In May 2011, I published the following piece on my former blog. I have slightly edited it and have added some additional comments at the end. (The picture above is of my first communion class at St. Theresa's Church in Salem, Illinois, 5 December 1965. I am second row far left in front of Sister Mary Josine. Father (stern-face) Sulkowski is in back.)
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 [Mormon] 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 had died several years before I came out. She and I had had a troubled relationship during the last 15 years of her life because of my abusive childhood. But, as I attended mass and thought of her, I came to see her in a new light, and I felt like I was imbued with grace to forgive her for the abuse I had suffered as a child at her hand.
|My mother as a young woman with two unknown girls |
in front of a Catholic church and convent in East St. Louis, where she grew up
That grace continued to bless me as new thoughts came into my mind about my mother. It occurred to me, for example, 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 had 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.
|My older sister Karen's first communion day, with Mom and my brothers (I'm in front of Karen)|
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 and went back 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.
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 - gay. What I came to realize is that, though there are aspects of the Catholic faith that resonate with me, and perhaps will always resonate with me, I didn’t want to be part of a faith community that is not accepting of members of the LGBT community.
I also came to realize, I think, that my gayness had in fact become part of my personal theology, my personal relationship with God, and I began to feel I could not 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 discussion around that time with my sister about religion, sexuality and faith. I realized, during the course of that conversation, that even though I had intellectually accepted that God created me the way I am and that He loves me for who I am, I was, nevertheless, not fully “out” to God – or so I felt. I saw that there was still a part of me that believed that God could not or would not accept me for who I am. That part of me, that person, had been well entrenched within me for decades – one of the many consequences of living in the closet for all that time – and would not be easily silenced.
I was still seeking permission to be who I am.
During the past 2-1/2 years, I have given myself permission to be who I am. It's an on-going process, but I have journeyed many, many miles since I wrote the above piece. Since that time, I have come to see that I do not need permission from some members of the Catholic hierarchy to be gay. Nor do I need permission from any members of a faith community to be who I am. I realize now that the thoughts I expressed in May 2011 were those of someone who had not yet developed an "adult faith."
A Catholic Buddhist psychologist that has written books that have had a profound impact upon me over the past 3+ years - David Richo - has expressed where I think I am now in his book, How To Be An Adult in Faith and Spirituality:
"[Adults who have a maturing faith] want to think for themselves and design beliefs based on their experience ... they trust an inner organic wisdom over injunctions that impose one set of values on everyone ... they want to feel devotion in accord with what moves their hearts."
Speaking of an organic spirituality, I had a profound realization the other day that is a reflection of where I spent almost 30 years of my adult life, i.e., in the Mormon Church. The realization? That the question is not whether a "church" is "true," but rather whether a church/religion/spiritual path is "true" for ME.
And so I have embarked on a path that is true for ME, that is based on MY experience, not someone else's.