Being the Change — One Gay man’s journey to reconcillation with the Church.

Ken Saunders
Oct 14, 2019 · 5 min read

I wasn’t born into the Catholic Church, I came to it on my own during my teens. I was born into a pretty non-sectarian family. The earliest memories I have are full of turmoil and chaos. My mom was killed in a car accident when I was just three. There was a shuffling and court cases, and in the end, I ended up with my father and his new wife. She legally became my mother, and very soon after, they divorced, my mom and I moved from Florida back to New York, where she had grown up. Probably the other unusual thing about my mom was that she had grown up in the Church, in fact, she went to Marymount in Nyack from the time she was very young through her second year of college. She was in Mexico just before I was born, exploring her own vocation when things suddenly and deeply changed for her.

It was during the late ’60s that I was initially exposed to Catholicism by way Sisters at Marymount. I was fascinated by their habits, the structure, and joy that almost all of them displayed. I had no formal relgious education until my 3rd grade when I was enrolled in parochial school, St. James in Carmel NY, that I could receive first Communion, which I did. I went back to public school that next year and all subsequent years after to my dissapointment. It seemed to me an oddity almost a hickup because after that one year we never really went to Mass or Church of any kind. Our household just wasn’t religious, and it was only years later that I learned what changed for my mother in Mexico that caused her rift with the Church.

By the time I was 9 years old, I had begun to notice I had feelings towards boys that I didn’t have for girls. I thought of girls as my “friends” and boys as something other than friends. I was in middle school when I first noticed these feelings; it was also when other kids started calling me names. I didn’t understand why or what it was they were calling me until I looked it up in the dictionary. I thought to myself that the first time I read the definition of “homosexual,” yep, that’s me. I completely identified with the description and then almost as quickly felt a sense of foreboding. I didn’t want to be gay, not because I thought anything was wrong, but because I knew that it meant I would have to deal with other people’s judgments. The Church didn’t play a role in my life until I was 13 and had a born-again experience. It filled my life entirely until I began to learn that I wouldn’t be accepted there, so I went searching for a spiritual home where I could fully be who God created me to be. A home where I didn’t have to dumb down to suit some narrow literal interruption of the Bible.

I was in High School at this point and had developed my first boy crush. He was straight, had a girlfriend, and was considering a possible calling to be a priest. We were both young, and as it turns out, he also had a crush or at least an interest in me as well. I did my RCI classes, went to almost daily Mass, Confession when I needed, and became very active in my local parish. My crush and I stopped seeing each other when he broke up with his girlfriend and went to seminary school. I followed his lead and started exploring monasteries as a way to find peace with who I am, society, and my relationship with God.

The last Order I went and made a retreat with was the Legionaries of Christ in Connecticut. The Superior of the order plainly told me that I couldn’t be Gay and a Good Catholic; the two didn’t mix, he said. So since I knew being gay was inherent to who I am, and Catholic was something I was taught. I left the Church for quite a few years.

All through the many years, I’ve tried to reconcile what I’ve known and learned to know about God with who I am. I finally came to an acceptance not about my being gay but about the Church’s position. It was through a dear friend of mine. One day we were having drinks in downtown Seattle and talking about all sorts of things. I mentioned to her the struggle I had not with being gay but with the Church’s position. She very plainly said to me, “Ken, how do you expect the Church to change if you’re not a part of it? Other people’s ideas aren’t going to change unless they get to see you living your life as a full participating member of the Church. Be the Change you want to See.”

It was as if God was speaking directly through my friend. I felt a weight lifted, and from that point on, began to going to Church again. It took me a few years and a lot of reflecting, but eventually, I went to confession not to confess being gay but to actually “come out” to my priest, to express the pain the Church had caused me to try and find some sense of reconciliation. I was nervous about how he was going to respond. He couldn’t have been more pastoral if he tried. In that short time, his words healed years of feeling isolated from the Church I loved. Now, whenever I get the chance, I like to speak with others encouraging their Faith Journey in whatever form that takes.

My mom eventually found her back to the Church and attends Mass frequently. She lives her life in a way that I find inspiring and an example of how to live this Faith walk as a Catholic Christian. She even remotely attended my husband’s and my wedding six years ago. My sister fully accepts my husband and me.

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