This is the second in a series of posts looking at my Catholic Faith, and how it relates to my life and my sexuality. Read the first post here.
In 2012, The Observer ran a series on the experiences of gay and lesbian students at Notre Dame. Senior Sam Costanzo came to Notre Dame with the same hope that I suspect many other gay students had brought to Catholic universities: that it “would be a school where he could come to terms with his sexual orientation as it related to being a practicing Catholic.” Like many others before him, Sam was no longer a practicing Catholic at the time the article was published. This is a common story, and it’s a story that I understand. When you’re gay, coming to terms with being a Catholic is an extremely difficult journey, a story that is rarely told, and when it is told, it almost always ends with a broken relationship with the Church.
Often, when gay and lesbian men and women can’t find a place in the Church, they feel that their only option is to leave, and they walk out of the Church, often accompanied by their friends and family members. This could have been my story. Given the frequency of this story, it is perhaps something of a miracle that my life is developing in a rather different direction.
Finding a place in the Church has been extremely difficult task for me, a task that is far from finished. I’m still Catholic, I’m still practicing, I still accept the Church in all Her teachings, but I still don’t know exactly what it means for me, specifically, to be a Catholic. Perhaps no one fully knows this answer, and the life of a Catholic is a lifetime searching out this answer and living it out in the process.
Thus, I see my task as twofold: first, seeking out ways of drawing the different, the ostracized, the confused, the lonely, and the misunderstood into the Church. This will be done by creating a Church that professes and lives the radical love that Christ has for these people. Although this has been more common with some Evangelical Protestants, Catholics have often failed to reach out to their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in loving and compassionate ways.
In recent years, the Church has become more engaged in the “culture wars” surrounding same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. At the same time, Cardinal Dolan has recognized that we must “do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven’t been too good at that.” I hope that sharing my thoughts on and experiences with this issue can help the Church to speak more compassionately on these issues.
In addition to making the Church more welcoming, I see my second task as seeking to defend and articulate the beauty of the Church’s teachings on sexuality from those who would be so partial-minded as to view them as bigoted, unjust, and arbitrary. Cardinal Dolan further spoke of the importance of “translating that warm embrace into also teaching what God has told us about the way He wants us to live.” These two tasks are, in many ways, one and the same. They are two parts of one doctrine, and a failure to do one will be a failure to do the other.
It is a twofold task that must be done, and I’ve come to realize that I cannot do this task fully if I am not honest with myself and about myself. The Church needs voices on this issue, especially voices that come from within the issue, rather than without.
But there is also a personal reason for my “coming out.” The more that others can see of you, the more they can know you. We hide parts of ourselves, because not everyone can handle knowing the whole truths of our beings. But insofar as we hide, others will only have a partial vision of who we are. We are not fully understood if we are not fully known.
But there is still more. Insofar as a person is not fully known by another, he does not fully know the other. After a time, I realized that not sharing this part of my life with my friends hindered both their ability to know me and my ability to know them. I hid myself, because I didn’t know how they would respond. I was afraid of how they might look at me, of how my relationships might change. So I put off knowing them in their responses to this truth about me. I was afraid of the answer, and, being afraid of the answer, I was afraid of them. I had, in a certain sense, fearful friendships.
Those who are gay and lesbian are often misrepresented and misunderstood, especially among those committed to traditional Christian teachings. So it is necessary for many of us to engage in self-reflection and to articulate our experiences clearly for others. I hope that my “coming out” will touch not only my friends, but also the friends of many other gay and lesbian men and women. There is a natural hostility that comes from misunderstanding. I hope that removing some misunderstandings can also remove some hostility.
In coming out to my friends, these friends have learned something important about me. But I’ve also learned something important about them, in each of their responses. Thus, coming out has allowed a deepening in my relationships with others.
This is not to say that we should be completely open with others about all aspects of ourselves. It is healthy to have a somewhat guarded heart. But our hearts should be guarded by gates and not by walls. To be fully human is to have a willingness to open up to others and to allow them to come into you. The gates of the heart should not be recklessly flung open for the world, but they should not become rusty from disuse either.
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.