By Bishoy Dawood
One of the challenges that I’ve lived through in my young adult years as a gay Christian was to try to find a balance between being myself, on the one hand, and living with Church teaching, on the other hand. There were many nights when I struggled with the many messages one hears from conservative voices in pulpits, online forums, and social and mass media, that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people ought to abide by Church teaching to live celibate lives and not act on their desires. The struggle with such messages was real for me, because I experienced the genuineness of the desire to love and relate to another person of the same-sex, and the consolation that came with being in such life-giving, loving relationships. Falling in love with someone did not feel like breaking a commandment, and certainly did not feel like the desolation of the soul in the hell fire of living in sin. What felt like desolation, however, was the loneliness that accompanied the acceptance of Church teaching on enforced celibacy, and the resistance to fulfilling the desire of building a lasting, loving relationship.
Struggling to tame the passions and to abide by Church teaching so I could always be in communion with the Church led me to see the Church as place that did not allow me to be fully alive and fruitful as a gay person. Fearing loneliness, and actually feeling lonely while alone through most of my life, made me fear the Church and resent its teachings.
As the Catholic Church under Pope Francis is shifting horizons and moving towards more pastoral and inclusive approaches for gay and lesbian Catholics that are based on the many examples and living reality of committed and loving same-sex relationships, in the meantime, I figured that the more important work to do was to work on myself and deal with the feelings of loneliness. So, I joined a very active Jesuit Catholic parish in downtown Toronto with an inclusive ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics called All Inclusive Ministries (AIM).
A busy parish in the bustling multi-cultural city of Toronto, Our Lady of Lourdes parish quickly became my home parish where I meet with my community of close friendships. It was in that parish, at a Mass one Saturday evening with the AIM group, that I recall a deeply moving experience that touched my heart and moved me to tears. The event was something so simple and routine: people lining up for communion. The routine event was a moving experience for me, however: after I took communion and returned to my seat in the pew, I looked up towards the line of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and straight Catholics, from a variety of cultural backgrounds and a mix of all age groups, going up for communion too.
I was moved to tears by that sight, not because the parish was breaking new theological or pastoral boundaries of going to the margins of society and being inclusive, but because I realized at that moment the power and meaning of actually being the Body of Christ. I was moved by the diversity of people in the lineup of Catholics going for communion, like scattered grain gathered into one bread: that unity in diversity is the Body of Christ. We all went up together to partake sacramentally in communion of the Body of Christ. We all become what we receive: the Body of Christ. There is no “us” and “them” in the Church: we are all the Body of Christ.
There can be no one outside the Body of Christ, so how could there be teachings in the Church that intrinsically exclude people from the Body of Christ? It was this simple event of taking communion that became a deeply religious experience for me: it dispelled the feelings of loneliness within myself by giving me a sense of belongingness to a gentle, Spirit-filled, gifted community; and it shifted my focus from the commonly heard Church teachings on celibacy — which once led to my resentment of the Church — towards focusing instead on the more sacramentally enriching teachings and the more graceful Church doctrines that are intrinsically inclusive and filled with divine love. Being in mystery and awe about what has been given to us who share in the life-giving flesh of Christ, living in the communion of the Body of Christ, and living out a fruitful life of service in a ministry among people I love and share much with: that is not a lonely life, but the glory of God shining in my life a gay person, fully alive!