From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

$_35

An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

Missa_tridentina_002

The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

baptism

For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

Lent1

My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

26 thoughts on “From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

  1. Dear Joe, I too have had a similar experience as yourself. It was and is truly liberating to turn away from me and turn to God and His Church. As you say it is not all a bed or roses but it is what my cross is and like yourself I embrace it.
    God bless
    sean

  2. Dear Joe,

    I have been struggling to serve the Lord, our God, as I should. When I read our purpose the way you presented it, I clearly saw for the first time that my ego and selfish desires have been getting in the way. The problem is that I wasn’t feeling guilty about it. My response to God was that He was asking too much of me, despite how He set me free of severe addictions years ago and despite how He healed my body and soul many times (yes, miraculously).

    I will be sharing your way of saying “Part of my conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.”

    Also very powerful for me right now, even though I’ve heard it many times before, was “He must increase, and I must decrease”. It’s a gradual and powerful process of re-birth.

    My eldest son has the same cross to carry, and six years ago, when he let us know about it, I didn’t know what to say, except “God loves you and so do I. He didn’t believe me, unfortunately, and distanced himself because he was aware of how I agree with the Church’s teachings. Your witness gives me hope and will help me to trust God more and pray more.

    God bless you,

    Alcide

  3. If only I can be as strong. I am battling through the same struggles as you went through Joe but I am having trouble giving up the sin I keep committing over and over. Would like prayers and guidance to help me leave the same said lifestyle so I can be closer to God.

    • There is a support group for you at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_rom1.htm

      I am also struggling in my own ways; finding it difficult to change my habits. We all need support, because we all go through difficult times / seasons.
      There is no shame in seeking support. With God all things are possible. Take a step away from despair, toward hope. You won’t regret it.

  4. I think the problem wasn’t that you were attracted to men. Rather it was your hedonistic lifestyle; being gay or bi doesn’t mandate that. That was your choice. Seems to me you just needed someone to love and to be loved, and to sort yourself out. If the Church and your faith makes you feel fulfilled, good luck. But the problem before wasn’t being gay.

    • @George McDonald, I don’t think he was saying that his problem was that he was gay. I think his entire point was his journey of living a lifestyle that is contrary to the teachings of the Faith and how he carried his cross and the struggles that come with it.

      @Joe thank you for sharing! This was an awesome read!! We all have our cross to carry, and that is what we are called to do.

  5. I’ve, sadly, never married, so although I’ve never had to battle in the way you have, I’ve found it hard to believe God had my best interests at heart. Life without marriage can be tough. Keeping the Faith has been a matter of hanging on in there for most of my life. That is never going to attract people to the Church! So I pray for joy (which just might) and for the fulfilment I’ve been missing, which will come, I hope, in Heaven – but I’d like it sooner!

    Where am I going with this? To say you have my support, for a start. Second, to say that, although your particular situation has been the object of much attention, there are others for whom the emphasis on the Catholic family (which is right and proper) can be something hard to bear (my family is not Catholic, so I have no connection with Catholic family life and feel isolated as a result). Thirdly, to say (and this might be the most important bit) that the answer to the (rightful) desire to include in the Church those who at present feel they don’t belong, is not to alter what the Church teaches about marriage and family, but to provide some other way of making those without a family (and I suspect that as we move further into a society where to be Catholic (or Christian at all) is the exception and not accepted by it, there will be more “stand-alone” Catholics like me) feel welcome and included.

    There are groups who support people with same sex attraction in living according to the teaching of the Church and they might have some ideas on ,to cope with those who can’t cope with you abandoning the lifestyle, too. If they had associate membership I’d sign up, because I think it’s important that those of us who don’t have to fight that particular battle support those that do – we are ALL affected by the culture that endorses, celebrates even, behaviour which is incompatible with living the Faith.

    Congratulations! Your journey makes a lovely and encouraging story. I hope I have not inflicted too much of mine on you! I’d be interested to know if any of what I say about providing for those on their own makes any sense.

    God bless!

  6. You really should just accept that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, and that it’s perfectly fine to have same-gender relationships.

    • To SeanB :

      Accept what? Accept that there’s no way to be free of a destructive lifestyle? Did Joe describe any aspect of his freedom that he now regrets having?

      Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. What’s more is that many will be inspired to follow Joe’s example and will also be free to be who God created them to be. We are not supposed to be enslaved to our genitals, or to our sexual cravings.

      Ideally, as we mature, we grow into the best version of ourselves, and become a blessing to everyone around us.

  7. “I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form.”
    Bingo. And to think there are those all through the Church hierarchy even all the way to the top that would do anything they could to keep it from us. Gee I wonder why and who’s behind its suppression…congratulations Joe. We must do everything now for the building up and sanctification of the Church including making the so-called “Extraordinary Form” “ordinary” once again. (And all that goes with it, including devout Marian devotion.)

  8. Wow. Your words are beautiful and mirror my journey in many ways. Grace is a miraculous thing, although far from sainthood, it’s amazing who I’ve become, with a long way yet to go. I do find it very isolating, though, not many understand. Kudos and blessings to you. Great article.

    Karen

  9. WOW – God Bless you Joe! Evangalize!! We are missing this voice of love in the church. Be like Jesus in the Temple….scatter those coins of the money changers. You have been given the grace!

    My journey is similar, tho’ I am a convert. Our Blessed Mother helped me come to the church. I do not take that help lightly. It means more to me than belonging to groups, being agreeable. God is first! That is isolating. But I remain true with the help of God’s grace. Blessings my friend in Christ. Thanks for writing this article. Hope you can speak to youth groups. Reva

  10. Everyone is on their own journey, striving to live in good conscience. Many LGBT+ people have discerned that they are made and loved by God as they are, and are called to sexual relationships with others. In my opinion, that is a blessing, and our Church is gradually opening up to that. May God guide you Joe in whatever you discern to be God’s call for you.

  11. Pingback: Faith In Our Families blog round-up 2015. Best year yet! | Faith in our Families

  12. Brilliant piece, Joe, thank you, particularly the key pillars that brought you home and, as a parent of four, your final piece of advice is inspired! Thank you for sharing and God bless you.

  13. Excellent, excellent post! I, too, share a similar conversion from the gay lifestyle as a direct result of participation and catechesis via the Traditional Latin Mass. Like you, I lost a lot of so-called, “friends,” but gained many, many more who support me in carrying my cross just as they do. It isn’t an easy road to travel, but then again Christ said it wouldn’t. I feel so much more happier and free living my life in accordance with God’s will as opposed to doing it my own way or the way the world says I should be living. We live in a particularly hedonistic time where everything and anything goes. Choosing to follow Christ is difficult, but with his grace we can do it. God bless and thank you for sharing your story!

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