The Adirondack Mountains are most beautiful in fall. I once heard the season explained as “God showing off." The tension and dynamism of the natural world during this time of year forces me to face my humanity, and there is a tendency to lose myself in the color and the spirit of this swansong to the green and life. In fall, I feel deeply my inner self and the inescapable reality that everything that lives must die in order to come back to new life.
I was raised in these mountains in a tiny town of just a few hundred people. My family was very close, one of the only practicing Roman Catholic families in the area. Life was rich and beautiful up there but it could also be hugely challenging. The weather can be severe and relentless, winter lasting more than half the year and bringing enough snow to cover our house entirely. Relationships were tough as such a small population limits your ability to network in personally desirable social circles, forcing you to get along with whoever was in front of you. We were over a half an hour away from any hospital, only one road went in and out of town, with absolutely no fast food or any venue of public entertainment. But my family had our faith, a beautiful faith that mirrored the seasons and, with similar intensity, filled me as a child.
And I was attracted to other men.
A strong feeling of fear and isolation permeated every part of my life as a teenager. I did not understand the nature of these desires and being in a politically conservative village that was geographically isolated, I had no information from the outside that could help me navigate my experience. his being before the time of widespread use of the internet, there were simply no resources available to someone in my situation. Furthermore, there was not another person, let alone a Catholic, who I knew that experienced the same thing. So I tried to hide this struggle as best I could, thinking that if my parents found out, my faith and cultural tradition would force them to throw me out of the house and probably disown me entirely. I was depressed and a tremendous doubt of the goodness of life crept in.
I had a strong religious formation, having family members who did an exemplary job of displaying what our faith is all about. I was fervent in prayer, always having the natural inclination to the spiritual world and an ease with connecting with other people. I genuinely loved my faith and, along with my family, it was most important to me. And so it was a terribly bothersome thing for my soul to be forced between what I believed and what I was experiencing in the natural world. My teenage years were ones of going deeper in faith, but also of a strong desire to reach out and grow into the world in an attempt to find what was real.
My life has been one continuous effort to reconcile this inner tension. What has plagued me, causing depression and tremendous anxiety, fractured relationships, ceaseless prayer, often frantic reading and studying, has been my pathway to coming to know myself and ultimately reality. The thing I could not understand about myself has paradoxically been the way to which I have come to understand everything. It is around this central struggle that I have been formed as a person. Winter eventually breaks into spring.
I have often thought that God somehow abandoned me in this journey, beginning all those years ago in my tumultuous youth; that he somehow made me to be too small with not enough space inside to hold these seemingly contradictory things. At other points in my life I have thought that He was entirely indifferent about what I do with myself, with my life, with someone else, with anything at all. Of all these errors, the biggest has been thinking that in order for me to live my faith, I must deny this part of my identity in an attempt to avoid the question and the tension altogether. The current popular opinion is the opposite, being that I have to entirely abandon my faith tradition in order to more fully understand and then live out my desires.
I have asked myself why I have not left my childhood religion in spite of the struggle. The truth is that I have often felt deeply nourished by the faith through the sacraments, the community of believers, and its sheer beauty and intrigue. Other times it was not my effort, but grace alone and this is a mystery that I do not understand. Practically speaking, I have found stability and truth in the Church which has provided me with a moral bedrock and set of values upon which I have built my life. I am still Catholic because I believe that the faith is true and that my suffering or unbelief does not make it any less so.
It seems that my salvation, as well as the answer to the deepest question of my life, is found in the stream that flows between the two sides of this steep canyon. I haven’t so much found the ultimate answer as much as I have found a path in general. God has revealed himself to me through my struggle to live fully not in spite of my same sex attraction, but because of it.
Summer blooms come because of the rain in the spring and the bewilderment and sadness of my early life has blossomed into a tremendous hope in a God who leads me.