I am constantly inspired by the example of my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. I mean this in a literal sense– my dear brother Mikey is gay and came out over a decade ago. I have many cousins and close friends who identify somewhere on the spectrum. I have attended their weddings and rejoiced in the journeys of their authentic unfolding. But I also mean it in the great Body of Christ way, as in, all the many citizens of this planet who are my brothers and sisters whether I know them or not. I am inspired by all of them, by so many who have committed to who they are in God, no matter who tells them it’s not ok or how tempted they are to fit into a mold of who they are supposed to be or how they’re supposed to act. I have seen these brothers and sisters fiercely follow God’s call in their life, to honor who they are in every way, and to live this in the integrity of relationship.
But this is not about that. Sort of. It might be! What this is about is what their commitment, their ferocity, their integrity and their holiness inspires in me. It inspires me to be who I am, to “come out” of any of the closets of my making, to live fully and unapologetically, to be faithful in the truest, biggest sense– to God, as She is unfolding Her being in the story of my life. I believe that this, the unique unfolding of who we are in God, is true in all of our lives.
For me, I have come to realize that a huge part of that, of faithfulness to the living God, is claiming and living my Catholicity.
Through the years, this has been difficult for me. Difficult because it seems that I don’t really fit there, at least in the preconceived notions of what “Catholic” means. But I don’t really fit in the non-Catholic world either. Let me explain.
I have been Catholic my entire life. I was born into it, a ‘cradle Catholic’ as they say. Growing up, being Catholic just was, like being Irish and from Ingleside, IL. Life was prayer at night and before every meal, mass on Sundays without fail, and my mother’s constant encouragement to “put it in God’s hands.” As a small, pensive child I would often wonder, “how do I do that? I don’t SEE His hands!” But her insistence made me believe that it maybe, could be, possible to do just that– surrender my life to something way bigger than me.
From Kindergarten to 8th grade I attended St. Bede Catholic school along with my five siblings. The school was a walk from our house, so it was a huge part of our life. We competed in every sport, prayed before every game, worked and played at all the school festivals and parish picnics. Dad used to volunteer (“voluntold?”) us to read at 7 am mass and at 9 or 10 years old, we would drag ourselves out of bed and get up on that podium to proclaim the Word of God.
After elementary school it was four years of Carmel Catholic High School– run by the Blessed Virgin Mary sisters and the Carmelite brothers and priests. Religion class continued to be a part of our daily routine, as did regular mass and daily prayer. Layered onto this was the required 40 hours a semester of service, which took us to nursing homes and hospitals, food banks and homeless shelters. You couldn’t graduate from Carmel unless you attended the senior retreat Kairos, which means, God’s Time. My senior religion class was really hard-core theology, taught by an incredibly smart theologian and priest who also happened to be our school principal and a close friend of my family’s. In fact, the man taught my dad in high school and baptized me and a few of my siblings.
Going off to college was the first time I wasn’t automatically submerged in a Catholic environment. I was excited to be surrounded such religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, yet quickly learned the place I felt most at home was the Catholic Student Center on campus. In the halls of my dorm, as well as my biology and anthropology classrooms, I entered into conversation and relationship with people of all beliefs, and I brought all my questions to the Catholic Center, where they were engaged and encouraged. I entered into dialogue with the staff there and my peers about every topic imaginable– sexuality, social justice, women’s ordination, Church history, and mostly, the way love was moving in our lives. Everything and everyone was welcome. My freshman roommate converted to Catholicism our senior year and we would sit around and wonder– what is it about the CSC? We always came back to Love– at that place, in that Church, we learned that Love is our Name. That we were made in Love, by Love, for Love. Our experience of God, in community, truly was Love. We felt propelled into the world to give that love to others.
Graduating college, I became a “Roamin’ Catholic,” wandering from parish to parish, trying to find that same font of Love. On fire with life, determined to make the world a better place, I continued to bring all of my questions and concerns to the table. Why did it seem like most Catholic parishes cared only about anti-abortion efforts and little about other social justice issues? Why didn’t women hold more positions of leadership and authority in the hierarchy? What was I supposed to do with my own clear call to priestly ministry? Why did my brother, a young gay man, feel unwelcome in most Catholic spaces? Why were so many of my peers leaving traditional religious practice, dissatisfied and disillusioned?
Even in these questions, I continued to be fed and nourished by my Catholic faith. I maintained an active life of prayer and continued to go to mass. The Eucharist for me has always been a source of tremendous life, the embodiment of belief and the becoming of Christ in the world. It is the community of Jesus gathered, His life shared and continued. I also discovered yoga, first as a way to relieve stress and then as a regular physical and spiritual practice. I found that yoga aligned and integrated so much of my faith, putting breath and belief into my body in a way that was practical, healing and tangible. Yoga became a practice of the incarnation, a way to know the Christ in myself and in those around me. Shortly after, I discovered meditation, then Christian contemplation, and that too has remained a regular part of my life for over a decade now.
Not only have I been a practicing Catholic for all these years, for the past 14 years I have also been a professional Catholic– a Catholic elementary school teacher, then a Catholic campus minister. I took all my questions into action, trusting the wisdom that WE are the Church, and that if it is to become better, we must make it so.
This chosen profession has always been interesting. In my early 20s, out with my friends, the question, “what do you do for a living?” was either a conversation stopper or a point of intrigue. I would get a lot of, “you’re Catholic? But you seem so… open minded, progressive… cool.” One bare-footed young man came into the Catholic campus ministry where I used to work, for a peace and justice meeting, took one look around, shrugged his shoulders and said, “hm. I always thought you Catholics were stodgy.” Many friends in my yoga and conscious dance worlds have tried to convince me I’m not really Catholic, that I’m probably just Unitarian or something.
Unfortunately, the same often goes for my world of Catholic compatriots and colleagues. Urged by my own conscience and the Spirit of God dwelling within me, along with deeply diving into the teachings of the Church, I have cultivated my own opinions on things, hopes for reform and a more inclusive, expansive Church. I believe the rules can be helpful guides, shaping the young and providing guideposts. But they were never meant to be followed perfectly or worse, held over anyone as a meritocracy system to God. I have heard from some Catholics that I’m not “really” Catholic or that I’m not Catholic “enough.” Worse, I have seen so many young people turned away from communities of faith because of their beliefs, their personalities, their orientations. It has caused a tremendous rift– not just between the people of God and the institution of the Church, but between us and God, the Sacred that cannot be defined totally or codified, that is living and moving and always, always loving.
It has become increasingly important to come out, to come out as a Catholic, but not in the ways that limit, discriminate or make God smaller. I am Catholic in such a deep sense– the universal sense. (Catholic, literally means “universal” or “to make whole”). I am Catholic because it is in my bones and my blood, the earth from which I have come. It has shaped my life and my psyche in ways I am eternally grateful for. It has also provided heaps of challenges, and I have come to realize that this Body of Faith, the Church, is a “corpus permixtum”, a mixed body. Despite it’s many flaws, I still believe. I believe because at the heart of it all is God– the Living, All-loving God who continues to call me into being in every moment. I experience God in community, see all others as the face of God expressed in all Her uniqueness and Beauty. I ask God, Love, what should I do? Where should I go? And I follow Love, into Life and service and more love. THIS is what it means to be Catholic, at its heart, which is the heart of Jesus. All the other forms– the hateful, the discriminatory, anything that makes God and life small, that makes you jump through hoops or follow certain rules, has forgotten, forgotten the Way and the One who began it all. I am here to re-member, and to live, the Kin-dom of God on Earth.