In remembrance of my father, who would have turned 90 earlier this year, I am reposting (with slight alterations) this reflection I wrote in 2011 for a now-inactive blog. It was originally entitled, "A Prodigal Son Reflects on Father's Day."My father first realized something was amiss when he perceived an odd smell that no one else noticed and that didn't correspond to anything around him. This turned out to be the first of several olfactory hallucinations caused by a malignant brain tumour. Over time, he had seizures, started substituting words, and almost completely lost his ability to speak.
I found my father's interpretation of his illness almost more painful than the illness itself and the possibility he might soon die. You see, he explained that he was prepared to suffer and even die for the sake of my brothers and me. (Being a minister of the United Church of Canada, he didn't ever use the term "offering it up," so far as I can recall, but he'd done his Bachelor of Divinity thesis on the theology of suffering, and we now figure he probably was influenced by a Catholic approach to redemptive suffering.) He had always been rather stoic with regard to illness, not wanting anyone to make a fuss over him, and in this he stayed true to form.
So, okay, I didn't want my dad to die on me, and he was resigned to whatever happened to him, even to the point of sometimes declining to take what we thought were reasonable steps to improve his circumstances. Passivity's not that unusual, I suppose, when one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Still, you'd think I'd be grateful for his generous offering of his suffering for my sake.
I was not grateful.
How dare he. How dare he!
Twenty years after the event, I recounted my initial fury and bewilderment upon discovering this news.
Being gay wasn't just something I did, it was who I was. It was at the centre of my identity. And he was trying to take that away from me.
I might as well not exist. If somehow their prayers actually succeeded--I couldn't imagine how--it wouldn't be me anymore.
This was spiritual rape. Their prayers were an attack on my essence.
I've changed my mind, of course. Oh, how I've changed my mind! But it took many years.
About two years after my father's first symptoms appeared, the cancer took his life. By then I'd more or less made my peace with him, though the slipping away of his ability to speak meant we never did have the conversation I'd been longing for to clear the air about the big fight. I still wasn't happy about what he'd intended, but in the grand scheme of things, I would tell myself, it mattered more that I loved him and he loved me and I would miss him terribly.
I believed in heaven and, not knowing about purgatory, believed heaven was where he'd gone for sure. I don't remember fearing for my own eternal destiny. At the time I attended Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, which used to bill itself as "a Christian church with a special ministry to the gay and lesbian community." There I'd gotten the impression pretty much everyone except possibly a few right-wing hypocrites would go to heaven. So some day I would see my dad again. I was comforted to believe he'd be able to walk as he used to, and talk, and he wouldn't be in pain any more.
At this point I have to pay tribute to the man who was then my lover. He was living in the States and took several days off work, maybe as much as a week, to visit me and comfort me, at considerable personal cost. To say this isn't at all to condone the sexual component of our relationship, which was gravely wrong; it's just to acknowledge that elements of genuine love and generosity on his part were present in spite of our highly irregular situation. Upholding the true nature of marriage and the proper ends of sexuality doesn't require dismissing everything that goes on within a gay relationship. I'll give my ex credit too for breaking up with me later, but that's another story.
My parents' prayers had little noticeable effect on me in the years that followed my father's death. After I broke with MCCT over a governance issue I stopped going to church, except occasionally at the invitation of a close friend who was and remains a liberal Anglican. Though traditional Christian music and architecture still stirred me, I stopped believing in the God who had inspired their creation. As my sex life spiralled out of control, I struggled to hold myself together emotionally, even with the help of a sympathetic therapist.
In the ninth year after my father died, I had a spiritual crisis, from which I emerged with an overwhelming sense of God's love and grace. I found myself able to face the reality of my shortcomings with much less squirming than I'd exhibited for a long time, because I was sure God would continue to love me even if I was truly responsible for doing something bad. (If you, dear reader, happen to worry that I was getting hung up on sexual matters that you don't believe are actually sinful, well, no: actually I'd been scrupulously guilt-ridden over virtually everything except my sex life.) The doctrine of Original Sin suddenly felt like good news, in that it meant we were all in the same boat.
