I first started writing about my story of conversion in June of this year even though the big event, the epiphany, came in February. Since then, the last few months have been an enriching first step towards a new life. I experienced highs and lows in my struggle for holiness which, in hindsight, have helped me discover that even prior to the eureka moment earlier this year, I was already being led to respond to Christ and the Catholic Church’s call for repentance from the onset. From professional setbacks to family tragedies, from the departure of friends to the arrival of new people in my life, my whole life, as it is, has been under the careful and watchful eye of God, guided by Divine Providence, moved by the Spirit.
It’s interesting to look back and find God’s work in every decision I made in my life when in the past, I only saw reckless abandon and a worried, confused self grappling with unhappiness and desperately trying to make sense of the (self-generated) contradictions of his identity. Little did I know or even see that even my childhood experiences were meant for something greater, something deeper than angst, melancholia, or even writing fodder.
The person I am today is not made any less because of my homosexual inclinations, which I now prefer to call as the struggle with same-sex attraction. In fact, it is precisely because of this cross in my life that I write. This is the by far the biggest change I attribute to my conversion – to see clearly and without fear that my disorder is not an anomaly I am obliged by society, culture, and politics to indulge in by acting on it, nor a darkness I should fear and always be ashamed of, rather a battle scar I must proudly claim as my share in Christ’s own Cross. It is my soul’s own dark night, my purgatory here on earth.
Since I have written quite a bit about my story in this journal, I’d like to take this opportunity instead to give back by offering lessons learned to those who, like me, want to lead chaste, faithful lives as Catholics committed to the Gospel, and conforming to the Will of God. My own experience draws upon countless resources I stumbled upon while looking for ways to sanctify my life, in spite of and through my struggle with homosexuality.
What I aim to write are points for reflection and action a Catholic struggling with same-sex attraction or deep-seated homosexual inclinations may use as a springboard for conversion, a source of motivation, or a complement to the far deeper, stronger, and enriching truth and way of life offered by the Gospel, Christ, Mary, the Church and all the saints. These points represent learnings, failures, pains, joys, sacrifices, and victories over the last ten months but also discoveries in my life made in hindsight. I hope that in sharing this, you too, who may or may not have yet been convinced to repentance, or may and may not even struggle with same-sex attraction, will at least let God be God.
You Do Not Suffer Alone
I always thought it was impossible to reconcile my sexuality with Catholicism. In fact, I saw religion infringing on my freedom. This misconception made me lonely and compelled me to look for happiness in ephemeral pleasures. Finding out about other Christian men and women who dedicate their lives giving an exalted witness to chastity and who exhibit great joy amidst interior struggles inspired me to commit to God. To know that others felt the same way I did was incredibly reassuring. Reading conversion stories and watching documentaries about same-sex attraction opened my eyes to the fact I wasn’t alone in my struggles. No one has to be. Somewhere, someone is going through the same aches and pains as you and I do. This solidarity in suffering is something you and I should always keep in mind.
One of the biggest obstacles to holiness regardless of one’s sexual orientation is pride. For the same-sex attracted man or woman, it is the flawed notion that you are in need of no healing that slams the door shut on the grace of conversion. If you want to become holy, you need to first acknowledge your sinfulness. We are all in a wretched state. Whether you are heterosexual or someone with homosexual inclinations, we all share in the fallen nature of Adam.
God never lacks in dispensing grace. Humility opens the heart to this boundless supply of supernatural strength. Humility strips away the veneer of our ego and teaches us to completely trust in God. Perhaps many of us who suffer same-sex attraction have gone through some form of trauma or rejection which makes us distrustful. In many cases, we want to have complete control of our lives because we fear having to go through pain again. The virtue of humility helps transform interior dispositions weakened by fear, distrust, and pride to an all-encompassing abandonment to the will of God.
On a personal note, humility is a virtue I have been struggling to acquire. Confronted by my seemingly endless faults and weaknesses, I am often easily discouraged. The weight of my past make me feel incapable of carrying out any vocation. While it may come across as a pious excuse, this sentiment is in fact rooted in vanity. People undergoing conversion become despondent when they fall or fail because their intentions were not conformed to the will of God in the first place but rather to a self-serving desire to be perfect. Accepting our defects and imperfections is the first step towards humility. You and I should not be surprised by our lack of faith, hope, and charity but instead humbly beg to Christ, as my mother taught me, “Jesus, I am a wretched sinner. See how much I need you?”
