Tag Archives: Joseph Gentilini

The Powerful Witness of a Catholic Gay Union.

“Witness” is the root of the very Catholic word, “martyr”.  In this sense, we are all called to martyrdom. Joseph Gentilini’s “Hounded by God” is a powerful, moving example of  of the witness demonstrated by one gay Catholic’s triumphant, faithful witness.

CIVIL-UNIONS

I have just finished reading this book, which I did in two short sittings, over two days – but that is not the way to approach it, to derive the greatest benefit. That is not the way it is structured, nor the intention in the original writing. The structure is a selection of extracts from Gentilini’s spiritual journal over four decades, arranged not chronologically, but in thematic chapters. These extracts are interspersed with excerpts from a previously unpublished autobiography, and supplemented by a chapter reproducing some of the countless letters he has written over the years to Catholic bishops, Catholic papers, to politicians, including a US president – and to Anita Bryant.

So  there is no clear narrative thread, and even within chapters, there is thematic unity and some chronological sequencing, but the extracts do not always flow neatly, from one to another. And that is to the good, for forcing the reader at times, in between skimming from one idea or event to the next, to stop and think deeply about the importance of a particular section, to savour it, to reflect on it, just as one would one reading scripture.

In Ignatian spirituality, journalling is an important form of prayer, ideally undertaken daily. The point is that by reflecting prayerfully on our experiences after the event, and assessing our responses, we are able to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit deep within our hears – “Heart speaking to heart”. Journalling then, is a form of prayer that enables us not simply to speak directly and frankly to God, but also to learn from the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us. This process of listening (helped by a regular spiritual director) is what enabled Gentilini through many difficult years of substantial criticism and near rejection by his family, and the horrors of reparative therapy, to fully accept himself, first as gay, then as gay and Catholic – and finally to integrate the two.

Many of us who are also gay and Catholic (and others) will have grappled likewise with some or all of the themes that he works through. Through the evident honesty and frankness of his writing (he was writing, after all, for himself and for God, and not for publication), he does more than respond to the voice of the Spirit speaking to him: he channels and repeats that voice for his readers to hear, also.

Perhaps the single chapter  where this is most important, is where he describes a period of sexual promiscuity, contrasted with his subsequent growth in loving and committed union with a loving partner.Throughout his references to nights at the baths or other casual sexual encounters, he often writes of his awareness, afterwards, of feelings of dissatisfaction or worse. Occasions, that is, which may have been pleasurable at the time – but in which God was not present. In contrast, as he describes the gradually developing relationship with Leo, who became his life partner, and especially as he describes in joyful gratitude the continuing pleasure and satisfaction of giving himself in intimacy even into his seventh decade, the pleasures do not fade after ejaculation, or the end of the embrace. This is absolutely a love in which God is present, and several extracts describe explicitly how he and Leo at times find God directly in physical love, in simple touch,  and in dancing together.

This matters for the rest of us. The orthodox doctrine is self-evidently unrealistic (and so disordered), in its insistence that this self- giving in physical intimacy is licit only within heterosexual marriage, open to procreation – and so denied to those with a same – sex affectional orientation. (And to all others who are unmarried, or not yet ready to produce children). In the real world, the majority of Catholics reject the Vatican line – but having done so, what are they to put into its place? Far too many gay Catholics respond as Gentilini did in the beginning, by slipping into a life of promiscuity and hedonism (what some writers on gay spirituality describe as a second closet).

To steer a sound path between the sterility of a single life, devoid of physical love and self-giving, and the recklessness of selfish promiscuity, takes careful discernment. Gentilini’s frank reports of his experiences, and is conversations with God on the subject, can help us as well as him to negotiate the treacherous waters.

In referred yesterday to Duigan McGinley’s view that gay Catholic autobiographies should be seen as “sacred texts”. This descriptor applies to “Hounded by God” more completely than most. The nature of the text, with its origin in prayerful sharing with God, and in its structure, with its series of short extracts not always following directly on each other, lends itself admirably for use precisely in the same way as the primary sacred text, the Bible.  I have now read it in full, to get the flavour and primary message. I will now return to it in small doses, picking up on short extracts or specific themes. I will reflect on them, think about them – even at times pray, not on the texts themselves, but for guidance on what lessons I can draw from them. Some of these reflections and conclusions, I will spin out into posts, here at Queering the Church.

