Being an Authentic Disciple

I grew more committed to fully embracing my identity as a gay man alongside my chosen identity as a Catholic

Alex Gruber, School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College, MTS ‘20

My relationship with the institutional Church is unsurprisingly more complex than that of a straight white man. However, I have to say immediately that inhabiting only one area the lacks privilege – my sexuality – versus all of the other areas in which I carry privilege – my race and ethnicity, my class, my education, my gender expression – has made this relationship easier than that of other queer Catholics, of trans Catholics, and even straight and cis BIPOC Catholics and Catholic women. I try (and pray that I try) to keep in mind my many privileges as I practice and read, write, and speak about my faith. If I am blazing a trail in any way or broadening and paving a trail that has already been blazed, I must do so not only for other white, cis, middle-class gay Catholic men. I must do this in service of, conversation with, solidarity with, humility toward, and love for the individuals and communities who have historically been and currently are faced with larger and more enduring barriers to their full participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, the people of God, the Eucharistic feast, the kin-dom of God. In other, shorter, more Lenten terms, I need to make sure that whatever I do as a queer Catholic is not done for my own glorification, power, or profit but rather for Jesus Christ and Christ’s liberating Way, Truth, and Life. 

As a child, my relationship with the institutional church was fervent but completely legalistic. I did what I did to follow the rules, the letter of the (canon) law rather than the spirit. It was ingrained in me that to be anything other than straight was to be cut out of God’s church, God’s family (and my own family), God’s love, so much so that I did not even imagine or admit the possibility of not being straight through high school and my first year of college, even when some of my male peers in high school made homophobic comments toward me. 

My professors at St. Norbert College, especially in the theology department, and my supervisors at the Center for Norbertine Studies on campus guided me gently toward a more holistic and compassionate practice of faith that put people and the Divine Persons at the center. In addition, a lot of my friends were (and still are) queer in one way or another (funny how we find each other, right?), providing me with many examples of how queer people – Catholic or not – image God and have just as much capacity to and right to love as straight people. They in particular and the St. Norbert College community as a whole provided a strong and affirming support network as I came out to wider spheres in and following the fall semester of my sophomore year in college. These spheres included Norbertines, including one of my supervisors at the CNS who is a mentor and friend to me now, and the college parish. Therefore, I never felt ostracized from this place that felt like home to me on many levels, including the level/aspect of sexuality. Again, I have to credit much of the hospitality (a Norbertine value) I received to my more-numerous array of privileges and the relationships I built with the help of those privileges in my first year at the school as a “straight” man and in my subsequent years as an increasingly out gay man. 

My relationship with the institutional church was deepened and made more complex while a graduate student at the STM. Deepening resulted from the diverse and numerous examples of queer love and queer faith I witnessed and read about at and beyond the STM, including through Gaudete. Complexifying resulted from the diverse and numerous examples of suffering, rejection, internalized hatred, and marginalization in the Church, in the U.S., and in the world to which my eyes were opened, as well as how these instances of dehumanization could be softened or intensified in conjunction with other identities. The past year has done both these things for me, as well, particularly challenging me to acknowledge, raise awareness of, and work against transphobia and the life-threatening marginalization of Black trans women that occurs in general society and through messaging from the Catholic Church and USCCB. 

I started working at St. Norbert College in the fall of 2020 as an adjunct lecturer teaching a course and as a live-in liaison for students in quarantine and isolation at the college; I’m continuing in the latter role this semester. In the fall, I spoke at an ecumenical prayer service held at the church on campus during Coming Out Week and spoke about my experience of coming out; I also helped the campus ministry department organize a retreat for students for that week based around identity. This semester, I have begun participating regularly in the college parish’s Out Loud group; it focuses on amplifying the experience of people who have been marginalized in the church and working to grow respect and support of these people in the church. All of these experiences have been affirming and enriching, and it gladdens my heart to see that more room has been made at the table in the parish and college community here for queer students, even as work and hardship remain. Participating in an online liturgical community spearheaded by current STM student Julia Erdlen has done the same and has shown me what a more inclusive Catholic Church could look like; I recommend talking to her about the liturgy and making it more inclusive (she is an expert in this and in Zoom!). 

Finally, my family had different ways of reacting to my coming out. I have two older sisters who immediately supported me; one is Catholic and one has left the church for understandable reasons but supports my work and faith. My dad did not react strongly either way and in his quiet way has grown even more accepting of me over time. My mom was and is the most fervent Catholic in our family, and she actually prompted my coming out in asking me why I thought I would never get married when we were in the car together one winter day. She hesitantly accepted my sexuality but had the common stance of rejecting outright any “act” based on my sexuality, seeing a queer relationship as sinful. I did, too, in my first year being out. As time went on and I grew more committed to fully embracing my identity as a gay man alongside my chosen identity as a Catholic, my mom journeyed with me. We are not on the same page on every issue, sexuality and otherwise, but she has and is always willing to listen to my perspective, and she inspires and challenges me to be a more authentic disciple. My mom came around to supporting any loving and committed relationship I would be in, and she is supportive of my current relationship. On that note, the man I’m dating now is a nondenominational Christian who is devoted to his faith, eager to talk about faith, and open to sharing in my faith practices (going to “Zoom church” with me, etc.). His witness to Christ as a gay man in particular inspires and nutures my own faith, as does the witness of many friends and a good number of scholars who are queer and Christian.

In summary, I fall more in love with the Church, my neighbors, God, and myself as I keep practicing in it, and I think I can best serve God and serve my siblings in Christ, particularly sidelined/oppressed siblings like queer people, as a member of this Church. I see myself as a critique from the edge of the inside, as Richard Rohr would put it. The Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, needs to change its speech and actions from the USCCB to the Catechism to parish ministries toward queer people, as it does toward people of color. We need to recognize the diversity of people and their cultures, sexualities, and genders and accept, learn from, and celebrate rather than reject these. I have a lot of privilege in this institution, and I hope and pray that I use it to make Christ’s love more palpable for all Catholics and all people.

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