June 5, 2022 Essay: Belonging
The journey from being welcomed by the parish to feeling a real sense of belonging requires a spiritual and emotional openness to communion, participation, and mission.
Each year at the beginning of June we see rainbow flags unfurling around restaurants, retail outlets, college campuses, and a host of public buildings. The flags represent “Pride Month,” which seeks to draw attention to, and support for, the LGBT Community and its citizens. We see many churches of all denominations expressing “welcome” to the LGBT Community and proclaiming inclusiveness for all. For many of us, the “welcome” is encouraging and signals the beginning of a journey of adventure and coming home, of truly belonging.
This journey for me and my husband Michael began during a trip in the summer of 2017 to Italy, at the Cathedral of Amalfi. It was there that we both reflected on our past, having grown up Catholic. We experienced a deep sense of separation from the Church we once knew, once belonged to and once loved. We had both left the Church many years beforehand and aside from a flirtation with Unitarian Universalism, we had no religious connection with any tradition. As we traveled on to the cathedrals of Assisi, Orvieto, Florence, Venice, and, of course, St. Peter’s in Rome, our yearning for a connection to the Church grew stronger, but it remained buried under the sorrows of the past.
While in Italy I was posting daily pictures on Facebook, and on the last day there, I noticed a post from a member of the parish of St. Francis Xavier, thanking Father Martin for his talk on his book Building a Bridge. I read the post and was shocked to learn the Church of my birth was actually engaged in a process to welcome me back, and that’s how we found St. Ignatius. The day after we returned from our trip, we attended the Sunday morning Solemn Mass. Aside from the grandeur of the architecture, the beauty of the music, and the inspiring homily, we were struck by the hospitality minister who walked down the aisle welcoming the faithful to Communion, each time motioning with a wave and a word: “come.” We smiled at her and each other, so moved by that simple action. It was that summer when Father Yesalonia wrote to the parishioners of our church advising them that a new LGBT ministry was going to be established, so we joined.
Reading the book Building a Bridge I became fascinated by the idea of Ignatian Spirituality and enrolled in an Ignatian Spiritual Retreat. The retreat introduced me to the Church’s liturgical calendar in an amazing way, focusing on the daily scripture readings, reflecting on them, and meditating in an experiential manner. The high point each week was the time spent with my new spiritual director, Father Hilbert, who taught me to pray for the first time in a personal way.
So when did I really feel that I BELONGED? Father Yesalonia met with our “LGBT Catholics and Friends” Ministry early on, and made it clear we were to “be an integral part of the parish community.” It was a terrific bit of advice and I truly believe it was that spirit that lead me to feel that I belonged.
The acknowledgment that LGBT members of the parish were encouraged to create a ministry was the beginning of the “welcome” for us. But the true sense of BELONGING came after I saw so many church parishioners attending our events, lectures, and activities. The sense of communion was strong because I felt I was seen as a gay man and as an integral part of the community. This led to greater participation in the life of the parish. Finally, I believed in and supported the mission of creating a spiritual home for all.
Living one’s life authentically here at St. Ignatius is a blessing. It brings to mind the words of Thomas Merton: “The way we would begin in prayer is that we belong to God…all prayer starts and unfolds out of that knowing.”
– Lou Csabay, Parishioner & Member of the LGBT Catholics & Friends Ministry