Gay Priests (3): Coming out, discovering love – 1

Bart continues his series of reflections on the challenges of being gay and a priest:

“Things to do before I die:

1.      Fall in love

2.      See the world”

Jim, a 64-year old bachelor jots these words down in his diary on the day of his retirement. This very short to-do list starts off the story between him and Ray, a widowed pensioner, in the BBC film “When I’m Sixty-Four” (2004). Their friendship flowers into love, as both men open up to each other in their desire to break through the walls of isolation and loneliness. The film is very upbeat about the possibility of discovering love at any age, as well as exploring gay love (in Ray’s case, his bisexuality) at a more mature age. Hmmm! I think I got my priorities wrong. Unlike Jim, my “to do” list inverts the order, because I decided to see the world first. Well, the film became something of wake-up call. I distinctly remember telling myself: I sure don’t want to wait until I’m 64 to enter into a relationship! I slowly realised that the isolation and loneliness that seemed to overshadow me, were rooted in my inability to love. I could not love myself, and I had really nothing to offer to others. The reason being that I had so successfully denied the love and feelings I had because I was told that they were not right, unnatural, dirty. Self-hatred took love’s place, as love died a premature death; I was breathing, but dead in my spirit. Coming out of the closet? More like coming out from the grave.

In my previous post, I suggested that coming out is giving testimony which, in turn, encourages others to come out too. Today, I am giving an even stronger reason, and personally, the one which really made me decide to get out of that suffocating, locked-up room: the reason is love. Yes, believe it or not, I discovered what it really means to love and be loved. I know love is a loaded word, so I would like to suggest a definition which I have found to be quite helpful. It is given by M. Scott Peck in his best-seller The Road Less Travelled:

“The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (Arrow books, reissue 2006, p.69)

It is this “will to extend one’s self” that got me, because it fits perfectly with the movement of a freely-willed self-disclosure (which is what coming-out is, after all). Love becomes a spiritual energy coming out from the heart of one person reaching out to the heart of another person, and from that other person love is echoed back to the first person. I will not dwell on the issue of the sexual dimension of love here, preferring to save it for the second part of this topic. Rather, I am looking at the relationship between coming-out and discovering love, in the broader sense of reaching out to other persons, thereby knocking down one’s own isolation, and possibly contributing to the knocking down of the other’s. Scott Peck is correct in linking love with the nurturing of spiritual growth, be it one’s own or that of another. Even though difficulties may arise, the coming-out stories of gays and lesbians speak of a tremendous sense of growth and maturation resulting from the step/s taken to come out. I started to realise the truth of statements such as:

I was beginning to understand how I might love through pain and ugliness, for better or for worse, up to and beyond death. I was beginning to understand how love offers some kind of victory, the thing that enables us to become larger than ourselves, larger than death.” (from Fenton Johnson’s autobiography, quoted in Acts of Faith, Acts of Love by Dugan McGinley, p.144)

If fear is what keeps us in the closet, then it is love (Jesus’ love for us shown in and through other persons) that beckons us to come out. And live.


Recommended Books:

Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament

L’Empereur, James: Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person

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