The Courage to Do What Herod Didn’t Do: He Left the Gay Lifestyle for the Church
By Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.
In the past year I received a personal message from the “Ask An Apologist” forum on our Web site (www.catholic.com) from a 30-something lawyer in the Midwest, thanking us at Catholic Answers for helping him back to the Church after having been away for 20 years. The gentleman also mentioned that his journey back involved breaking a seven-year same-sex relationship. I contacted him and asked if he would be willing to be interviewed for publication to help others who might be on the same journey or in need of embarking on such. He kindly agreed. Respecting his right to anonymity, we will call him Jason.
Fr. Serpa: Due to current sensibilities in our culture, as a priest and apologist, I don’t know of any more difficult subject to deal with than that of same-sex attraction (SSA). You have been there and have returned to the Church—on the Church’s terms. This is a great example of faith; moreover, it is a testimony to the sanity of such a move.
I am convinced that when a person begins with himself in trying to understand life, he eventually begins to question God and to pass judgment on him. “If God is so loving, then why does he allow so much suffering? Why didn’t he just make me straight?”
But in reality, if God came first, he ought to come first. When we begin with him, the reasoning takes quite a different direction. We don’t measure him by our expectations; we measure ourselves by his. Unfortunately, however, most people in our culture begin with the self—or rather, the Self. Jason, you were living a very secular life. What was it that got through to you?
Jason: Father, you really said it: The key for me, in a broad sense, was changing my way of thinking. I focused on reconciling myself to what God wants for me, rather than trying to reconcile my notion of God with how I saw myself.
That change of perspective is not easy at all. The sense of self is very powerful and extraordinarily difficult to overcome, especially once it has been given a chance to grow roots. That results in a sense of hopelessness and impossibility. This, I am sure, is what drives a lot of people with SSA away from the Church. Because of their focus on the self, they [falsely] see only two possibilities—either live a life of mortal sin or live a life of pure misery. A lot of people in my position feel like religion presents them with a choice between death by damnation or death by desolation. What I would say to someone in that position is: Start by coming to God and his Church and take it from there. The Church helps me see that the sense of hopelessness originates from a mis-orientation of thoughts. The truth is that doing things that please God does not result in a life of desolation.
By focusing on what God would want me to do today, I don’t worry nearly as much about what I’m not doing at any particular moment. I still struggle immensely; in many respects it feels like I’m trying to ignore the signal from one of my two eyes. But that’s what mercy, forgiveness, and confession are for. In a sense, it is like learning how to empathize with God, if such a thing were possible.
As for particular things that “worked” for me to help start me down this path, a good part of it was the good fortune of having been raised Catholic (at least until I was 14 or so), which instilled in me a core faith in God and the desire to search for him, as well as a place to look, even if I was unsure of the answers. I honestly cannot remember how I stumbled upon Catholic Answers, but I’ve learned more about the Church by listening to the radio show than I learned in all my years of Catholic school. For example, I had never heard of adoration until I found Catholic Answers—I’d never even heard the word before. That’s just one example. There are many people out there like me who have had 10 or more years of Catholic education and don’t know what a novena is, or what happened at Lourdes or Fatima, or more importantly the role and significance of confession. That is probably the most helpful thing that Catholic Answers has given me—information about the Church and answers to questions about all the different ways that God and the Church are there to help me down my particular road. And, of course, it also helped to hear from other people like me who’ve walked this same road and know how incredibly hard it is.
Fr. Serpa: By focusing on doing what is pleasing to God and what he would want you to do today, you say that you don’t worry so much about what you are not doing at any particular moment. By that I assume you mean the pleasures of your former lifestyle. I’m sure there are many people still in that lifestyle who find the very thought of giving it up to be overwhelming. Just breaking off an intimate relationship, especially a lengthy one, with someone who doesn’t understand your motivation has to be rather daunting. How did you go about it?
Jason: It was a matter of trusting God and taking the plunge. That is what I ultimately did, though the thought of breaking off our relationship was so overwhelming and so scary that it took me over two years to do it. I was so resistant to telling [my companion] in 2005 (when I had first started to come back to the Church) that I stuffed the thought in the back of my mind and pulled away from the Church. In the summer of 2007, I felt God calling me back to the Church and started attending Mass again. By late summer I knew that I had to do something to stop what I was doing, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about it other than just to tell him. You are right in saying that the thought of doing this was very overwhelming—we’d been together for over seven years and our lives were about as intertwined as they could possibly be.
Instead of stuffing the thought away again, I started praying more. I began attending Mass daily. I started spending time in adoration, which I’d never done before. I prayed the rosary before each Mass and again before I went to bed at night. Each time I asked God to lead me instead of asking him to signal to me that what I was doing was okay.
A few weeks later, at one of the daily Masses, the Gospel reading was from Mark 6, where Mark says that Herod was distressed and upset that he’d promised to have John the Baptist killed, because he knew John to be righteous and holy. My head became filled with words telling me to have the courage to do what Herod didn’t do. I believe that was an answer to my prayers, and it gave me the courage that night to tell him that our relationship had to change.
When I finally did tell him, I also tried to explain to him exactly why I was doing it and why it was important to me. He’d seen me going to Mass frequently over the previous weeks, and told me that he’d “expected” something like this eventually. Even so, he spent the next several months in a terrible, depressed, angry state.
I’m not sure how much there is in my story for others to model, though I would heartily recommend the daily Mass, rosaries, and adoration, which I continue to do and which have helped me to stay on a good path since then. It really is just learning to trust that God knows what’s best for your life, and letting go of your own notions that you know what’s best. That’s the core of the message I received from the Mark Gospel. I’ve also found that the more time I spend in prayer, the less time I end up with my thoughts drifting to places they shouldn’t be.
