of assistance.

With one week until my going away party back home, and only a few weeks left with a job and place to live I began to panic. I first went home to break the news to my parents. I had to make up a story about why I wasn’t going. I also had to face my friends and my parish priest. Facing the priest was the worst. We had become good friends and he was so excited for me to go to seminary, but he had no idea about my struggle and I didn’t want to tell him, so I just told him that the bishop and I and the seminary all felt like I wasn’t ready. “Well Stormin Enormous, nobody’s ever totally ready!” I didn’t know what to say. I told him not to worry, but I know he was upset and probably called the vocation director anyway.

I also had the daunting task of now finding a job. God blessed me and granted me a job fairly quickly, and even though I wanted to get as far away as possible from this situation and start a new life, I didn’t have to go too far from my friends, which ended up being a great blessing.

That was two years ago now. These two years have not been a picnic. Living a secret life has been ongoing and it has contributed to a lot of mopey-ness. It has also pushed me here, to this crossroad a few months ago. I am at the point where I have two choices: one is to leave the Church, and live a make believe life I know to be wrong, and the other is to bring my cross into the light and ask for help in bearing this burden. The first is tempting for its present and immediate reward of worldly happiness, but the second is an eternity of joy after this present suffering. Though the choice should be easy for a Catholic convert, it’s not. At least twenty times a day I flip flop on the issue. One minute I’m ready to run away from the Church, and the next I’m ready to bear my burden to be with Jesus. It has been literal torture on my soul and body. I wake up sometimes in feverish sweats thinking about it, and sometimes I find myself crying my eyes out on the bathroom floor.

But a few weeks ago I got a message from a friend saying that he was sitting in Adoration and that Jesus told him to pray that I would have strength. I knew in that moment that Jesus was real and wanted to help me. I told my friend everything. And now I get texts from him every week reminding me how much he has praying for me and I am gathering the strength to choose the path that leads to holiness.

I don’t know what my future holds. Perhaps I will one day be able to marry a woman and be happy. Some days I believe that that is a possibility and other days I can’t imagine how I would be happy. Or maybe I am called to the religious life to devote my life to a community of fellowship and prayer set off from the world. Or maybe I’m just called to the single celibate life forever. In any event, being holy is the end purpose of my life.

And that’s why I’m sharing this on my blog, because just as Adam was alone without a suitable helper, I too am alone with no one to help me with my cross. I need prayers and encouragement. As our culture shifts towards glorifying homosexuality, the message will be louder and harder for me to stand up against and I just need your help, and I know that there are dozens of us just like me who could use help too. And if that happens to be you, I pray for you to be brave, to ask for help.

O Mary, the Hodegetria and the Queen of Peace, lead me to Jesus, our sweet and merciful Lord. Grant me the strength from your overflowing fountain of graces to bear my cross. When you look at me, see Jesus. When I stumble with my cross, meet me as you met Jesus on the Road to Calvary. When I cry wipe away my tears as you did to your precious infant, and when I hunger, feed me with the words of God.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us.