Suffering Is Salvation
St. Josemaría Escriva wrote, “the cheerful love that fills the soul with happiness is founded in suffering. There is no love without renunciation.” If one wants to recover him or herself from the pits of same-sex attraction or homosexual inclinations, one has to sacrifice a lot of things. This may include cutting ties with friendships which are habitual occasions of sin, giving up on certain dreams and ambitions, changing careers, sacrificing pleasures, avoid specific forms of entertainment, quitting vices etc.
Renunciation is painful. Old habits often die hard and, from my personal experience, it is where one suffers the most in the journey towards conversion. I suffered trying to re-learn new ways of relating with people. I suffered in repressing affections and feelings. I suffered as I gave up my old lifestyle. I suffered knowing how weak I was. But in having so many things taken away from me, I found more room where God could and will work for my salvation.
There is joy in suffering. As Henri Nouwen wrote, you must own your pain. Do not be afraid of having to give up so much. Corresponding to grace requires embracing every trial and tribulation we will inevitably undergo. Reflect on the words of St. Paul: My brothers, you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege; you understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing.
Spiritual Direction and Support
Key to conversion is having a spiritual director. On this point, I highly suggest one chooses a person who is gifted with prudence, and who is deeply-rooted in and guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church especially on matters pertaining to homosexuality. While a lay person is okay, a priest is better. You may also have your director as your confessor if he is as mentioned, a priest.
I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am right now if I had solely relied on my own sheer willpower. Having a spiritual director to give invaluable advice and guidance is an absolute necessity. In matters of morality, ethics, and faith, having a priest helped me understand better the objective moral norms espoused by the Church and dispel falsities about Catholicism and the cultural obstacles unique to the homosexual’s struggle. One important thing to remember is to be absolutely honest to your spiritual director. While it might take a while for you to completely open up about your struggles, be honest enough to admit of this difficulty from the onset. This will help your spiritual director in providing you guidance gradually and specifically.
Getting in touch with apostolic groups and ministries formed to specifically deal with the problem of same-sex attraction is helpful. Be careful with ministries which offer a watered down version of Gospel truths. Many Christian groups and organizations claim homosexual activity and same-sex relationships are acceptable. They will appeal to your emotions by marketing the much used and abused “God loves you just the way you are” ploy. In this regard, I would recommend connecting with a support group that is firm in the truths taught by the Catholic Church instead. Top of the mind for this is Courage.
Conversion does not happen overnight. Nor does conversion simply come out of the blue. Cultivating a rich prayer life is fundamental to building a sturdy, interior life. No man ever went to heaven without praying. How do you expect to get out of your “hell” or defeat interior demons without praying? One does not simply pray when he or she has time. The individual must find time for prayer. Dialogue with God is as important as breathing. Prayer is the anchor which keeps our ship safe at harbor against the buffeting winds and howling storms of our disordered inclinations and the hostile sex-saturated culture we are in. Thus, it should serve as the groundwork for an ascetic plan of life.
Plan Of Life
The homosexual lifestyle is one which deals with a lot of excesses – vanity, self-pitying, promiscuity to name a few. Having an ascetic plan of life helps remove the excesses of one’s disorders through what I call a spiritual contingency. Conversion, which often requires self-denial, demands discipline.
As I shared, prayer should be the backbone of this plan. It would include the morning offering, mental prayer or meditation, vocal prayers like the Holy Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, community prayers, and short aspirations. Prayer should be the bookends to your day. Offering up your prayer, works, joys, and sufferings at the start of the day helps you to live in the presence of God. Saying the acts of faith, hope and charity not only merits you certain indulgences, it also sets one’s spiritual compass towards communion with the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Rosary is a beautiful Trinitarian prayer which focuses the gaze of one’s soul to the mysteries of our redemption, and brings us close to the most powerful intercessor, the Most Blessed Mother. Saying it regularly keeps us connected to our shortcut to heaven: Mary. Other prayers include prayers to our guardian angel for protection and the Liturgy of Hours. Short aspirations like “Jesus, have mercy” or “Jesus, increase my faith” also help the connection to God strong and open.
