Over the last few months, I have heard from many L.G.B.T. Catholics who are struggling with their faith and their place in the church. The most common questions concern coming out, that is, sharing the reality of their orientation or identity with family and friends. For many people, young and old, coming out can be frightening, especially if they feel that their church, or God, is somehow against them. But even after people are out, they may still struggle, both with their faith and with the church.
So here are five important things to keep in mind.
First, God loves you. I know that is basic and maybe even obvious, but especially for L.G.B.T. people who don’t feel loved or accepted by others, it’s an important insight. God created you and God loves you.
Now, you might ask, “How can I know that?” Well, to begin with, that’s one of the most fundamental messages of both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is the story of God’s covenant, God’s unshakable bond, with the people of Israel. God loves them—loves us—no matter what. And the New Testament is about God showing us love in Jesus. Jesus’ whole life was about loving people and letting them know that God loved them. Simply put, as the First Letter of John says, “God is love.”
And in addition to what’s written in the Bible, think of all the people in your life who love you, accept you and want the best for you. That’s God’s love working through them. How else would God work? That’s God loving you.
Now, sometimes L.G.B.T. people think, “Well, people are O.K. with me if I’m in the closet, but if I come out, no one will love me.” It’s true that in many places L.G.B.T. people are rejected for a variety of reasons: fear, ignorance, prejudice. Sadly, sometimes that rejection is even based on religious beliefs. One study of homeless L.G.B.T. youth in the United States said that the primary reason they felt forced to leave home was their parents’ religious beliefs. But the people who really love you will accept you as you really are. Even if it may take some of them time to discover that love.
If it does seem that no one loves or accepts you now, then try looking within. For example, I’m sure that you have a desire to live a rich and full life. Where do you think that desire comes from? From God. That’s God’s voice inviting you to greater freedom. God wants that for you because God cares for you.
So don’t listen to people who say that God hates you, rejects you or condemns you, simply for being L.G.B.T. That’s false, and it doesn’t deserve one moment of your attention. Center yourself instead on God’s compassionate love for you and look for signs of it outside and inside.
Second, God created you. If you’re L.G.B.T., this is another important insight. Every reputable psychiatrist, psychologist and biologist will tell you that not only don’t you choose to be born male or female, you also don’t choose to be born with heterosexual or homosexual. So don’t let people make you feel guilty about who you are. It’s like being born left-handed or right-handed.
God wants you to know yourself and accept that amazing gift that you are. As Psalm 139 says, you were “knit together in your mother’s womb” and you are “wonderfully made.” You’re a wonderful person, a unique creation. So remember: God created you, knows you and loves you.
Third, God is on your side. There’s a wonderful verse in the Book of Jeremiah that says: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans for your welfare, and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’”
In other words, God has good things in mind for you and is on your side. Sometimes it may feel like you’re in your life alone. But the God who created you also wants the best for you. And God is going to work to help make that happen. So if you’re feeling that life is tough now, remember that you’re not alone in your boat, rowing all by yourself. There’s someone in the boat with you, rowing in the same direction.
Fourth, Jesus cares about you. The Gospels show us that during Jesus’ public ministry, he reached out specifically to people who felt ignored, rejected or marginalized. Over and over, Jesus goes first to the people who feel left out. He talks to tax collectors, who were considered out of bounds in those days. He talks to a Samaritan woman when that was simply not done. And he talks to a Roman centurion, who’s not part of Jewish society. Moreover, Jesus goes to people were poor and sick and talks to them, listens to them, comforts them and heals them. Jesus always sides with those who feel on the outside.
So where is Jesus today? Well, if you’re feeling like an outsider, he is especially with you. What’s more, Jesus himself was an outsider many times, as people often rejected him. So he knows what you’re going through, too. Remember that Jesus cares for you with a special love.
Also, remember that things can get better. One of the most important messages of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is that there is always the hope of something new, even if you cannot see it right now. Just think of the disciples on Good Friday after Jesus’ crucifixion. They thought that things were over and done. Nothing could change. But what happened just a few days later on Easter shows us that things can always change. That’s one of the meanings of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: Love is stronger than hate. Hope is stronger than despair. And suffering is never, ever, the last word. Things can get better.
Finally, the church is your home. Look, you are baptized. That means that you are just as much a part of the church as the pope, your local bishop, your parish priest or me. At your baptism, Jesus himself called you to be a member of the church. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise or try to take that sacramental grace away from you.
To that end, it’s important to find a parish that feels welcoming and affirming of who you are. If you’re looking, you might check out New Ways Ministry’s list of L.G.B.T.-friendly parishes online.
But even after trying, many L.G.B.T. Catholics can’t find any local parishes that are welcoming. So they feel unwelcome in their own church. And I have heard many stories of priests and other church officials who have said callous, offensive or even abusive things to L.G.B.T. people. As in any human organization, there are people who say and do callous and even mean things. But it’s the same in any profession, and it doesn’t mean that you have to leave the church. I often say to people, “If you had an encounter with a bad doctor, would you never see another doctor again?” Still, I know it’s hard.
So what if you can’t find a welcoming parish? Then look for a spiritual home that is welcoming and that affirms that God loves you. But never stop looking for a welcoming Catholic parish, and never doubt your place in the church, even if others can’t see it. Remember: You’re baptized.
And remember that you are important to the church, especially as the church comes to know L.G.B.T. people more and more and is invited to reflect on their experiences. God created you with special gifts and then called you into the church for a reason. In other words, the church needs you.
Now, I’m sorry I can’t answer all the questions from L.G.B.T. Catholics struggling with their faith and with the church or all questions about L.G.B.T. issues, but I hope that these few reflections help you and, most of all, remind you of God’s love for you. Because, guess what? God loves you.