Fr. Serpa: How did you get into that lifestyle to begin with? Were you young when you learned that you had such attractions? Did you feel conflicted about your faith?
Jason: I have no idea why, but I remember having these attractions from a very young age. I also remember having some attraction to the opposite sex, though, at least when I was a younger teenager.
I don’t remember feeling conflicted about the same-sex attractions, though, at least not when I was younger. I grew up in an “anything goes” household that, for the most part, has since lapsed entirely from the Church. I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through the eighth grade, plus one year of CCD after that, but do not remember once hearing anything mentioned about sexual sin, much less this particular one.
I did feel a bit conflicted eventually about my thoughts—mostly from a social standpoint and a fear of alienating friends, but I never acted on my same-sex attractions during my teens, so it never really came to the forefront. I never acted on the opposite-sex attractions either.
What ultimately “flipped the switch” for me was a combination of two things: (1) moving away to Ohio for law school and being completely alone for the first time; and (2) my discovery of the Internet, as ashamed as I am to admit that. Both happened in 1995. I didn’t know a soul in Ohio, and had never had so much time to myself before, nor had I ever explored the Internet before. I stumbled on the AOL chat rooms (before moving to Ohio I never knew there were such things), and that led to talking to the same people over and over again, which led to becoming friends, which finally led to meeting them, and you can probably imagine the rest. The whole process took a while, though; I did not succumb completely until my second year of law school, in late 1996.
A lot of damage can be done when a college student with little-to-no spiritual guidance and some degree of same-sex attraction discovers the Internet. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t wish I could go back and do things differently.
I did indeed think of God during those years, but fleetingly. Holidays such as Christmas and Easter had been simply family gatherings, even when I was younger. I did not think about death very much at all; I was the typical 20-something who thought he could live forever.
Fr. Serpa: How did you feel about the Church? Was it something vague from the past? Did it seem irrelevant because it seemed so out of step? Did you feel any hostility because perhaps you felt devalued by it?
Jason: During those years I did not think of the Church much, though I did think of God in a more generic sense. I did see the Church as being irrelevant, but I thought all churches were that way, and believed that many of them were condemning us as hopeless cases. Most people with same-sex attractions believe that churches think of them as hopeless, so they believe it.
I don’t remember feeling any particular hostility towards the Church during my years of absence, but I do know many who do.
Fr. Serpa: When did you conclude that you needed to get out of the lifestyle?
Jason: It was only after coming back to the faith and accepting that the lifestyle was not something that God wanted me to continue. That was in August of 2007.
Fr. Serpa: Is it widely known that you have given up the lifestyle because you’ve fully embraced the Catholic faith? How much hostility have you encountered from your friends in that lifestyle?
Jason: It’s known among my family and friends, yes. My family, most of whom are either Catholic or in other religious traditions, have been very supportive. Actually, I’ve encountered the most hostility from my non-homosexual, non-religious friends, who seem to be aghast that I should cast something aside that they see as part of my nature. They’ve been by far the most vocal in questioning the wisdom of my decision and urging me to reconsider. I must say that I did not see that coming at all. I never did hang out much with the “homosexual crowd,” so to speak, so I cannot really speak about how that crowd has reacted. I don’t really know.
Fr. Serpa: What was most difficult for you in ending the relationship and how has that been assuaged?
Jason: The most difficult thing was that for practical and financial reasons we had to keep living under the same roof. He took it very hard. It’s not a situation I would recommend to anyone else, and I would have avoided it if at all possible, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible given our circumstances. It was sort of like Luke 12:51-52 in action. It’s been assuaged by the passage of time, though not completely, and by physical separation.
Fr. Serpa: You came to the conclusion that the lifestyle was not something that God wanted you to continue. You also mentioned the passage from Mark regarding Herod putting the Baptist to death. But what was it in the Church’s teaching that convinced you?
Jason: Well, there were two things I remember. First, I remember looking for and reading about homosexuality in the Catechism. Second, if I remember right, at about this same time, there was a radio show Catholic Answers did with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. It was difficult to listen to that entire hour without understanding the nature of the Church’s teaching on same-sex relations. It’s a good example of how the radio show helped me through this journey.
Fr. Serpa: You have learned that there is life after ending such a relationship. So what do you have now? You mentioned the effort that you put forth to keep yourself focused on Christ. But what do you consider the benefits of such a life-altering move?
Jason: The greatest benefit is the sense of having awakened from a long sleep. It is as if I was sleeping for 11 years or so, that my eyes were closed and my growth stunted. I don’t want to sound boastful or anything, but now that I’ve moved past this issue, I can see myself becoming more Christ-like in all of my daily activities—doing my work, interacting with co-workers, friends and family members. I’m still far from perfect, and still a sinner in constant need of Christ’s love and mercy, but I can sense myself growing again. That’s easily the best benefit of my turnaround last year.
Fr. Serpa: What would you say to anyone who is where you were when you began to consider that maybe the Church had something to teach you?
Jason: I would ask the person to be willing to open his ears and listen to what God and the Church have to say about all things—not just about this narrow issue—and that there honestly and truly is comfort to be found by doing that. Just crack the door open a bit and listen. Gay people are told far too often by far too many people from many faith traditions that there is no place at all for them in God’s kingdom. They are also told by far too many people that there is nothing they can do about their condition. The accumulation of these messages leads almost all of them to shut out God entirely: Why bother going to a place where I’m not wanted and where I can’t move myself into a position where I would be wanted?
That’s would I would tell them: You are welcome in God’s kingdom; anything is possible with God. Just open your mind, your heart, your ears, and listen.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P. has served as Catholic Answers’ chaplain since 2000. He is also a staff apologist. He writes from San Diego, California.