Mental prayer, as I call it, is a date with God. Apart from the Bible, this is where we get to know our Lord. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is advisable for those who are starting. You can begin your meditation by reading Scripture or pondering on points from a book or spiritual reading. During these few minutes, talk to God openly. Tell him your joys and pains, victories and anxieties. I personally like to call God the Father, Abba, and Jesus as My Beloved or Him Whom My Soul Loves. During these periods of silence, I ask God why I feel a certain way towards someone or how I should overcome self-pitying. I try to be as honest as I could.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray. Above all, Listen! Let God talk too. Imagine scenes from the life of Christ or ponder deeply on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Do not be discouraged by aridity. There will be days even praying is a struggle. During these occasions, I find it helpful to have Thomas Kemper’s Imitation of Christ or Escriva’s The Way. The points in these books are great for reflection and help me “put content” in my prayer. If that doesn’t help resolve the dryness in your prayer, consider simply visiting the Blessed Sacrament and gazing at the Host, putting yourself at peace in the presence of your savior.
Lastly, find time to examine your conscience every night. A daily examination of conscience reveals not only our sins but also the people and circumstances which cause us to sin. This is especially helpful when trying to remedy certain moral weaknesses. But do end your examination on a positive note, not by obsessing over your failures rather looking at what good you have done for the day and what resolutions you can make to improve tomorrow. Then, entrust yourself to the Blessed Mother. Three Hail Mary’s for purity before going to bed will suffice.
On this note, I advice anyone who wants to strive for holiness to frequent the sacraments of confession and the Holy Eucharist. It would be highly advisable if a someone with same-sex attraction can frequent confession beyond the once-a-year requirement during Easter imposed by the Church. The sacrament of reconciliation is not merely for those who have committed mortal sin. It is, as Pope Francis has reiterated countless times, a sacrament of joy and the source of a specific sacramental grace: healing. Hence, frequent confession is journey towards the Joy of God’s mercy that washes away both venial and mortal sins but strengthens the soul to fight against a “relapse into sin”.
Daily mass is also highly recommended. The Eucharist is spiritual food, the bread of Angels we partake in, which transforms our souls to be more acceptable to enter heaven. Going to mass daily and frequent confession will thus go hand in hand. When we receive Christ daily, we become more sensitive to our spiritual state and recognize we want to please our Lord by coming to him in a state of grace. Frequent confession has helped me see defects and occasions of sin I would have never unearthed had I only gone to the sacrament a few times in a year. It also deepened my love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
God wants us to be happy. And he is, indeed, faithful to this promise. However, those afflicted by disorders tend to be so stringent on themselves most especially as they start in their journey towards holiness. From my experience, it was necessary for me to learn how to forgive myself. The past life of a person suffering from same-sex attraction can be so convoluted, painful, and distressing that it often weakens the individual’s hope in God’s mercy. I needed to love myself first, and this was only possible by planting in my heart that God loves me for all that I am.
Take the time to forgive yourself for everything you have done. Examine your life and contemplate. Then, ask forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance. Forgive yourself. Forgive everyone who has hurt you. Be drenched in the mercy of God. Constantly remind yourself you are a son or daughter of God. See others as children of God as well. Divine filiation develops in the person the ability to accept the Cross of his or her struggles because it is united to a higher purpose which is loving the Father.
Chastity and Friendship
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift. (CCC 2337)
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC 2359)
In an age with such distorted ideas of sexual expression, the homosexual man is, called to the vocation of chastity. In one of the most powerful and moving essays I’ve read about homosexuality, Dr. Jeffrey A. Mirus writes: Homosexual persons, by the very nature of their particular cross, must raise chastity to a special height, dealing not only with physical temptation but with the broad range of their own human affectivity. It follows that those who must suffer this disorder throughout their lives have been chosen by God to give a particular and exalted witness to the virtue of chastity. This is vocation as beautiful as it is arduous, and it is doubtful that its importance to our sex-saturated age can be overestimated.
