For this next part I want to issue a warning. If you want to keep an unsullied, but factually unsubstantial, view of me and my behavior, you really ought to skip this part and go straight on to the last paragraph of part seven. The details within this section are things I am not proud of, but they are real and are part of my journey for better or for worse. I only include them to glorify the mercy of Christ and to defend myself against any attacks that say I am holding back details about who I really am and what I have done.
Fast forward in this section to spring 2011, almost two full years after coming into the Church. It was my fifth year of college, and for spring break, I, and five other friends, took a minivan from Fargo to Peoria, Illinois, to visit the Community of Saint John. It is one of my most cherished memories from college. While there I spent a lot of time in prayer and reading the Gospels. I reflected a lot on the preceding months. The previous summer I had started dating a girl I met through some friends. It was an interesting step for me to take, considering that I was, for all intents and purposes, attracted to guys. But I really liked her, and spending time with her, and really thought that if I could make this work with anyone it would be able to be her. But it was pretty evident to me early on that it wasn’t going to work, at least not while I carried the burden in secret. I grew to be very bitter and I turned into a real jerk. It was bad, so we broke up. Shortly after that, my roommate came out of the closet, and that only served to stir the frustrations I carried internally. Not only did I now have this temptation staring me ever more in the face each day, but I became very very blue and somewhat emotionless.
It was at a point when my discipler Tim asked me a question that I realized just how bad things were. He asked me what I desired most. I just sat there. I had nothing. I didn’t desire anything. Not life. Not death. Not joy. Not anger. I was filled with a hollow silence. He was concerned at my lack of response, and I was suddenly plunged into a great fear. I realized I had lost all will to do anything, good or bad. A very short time later, a good friend offered me the chance to start serving at the 5pm Saturday Mass at the Newman Center. I immediately fell in love with being up there with my favorite priest serving at the altar.
Thoughts of the priesthood were coming back. But I also longed for trying to make things work with my now ex-girlfriend. But it was only a desire, I never took any concrete steps. It wasn’t long before she was snatched up by someone else, which is not surprising, she is an amazing person. In retrospect, it was very good that I never pursued that again, and things between her and I have worked out far for the better than continuing that relationship ever would have. But at the time, it flung me back down into the blues, just as I felt like I was becoming happier. When spring break came, a week of discernment sounded like just the thing I needed.
During that week I prayed through all four Gospels and came to the conclusion that I was going to apply for the seminary. It was not necessarily my first choice as I had lots of reservations, not the least of which was my sexuality. But I felt that with my ex in a new relationship that the seminary might be a good place to kind of hide out, and the priesthood would be a way to conceal my sexuality forever. So on Easter Sunday I began to fill out the application. As school ended my application and references were nearly complete and I began meeting with the vocations director of the diocese. Throughout our conversations I was reminded of something I already knew, but was now dreading: the psychological exam. I would definitely be asked about sex and sexuality. If I mentioned that I was attracted to men, it might spell certain denial for my admission to seminary. So I had to decide whether to be honest or whether to lie. I know, it should not have been an actual dilemma, I should have known to tell the truth, but I had to truly figure it out what I was going to do. Going into the evaluation I still did not know what I was going to do, but when the topic came up, I knew I could not taint my potential ordination by beginning it with a lie. I answered all the questions honestly.
When I walked out I felt like it was game over. I waited anxiously for weeks for any answer from the vocations director and the bishop. The anxiety grew daily, and I snapped.
(This is your last chance to stop and turn around before learning the details that may sully your image of me.)
I could find no peace or concentration anywhere, so I chose to do something I had never done in my life. I found an ad for a hook up on craigslist and went to meet a guy I had never met before. I was incredibly nervous and after we were done the most incredible lackluster feeling of disillusionment came over me. I had certainly had “fun”, but when it was done, it felt cheap and unnatural. I felt used, and I felt like I had used the other guy. I guess that’s because we had. I wasn’t there for him, I was there for me. I didn’t know him, I only knew his first name, if it was really even his name. I could not have cared less about him. I went home to the formation house, where I was living with several other Catholic men. I was not myself. I wondered if they noticed. Nobody asked if I was ok, but I was glad because I didn’t know what I would have said if they had.
A few days later the vocations director called me while I was hours away in a beet field for work. I was braced for a “no” and would have actually been relieved to hear that word. But instead it was a “yes”. I was quite shocked and surprised. There was not even a mention of the psych eval. I was actually excited and kind of forgot about what I had done with that guy. I called everyone I knew to tell them the good news. A few days later, however, I was stopped in my tracks. Nothing was final, I was told that the seminary directors would still have to interview me. My heart sank. This was not going to happen. They were going to want to talk about the psych eval, even if the vocations director did not. As expected, that was what 95% of my Skype interview with the seminary was about. They were going to recommend to the bishop to not admit me, but would ultimately accept whatever his decision was.
A few days later I was told by the vocations director that he needed to talk to me. We went for a long walk and he asked me a lot of questions. It was almost the end of the summer and I was much too exhausted to bend the truth. I was honest and that night it was decided that I was no longer going to be going to seminary. I was told that the diocese would pay for counseling and that I could revisit the decision next year if I wanted. I declined. I was furious. Not at the decision, but at the amount of time it took to come to the conclusion they did, time I could have been using to find a job. Looking back now, though, I see that the bishop probably put a lot of care into this decision, and that my well-being was at the forefront of his prayers about me.
