From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

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An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

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The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

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For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

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My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

Station 4 – Jesus meets His Mother.

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The 4th Station – Jesus Meets His Mother.

Jesus had been abandoned by his followers and denied by Peter. He was alone even as the crowds milled around him in the crowded streets. In the midst of that searing loneliness Jesus met His mother. How deeply Mary felt the pain of her son’s journey to Calvary. How she suffered to see Jesus abused and on his way to death. She was powerless to change the course of events, she could only be there. There was only that moment of seeing one another, of deep recognition, of shared faith that never wavered even in this absolute darkness. Mary’s presence was all she could give to her suffering Son. 

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Fr. Sam Explains…

The fourth station of the cross has to be one of the most moving encounters we have in our possession as Church. In it we see the whole summit of Our Salvation. Mary our Beloved Mother encounters her son on the tragic path towards his death. No mention of this is in scripture. Why? Do you think any words could express this encounter? Do you believe they even exchanged words? What could be said?

Mary and Jesus stand united under the tree of the Cross, both of them perfectly fulfilling the will of God. They are the perfect contrast to Adam and Eve who chose to disobey God under the tree of knowledge;

“In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” – (Romans 5:18-19)

The loving gaze between Mary and Jesus spans the whole of Salvation. Mary gazes with agonizing love into her sons eyes as her heart wrenches, ‘Behold Mother, I make all things new’. From this tree comes life through death, gone is death from life.’ 

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A Family Perspective…

A major turning point in my own conversion was the first time I watched ‘The Passion of the Christ’ film. The bit that really got me was when Jesus met his mother on the road to Calvary. Mary is standing in a side street almost paralysed by grief, watching Jesus pass by. It is as if she is hesitating to go to Him because the reality of what is happening is too awful. Then suddenly He falls under the weight of the cross.

Mary has a flashback of when Jesus was a toddler and a time He fell and hurt Himself: she of course drops what she was doing immediately and runs to comfort her little boy telling Him “I am here”.

As soon as she has this memory, she forgets any sort of horror or fear of the crucifixion taking place and immediately runs to her Son. All she sees is her Son, her beautiful Son and she screams out to Him “I am here!” because that is all she can do.

At the time my own son was 2 years old and I related immediately to Mary as a parent. To imagine anything like this happening to my own son was too much to bear. I suddenly understood her helplessness, her grief and the haunting words spoken to her by Simeon 33 years previously “…and a sword shall pierce your own soul too…” (Luke 2:35)

When I viewed the Stations of the Cross through Mary’s eyes I began to see it from a new perspective – unconditional love of a parent. I asked myself – “What was Mary feeling? What if this was my child?” It brings home the fact of Jesus’ total humanity, as well as His divinity.

If you have not yet had the chance to visit your church and walk around the Stations of the Cross, please try to do so. I would also very much recommend watching ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – but be advised, it is the most moving, realistic depiction of the crucifixion I have ever seen and certainly not for kids. It is available on YouTube.

Thought for the week…  

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” – Mother Teresa

 
 
 

Dear Jesus…

Help me walk along side my loved ones when they suffer.Help me be able to say “I am here” just like your Mother did.

Thank You, I love You Jesus. Amen.

 

 

The Transfiguration (Second Sunday of Lent – Year A)

Matthew 17:1–9

17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

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Fr. Sam Explains…

Why did Jesus only take Peter, James and John up on to the mountain? Why not his best friends, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene? Or how about his Mum? After all this is the moment of His glory, the moment he reveals himself as true God. I guess it’s the same reason he only took these 3 men into his darkest hour also in the Garden of Olives – the most difficult night of his life: They are his Priests. They might not be his favourite, they may deny him (Peter), they may run away (James) or they may be the really faithful (John), but none the less, they are his Priests. He reveals to them, fallen as they are, his most intimate moments; his greatest joy and his greatest sorrow. Why?

Because they too (and every priest after them) will present the Transfiguration of Jesus through the Eucharist at every Mass throughout the world. In the Sacraments they administer, they present Christ in his agony to those who suffer: drawing them closer into His heart. They draw down Christ from heaven, as night falls on day.

