Dear Father Tony,
My name is Karen. I am writing because you were recommended to me by a friend of mine. I have hit a spiritual crisis. I'll be brief. I am Catholic. I am bi-sexual. I am marrying a transgendered woman. I can't believe I just wrote that. I just wrote that.
My family has been Catholic since the 1500's in France. I can't be anything besides Catholic. My greatest fear is that now it will be discovered, not by my family, not by my friends, but by a church. I ceased going to mass when our relationship began almost three years ago almost entirely. I think I've been a total of three times in as many years. I feel torn in half. I sound insane to people. I love God. I love the church. I love this woman. I can't, it seems, have my soul and my heart enter a room without colliding.
People associate Christianity and Catholicism with hate. Especially in the country. Especially in the South. My family has written me off as a lunatic, essentially. My lover waits for me to reconcile the irreconcilable. I have begun feeling that I can't stand it. The world laughs at a lover of Christ, who is unwelcome and enters the party stag.
She Prayed for Love, and Guess What?
I told a priest these things during my first confession - feelings, etc, and he said, "some people don't get to choose who they love." I feel there is an undercurrent within the church that knows the celibate and yet somehow certifiably heterosexual lifestyle is flawed. I feel oddly as if I forgive the Church. I forgive the Pope. And this is wrong, so wrong somehow.
The thing that bothers me the most, the thing I cannot shake is this: I prayed for her. I prayed for her and (someone?) God heard me and sent me her! I was so specific it could not be missed that it was her. I am not quite sure why I am writing you. Carly tells me I should, that this is something you might understand, something you may help with somehow.
We are to be married, and I think: where? How, without a priest? To her these are laughing concerns. She tosses them off with intellectualism. I admire her for it. I cannot toss off my blood.
I love your letter for so many reasons. I almost don't know where to begin, so I will follow the order of your own unfolding.
You feel split in half by your strong identity as Catholic and your equally strong love for Carly. It feels as though the church and Carly cannot be in the same room at the same time. Your task is to allow them both to live harmoniously in your heart. Is your heart big enough to carry both of them? I'm guessing that it is, and I'll try to help you with this.
You will always be Catholic. No one can take that away from you. No comdemnatory bishop can erase your tradition and your heritage. No malevolent pope can label you a "bad girl" without incurring the wrath of a god who takes greater delight in the love you have found than he does in the bitter finger-pointing of a shepherd who trusts a book of manmade rules more than he does the grace of God in his soul. Priests and bishops and cardinals and popes will work themselves into an obsessed frenzy over the genitals of your lover. You need to learn to laugh at their foolishness. That is what God does. You need to go back to church as often as you feel inclined, armed with the knowledge that any church you enter is yours by the fact of your baptism. It's not their church, it's your church. Having a mantra from scripture may help you do this.
I suggest this: 2Corinthians 4:10, "We carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus will be seen in our body." When you were baptized, your old self died and you began to carry Jesus in your heart without even knowing it. He grew. You grew. Your heart grew. The only thing that didn't grow is the hierarchy. You and Jesus and your heart and your love are much bigger than them. Your faith is as big as one of those old French cathedrals in which your ancestors prayed. (The pope is tiny in comparison. Don't worry about him. With luck, he'll grow up before he dies. If only he had the good sense to thank you for the forgiveness you offer him. Forgiveness that he neither deserves nor seeks.) Now that you are in love, the life of Jesus within you is made visible in your relationship and it will be made radiant when you are married.
I can't help you with your family thinking that you are a lunatic. Sometimes it takes years for families to come around and become accepting. Sometimes they sadly go to their graves without reaching that point. That is the saddest death of all, and if that happens, you will have to make room in your heart for that, as well.
You knocked my socks off when you said that you prayed for love and that God (or someone) sent Carly to you.
I have a similar story. I have made exactly one real prayer in my entire life. That's right, exactly one prayer. I was a lonely young promiscuous man with some very good friends but no one to love. I felt despair. I doubted my worth and my future and my reason for drawing breath. I was driving my car when for the first and only time in my life I prayed to God, asking him to send me the right man. That night, I met the man who moved in with me a few weeks later and whom I married after having lived with him for 25 years. Getting an answer to my prayer was terrifying. I have never really believed that God hears individual prayers and that Jesus and Mary and the saints intercede in the lives of mortals. Most of the time, I still don't believe it. I think they are all rather dead. It's such a quaint notion that they would be curious about us in the way that I am curious about the characters on the Young and the Restless, and yet, because of what happened when I prayed, I'm rather afraid to dismiss it all as nonsense. I'm sure you feel the same way.
Accept this love as a gift. Trust it. Be proud of it. Share it. Proclaim it. Guard it. You'll never have anything of greater value.
You conclude your letter wondering how you can get married without a priest. Get married legally in a state like Connecticut or Massachusetts and then find a Catholic priest who will marry you privately. Oh, he won't be able to record the marriage on the parish books, but that is insignificant. I'm sure you won't have a problem finding a priest who will do this. If you do, call me. I got connections.
I wish you and Carly great happiness. There are many reading this with huge envy for the wonderful gift you have been given. They are wondering why God sent you someone to love but he hasn't sent someone to them. Good question, but that is something to think about some other day.