Authenticity and Grace

It is all of me that is the source of how I engage the world and how Christ engages me.

Damien Torres-Botello, S.J., School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College, Mdiv,’23

One key moment for me on my faith journey was going to confession. This is about five year before entering the Jesuits. I had not been to confession in YEARS, and I had left the Catholic Church because of my gay identity and of what I felt (still feel) is a hypocritical and discriminating ‘relationship’ with LGBTQ+ community. But I went to confession anyway, a whole other kind of story. The Jesuit priest in my hometown and home parish, would not accept my confession of being a gay man. He said being gay was not a sin, and “God loves you.” Well. I cried. I’d not heard that before in connection with my sexual orientation. It would be one of many more invitations Christ offered me in my return to the Church.

To become aware of my sexual orientation as a person of faith was scary, because I was a child of faith at the time. 6th, 7th, 8th grade. Those were the years when St. Elizabeth’s junior high students could “dress out’ for gym, out of our uniforms and into gym clothes. The boys locker room would be a place where I realized what I was feeling was not ‘normal,’ considering all the other boys were beginning to find girls more interesting. I was feeling similarly, but towards the guys in my class. And the feelings I felt were intrusive, abnormal maybe, not right, at least that was my pre-teen impression. It would be a “Ricki Lake” talk show in the early 90’s that showed me an image of a gay man that I, somehow at 13/14 years of age, identified with. And the audience on TV booed and jeered, and it affirmed for me that the man on TV, who was gay (a word I didn’t understand at the time), was wrong to be. So I prayed a novena to St. Jude, the patron of hopeless cases, to take this feeling away from me. I attempted to pray away the gay, but instead the gay would stay. And I am grateful that prayer doesn’t work that way. 

My primary reason for staying in the Catholic Church was my witnessing other LGBTQ+ persons living their life as devoted and faith filled Catholics. It would be in my late 20’s when I would join the choir at St. Peter’s Parish in Kansas City, Missouri, where I would meet gay Catholics, who had partners, whose life was centered around the parish and God and prayer. They showed me it was possible to be gay and Catholic. And I learned from them how to navigate the Church, how to love the Church, and how to keep God and Christ and the Holy Spirit as the primary center and absolute focus of faith. It was these wisdom figures that showed me I had a place at Christ’s table and in the Body of Christ. It was these wisdom figures that became the primary reason I would return and stay in the Catholic Church.

As a Jesuit, I remain authentic by being transparent and upfront with who I am and all my identities. It is an absolute non-negotiable. If God is calling me to a potentially priestly, religious life, then God is calling all of me, not parts. Because it is all of me that informs every part of my living, my feeling, my thinking, my ministering, and my praying; it is all of me that is the source of how I engage the world and how Christ engages me. I cannot remove my brown skin, my Mexican roots, my cis genderedness, my right handedness, my slowly balding head, my near-sightedness, my sexuality, sexual orientation, and the myriad of other traits that make me a whole and real person; they help to form and create…well…me. And God does not create trash. So my authenticity comes from the grace of knowing who I am and how I am and why I am, which is all centered around God. To deny any part of it is to deny God, at least that is my truth.

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