Peter, James, John, all of them were someone’s son. When I entered the seminary aged 21 the reaction from my family was mixed. Parents – please do not underestimate the importance of praying for vocations within your own family – so that this manifestation of such goodness, of such truth, of such light, may set fire to the earth forever and ever. 

Clare

A Family Perspective…

Depending on where we are in our relationship with Jesus, the Transfiguration will tell us different things. We may be just at the beginning – interested in Jesus, but not really knowing who He is. We might be at the point of realisation that Jesus IS the son of God and feel totally dazzled and overcome just like Peter, James and John. We might be in the honeymoon period where we are just beginning to fall in love with Jesus – and want to remain within this very strong feeling – not wanting to come down from the mountain.

But as our relationship matures, we realise that if we are to be true disciples of Jesus, we do have to come down from the mountain because there is work to do. The Transfiguration was just a foretaste of the eternal glory of the Resurrection. And before we get to the Resurrection, we have to face the Cross.

This is so true of many situations in our own lives: before we get to hold our glorious new-born baby, we have to sacrifice our bodies through 9 hard months of pregnancy, and then labour, and then birth! Before we can find the glory of peace and harmony in our marriage, we have to sacrifice parts of ourselves that we took for granted as single people. Before we see the glory of our children growing into strong independent adults, we have to put in years of love, patience and sacrifice.

Whatever crosses we find ourselves facing, we can be assured that we will be asked to suffer in some way – but within the context of Christianity, that suffering has meaning and purpose. And eventually, the cross we find ourselves carrying will end and be replaced by the glory of the resurrection.

Thought for the week…  

WE HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE CROSS, TO GET TO THE RESURRECTION.

Dear Jesus…

Let the reality of your Resurrection give me the strength I need to get through my Crosses in life.

Thank You, I love You Jesus. Amen.

Download this newsletter to use in your school or parish: Second sunday lent – Transfiguration.doc  Second sunday lent – Transfiguration.pdf

Lent – Confession…

Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.

– Jesus to Sr. Faustina from the ‘Divine Mercy’.

What is Confession?

Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation is really a sacrament of healing. All of us are sinners and we carry around so much ‘baggage’ from our past. Confession is about letting go of this ‘baggage’. It doesn’t matter how big or bad our sin is – Jesus can and wants to forgive our sin if we come to Him truly sorry for what we have done.   

 His mercy is ALWAYS greater than our sin.

Perhaps your marriage has broken down? Perhaps you have an addiction? Perhaps you had an abortion? Or maybe you have just drifted away from and ignored God for many years? It doesn’t matter – whatever it is, Jesus is waiting for you to come back to Him. He wants to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start, and draw you closer to His love.

Think of it like clearing out your cupboards: once you have got rid of all the junk, you have space to receive all of the good things (graces) that God so wants to give you. But you can only receive the grace, once you have the space!

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Fr. Sam Explains Confession…

Most confessionals have the option of kneeling behind a screen, or sitting face to face with the priest (at his discretion). It totally up to you – choose which option you are both most comfortable with.

1. Once you come in you say “Forgive me, Father, I have sinned. It has been (however long) since I have been to confession.” Don’t be embarrassed. If it’s been 12 years then fantastic! You are here now–that’s the important part.

2. Now you tell the priest your sins. Remember, say ALL your sins – you are not going to be told off or laughed at. The priest is there representing Jesus. Jesus wants to take all your sins away and wipe the slate clean.

3. Then you will be asked to say an Act of Contrition: “Dear God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you, and by the help of your grace I will not sin again.”

4. The priest then may say some words, give you guidance and finally, the best part, the words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

5. The priest will then give you some sort of penance. This may be a prayer like the Our Father or Hail Mary or perhaps to read a line of scripture.

There you are done!!! There is nothing like a clean slate.

Real life testimonials…

“…I had lived and worked in a secular environment for about 25 years and had picked up the habit of rationalizing my every sin.  I often noticed sin in others, but had a really hard time recognising it in myself. I had never been called to examine my conscience as an adult.  Modern society has lost its sense of sin, and I was one of those people.  It was much easier to make excuses for myself than to look at myself honestly. It just got to the point where I felt the secular world was not offering me anything anymore – like something was missing. I felt it was the right time in my life to come back to God – like coming home. I went to see my priest who helped me make an examination of conscience. After this I felt confident and ready to make my first confession in over 25 years…”

Dan, age 46.