I strongly encourage my gay Catholic readers, unless they are those rare creatures who have already worked out for themselves a completely satisfactory and complete, workable system of sexual ethics, to do so too.

hounded by god

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Books:

Johnson, Fenton: Geography Of The Heart

McGinley, Dugan: “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts

McNeill, John: Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal

 

Joseph Gentilini and His Catholic Family

When I reached the stage of my life that I was ready to come out as gay,  I was fortunate in the knowledge that I would not face the remotest risk of rejection by my family. By then into my thirties, I was clearly no longer a child or teenager going through a “phase” that i might grow out of. Having already been through a disastrous marriage, it was unlikely that marrying another woman would cure me of homosexuality. I had also seen, from the family reaction to my siblings who had found themselves in difficulty or trouble, that rejection was something that our family just did not do.

hounded by god

Joseph Gentilini was less fortunate. As the story emerges in “Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship”, it seems that pretty emphatic rejection of his orientation (if not of himself) was for many years a constant part of the ordeal he suffered from his staunchly Catholic parents, acting in terms of their understanding of their Catholic obligation:

“In 1968, my mother and I attended the investiture of my good friend as a Dominican novice. By that time, I was coming out as gay. As I was driving Mom to the church, she told me that she and Dad had prayed about me an my homosexuality, adding that if Dad had a heart attack it would be my fault. Later, in the church, she passed a holy card to me that said that prayer is powerful, and she suggested that I had not prayed hard enough or even at all.

I found a small piece of paper under the statue of St Joseph in my parents’ home several years ago. On it my mother had written, “St Joseph, save Joe. Please!!!”

This rejection of Joseph’s gayness extended, naturally enough, to rejection of his partner. Unable to socialize freely with his partner and his family at the same family gatherings, left Joseph effectively withdrawing from those gatherings, except for occasional very brief visits.

My mother was depressed last week and called. I was also low, and she knew that and wanted to call and see how I was. I was somewhat low and depressed because my sister can bring her twice- divorced boyfriend to Mom and Dad’s, but I can’t bring over my partner, Leo. Mom says it’s her conscience, but I don’t believe that.It is a social embarrassment, and I feel the judgement! I told her it made me angry.

But relationships develop, and can improve. Early in life, it seemed that his father was the more critical, but came to a degree of accommodation and friendship with his son, that his  mother seemed unable to achieve. Joseph however, had a regular spiritual director, a religious sister, who formed a personal friendship with his mother. Slowly, she came fully to accept Joseph and his life partner Leo as part of their family.

My spiritual director, who is a religious sister, befriended my mother. She and my mother would talk on the phone every Thursday evening. It became an event that she looked forward to, although she would not say so to me. ….

In October, my mother was having a surprise 80th birthday party for Dad, and Leo was invited! She even kissed Leo! and, wonder of wonders, he was invited that year to our family Christmas! What a wonderful healing! After this, Leo was considered part of the family and invited to everything. With the help of my spiritual director, my mother broke through her barrier to loving me fully as her gay son.

My prayer has been answered. For years, I have prayed for reconciliation with my family. It is a grace, a total gift from God.

(Joseph’s mother is emphatically not the only parent who has prayed for her gay son to be “healed” – and found instead that it was she who needed to be healed, of her rejection).

Later she did even more, and went out of her way to show other mothers of gay sons the importance of maintaining loving relationships with all their extended family, gay and straight, and their partners. Reading this story of family reconciliation and healing, in a profound demonstration of authentic Catholic family values, brought tears to my eyes.

In 1999, I had heard that my mother read an obituary of a woman she knew whose son had died of AIDS. She went to the funeral home and spoke to the woman, who had not been reconciled with her son before his death.. She was able to bring peace to that woman. Mom told my spiritual director, “If God could give me grace, in spite of my stubborn righteousness, I had to be there for that mother.” What I didn’t know was that she went to the hospital and nursing home for other mothers whose sons were dying of AIDS. My spiritual director told me of one story when Mom went to a hospital. The son was dying in the room, but the mother was in the hall, refusing to go in and touch her son. My mother sat with her, comforted her, and asked, “If you, his mother, will not go in and touch your son, how will God touch him?” The mother got up and made peace with her son before he died. My Mother!”

In  “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love, McGinley, Dugan describes gay Catholic autobiographies as “sacred texts”, which other gay Catholics can profitably use for reflection and study .Joseph Gentilini’s “Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship”  a selection of extracts from the extensive series of spiritual journals he has kept over several decades, interspersed with short excerpts from an unpublished autobiography, certainly qualifies as deserving that descriptor (“sacred text”).  I will have intermittent additional posts on thoughts arising from Joseph’s reflections, which raise some important points about what it is to be both gay and Catholic.

