By Michael Prescia
The most hurtful thing I have heard in my 25 years of life was not someone calling me a faggot. It wasn’t being told that I am just confused, mentally ill, or that I am satan incarnate (the latter actually makes me laugh). The most hurtful and harmful words I have heard and read are that LGBTQ people cannot and do not love.
When I was a kid, I learned that at the end of my life I would be judged by how much I love–and I cried. These words were meant to be words of comfort and a call to something greater, but I knew I was different. And the thought that gay people could not and should not love meant I would be damned forever.
It meant I had to choose between being a Christian and being gay. Hearing that gay people can’t love signaled to me that gay people could not be Christian because Jesus’ greatest commandment in the gospels was to love. With time, the only implied vocation I perceived was to remove myself from the world through isolation at a monastery. I gathered no teaching or conversation on how to live a meaningful and intimate life full of God’s love given my sexuality.
One of the most beautiful graces I have experienced with Ignatian spirituality and in Jesuit communities like JVC, is that I need to be in the world and not cloistered away because of who I am.
But I grew up surrounded by the words, struggles and strengths of Mother Teresa and St. Therese of Lisieux, and worn statues of St. Anthony of Padua and the Blessed Mother that I would talk to. I felt a desire to come to know Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and above all Christ. My faith largely came from my immigrant great-grandparents and my parents in their struggles. My parents were very young, poor, uneducated, unmarried, and products of broken families when they had me. I learned what a deep and pure love is from them all. However, I still internalized a mentality of unworthiness and a feeling of being less than human because of my sexuality.
My prayer as far back as I can remember has been for my suffering to not be pointless and in vain. Rather, to bear some of the weight of the suffering in our world, as I witnessed in Christ. I never knew that was love until entering the world of the Jesuits and I witnessed it in action in JVC.
I went to Fordham, the first Catholic school I ever attended, and I struggled there. I could not muster the strength to check off that I was gay on the application out of fear of rejection, or that my parents would find out my sexuality. I feared entering into a school to which I would be very out of place. But as I reflect on my time at Fordham with the Jesuits and JVC afterwards, what I see woven throughout is the flourishing of my faith. I gracefully experienced the undoing of the notion that God was calling me to hide away because of my sexuality.
One of the most beautiful graces I have experienced with Ignatian spirituality and in Jesuit communities like JVC, is that I need to be in the world and not cloistered away because of who I am. Jesuit communities have shown me that I can love and have taught me how to deepen that love.
Faith does not live in a vacuum, and neither does a community. I think the first step to building an inclusive community and a church that sees itself growing in relationships, in communion with others and Christ, is to cultivate an authentic space for listening. A space where its members courageously tell their stories and share who they are. A community cannot and does not exist if its members cannot share the depths of their souls and their gifts.
Whether you are Catholic, Hindu, black, Asian, gay, transgender, or what have you–we need to tell our stories. We are sitting in the pews; we are in the homeless shelters; we grow your food in the fields; we are hurting in your schools and hospitals; we make your avocado toast; we work together; we are your friends and your friends’ friends; we are members of your family. We are a human family, and our salvation is one and the same. We are knitted together.
The question of building an inclusive community that includes LGBTQ individuals is simply a question of love. If you are a Christian, do you, and can you love Christ enough to love His LGBTQ children?
Love is our vocation. Vocation is always a calling to something, not a refraining from action. I am a gay Catholic, I can be both, and I can and I do love. Both identities have taught me how to handle suffering and how to listen.
What does an inclusive community that looks out for her LGBTQ children actually look like while also bearing witness to the gospels and the catechism? It’s simple. An inclusive community asks the lesbian to live with her so she can have a family and does not have to die alone; it asks the gay man to welcome people into the church as a minister of hospitality; opening its arms and asks the bisexual to teach in its schools without firing her for who she is; it asks the transgender man out to dinner and to its parties to share laughs and make memories; it recognizes humans are humans and that God is in and working in these humans too. An inclusive community sees that we are in kinship with one another where it finds others are others no more. Anything else that labels itself as actions in line with our Catholic faith is nothing more than a pharisaic farce and an affront to Jesus’ ministry and greatest commandment to love.
Yes, love is tough. In Angels of America, Belize says, “I’ve thought about it for a very long time, and I still don’t understand what love is. Justice is simple. Democracy is simple. Those things are unambivalent. But love is very hard.” Love is not always clear but it is most seen in our actions.
How have I come to know love? Love is staying at work until 6 p.m. on a Friday to work with a student who is struggling to support his family while his father is in jail. It’s offering him personal assistance despite that student’s constant use of derogatory terms in regards to LGBTQ people. Love is cleaning your elderly grandmother’s apartment because she cannot do it anymore. And doing so knowing she does not approve or understand your gay identity. Love, to borrow from my girl Dorothy Day, “[Love] is seeing Christ in others, loving the Christ you see in others. Greater than this, it is having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him.”
Love is our vocation. Vocation is always a calling to something, not a refraining from action. I am a gay Catholic, I can be both, and I can and I do love. Both identities have taught me how to handle suffering and how to listen. It has blessed me with the grace of learning how to care and better empathize. And it most importantly has taught me how to love. Forming an inclusive community that supports its LGBTQ members is about centering on hospitality. It’s a place where we support diverse vocations and LGBTQ members experience a love that sees “them” as “us.”
Mike served as a Jesuit Volunteer in San José, California in 2014-15. He graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in Theology, and he currently lives and works in Jersey City at a Jesuit high school.