“…There was something that happened in my early 20’s that I had been carrying with me my whole adult life. At the time I felt too ashamed to tell anyone and I just tried to put it out of my mind. But it got to the point in my life where I began to understand more about Jesus’ love for me and His message of mercy and forgiveness. I wanted to go to confession for a long time but was too scared. When I stepped into the confessional, I asked the priest if he would help me as I had completely forgotten what to do! He was really patient and kind and took me through it step by step. When he absolved me it was like a weight being lifted off me – I felt my pain finally starting to go away…”

Amy, age 33.

 

Thought for the Week: WHY CARRY THIS BAGGAGE ANY LONGER?…

 

Dear Jesus…

Have mercy on me – a sinner. Help me find the courage to make a good confession this week.

Thank You, I love You Jesus. Amen.

 

Download this newsletter to use in your school or parish: Confession.doc   Confession.pdf

 

 

Ash Wednesday and Lent

“Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return”.

What is Lent and Ash Wednesday?

Lent is the Holy season in which we prepare for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It lasts for approximately 40 days. We prepare with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is also a time to remember our Baptismal promises and for repentance. Basically, Lent is a time for “spring cleaning” our lives while giving thanks to God and strengthening our relationship with Him.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Although not a Holy Day of Obligation, Catholics go to church to receive a sign of the cross on their foreheads from ashes (ashes from the blessed palms used on Palm Sunday the previous year). This mark is a reminder of our mortality and a call for repentance. The priest blesses the ashes and says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return”.

Fr. Sam Explains…

If there is ever a day throughout the year where you can spot Catholics at a glance, Ash Wednesday is it. It is the only time of the year whereby Catholics literally wear their faith on their foreheads. The ashes themselves are made from burnt palms which were used in the previous years ‘Palm Sunday’ services. This instantly reminds us, that all earthly glory, even that given to Christ himself on earth, fades away. It reminds us of the fragility and mortality of our earthly life and our need to be redeemed by our heavenly Father. Our bodies then must fall temporarily into dust, like all things. But this should serve to challenge us in our everlasting accomplishments: Am I focusing all my time and energy on earthly things that are passing away? Or on heavenly things that will remain forever? The ashes we receive then shouldn’t be a gloomy reminder of death, but the glorious promise of eternal life’. 

A Family Perspective…

‘Giving something up’ for lent is a pretty useless exercise if you don’t know why you are doing it. Fasting is not a body detox, a way of losing weight or an opportunity to see how far we can push ourselves. It’s not even really worth anything as a discipline exercise. In fact fasting is ONLY worth anything at all if used in conjunction with prayer. Then it becomes an incredibly powerful spiritual tool.  

When we pray we begin to understand that our fasting sacrifice is actually all about love. It helps us understand that love and sacrifice are actually inseparable. We can then relate this to the sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us on the cross.  When we feel the pinch of our little sacrifices during Lent, we also begin to experience something else – gratitude. Thank you Jesus, for sacrificing everything, for me.

Lent is a time when family prayer is essential.  We are truly preparing as a family for Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. With children it is best to keep prayer time short and to the point and above all – regular. Meal times are a good time to pray with kids: ‘Dear Jesus, thank you for giving your life for us on the cross. Amen.’ Short and sweet and to the point. Along with this prayer you could also invite your children to give up something small at the dinner table ie. ketchup, dessert, or water instead of juice (it is much better for kids to fast like this as a daily exercise rather than try to give one thing up for 6 weeks and then fail!) Then the money saved can be given to the poor.

Thought for the week…

FASTING IS USELESS WITHOUT PRAYER.

Dear Jesus…

Help me learn that love and sacrifice are inseparable. Help me understand your sacrifice on the cross and help me understand how much you love me.

Thank You, I love You Jesus. Amen.

Download this newsletter to use in your school or parish: Ash Wednesday and Lent.doc Ash Wednesday and Lent.pdf