After being a devout Catholic for 50 years, I left the church. I am transgender and after initially supporting me in my decision to transition from male to female, my pastor and the Vicar Judicial (Catholic lawyer) pushed me away. They told me that I was welcome, but I didn’t have the same rights and privileges as others in the church. I was asked to never communicate with my pastor. That was okay with me. My awareness of the Bishop’s campaigns against gay people, the sexual abuses of children and systemic worldwide cover-ups became too much for me. As I described to a friend, “I have been leaking out the (church) door for a long time.” I finally stopped going.
Losing the holy Mass, the community, the sacraments and the people has been difficult. Still, I don’t feel right participating with an organization that does some heinous acts on children ignores the pain of the abused (until ordered by the court) and then fights against same-sex marriage. I was male when I married my wife 34 years ago and since my transition, I realized that when the church was fighting same sex marriage, they were fighting me!
It is not just the Catholic Church – A friend is transgender. She had been active in the Orthodox Church for many years. She recently started her transition from male to female. Her pastor had been supportive (sound familiar?) but recently met with her and told her that the Bishop said that she was no longer welcome at Church. She is not to attend Mass.
I am not a religious scholar, but I have learned a bit and I read the Bible every day. For many Catholics and Orthodox Christians, missing Mass is a mortal sin. If you die in a state of mortal sin, well, you go to hell. I never quite understood this, since I thought Jesus saved us from our sins, but nevertheless, that is what some believe. If the church banishes you from Mass (or at least shows that you aren’t welcome) isn’t that a not so gentle push toward damnation? If they don’t want you, does that give you a “Get Out Of Mass Hall Pass?” I just have a hard time understanding how a Christian leader can push someone out the door or actually tell him or her not to come. I don’t think that behavior is what Jesus had in mind. If it is, maybe I’m not a Christian after all.
I have often talked with God about my gender struggles and He/She never said anything to me about them. I just have the feeling that God loves me. Perhaps God is not consistent and says one thing to the Bishops and another to me.
I try to focus on the positive, but it is tough when the church is doing so many things I think are hurtful. I recognize that there are many beautiful and holy people in the Church. In pondering some of the great people I have known, I realized why the words and actions of many church leaders were so incongruent with what I thought Christian leaders should be.
It is all about the saints.
Have you ever met a saint? How would you know? I am not thinking about saints that have been proclaimed by a church. I’m not thinking about saints that have churches named for them or have their own feast day. I am thinking about a few people that I have met that I was sure were saints. Perhaps it would help to describe the saints I’ve known.
Saints make you feel good and bad at the same time. Good, because they exude a gentle, loving and holy spirit. I felt great just being in their presence. They seem to have a connection to the divine that is apparent, even though I never quite put my finger on exactly how I knew this. I just knew. They inspire; they are role models to emulate; they teach, seemingly without trying to teach. Bad, because at the same time I was admiring and enjoying these people, I also felt bad about myself – about my connection with God, about how I have lived. I kept thinking, “I need to do better. I’m not even close to being as good as this person. How do I get closer to God like him or her?”
The characteristics of those people I describe as Saints is what seems to be missing from so many of the Bishops and leaders. I don’t know any Bishops personally, but I hear them and read about them. They denounce. I have a friend that was denounced by the American Catholic Bishops. They didn’t even talk to him or tell him he was denounced. They announced it in a press release! They fight. They admonish. They criticize. They defend. They exclude. They lobby.
I am not seeing many of the saintly characteristics in JJ’s description of a saint. Maybe the Bishops and leaders should try to get that back. I’ll bet they had a lot of those characteristics when they decided to enter the priesthood. When they were young and struggling with trying to listen to God’s calling. Where is the gentleness, the pure heart, the love the compassion, the spiritual longing I am sure they once had – at least a little? Maybe things would improve if they try to get back at least some of that beauty.
And I’ll give them a hint of where to look:
Visit, listen to, watch, and spend time with the Sisters and Nuns. (But don’t investigate them) You will find some of the gentlest, most patient and kindest souls on the face of the earth or anywhere else in our religious communities. See what they have and pray that some rubs off on you. That is what I hope for when I’m with a Saint. Just a little will rub off on me.