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By David Gonzalez

During a fire in a convent, a group of nuns were trapped on the third floor. Thinking quickly, they took off their habits, tied them together, and used them as a rope to go down through the window.

After they had reached safety, a reporter asked, “Weren’t you worried that your habits would rip on your way down?”

“Of course not!” said one of the nuns. “Don’t you know how hard it is to break an old habit?”

My bad habit is that I used to approach religion in a very black and white sort of way. Converts tend to be very zealous. When I first discovered the beauty of our Catholic faith, I was so moved that I didn’t want to think it might be less than perfect in any way. So I was always trying to defend the Church and this or that aspect of it however I could.

“But what am I supposed to say to a gay student who seriously doesn’t want to be alone for the rest of his life?”

The Spanish Inquisition? Yes it was bad, but often exaggerated. After all, only several thousand heretics were sentenced to capital punishment during a period of three centuries.

The Crusades? Yes, bad things happened. But really they were defensive wars against an Islamic empire that was expanding into Christian territory by force.

The Protestant Reformation? Yes, indulgences were being abused. But nowadays the only people using religion to get rich are Protestant televangelists and mega-church pastors.

Etcetera.

Whatever the truth of these statements may or may not be, they remain rationalizations. The Inquisition was wrong to kill people. It was wrong of the Church to act as if war could ever be holy. And it was wrong of Catholic clergy to use religion as a way of getting rich.

But the biggest rationalization I ever made concerned the Church’s relationship with homosexual people. I did not want to believe that gay people had any reason to complain.

“My faith has matured so that it doesn’t matter if I struggle with a particular Church teaching or historical event. Nothing will shake my faith at its core, and that’s what really matters.”

One day I was in teachers college and my instructor decided to ask us what it might feel like to be a gay student in a Catholic school. His point was that such students might not always feel comfortable.

Since no one was brave enough to answer, he asked us to describe the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Someone raised his hand and said that the Church considers it be be sinful. Neither of them were Catholic. The instructor agreed, and I felt like my faith was being treated unfairly.

Interrupting the both of them, I said, “The Catechism teaches that homosexual people must be ACCEPTED with sensitivity, compassion, and respect, and that any unjust discrimination against them must be avoided!” I must have sounded angry. I was sick and tired of people smearing the Church as homophobic, and I didn’t want to get labeled homophobic by extension.

I continued: “It also says that the number of people with same-sex attraction is not negligible, and that having same-sex attraction is not sinful!”

Everyone was mildly stunned by my outburst. Feeling challenged, the instructor realized that he had to say something. So he asked, “And what would happen if a gay student came out in a Catholic school?” All eyes were on me.

“Nothing!” I said, thinking that the question was ridiculous. And with that, the conversation ended rather awkwardly.

Looking back, I don’t think I was being completely reasonable. On the one hand, it’s true that the situation for gay students in Catholic schools isn’t as bad as it was in the past or in other parts of the world. And I don’t think Catholic school teachers and administrators would give a student a hard time simply for coming out or being gay.

But on the other hand, problems do exist. For example, there have been cases where gay students were not allowed to bring a same-sex date to the prom. And although I was quick to quote the Catechism’s positive teachings about homosexuals, I conveniently ignored the Catechism’s prohibition of homosexual sexual activity.

Later that day, I discussed the incident with the Catholic school chaplain I was working with. Although she agreed with me that the instructor had spoken rashly, she also challenged me in a way I’ll never forget:

“I understand that sex is for marriage,” she said. “And the Church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. So it follows that gay people are called to celibacy.” I nodded in approval.

“And since no Catholic school student is married, all of them are called to be celibate.

Therefore, we’re treating everyone equally in that sense.” Again, I nodded in approval.

“But what am I supposed to say to a gay student who seriously doesn’t want to be alone for the rest of his life?”

I must confess, it took a long time before I was able to look this objection in the face. I wasn’t nodding then, but I am now. And the fact that I take it seriously now doesn’t mean that my faith has weakened. On the contrary, it means that my faith is deeper than ever before.

The truth is my faith was fragile back then, despite its robust exterior appearance. If someone criticized something about our Catholic faith, I would argue back as best as I could. But really I was just trying to pacify my own insecurities. I thought that if one teaching was questionable, then maybe they could all be wrong. And I didn’t want my carefully assembled house of cards to fall.

But I’ve grown past that now. My faith has matured so that it doesn’t matter if I struggle with a particular Church teaching or historical event. Nothing will shake my faith at its core, and that’s what really matters.

I will always believe that there is a God who loves me and created the universe with a good purpose in mind. I will always believe that the best way to satisfy the deepest desire of my heart is to love others in the way that Christ loved me. I will always believe that Christ’s sacrificial death is the best illustration of what love really means, followed closely by the love of a mother for her child. I will always believe that Jesus gives himself to me in an act of love whenever I received him in his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and I will always try to give myself back to him in return. I will always believe that I have a mother in heaven who prays for me as if I were her own child, and truly I am. I will always believe that our loved ones who have passed away will be united with God in heaven. And I will always believe that the Church, despite all its faults and failings, is actually the mystical body of Christ.


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