Spiritual Insights for LGBT Catholics

– Hi, I’m Father Jim
Martin, I’m a Jesuit priest and author of the book Building a Bridge. Over the last few months, I’ve heard from many LGBT Catholics
who are struggling with their faith and
their place in the church. The most common questions
concern coming out, that is, sharing the
reality of their orientation or identity with their family and friends. For many people, both
young and old, coming out can be frightening,
especially if they feel that their church, or God,
is somehow against them. But even after people are
out, they may still struggle, both with their faith and with the church. So here are five important
things to keep in mind. First, God loves you. I know that’s basic
and maybe even obvious, but especially for LGBT
people who don’t feel loved or accepted by others,
it’s an important insight. God created you and God loves you. Now, you might ask, “How can I know that?” Well, to begin with,
that’s one of the most fundamental messages of both
the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is the
story of God’s covenant, God’s unshakeable bond,
with the people of Israel. God loves them, loves us, no matter what. And the New Testament is about
God showing us love in Jesus. Jesus’s whole life was
about loving people, and letting them know that God loved them. Simply put, as the First Letter
of John says, “God is love.” And in addition to what’s
written in the Bible, think of all the people
in your life who love you, accept you and want the best for you. That’s God’s love working through them. How else would God work? That’s God loving you. Now sometimes LGBT people think, well, people are okay with
me if I’m in the closet, but if I come out, no one will love me. It’s true that in many places
LGBT people are rejected, for a variety of reasons,
fear, ignorance, prejudice. Sadly, sometimes that rejection is even based on religious beliefs. One study of homeless LGBT youth in the US said that the primary
reason they felt forced to leave home was their
parents’ religious beliefs. But the people who really
love you will accept you as you really are. Even if it may take some of
them time to discover that love. If it does seem that no one
loves or accepts you now, then try looking within. For example, I’m sure
that you have a desire to live a rich and full life. Where do you think that desire comes from? From God. That’s God’s voice inviting
you to greater freedom. God wants that for you,
desires that for you because God cares for you. So don’t listen to people
who say that God hates you, rejects you or condemns
you, simply for being LGBT. That’s false, and it doesn’t deserve one moment of your attention. Center yourself instead on God’s
compassionate love for you, and look for signs of
it outside and inside. Second, God created you. If you’re LGBT, this is
another important insight. Every reputable psychiatrist, psychologist and biologist will tell you that not only don’t you choose to be
born male or female, you also don’t choose to be born with heterosexual or
homosexual inclination. So don’t let people make you
feel guilty about who you are. It’s like being born
left-handed or right-handed. God wants you to know yourself and accept the amazing gift that you are. As Psalm 139 says, you were knit together in your mother’s womb, and
you are wonderfully made. You’re a wonderful
person, a unique creation. So remember, God created you,
knows you, and loves you. Third, God is on your side. There’s a wonderful verse in
the Book of Jeremiah that says, “I know the plans I have
for you, says the Lord. “Plans for your welfare, and not for harm, “to give you a future with hope.” In other words, God has
good things in mind for you, and is on your side. Sometimes it may feel like
you’re in your life alone. But the God who created you
also wants the best for you. And God is going to work
to help make that happen. So if you’re feeling
that life is tough now, remember that you’re
not alone in your boat, rowing all by yourself. There’s someone in the boat with you, rowing in the same direction. Fourth, Jesus cares about you. The Gospels show us that
during Jesus’s public ministry, he reached out specifically to people who felt ignored,
rejected or marginalized. Over and over again, Jesus
goes first to the people who feel left out. He talks to tax collectors,
who were considered out of bounds in those days. He talks to a Samaritan woman, when that was simply not done. And he talks to a Roman centurion, who’s not part of Jewish society. Moreover, Jesus goes to people who were poor and sick and talks to
them, listens to them, comforts them and heals them. Jesus always sides with those
who feel on the outside. So where is Jesus today? Well, if you’re feeling like an outsider, he is especially with you. What’s more, Jesus himself
was an outsider many times, as people often rejected him. So he knows what you’re going through. Remember that Jesus cares
for you with a special love. Also, remember that things can get better. One of the most important
messages of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection
is that there is always the hope of something new, even if you can’t see it right now. Just think of the
disciples on Good Friday, after Jesus’s crucifixion. They thought that things
were over and done. Nothing could change. But what happened just a
few days later, on Easter, shows us that things can always change. That’s one of the meanings
of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead: Love is stronger than hate. Hope is stronger than despair. And suffering is never,
ever, the last word. Things can get better for you. Finally, the church is your home. Look, you are baptized. That means that you
are just as much a part of the church as the
pope, your local bishop, your parish priest, or me. At your baptism, Jesus himself called you to be a member of the church. So don’t let anyone tell
you otherwise or try to take that sacramental
grace away from you. To that end, it’s
important to find a parish that feels welcoming and
affirming of who you are. If you’re looking, you might check out New Ways Ministry’s list of
LGBT-friendly parishes online. But even after trying, many
LGBT Catholics simply can’t find any local parishes near
them that are welcoming. So they feel unwelcome
in their own church. And I have heard many stories of priests and other church officials
who have said callous, offensive, or even abusive,
things to LGBT people. As in any human organization,
there are people who say and do callous and even mean things. But that’s the same in any profession, and it doesn’t mean that you
have to leave the church. I often say to people,
if you had an encounter with a bad doctor, would you
never see another doctor again? Still, I know that it’s hard. So what if you can’t
find a welcoming parish? Then look for a spiritual
home that is welcoming and that affirms that God loves you. But never stop looking for
a welcoming Catholic parish, and never doubt your place in the church, even if others can’t see it. Remember, you’re baptized. And remember that you are
important to the church, especially as the church
comes to know LGBT people more and more, and is invited to
reflect on their experiences. God created you with special gifts and then called you into
the church for a reason. In other words, the church needs you. Now, I’m sorry I can’t
answer all the questions from LGBT Catholics who
struggling with their faith and with the church, or all
questions about LGBT issues, but I hope that these few
reflections might help you and, most of all, remind
you of God’s love for you. Because, guess what? God loves you.

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