I had just come out of Sunday Mass and my phone rang. "Sister 'Monica', My name is 'Brad.' I don't know if you remember me, but I met you a couple of weeks ago at the transgender support group." I quickly responded, 'Yes, of course, I remember you. You were sitting on my left." With an audible sigh of relief he added, 'Well, I was wondering if you would be able to come see me because I'm in the hospital. I tried to kill myself.'
That was six years ago and since then Brad has become very special to me. We don't live in the same city anymore, but stay in touch. I see him every year when I visit his city and had lunch with him a few of months ago. He was more at peace with himself than I'd seen him in a long time. I pray for him so much that he will finally value himself as much as I treasure him.
How fitting it is that God's best gift to me in my ministerial life as a Catholic sister is now, at the end. I am 71 years old and have had the privilege and joy of being present among the transgender community since 1999. I could never have imagined the extent to which my own life would be shaped by them. They have taught me so much about courage, about the value and the cost of being honest with oneself, with others, and with God.
As I finished my term as vocation director for my religious congregation in 1998 I felt called to minister among the lesbian and gay community. I, like many of us, have family and friends who are gay and lesbian and believe they don't deserve the rejection they often live with from society and religious groups. "Go forth with God's blessing and ours, but minister quietly and under the radar" the leadership of my community told me.
I had begun only a few months when I met my first transgender person at a PFLAG meeting (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). I asked if we could meet so I could understand better what being transgender means. I very soon came to experience my relationship with them as a "call within a call." As surely as God called me to religious life, I knew as well that I was called by God to be an affirming presence among this community of God's mostly invisible people. While there is no public, official position of the Catholic Church regarding people who are transgender, it would be safe to say that the hierarchy of the Church would likely forbid this ministry. For that reason neither I nor my congregation can be named here.
From the outset, I felt that my call from God has two dimensions. One is to be a spiritual companion to those who struggle to navigate the minefields of transition, reminding them repeatedly that God is not against them but with them. The second is to be an advocate on their behalf and a witness to their lives.
With regard to the first, I believe that when we are trying to live our lives honestly and with integrity we are moving toward God and not away from God. Whether in a formal retreat setting or in the many informal ways I companion them, I remind them that they are precious and loved by God.
Secondly, it is my great privilege to bring my transgender friends out from the darkness of the margins of society into the light where they can be seen as who they are -- gifted, struggling human beings as we all are. I've mediated with families when asked by them. I've coordinated many Trans Awareness Evenings to provide an opportunity for people with open minds and hearts to meet and talk with my trans friends.
In the past 16 years I have come to know well over two hundred transgender people. From the beginning I had a passion to be a supportive companion to them in the deeply spiritual journey of claiming and living in their truth. My mantra has always been "What gives glory to God is for us to be the person God made us to be. When we are trying to live as honestly as we can our lives gives praise to God."
I've spent thousands of hours listening giving comfort and encouragement. I've cried and laughed with them, held them, and prayed with them. To be part of their lives has been a privilege and grace of God beyond what I can describe.
For more about Sr. Monica about her ministry, visit here.