The First Candle

Two years ago, at age forty-five, I celebrated my first Advent and Christmas as a baptized Catholic within an Independent Catholic denomination. The first candle was lit on my small oratory table in my bedroom before I prayed Matins and Lauds, the official beginning for my day as, at that time, a Franciscan postulant.

The journey to get to that moment, that solitary celebration in my bedroom, was a long one. I had struggled for the first twenty years of my life, coming to terms with the two realities of my sexuality and my vocation.

My callings were in conflict. I was in conflict.

I had known since a very early age that I was meant to be a priest, and that I was queer. But it was 1980 in small town Saskatchewan, and the idea of someone being queer was so far from real for me. All I knew was there was something different about who I was as a person, and that difference was something I had to protect myself from. The kids at school knew and teased me persistently. Sometimes the adults would join in.

My parents were church goers, and I attended a liberal protestant church (The United Church of Canada) until I was 14 years old. I had always had a strong connection to God, always known the presence of God in my life and the significance and importance of prayer. Often when I would go to my grandmother’s house, I would play with a faux wood statue of the Virgin Mary, so much so that the statue was taken away from me.

In my early twenties, I had come to the decision that I couldn’t live a life that was both gay and Christian because, in my mindset, there was too much of a conflict between Christian dogma and being queer. I started to search for a tradition, for a religion, that I could practice that would fulfill my need for a spiritual connection and an affirmation of my queerness. I wandered through Zen Buddhism, pagan spiritualities, First Nations traditions and ceremonies, and every time I would find a momentary respite from the feeling that I was somehow in opposition to what God wanted for me, what the clobber passages of scripture underlined about being queer.

In my forties, I went through a very serious depression that almost killed me. It was through a philosophical paper written to disprove the existence of God that I came out of that depression; the need to find a flaw in the argument, a flaw in the reasoning, somehow snapped me from that constant grief and sadness. But it also leads me to the realization that I had spent most of my life trying to be something for someone else: my parents, my teachers, my employers, the people I had dated. I’d always had the quiet voice in the back of my head, calling me to religious life, but also knew that if I was to practice as a Roman Catholic, I would have to enter into the church as a celibate, unable to enter religious life or follow my vocation as any kind. I would be welcomed but would have to live life with disinterested friendships and carrying the cross of my sexual identity.

Something about this seemed flawed to me. If God could create a universe in which images, like the ones taken by the space telescope Hubble, showed star fields of entire galaxies too numerous to count, how could God not have known what God was doing when God created me as a queer person? How could I not have a place at the table, a room in the mansion?

I went to the internet and found Independent and Old Catholicism. To me, this was a miracle. I wrote to a community in the Eastern United States, only to be told that I was too far away to be admitted into the community, but that there was an Independent Catholic bishop in Toronto that might be able to help me. Archbishop LaRade became my spiritual director, and through several months of prayer, reading, and contemplation came to the decision to profess first vows as a Franciscan and enter into the seminary program to eventually be ordained as a priest.

I had celebrated Advent before with my family in a Protestant context, so I was familiar with the meaning and symbolism behind the colours of the candles and the period leading up to Christmas. But the first Advent that I celebrated as a baptised and confirmed Catholic was special, even if it was alone in my bedroom on that cold December morning. The season is a time of preparation for renewal, a time to remember the time just before, the time when we may have been in doubt, or confusion. It’s a time to know and affirm that persistence and patience lead to such great rewards.

My life has not been easy since I professed. Many of the people who understand and supported me for being queer don’t necessarily understand or support my religious vocational choices. And, in many ways, the life is much like that of a hermit. But in other ways, my life has opened to such wonders of love.

We are so conditioned to the idea of binary in our society that we often overlook, or forget, that there are sometimes more than just two options. Sometimes the things that seem to be at opposites and so distant are two things that, when combined, create something so profound that it cannot be anything but wonderful. This was true with my call to be queer and Catholic, and it was even more true, even more wonderful, when God was called to be both Divine and human.

Advent and Christmas remind us that what may seem opposite and opposed can, when combined, create something wonderful, something miraculous. For me, it is an affirmation of the love of God for who and what I am, in union with billions of Christians world wide, millions of Catholics, and thousands of Independent Catholics. It is the light of hope that I carry with me every time I doubt, every time I feel unsure. It’s the light that reminds me of the service to community, the service to Christ. It is the spark of hope I carry into every moment of prayer, every morning when I greet the day and ask of God to grant me the gift of being the reflection of His infinite mercy, compassion, and love.

Leave a Reply