Books:

Johnson, Fenton: Geography Of The Heart

McGinley, Dugan:Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts

McNeill, John: Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal

Related Posts

Our Stories as Sacred Texts

Joseph Gentilini – “Hounded by Heaven”

The Powerful Witness of a Catholic Gay Union (Book Review)

 

Joseph Gentilini – Hounded by Heaven

I first came across the phrase, “The Hound of Heaven” when it was used by my religion teacher, an O.M.I. priest, at secondary school in Johannesburg, many years ago. At first I had difficulty understanding the concept, unable to grasp the idea of God as a dog. But then, I did not yet appreciate the difference in sense between “dog”, as any canine (in my experience, always a household pet), and “hound” – as a working dog, chasing down the object of its pursuit. Once I did finally get the point, it became a vivid metaphor that has never left me.  An explanation at the Neumann Book of Verse, quoted on Wikipedia, conveys the sense of the metaphor:

 The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.

The Neumann Press Book of Verse, 1988[2]

Hound of Heaven

Joseph Gentilini, whom I referred to earlier this week for his long ministry of writing to the American bishops about matters of gay inclusion in church, has used the image in the title of a forthcoming autobiography, “Hounded by God”. This image is entirely appropriate, as a description of how for years he felt tormented by a perceived conflict between what he knew to be his natural affectional and sexual orientation, and the formal, proclaimed sexual doctrines of the church  – conflict which led nightly, to thoughts of suicide. Many Catholic gay men and lesbians will have no difficulty recognising this experience, as one that they too have endured.

In “Hounded by God”, the author writes about his struggle to integrate his homosexuality with his personality and his Catholic-Christian spirituality. He grew up in the late ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s when homosexuality was considered either a mental illness or a major sin. In 1968, he had his first homosexual experience. Feeling shame and trying to repress his feelings, he spent over six years in therapy.

Raised a strict Roman Catholic, Joseph confessed his many “sins” to a priest and attended Mass daily. He felt hopeless in accepting his homosexuality and living happily as a gay man, repeating nightly, “If it gets too bad, I can always kill myself.” By 1974, he knew that therapy was not changing his sexual orientation and felt desperate.

Some older Catholics, but perhaps rather fewer younger people will also recognize the resolution of the conflict – that while the institutional church may appear to reject us, that is never true of God, who like a hound will follow us relentlessly, as God did in pursuit of Joseph, until we are able to recognize and accept God’s unconditional love for us all – no exceptions.

Joseph experienced God as hounding him to accept his gay identity and to believe that God loves him as he is. His autobiographical journal reveals his gradual awakening to live his vocation, not only as a gay man in relationship with his partner and with God, but also as someone willing to share his journey with those who struggle with their homosexuality and their faith.

The two passages quoted above are from a summary of the book that I received yesterday by email, together with  two reviews, in advance of publication later this year.  These gay Catholic biographies are important. Dugan McGinley  has written an entire critical analysis of the  genre “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love”, which he has  sub-titled “Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts”. To call them “sacred” texts may appear to many to be a step too far, but I think the description is entirely appropriate. These stories, if they are honest and sufficiently reflective on the writer’s life of struggle and resolution, can help us all in a similar predicament to find illumination and support in our own search for reconciliation, with God and the Church.

This could be particularly true of this book. Whether we know it yet or not, it will certainly be true that whatever our response to the Church, whatever our perceptions of its doctrines or pastoral practice, whatever our decision or strategies in our lives so far, to deal with and attempt to reconcile the conflicts that we, like Joseph, probably felt or perhaps still feel about our sexuality and our faith – God is constantly chasing us down, hound – like.

I look forward to reading this book once it has been published. I hope you will look out for it, too. Meanwhile, to whet your appetites, I include two short reviews, but theologian John  McNeill, and by Mark Matson, a former president of Dignity USA,

St. Augustine put it beautifully into words: “You made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our- hearts will never rest until they rest in you.” Most of us go through life covering over that yearning at the heart of every human, distracting ourselves with the desires of this world. Not so Joseph Gentilini. God gave Joseph an extraordinary awareness of that call to union with God.

In his autobiographical journal, Joe spells out his painful journey as an active gay man, from revolt against that voice of God to final acceptance with God’s grace of his gay identity given to him by God—a remarkable journey which brings hope to all of us that God’s call to union is to the authentic self. God dwells within us, and the only way to union with that God is through the authentic self.

John McNeill, theologian, former Jesuit priest and author

and

Anyone who has had their sexuality shamed by their religious tradition should relate to Joe’s story of staying connected to his Catholicism while rejecting the teaching of Catholic Bishops on homosexuality and replacing it with a truly authentic spiritual connection with his Creator. He give the reader access to his most intimate thoughts, fears, and experiences—all of which provide the fuel for a seminal work in LGBT spirituality.

