My post today is going back to look at the inner conflict I suffered leading up to that day as a result, in part, of not being able to accept my homosexuality in the context of my faith, and the various contacts I have had with priests and religious (nuns) in respect of this dilemma.
In Autumn 2010 the relics of St Theresa of Lisieux came to the UK. We (with my wife and daughters) queued in the sunshine in a very long queue to go into our cathedral and pray in front of the ornate casket. I was deeply moved by the experience. (I had in fact been in the presence of the relics in 2007 when, with my family, we visited the basilica of St Theresa of Lisieux whilst on holiday in France).
The following morning I got up early, it was a Sunday, and I drove a few miles to the cathedral and sat in silence for about an hour in front of the relics. The dilemma and internal struggle that I was managing felt unbearable but I felt a very deep calm and hope. As I sat there, I saw people quietly going to a priest for the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) and I felt impelled to go to the priest and confess that I was gay (with hindsight I did not need to do this – but I was stumbling to a respond to how I felt in that moment).
In confession (and by the way I do go regularly and still do), I told the priest I wanted to confess something that I had held to myself for at least 20 years, but try as I might, I could not bring myself to say the words. In the end I said I had an attraction to my own sex and he said something about finding peace and absolved me from my sins.
On driving home, I sensed a breakthrough but I was disappointed with the response from the priest (not angry, disappointed). I suppose I had hoped for the offer of some help perhaps or re-assurance – he certainly did not condemn me or tell me to seek help to cure myself – it was almost like it was a non-event, but I know in my heart that the sacrament of reconciliation is not a non-event.
Later that same year (2010) I attended a one day retreat at a local university in the catholic chaplaincy. It was a day of discussion and prayer for peace. I enjoyed the solitude of it all. In the afternoon I attended confession and this time I could not get the words out to explain my internal conflict but the priest could see I was anguished by something. After absolving me from my sins, he asked if I would arrange to see him, he very much wanted to offer me his help.
A few weeks later I went to see him and I asked him if he would hear my confession – he said that what I was going to say did not require to be said in the context of confession – so I said that I wanted the rules of confession to be observed – so dramatic I should have been on the stage!
I spent an hour in a sitting room with him. He was kindness personified. I told him that I felt ashamed of my same sex attraction but that I had never responded physically to its deep call within me – I said it was like being celibate in some ways – I explained that I felt the need to tell my wife but I was frightened of losing her. His advice was that I was entitled to my own thoughts and in the interests of preserving the marriage I should not feel impelled to reveal this to her.
He also assured me that I was not alone with this problem – there are many men and women who grapple with the problem. I asked him if there was any counselling services available for me to receive further guidance but sadly there was not. I said that at some point in the future I would like to offer my services to the church in supporting other men and women who struggle to reconcile their sexuality with their faith values – he said that might be a possibility but until such time as I was reconciled to it, it would be a risk.
After this meeting I did feel less anxious about carrying my secret and comforted by the thought that I did not have to tell my wife – I was entitled to my own thoughts, but these feelings of comfort did not last.
I had expected to hear from the priest if anyone became available to offer me further advice and support through the diocese but the call did not come and I felt abandoned, particularly when the inner conflict, anger and isolation and fear re-surfaced – I had been asked to pray for peace but it did not come.
In February 2013 – three months after telling my wife about my same sex attraction, we went together for a weekend retreat at a Jesuit house. We spent two days in complete silence except for an hour when we were permitted to speak to each other to check up on each other and our girls. At the start of the retreat we were assigned to a spiritual leader – my wife and I were put in separate groups with a different nun, and we were invited to have a 1: 1 with our religious leader at the start of each day.
On the Saturday morning after eating breakfast in silence I went to see my religious guide. She asked me what was going on in my life at the present time and I told her that I was in the midst of the greatest crisis of my life and I explained why – I am married with a same sex attraction, which my wife is aware of, and I have been asked by my coach (next blog) to accept it.- she thanked me for my openness and honesty. We prayed together and she helped me prepare for a day in silence in which I would reflect on a prayer that I had chosen and a postcard by Sister Wendy Beckett of a gate in the countryside.
The prayer I reflected on was this one:-
“O God, I was in a pit, not aware of anything out of the blackness, not knowing how long I would be imprisoned, not being aware of even the smallest glimmer of light. Waiting…waiting….wondering….questioning….pleading….yet always aware of You, wanting to please You, longing to live as You desired.
O God, I knew you loved me and that I could trust You, even in those darkest hours, but sometimes, I felt deserted and afraid, but You were with me and in Your time, a light appeared, and I felt bathed in Your eternal love.”
At various parts of the day I felt overwhelmed with grief, but also I experienced periods of deep calm and reconciliation, not so much with God, but with myself.
The picture of the gate was “portrait” in style and essentially black in colour – it had a closed gate across the centre of the picture under which ran a babbling stream. Looking through the gate I could see into pasture and woodland on which shone dappled light. The caption at the bottom written by Sr Wendy Beckett said :-
“Silence is the gateway to light”
The following day after breakfast in silence, I went up to see my religious guide. I spoke with her about the outcome in me of yesterdays day of prayer and reflection. I told her that I had at first been upset but this had been followed by calm. The gate that I had first perceived as a block had transformed itself into me, I said. The gate was no longer a barrier that I had to crawl under or climb over but was in fact a gate with a function – a gate with a purpose – I was the gate and I had the power to be opened and to enter a place of beauty and peace and freedom.
I told her that I wanted to help others who find themselves in the same predicament as me so that if at all possible I can spare them some of the pain that I have experienced in my life.
When I had finished talking, there was about ten minutes left of the session and the nun asked me if I wanted to speak further or be silent – I said I wanted to sit with her in silence – these ten minutes with her were so beautiful – I felt so peaceful with her – so calm – so unjudged.
As I stood up to leave after a closing prayer she stood also – I reached out my hand to shake her hand but she put her arm round me and gave me the warmest of hugs imaginable and I melted and sobbed. She was so wonderful – I can still feel that hug now – once again my perceptions of what people would say once I revealed myself had been completely turned on its head.
Recently Pope Francis said “who am I to judge a gay man who seeks God with sincerity of heart”
I do not need to go to confession for being gay – I go to confession for the hurt I do to others for my bad behavior and for healing and forgiveness.
My faith is strong – I can be Catholic and gay – I suppose I wish the church organisation would be more forthcoming in offering to support to men (and women) like me so that we do not suffer for being how God made us – I know that all of me reflects the image and likeness of God – all of me!
My next blog will be – A light appeared – my Coach