People with same-sex attraction find it difficult to develop meaningful relationships with others, especially those of the same sex, because they fear its failure. This usually stems from the distorted idea that friendship involving intimacy is only legitimate when there is genital expression. But intimate, chaste friendships are possible. It is, in fact, a most admirable goal.
One of my biggest struggles is relating to other men. The lack of masculine approval I experienced as a child and which manifested through bullying made it difficult for me to experience affirmation from my male peers within the context of integration the virtue of chastity calls for. Over the years, this has been demonstrated by my tendency to mistake affection from men, especially straight men, as romantic interest.
I am very lucky then to have met male peers I have formed meaningful bonds with. From my spiritual director to my professional mentor, these men have offered the warmth of their friendship and the wisdom of their age to help me see, that yes, it is possible to be friends with other men and find love and fulfillment in them. Our age demands love to be expressed romantically and sexually. Through the warm dealings with these male companions, I have discovered the reaffirming love of Christ that goes beyond feeling or bodily attraction.
Integrating one’s sexuality through friendship entails patience, prudence, and perseverance. These three P’s not only cultivate fraternal bonds but also deepen the furrows wherein friendships are rooted. To respond to the call for conversion, a person with same-sex attraction must overcome apprehensions, let go of resentments, and fight prejudices towards other men and women. He or she must see in others the intimate friendship offered by Christ. Guided by a spiritual director, Christian suffering for the homosexual must not depreciate into a self-imposed exile or an extreme yet shallow asceticism that espouses impossible and scrupulous standards of living with and relating to others but elevated to a generous communion with all men and women in the light of Christ’s message of love.
Works of Charity and the Apostolic Mission
Having a vocation is important to the same-sex attracted individual. Without it, a person who wants to change and grow in charity will find him or herself useless, his or her suffering pointless, and his or her life meaningless. The sense of community inextricably linked in chaste friendships must move a man looking for inner freedom to empathize with the rest of world’s sufferers.
My initial response to the call to repentance was primarily “defensive”: self-denial, mortification, offering. I was moved by grace to fight, first and foremost, for myself. But once you get out of the pit, what do you do next? Doing works of mercy is a good, first “offensive” step. Helping others in need, whether they are family members, colleagues, or less-fortunate neighbors instill a sense of duty. Yes, those of us who bear the cross of same-sex attraction are in pain. Our sufferings are valid and should not, in anyway, be oversimplified or shrugged off as trivial. But it should never keep us from empathizing with those who carry great crosses too: people suffering because of poverty, war, and sickness; oppressed members of society including victims of crime; the marginalized like indigenous people, orphans, and elderly; and those who are indifferent, against, or hostile towards the Gospel i.e. the LGBT community, atheists, critics.
It may often seem like the world revolves around us especially when we are in pain. But once you set out, as Pope Francis calls it, to the peripheries, one appreciates with a supernatural depth the first point I made. You are not alone in your suffering. There are so many people who also need us to bring Christ to them. Thus, we are all called to proclaim the Gospel to others, most especially those in need. Homosexuality is often rooted in selfishness, self-pitying, and a persistent sense of being a victim. Works of charity are a great way of helping others, improving our self-esteem, and maturing as a person.
Do not feel inadequate. You can start by helping out in community outreach programs in your local parish. Many Christian social initiatives are in need of volunteers. If you have the talent, write or teach. Bring a friend to confession. Donate to meaningful causes. Buy food for the hungry and homeless. Complain less. Offer a seat to a healthy young man in the crowded train. Go out of your comfort zone.
Trust me, I know how deeply lacking I am in developing this aspect of my life. Active charity is one of the things I hope to grow in. Often, opportunities to love others pass me by because I perhaps expect them as one-of-kind events. I fail to see that charity can be practiced even in the smallest of ways i.e. bearing with patience a bad boss, smiling rather than frowning at work, keeping one’s mouth shut when you have nothing good to say. Charity, which is also expressed through an apostolate of friendship, demands we go out of our safe havens and offer our God-given talents and resources for the betterment of our communities.
Everything Is Grace
One of the first books I read for my spiritual reading was the autobiography of St. Therese of Liseux. Her remarkable pursuit for holiness was not highlighted by mystical events nor punctuated by martyrdom. Indeed, the path she tread towards holiness was as she called it, the little way – an almost ordinary way of living which rested on simplicity, and great confidence in God. To her, everything is grace.
