I have always sat in the front pew during mass. My father had us sit in the front pew growing up, and I continued that with my own family. I know my father liked to sit there because he loved to show off his four daughters. We had our hair slicked back in buns, our cutest dresses on, and shiny Mary Jane shoes every Sunday. He would march us all into the front pew, beaming with pride. Everyone in the church could see us because we were in the front pew, and my father loved that. People would wave to us and smile when we all walked in and knelt down. I continued sitting in that spot to this day because I think it’s less distracting when you have no one in between you and the altar. It kept my children more focused and it keeps me accountable also.
I have always prayed that when my children became adults, they’d continue to attend mass on Sunday mornings. During their first two years of college, I would text every week and ask if they did. I finally realized that I couldn’t directly control that anymore, but a mother can pray, right? So, I have prayed and still pray that they remain Catholic and attend mass. It’s funny that when I pray this, I’m picturing them in mass and they are in the front pew.
My 27-year-old son, Aaron Jay Ledesma, who is gay, stopped attending mass at some point. I didn’t push him to go back or shame him, but I would still mention it once in a while and I continued to pray. When Pope Francis made his visit to the United States four years ago, Aaron was invited to the White House to be a part of the welcoming event. Pope Francis was bringing Aaron back to the church with his now famous quote,
“If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?”
Aaron had a new boyfriend, Tim, when he received the invitation to the White House and he asked him if he’d join him. Tim was also raised Catholic, but had also stopped attending mass. Tim went with him to greet Pope Francis, but mostly out of support. I can’t tell you how hopeful I was that Aaron was dating someone Catholic and that they might make their way back to the church together! That didn’t happen four years ago, though. Aaron went to mass periodically from 2015–2017, but wasn’t really committed and Tim didn’t join him. Neither of them went to mass at all in 2018. Everyone has a different journey with God. I respect that, and I kept praying. In my prayers, they were in mass in the front pew.
In February of this year, Aaron’s uncle passed away. Aaron and Tim flew to Texas to help with the Catholic Vigil, rosary, funeral mass and burial. Something started stirring in them. When they arrived back in Virginia, in a weird (spiritual?) series of events, Tim began reflecting on faith and church. He finally shared his thoughts with Aaron, and they went to their first mass together on the First Sunday of Lent.
When Aaron told me that, I was so happy and prayed they would keep going. I knew they must have felt accepted, welcomed and included for them to go back. I wanted Aaron to proudly sit in the front pew with Tim next to him. When I thought of him “proudly” sitting there, it made me think of my father. Instead of the front pew just being about less distractions, I realize that what I really wanted is for Aaron to be there proudly where people can see him and not hiding in the back because he’s gay. I want him to know that everyone may be looking at him, but in a way that people looked at my father with his daughters — in a loving way.
Aaron and Tim have now found a wonderful, Catholic Church where they feel welcomed and included. They recently became official parishioners there and guess where they sit on Sundays….
The front pew!