The following is a Lenten reflection given to her parish by Lourdes, a mother who attended one of our workshops:
Lent is a time for prayerful reflection on God’s forgiveness of our falling short of His glory. It is a time for challenging ourselves to give alms or to give up something, whether it is food or a habit that is an obstacle to living the gospel fully. Lent is a time for conversion, leaving behind old habits and embracing new ones, in order to allow the Holy Spirit to change us so that we are more like Christ. I challenge you to give up prejudices you may have for an individual or a certain group of people that is outside your level of comfort.
Before the summer of 2010, I would have had difficulty loving my neighbor as myself, if my neighbor was gay, or transgender. Sure, I had a much older gay cousin whom I loved, but he was family, so that didn’t really count. Whether or not my hairdresser in Florida was gay, I couldn’t be sure, but he was cool and quite lovable.
What I couldn’t appreciate was the stranger who was overtly gay, you know, the one with mannerisms. Of course, I’d be respectful if I came across such a person, but I had certain prejudices since my exposure was limited to the mixed messages from the Catholic religion, the television, and the news. How could I see these people as brothers and sisters with God-given gifts if I didn’t have personal conversations or connections with them? They were different.
The summer before my son’s junior year in high school would bring about the change God knows I needed. The catalyst to my transformation was when my teenage son told me he wasn’t heterosexual. I was shocked by the news, but I told my son Joe that I loved him. I did love him, although I thought there was room for change. I didn’t quite understand him at that moment, but I knew I would do my best to try. My son was a gift from God; I wasn’t going to turn my back on him and leave him to get validation and love only from his friends.
My world suddenly had turned upside-down, and yet nothing had changed. My life would be different, and my son’s future too. However, he was the same person I knew and loved and for whom I had sacrificed. I left my teaching job so that I could stay home to raise him. Yet, the teacher was being taught by her son, and his friends, about love the way God intended. It was quite surreal to think about how my expectations for Joe would have to change, and yet I still wanted the same things for him—to be happy, healthy, and to make a living doing something he loves, with someone he loves by his side—someone who brings out the best in him. Above all, I wanted him to keep his faith and trust in God. I reminded him that God loves him.
You may be thinking that my son’s news is what transformed me, but it was only a spark. I loved my son, but I didn’t totally accept him. It took my encounters with two other individuals to complete the transformation- the first of whom I met before my son’s news and the second I met afterwards.
The first was with my hairdresser in NJ—a wonderful individual named JD. In chatting with him, I discovered that, although he was a gay man, his values were very similar to mine. In fact, he would express to my son which teen behaviors needed changing, sometimes giving advice and sometimes teasing in a good-natured way. I came to realize that he is a wonderful person with many gifts and that he would be an exemplary father figure, although currently he is an uncle.
The second person is a boy named Daniel, who befriended Joe. I met Daniel two days after Joe’s revelation to me. Daniel was different and I was concerned that his artsy, slightly feminine ways would rub off on my son. Daniel wore too many bracelets and had a penchant for sewing his own clothes because of his interest in fashion design. I felt it was important to get to know Daniel because I wanted to know about the person who was hanging out with my son. Daniel was gay, but had not expressed it to his family.
It turns out that Daniel was a very kind person who had a talent for art and fashion since he was young. In three days of conversing with him and getting to know him, it occurred to me that he was special. I went to bed thinking, “he’s a little weird; he thinks differently than me”.
I woke up on the fourth day and thought, “Yes, he’s different in some ways, but that’s ok. If I can appreciate a person for who he is, it doesn’t make sense to think, ‘if only he weren’t gay” because if he weren’t gay, he’d be a different person; it doesn’t mean that one wouldn’t like him that way too, but the question becomes: Is he lovable the way he is now?” That is when I had my epiphany and realized that as humans we need to embrace the uniqueness of individuals and not feel threatened by it. I can still remember vividly the tears streaming down my face due to my spiritual awakening. It was Sunday morning and I was not at home, but I rushed off walking to the nearest Catholic Church to give thanks to God for the gift of my enlightenment.
In speaking of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 verse 7 it reads: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” After listing various spiritual gifts, verses 11-13 conclude: “But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” Let us remember that our individual gifts are meant to be shared with one another in faithful unity; we need each other to become whole, just as we need the Spirit in order to become holy.
My life has changed for the better since my epiphany opened my heart to others who are part of a different community. My life isn’t the only one that has changed as a result of my transformation. My son isn’t living with the pain that comes from keeping a part of who he is hidden from his family. My husband has undergone an amazing change of heart, in part, due to my renewal of spirit. Also, Daniel told me that it was inspiring to see my loving relationship with my son and he came out to his mother within a couple of months of our visit with him. The good news is that I now have a broader base of people to love who can teach me and remind me that by loving His children, I honor God.
First-person testimony like Lourdes’ is often key to changing hearts and minds when it comes to LGBT people. Using a technique called personal narrative, we encourage and equip participants in our workshops to tell their own stories. We thank Lourdes for her willingness to share her transforming experience. May we hear yours?