I remember what my director told me when we were discussing my spiritual reading. He explained the application of St. Therese’s little way as the ability to see God in everything: from turning the doorknob to our careful, almost neglected breathing; from the small inconveniences we meet on our way to work to our sleeping. Every single moment of our lives is immersed in grace and can be used to sanctify our souls. God’s generosity is so profound he has immersed the world we live in with the materials to achieve holiness. There is no excuse then for us not to become saints.
What does this mean for the homosexual who wants to lead a life of conversion? Well, it only means you are not and should not be defined by your sexuality. It is easy to get caught up in the big battle against our disorder that we take for granted the war being waged in small matters. In our effort to change, we may forget that we also need to grow in virtue, that we also need to do the small things with great love, that there are many areas – inconspicuous they may seem – in our lives which need our attention too.
You cannot give what you do not have. Similarly, you cannot love someone you do not know. Conversion entails a degree of studying the faith so one can apply it. As good as prayer is, we also need to read about God in order to know him. Obviously, no earthly resource will ever suffice in explaining the Divine. But it doesn’t mean we should not know what we can.
The homosexual person who wants to change will do well by first reading about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. This well help in dispelling notions propagated most especially by the media about religion encouraging hate or bigotry towards the LGBT community, or being incompatible with the modern way of living. There are a number of Vatican documents which also illustrate the efforts of the Catholic Church to understand, approach, and help those who suffer from same-sex attraction. Pastoral letters, and guidelines will also help you understand what and why the Church views and treats homosexuality the way it does.
Find the time to read the lives of saints. I finished St. Therese’s The Story of a Soul a few months back and will be moving to the biography of St. Jean-Marie Vianney soon. From my experience reading The Story of a Soul, the lives of saints are rich with inspiration, reflection and practical tips on Christian living. I would also highly recommend The Faith Explained by Leo J. Trese, and The Faith Applied by Jean Daujat. Combined, these two books offered an easy to understand presentation of doctrinal subject matters and were excellent supplements to both the Catechism and of course, the Bible. There is no clearer way to know Christ than through his own words preserved and passed down from generation to generation in the Bible.
Courage and Perseverance
Your old way of living will die. But before it does, you will, as the apostles taught, go through many hardships. For a homosexual man to choose Christ and convert, the courage to face the consequences is necessary. It is a decision that is so radical and so counter-cultural one must expect some untoward consequences.
From my experience, I have been met with incredulous eyes and ridicule the last few months. Friends have made fun of me or while colleagues have kept their distance after learning of my struggle. To them, conversion is either a medieval concept which has no place in a politically correct and modern society or as much as a taboo as homosexuality is treated. If it’s not on the concept of conversion, they will look into your way of living. Many of them expect sudden changes in order to understand or justify your new way of life.
Along the way, you will get into heated debates. You will be discouraged by others. This is where study and prayer come to play. The more you know about the truth offered by the Catholic Church, the easier it will be for you to defend, with prudence of course, your choice; the easier it will be for you explain conversion with sensitivity. Who knows, you might end up leading them to conversion too!
Do not be afraid of persecution. Persevere. Be patient with yourself. The devil will increase its attacks as you progress, even if to yourself, there is no progress to boast of. As St. Peter proclaimed in his letter, “your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire.” Keep on praying and loving. Persevere with joy.
To Jesus Through Mary
My resolution for next year is to have greater devotion to Mary, most especially towards the title Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many miracles granted to me is year has been through her intercession, and yet I still find my love for her lacking.
Why Mary? She is, after all, the perfect mother of our God. For those of us who suffer same-sex attraction or deep-seated homosexual inclinations, I find it most apt to consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate, wholly convinced in her maternal embrace and love, especially to those like us who are lost, confused, and suffering. Like any mother, she runs after us when we are lost. She worries when we fall. But she is also the first to console us, letting us know that everything will be alright, just like the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, the same words I want to leave you with:
“Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not (fear this sickness of your uncle) or any other sickness, nor anything that is sharp or hurtful. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”