This post was originally published on Spiritual Friendship on August 14, 2013. This is the third in a series of posts looking at my Catholic Faith, and how it relates to my life and my sexuality. Click to see the first and second installments.
I consider it a strength of my early upbringing that the particularities of sexual identity were not a primary topic of discussion. Although words like “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual” were known to me, I felt no urgent need to make these categories a significant part of how I viewed myself.
From the age of about five, I attended St. Joseph Catholic School. It was a small parish school; I don’t recall my class size ever exceeding thirty-five students. I grew up in a loving family, with a mother, a father, a brother eighteen months younger than me, and a sister about three years younger than him.
I had good friends growing up, many with whom I still keep regular contact and love as dearly as ever. I think they, like many others, will be shocked my admission, although I doubt that their compassion will allow them to hold it against me.
Of high school, I remember most my classes with Mr. and Mrs. Beeler. Mr. Beeler taught me English and World History. Mrs. Beeler taught theology. These courses solidified my imagination in the Catholic worldview. Mr. Beeler taught us that history is “a record of man’s interactions revealing God’s plan for the universe.” From this definition, I learned two things. First, the Catholic faith draws all things into itself, all modes of thought and ways of life. Second, it never leaves things as they are. Rather, it deepens, purifies, and transforms all things that it comes into contact with. History becomes more than just history; through the Church, it can be deepened into salvation history. The “Catholic imagination” is that imagination which draws all things into itself and then seeks their perfection, a perfection that would not have been possible without the Church.
Since taking these classes, I have thus far never doubted the truth of the Catholic faith. I have doubted many things, misunderstood much, and endured great correction, but I have never doubted that the Catholic Church held the fullness of truth. My misunderstandings have not come from a doubt that the Church holds this truth; rather, they have come from failures at times to see how certain truths can find their proper place in the Church.
From my participation in my parish’s youth group, I developed a variety of appreciations that further solidified my, as I would call it, “Catholic imagination.” I developed a deep appreciation of the universal call to holiness, the beauty of purity, and the significance of chastity. Though the particulars of my struggles with holiness, purity, and chastity were different from many of my peers, I never took especial note of this difference. I viewed my struggles, more or less, as the same as everyone else’s. I never viewed myself as “different” in my struggles.
In middle school, I remember having a friend stay the night at my house. We were up late, chatting in our sleeping bags on the floor of my family’s den. At one point, he asked me, “Are you gay? I promise I won’t tell anyone.” I told him no. I don’t think I was lying. I was very strongly attracted to other men, predominantly so. While most men focused on purity and chastity in relation to women, I mostly focused on these virtues in relation to other men. But I never made the imaginative leap into identifying myself in terms of my particular attractions.
In this way, my views on sexuality were somewhat more akin to classical views than to contemporary. In his discussion of the history of homosexuality, Brent Pickett discusses the Third Lateran Council, “the first ecumenical council to condemn homosexual sex.” For this council, “A sodomite was understood as act-defined, rather than as a type of person. Someone who desires to engage in sodomy, yet did not act upon them, was not a sodomite. Also, persons who engaged in heterosexual sodomy were also sodomites… Finally, a person who had engaged in sodomy, yet who had repented of his sin and vowed to never do it again, was no longer a sodomite.”
I’ve come to have a lot more to say about homosexuality than a simple condemnation of “sodomy,” and so has the Church. Like the Church, I have a history that is living and developing and changing. I have a place where I have come from, a place that will always be my life’s foundation. But as my life goes on, as circumstances change, as I respond to this ever-busy world, I cannot be obstinate and try to remain a boy of sixteen years. I will always be the same, but I can never be the same. As John Henry Newman once put it, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”