I took the next day off of work and drove home for the weekend to tell my parents I wasn’t going to seminary. I could not work up the courage and was very stressed. Believing that I had nothing to lose, I did again what I had already did once before. Found another strange man online, this time in Minneapolis, and had another meaningless hook up, and had the same feelings of regret when I was done. I told my parents that weekend that seminary just wasn’t for me, and that the bishop and I agreed that I should not go. I did not elaborate, I just did not want to have that conversation too.
When I got back to Fargo I started my job search and landed a job in the state. Unfortunately it required moving to a new city where I knew like two people. The first few months were incredibly lonely and as I had already done before to relieve my unresolved stress I turned to random hook ups and other stupid behavior quite frequently. As time went on, feeling more and more burdened and alone, and fearing that with each day and each stupid decision, I was closer to someone finding out, I considered leaving the Church more and more. It was not because I disagreed with the Church, it was because I did not believe in myself and in the graces Christ offers.
By Easter 2013 I counted each Mass as my last. I thought that this day would be the day I would walk away because I was weak. That summer though, I knew I did not want to walk away from Christ, but I knew I could no longer walk alone. So I took the courage to tell some of my friends that I was gay. I did not go into the details of outlining what kinds of sins I had committed, just that I needed their help. All I can say is that after seeing their responses: I love my friends.
Things kind of got better after that, but I still was falling into the occasional hook up and after one in particular, I was terrified. I was scared because I felt no sense of guilt afterwards. Suddenly leaving Christ seemed closer than ever. But then something stopped me. An article was written in the NDSU newspaper about Catholicism and homosexuality. It was an opinion piece, but it was so strewn with factual inaccuracies that it was better labeled as a delusion piece. Tim forwarded it to me and asked me if I would craft a response because a response would be most meaningful coming from someone who was both Catholic and homosexual.
It took more courage than I had ever mustered up, but I crafted that response, knowing I was putting myself in a very vulnerable position among my peers, though putting myself in vulnerable and dangerous situations with strangers had been my m.o. for quite some time now. The whole weekend prior to the Tuesday it was supposed to publish I was an internal wreck, but there was no turning back. When Tuesday came, I almost puked: they had failed to publish it as I had been promised by the editor. So I took to my blog, and posted the letter and then shared it on Facebook with my friends. I watched as the views skyrocketed, and as I had experienced before, I was flooded with love from my friends.
Oh yeah, and my parents. You see, I let my parents find out I was gay through the letter. They found out with the rest of the world. That was hurtful to them. I regret that decision. Guys, trust your parents. If you have a good, safe, loving relationship with them, be honest with them. Thanksgiving was only a few days after that and so going home was awkward, as was stopping in Fargo to eat with a good friend and a few acquaintances, who told me how awesome I was, but were also slightly awkward, but I cannot blame them. Anyway, home was a mixed bag. My mom was hurt that I had not trusted her with this information, and believed that for some reason I hated her. Yes, we fought a lot, and did not see eye-to-eye on a few things that were very important to me, but I did not hate my mom, I think we were so similar that we just had difficulty navigating that at times. Anyway, I did everything that I could to show my mom that I did not hate her, and though I was slightly irritated at her having made this situation about her, I could see where she was coming from.
When I left I had some phone calls with her in the following weeks where everything was straightened out and puzzle pieces began to fall into place in her understanding of who and what I am. Unfortunately, a few days before Christmas my mother died at age 49. I knew something was wrong when I got a very early morning text from my dad to call him. I did, but she was already gone. She had told me two months before that she was getting sicker and that she felt that any day she could go, but I hadn’t really believed her, but here we were, she had left.
The following months were very difficult for for me. I avoided being social as much as possible, but tried being upbeat when I was, so people didn’t know that almost every moment alone was spent crying. Despite having ended on good and understanding terms, I feared so much that my mom died not being okay with her relationship with me. I regretted all the things I had said and all the things I hadn’t but should’ve.
In trying to cope, I turned again to hook-ups. By the time June rolled around, it happened, I was actually leaving the Church. I actually did it. Being a somewhat honest person, I knew that leaving the Catholic Church meant leaving Christ behind completely, there was no sense in going to another denomination. If Christ existed, his life and Apostles testified to the Catholic Church. But I wasn’t even sure Christ existed, and that if he did, that he was not more than one of a plethora of “gods”. So I did what any good man of Scandinavian descent who is looking for a solid spirituality does: I started looking towards the gods and goddesses of the Norse pantheon, the old gods of my people.
Now it wasn’t a clean break. I kept going to Mass and Adoration and Confession. But my prayers turned more and more into accusations against Christ. I began to turn this into a vendetta against what Christians had done to decimate my ancestors in the name of Christ, throwing down the gods of my people to replace them with Jesus. It was childish, but I also did have two big theological questions I could not get past: original sin and the Trinity. These two things began to shut out the possibility of Christianity being true in my mind.
At the very start of August, I went on a trip to visit a college friend, and it was that weekend that my faith died. I went to Mass for the last time that week and received Christ for the last time. When I left from her house, I went camping and then went home for a week. During that time, I began praying to the Norse gods and I hooked up every day. And this is where I have to say that though I have not been in a relationship with a man (unless you count hook ups, which I don’t), I have been seriously involved in the so-called gay lifestyle. There are so many guys who simply hook up behind the scenes, who maybe aren’t out or simply just want sex. One only has to look at the large number of users on the main gay hook up apps on smartphones. My experiences and knowledge are firsthand, and it is not rare, just in case you doubt my insights when I write about the topic, or even my “right” to do so.
In this new lifestyle I was embracing, I initially felt freer than I ever had.