Maybe it’s not that bad. No one actually brought a hammer and some sturdy nails. But the pastor of my parish is under pressure to get rid of me. A group of parents does not want a person like me teaching the second-year confirmation class at our parish. The men of a certain chivalrous organization want me censured, then booted; they have apparently introduced a resolution at their monthly meeting. I have offered to resign. My pastor has asked me to stay. So every Sunday evening after the youth Mass, a group of 20 high school juniors and I gather in Room E to discuss, among other things, Catholic moral teaching. It is a taste of the bittersweet to know that these students may well constitute my last class. As much as I would not mind having my Sunday evenings free, I will miss these young people, if it comes to that.
What sinful thing have I done? I have written, in my secular newspaper column, in support of marriage equality for gay Americans: civil rights, not religious belief. My fellow parishioners have brought a copy of that particular column, although I am sure that there are others to which they object on a weekly basis, as proof of my unsuitability. I am a bad Catholic, and they have it in print. I should not be in a position of leadership, they tell the pastor, especially of impressionable teenagers. I should be fired, if one can fire a volunteer. Thank God, they say, that the parish no longer actually pays me to be the D.R.E. That would be an insufferable use of their collection offerings.
You have to understand, my pastor says to me later, after I have assured him I am not teaching teenagers to be gay, that they are parents protecting their children.
Father, I say, so am I.
There. It’s as easy as that. I tell him that my 21-year-old daughter is a lesbian. She has left the church, feeling there is no room for her and people like her in its unforgiving pews. She feels that the parishioners who want me gone believe and teach their children that there is something wrong with people like her, that somehow God made a mistake when forming her in her mother’s womb. On days like this, how can I argue with her?
On days when Rome issues a document directing that gay men should not be allowed into a Catholic seminary, in spite of whatever intimate calling from God they may hear, how can I argue with her? On days when gay men who are already priests are mistakenly made to feel inferior, dirty and entirely responsible for the pedophilia scandal in the church, how can I argue with her? What can I say?
I ask another priest in confession, and he talks about the need, my need, to be in right relationship with Christ, that my job as a catechist is to lead those teenagers into right relationship with Christ. I am wracked with doubt. And yet, when I imagine leaving this church, my church, and going through the doors of another one, I feel like Peter, when Jesus asked the Twelve if they would abandon him after he presented the difficult teaching of the Eucharist: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
I am a cradle Catholic, although much of my adolescence was spent protesting that fact. When I went to Mass in those days, under duress, I did not see Christ. I saw only human hypocrisy. I saw failings and imperfections, warts and scars and broken wings, and nothing of any transcendence. My metanoia, my blinding light on the road to Damascus, actually happened on the holy ground of Irving, Tex., at the hands of Catholic university educators, mentors and friends. In a way, my husband points out, having undergone a similar change of heart, we are also converts.
I think it is possible, after much prayer and soul-searching, that God entrusted me with a lesbian child so that I might be one small voice for change in outlook. So that I might be one to stand up and affirm that gays and lesbians are equal and beloved in the eyes of God, that they are our children and God’s children, and that we err in treating them like modern-day lepers, in placing them outside the circle of God’s love. Is that self-aggrandizing? Is that an elaborate rationalization?
One thing I know: that is the gentle voice I believe I hear calling in the night.
“You know it ain’t easy....”
“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63), Jesus said to Peter on that long-ago day in Capernaum. To whom, indeed, can we go?
My husband and I recently visited the new cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles for the first time. I did not expect to be moved by its beauty, as I had agreed with the Los Angeles Catholic Workers’ protests about the enormous amount of money spent to build it, money that could have fed the hungry and clothed the naked and lifted up the downtrodden. But I was moved. It is a soaring monument to the transcendent, as well as a functioning downtown parish that does indeed feed the hungry and clothe the naked and lift up the downtrodden. It is Christ-like in its mixture of grit and grace.
As I walked slowly through the main cathedral, reading the names of the various saints whose likenesses appear in the tapestries on the walls, tears were gathering in my eyes. These were my people, eccentric and prophetic and colorful Catholics, all facing forward to the altar, all with God on their minds. Suddenly I noticed that interspersed among the saints were the figures of regular people, children and mothers, teenagers and just plain folks, holy but unknown. Just as suddenly, tears were streaming down my face. I knew I was succumbing to a good cry in release of the stress and turmoil of the past months in my parish and in my heart.
“You know how hard it can be....”
I knew also, wrapped up warmly in God’s presence, that I was home—home, where the heart is, where we live in community with the people to whom we are more closely related than anyone else on earth, where we break bread together, pray together, laugh together, steady each other, hold each other up in times of trouble and love each other.
Until I am evicted, the Catholic Church is my home.
Christ, you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be—
The way things are going,
They’re gonna crucify me....