The following is the fifteenth installment of the “Out of the Closet and Into the Pews” series. The series features members of The Reformation Project’s Inaugural Conference – a leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are committed to reform.
Examen of Gay Catholic Consciousness
by Nick Norton (BEA guest writer)
On December 7th, 2011 I experienced a deepening of my spiritual being — I came out as gay to a priest at my catholic high school. Often times, Catholics are painted as monolithically homophobic. While the Church still has a long way to go toward full acceptance of our LGBT brothers and sisters, the more tolerant streams of Catholicism do exist. Those small islands of love in an ocean of misunderstanding, are what I hope to expand through The Reformation Project.
The story of my sexual orientation meshing with my faith was mostly a happy one. I am accepted by my family, my peers, and my faith community — gayness and all. This acceptance allowed me to blossom in my faith, learn to love my Church, and get to know myself for who I truly am.
The average story for a gay Christian, however, isn’t like mine at all. Most LGBT Christians will speak of the prejudice and vitriol that stood in their way of being a full member of their faith community. While I experienced some instances of intolerance, confusion, and depression – that certainly wasn’t the majority of my experience. Sure, I wasn’t screaming “I’M GAY!” at the top of my lungs during church, but I didn’t have to keep it a secret either.
The day I came out of the closet, my classmates and I were in the midst of our annual reconciliation service. I always took this time of reflection very seriously. Sitting in the church pew, feeling that powerful silence raise my awareness, I began to check in with my spiritual core.
The Daily Examen of Consciousness is programmed into my Jesuit school’s curriculum. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of The Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits), created this reflective form of prayer. We followed five basic steps:
1) Become aware of God’s presence
2) Review the day with gratitude
3) Pay attention to your emotions
4) Choose one feature of the day and pray from it
5) Look toward tomorrow
Going through those steps during that service, I felt a tug inside telling me something was wrong. Up till then, I had been denying who I really was. I’d lied to myself, and tried to conform to the straight ideal. What I felt in prayer — was the overwhelming desire to confess my secret to one of priests running the service.
In the intimate confines of the corner of the chapel I told the priest what had been burning inside me for years. His immediate response wasn’t what one would assume a priest would say. He didn’t say I needed corrective therapy, to repent for a sin, or feel sorry for existing in this wretched state. Instead he said four simple words that still reverberate in my head today:
“God doesn’t make junk.”
God doesn’t create a whole set of people as mistakes. We are all beautiful examples of what God does through creation. As manifestations of this loving creator, we are called to work toward embodying that love which animated us into being. Gayness and all.
After that day, I learned to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I led a retreat my senior year where I shared my story in front of a large group of my peers. One of them took me aside and said I was the first actual gay person to ever honestly share that experience to him. He said he could now properly empathize with what it meant to be struggle with sexuality. Juvenile people will always make inappropriate jokes at the expense of the LGBT community — but through sharing our stories, we engender maturity.
That’s what my vision of reform is. With The Reformation Project I want to help create a network working toward tolerance. Only through going on those retreats, talking to local church leaders, and sharing our story — will LGBT Christians start to nurture supportive faith communities. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
Nick Norton, from the Greater Detroit area in Michigan, currently works in online communications for a local mayoral campaign and his own blog at The Huffington Post. Majoring in Urban Studies and Planning at Wayne State University, Nick’s second passion has awoken: the rebuilding of the great city of Detroit. He was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, and attended Catholic schools from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. Quality mentors and a loving family instilled a religious fervor in Norton, and coming out as gay has only enhanced that faith. In conjunction with The Reformation Project, Nick strives to help Catholics and other Christians nurture supportive faith communities.Twitter: @NickyJNorton Huffington Post Blog