Choosing Faith AND Family
Dear fellow Catholic,
I could tell you a story of my life and the obstacles I faced from peers and politics because of my association with an LGTBQ family member. But, you have surely heard those and if you haven’t already experienced it, you know that you will at some point or another. Looking back, the hardest lessons I ever learned, were learned in the one place that you are supposed to feel safest – I learned them as a child raised in the Catholic Church. But this is hardly a story of how I was abused or hated by my religious community. This is a story of how I found peace in both worlds and how I made the choice to NOT choose between my faith and my family…
My father raised my brother and I in the Catholic Church. We were baptized, attended CCD classes, and were both confirmed. It was his belief that we should attain these sacraments so that someday, we could have the option to get married in a church if that’s what we decided we wanted to do.
After Confirmation, we were given the freedom to choose how we would pursue our faith for the rest of our lives. My brother choose to step back from the church, while I decided to continue. And so, until I left for college, I sang proudly every weekend in the evening youth masses and soloed during Communion at each Christmas Eve and Easter mass. I attended the National Catholic Youth Conference and many retreats at a local seminary. I taught Vacation Bible School annually over the summer and then assisted in teaching Confirmation classes during the school year. I was even a Eucharistic Minister for a few years and proudly gave Communion on Sundays and ashes every Ash Wednesday to hundreds over the years.
When I went to church, people knew me. I was Bob’s daughter; the charismatic girl who was always around and an ideal influence for the community our growing church had worked so hard to build. But what no one knew about my life was that the biggest supporter of my faith - the kind hearted, charming father who stood next to me in the choir and in the pews during every service, was gay.
I made the decision to carry my dad’s secret close to me to protect his privacy. Every time I walked up to that contemporary brick building with the beautiful white steeple, I consciously understood that I represented something that was traditionally frowned upon by the very institution that had built it. However, I kept going and I simply found ways to keep that part of my life separate. When my youth minister asked me in high school if my dad was looking for a girlfriend (everyone knew my parents had been divorced since I was very young – and my mother was rarely at our church so it must have been easy to assume there were other issues), I simply smiled and told her that he was already seeing someone. And when a student of mine’s mother asked me one day who the attractive man was who picked me up was, I simply smiled, said he was my dad, and took off before she could ask any more questions.
And when our church started teaching about Adam and Eve, the sanctity of marriage, and sin, I’d block out the unfavorable messaging I could hear stirring around me in the hearts of my peers and quiet my young mind while thinking about the lessons my parents had been busy instilling in me since before the divorce.
I believed in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit and in the Virgin Mary. But I had found strong loyalty before ever attending church in what my mother and father came together to teach me – I believed with every fiber of my small being in family, love, and acceptance of all people.
You see, I was very blessed. When my father came out, he and my mother sat down and made the conscious decision to raise my brother and me together as a team. They were able to set aside their own feelings and pain during their own divorce and focus on us. Because, in the early 90s, they recognized that they could either pit us against one another, or work together to prepare us for the often small minded world we would eventually have to face on our own.
And that is exactly what happened. I was so active in my faith and church community but the part of me that wholeheartedly knew that my father was not sinful or destined for eternity in Hell because of his sexual orientation burned fierce. How could someone be sent to hell for loving a person just because they were the same sex? Why would Jesus, who died for us, hate us for who we loved? I thought long and hard about these questions and by the time I was 15 or 16, I was finally figuring out how to leverage my position to speak up and allow others with similar questions to feel comfortable enough to do so as well. In my own bible study classes when a young kid in the back would ask a question about a verse that pertained to relationships, I created an environment for them to feel however they wanted on the matter. I never told them no, I never told them who was wrong or right – it was not my job to judge. It is not our job to judge others.
At times, I was faced with strong opposition. I was asked to leave a confirmation class by an adult instructor just because I asked why homosexuals are considered “mistakes” when we are taught that God’s creation is perfect. In other debates I was told more than a few times that homosexuals could love another, but that they just couldn’t act upon those feelings in any way. It was hard to keep quiet so I stopped trying to silence my thoughts and spoke up whenever I could.
When my father eventually did make the decision to come out to other members of our church, I was free to do so as well (and let me tell you, if you think LGBTQs are the only ones who have to come out – you are sorely mistaken). I told my closest friends in and out of the church first. Most were not concerned and were very supportive. However, my best friend’s family was conservative and when she stopped being allowed to have sleepovers at my dad’s house and once blurted out that he was going to hell, I knew we would never be that close again. My youth minister was never the same around me after I told her either, and neither were some of my co-leaders for the Life Teen program. But my parents had worked hard to prepare me for this and so I kept moving forward as a better, stronger person each time.
I am twenty-four now and I find religious solace in music, my family, and the occasional prayer of thanks and forgiveness. I still go to my church on major holidays and whenever else I can make it back home to do so. But I owe everything in my life to my undying faith and confidence in the teachings of both my parents and the messages of the Catholic Church that I found beneath the literal interpretation of the text – I chose to listen to the messages that were positive and encased in love and understanding.
I am Catholic, and I believe in the Holy Trinity, and I also choose to be certain of family, love, and the acceptance of others. So can you.
A woman of faith & love