This blog is part of a series on LGBT Catholics who have held on to their faith, despite being publicly rejected from the church. For more stories, click here.
This is Sam's public history with the Catholic Church. This is what happened to his faith.
A decade ago, people in my life thought I was destined to be a priest. A descendant of Portuguese and Italian immigrants, Catholicism has always loomed large in my family. Despite this background, I was 14 years old before being baptized into the church. But following that event, I was on fire to be the best Catholic I could be.
It wasn't long before my fellow parishioners noticed and started having the "seminary talk" with me. I went on to attend Saint Joseph's College, a small Catholic college in northwest Indiana. There, I quickly became known as the student liturgist and a general chapel rat. After graduation, I returned to my home parish of Saint Elizabeth Seton, where I quickly assumed duties of lay leadership as a parish council member and co-founder of a ministry for young adult parishioners.
It is in spite of this background that I now find myself outside of officially-recognized Catholic ministry. See, I am a gay man -- and happily and proudly so. And this did not sit well with some of my fellow parishioners.
My instruction in the Catholic faith had always taught me that I had a vocation to carry out, a particular calling from the Holy Spirit planted at the moment of my baptism. After 11 years of prayer and careful discernment, I experienced a moment of clarity in 2013. My primary vocation in this life is a simple one: to be a living witness to a gay life lived in Jesus Christ -- and to carry that witness to the church and to the LGBT community.
By August 2014, I found myself sitting in the office of my longtime pastor, given little choice but to resign my duties in the parish. Leaving his office that warm, sunny afternoon, I crossed the church commons and emerged through the front doors onto the entrance plaza. I am glad I did not run into anyone I knew, being that I was clearly shaken and on the brink of tears.
Pausing briefly on the church plaza, I said a silent prayer: "Jesus, I don't know what's happening right now or what you're doing. But I do know that you're with me, and I trust in you." For my ability to offer this prayer, I credit only God's grace.
Days later, I did what I have done for many years now. Late one evening, I stopped in at Saint Elizabeth and entered the Blessed Sacrament chapel. As I had done so many times before, I threw my arms around the tabernacle before being seated in quiet prayer with Jesus. I can say very honestly that I never experienced any anger toward God. Jesus Christ has always remained a faithful friend to me. If I could no longer serve my local parish, at least I had gone down trying to live my faith.
We Christians have always dared to hope that God can and will bring forth new life from even the most desperate and painful happenings. Catholics hang crucifixes in our churches and homes because we believe that the cross is a sign of victory and the Precious Blood of Jesus ultimately offers life and Resurrection to the whole world. Whatever injustice I faced at the hands of church leaders, I had an early awareness that God was prepared to use this experience in a powerful and life-giving way.
Over the past year, I have been blessed with more opportunities than I could have imagined to share my own faith with fellow Catholics and fellow members of the LGBT community. I have been gifted with the opportunity to create some dialogue and maybe even build a few bridges. In fact, I am freer than I have ever been to carry out the work of my vocation. And yes, on Sunday you will still find me in my regular pew at Saint Elizabeth. I will not pretend this is always easy, but I am grateful to provide at least a small LGBT presence and voice in that space.
More than a few people have lined up to counsel me that I should abandon hope the Catholic Church will ever change. To that, I would reply simply that our church is already changing. Large majorities of lay Catholics in our country oppose discrimination and support the inclusion of LGBT Catholics in our church. Many priests have quietly accepted their LGBT parishioners for decades. But most importantly, we LGBT Catholics have changed the church with our devotion and love. Despite the challenges, we are present in its pews each Sunday because we love God, we love our church, and we too are striving to know and follow Jesus.
Experiences like mine are a reminder that we have not yet realized Resurrection in its fullness. But we have much reason to believe that God is bringing forth new life for LGBT Catholics. I can only give thanks that I have been blessed to be one small shoot in this new life springing up in our church.