And during a period of some six weeks of feeling positively bathed in a sense of harmony with the Creator of the universe, I found continually bubbling up in my mind the question of whether gay sex might be objectively bad.
I tried for a while to have my cake and eat it too, but that didn't work. And so, a little more than ten years after my father's offering of his suffering reached its natural conclusion, I resolved never again to have sex with a man. This resolution I have, by the grace of God, kept.
Now "deliverance from homosexuality" means different things to different people. Back in the 1980s and early '90s I thought of it as elimination of my homosexual desires, and this was hugely threatening to imagine. What on earth would be left of me! I would become some sort of sexless cipher, a shadow of my former self. Thanks but no thanks!
In fact, my homosexual desires haven't been eliminated altogether. They're a whole lot less intrusive than they used to be when I indulged them, but I'm still tempted from time to time, particularly when I'm under a lot of stress. C'est la vie: welcome to the world of concupiscence.
The point remains, though, I've come to affirm the truth that there's far more to my identity than my sexual desires, important as they are and whatever the direction they happen to point me in.
Even if I were still far more troubled by homosexual temptations--and do recall that Padre Pio and St Teresa of Avila, among other saints, were terribly plagued by unwanted thoughts of sexual impurity, albeit in a different direction--even so I would be everlastingly grateful for having been led out of a gay lifestyle. If that had been the limit of my once-feared "deliverance from homosexuality," I would still be thankful.
In fact, my sexual inclinations have changed very substantially, thanks to psychotherapy and the Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration. You can read about that transformation in a three-part blog post beginning here. My wife and I are quite happily married (now going on four years).
We take pains, though, to clarify that not everyone can expect such an outcome. The purpose of Courage isn't marriage, it's surrendering to God, who will tell each one of us what form our chastity should take. As a member of Courage I honour my fellow group members who don't have the consolations of marriage and yet still strive to follow Church teaching on sexuality. Same-sex-attracted people are included with everyone else in the universal call to holiness, and our celibate Courage friends have taught us much about the path to sanctity. One of the messages we most want to share with adolescents is that nothing is impossible with God, including chastity; in whatever state of life we best serve him, God will provide the necessary graces.
Wearing my EnCourage hat I'll especially address parents who are troubled that a son or daughter is living a gay or lesbian lifestyle. It's possible that same-sex temptations will keep coming up for the rest of his or her life. We don't know. And even if a change comes, you yourself may not live to see it. What is important is to surrender the outcome to God. Pray without ceasing, as St Paul says. I particularly recommend the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Offer some form of fasting in reparation.
And make sure your child knows you love him or her no matter what. My parents kept communication open as well as they could, even when I was at my prickliest, and they continued to tell me they loved me. Eventually their prayers showed visible results, but it's important that my mother didn't give up even after many years of seeing no improvement. In that, she was rather like St Monica, the mother of St Augustine.
On Father's Day, I honour my father for one of the hardest and most thankless tasks a parent can carry out, namely, saying no. Fathers generally try to provide for what their children need, as Jesus remarks by way of illustration of the even greater love shown by our heavenly Father: "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?" (Luke 11:11-12). But when the son is confused enough to ask for a scorpion, as I did in seeking my father's blessing upon the way I was misusing my body, who will be man enough to say, "No, son, out of love I cannot give you that"?
I honour too my father's willingness to accept uncomplainingly the cross that was set before him. I cannot repay his gift, which helped set me free. Eventually, though my mother herself remains Protestant, my parents' prayers led me into the Catholic Church.
Dear readers, please say a prayer today for the repose of my father's soul. And pray also for fathers everywhere, especially those faced with new challenges, to show kindness, perseverance, and strength in living out their vocations.