Mark Matson, former president of Dignity USA

 

Joseph Gentilini – Hounded by Heaven

I first came across the phrase, “The Hound of Heaven” when it was used by my religion teacher, an O.M.I. priest, at secondary school in Johannesburg, many years ago. At first I had difficulty understanding the concept, unable to grasp the idea of God as a dog. But then, I did not yet appreciate the difference in sense between “dog”, as any canine (in my experience, always a household pet), and “hound” – as a working dog, chasing down the object of its pursuit. Once I did finally get the point, it became a vivid metaphor that has never left me.  An explanation at the Neumann Book of Verse, quoted on Wikipedia, conveys the sense of the metaphor:

 The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.

The Neumann Press Book of Verse, 1988[2]

Hound of Heaven

Joseph Gentilini, whom I referred to earlier this week for his long ministry of writing to the American bishops about matters of gay inclusion in church, has used the image in the title of a forthcoming autobiography, “Hounded by God”. This image is entirely appropriate, as a description of how for years he felt tormented by a perceived conflict between what he knew to be his natural affectional and sexual orientation, and the formal, proclaimed sexual doctrines of the church  – conflict which led nightly, to thoughts of suicide. Many Catholic gay men and lesbians will have no difficulty recognising this experience, as one that they too have endured.

In Hounded by God, the author writes about his struggle to integrate his homosexuality with his personality and his Catholic-Christian spirituality. He grew up in the late ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s when homosexuality was considered either a mental illness or a major sin. In 1968, he had his first homosexual experience. Feeling shame and trying to repress his feelings, he spent over six years in therapy.

Raised a strict Roman Catholic, Joseph confessed his many “sins” to a priest and attended Mass daily. He felt hopeless in accepting his homosexuality and living happily as a gay man, repeating nightly, “If it gets too bad, I can always kill myself.” By 1974, he knew that therapy was not changing his sexual orientation and felt desperate.

Some older Catholic, but perhaps rather fewer younger people will also recognize the resolution of the conflict – that while the institutional church may appear to reject us, that is never true of God, who like a hound will follow us relentlessly, as God did in pursuit of Joseph, until we are able to recognize and accept God’s unconditional love for us all – no exceptions.

Joseph experienced God as hounding him to accept his gay identity and to believe that God loves him as he is. His autobiographical journal reveals his gradual awakening to live his vocation, not only as a gay man in relationship with his partner and with God, but also as someone willing to share his journey with those who struggle with their homosexuality and their faith.

The two passages quoted above are from a summary of the book that I received yesterday by email, together with  two reviews, in advance of publication later this year.  These gay Catholic biographies are important. Dugan McGinley  has written an entire critical analysis of the  genre “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love”, which he has  sub-titled “Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts”. To call them “sacred” texts may appear to many to be a step too far, but I think the description is entirely appropriate. These stories, if they are honest and sufficiently reflective on the writer’s life of struggle and resolution, can help us all in a similar predicament to find illumination and support in our own search for reconciliation, with God and the Church.

This could be particularly true of this book. Whether we know it yet or not, it will certainly be true that whatever our response to the Church, whatever our perceptions of its doctrines or pastoral practice, whatever our decision or strategies in our lives so far, to deal with and attempt to reconcile the conflicts that we, like Joseph, probably felt or perhaps still feel about our sexuality and our faith – God is constantly chasing us down, hound – like.

I look forward to reading this book once it has been published. I hope you will look out for it, too. Meanwhile, to whet your appetites, I include two short reviews, but theologian John  McNeill, and by Mark Matson, a former president of Dignity USA,

St. Augustine put it beautifully into words: “You made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our- hearts will never rest until they rest in you.” Most of us go through life covering over that yearning at the heart of every human, distracting ourselves with the desires of this world. Not so Joseph Gentilini. God gave Joseph an extraordinary awareness of that call to union with God.

In his autobiographical journal, Joe spells out his painful journey as an active gay man, from revolt against that voice of God to final acceptance with God’s grace of his gay identity given to him by God—a remarkable journey which brings hope to all of us that God’s call to union is to the authentic self. God dwells within us, and the only way to union with that God is through the authentic self.

John McNeill, theologian, former Jesuit priest and author

and

Anyone who has had their sexuality shamed by their religious tradition should relate to Joe’s story of staying connected to his Catholicism while rejecting the teaching of Catholic Bishops on homosexuality and replacing it with a truly authentic spiritual connection with his Creator. He give the reader access to his most intimate thoughts, fears, and experiences—all of which provide the fuel for a seminal work in LGBT spirituality.

Mark Matson, former president of Dignity USA

Books

John McNeill:

The Church and the HomosexualTaking a Chance on God;

Freedom, Glorious Freedom;

and My Spiritual Journey: Both Feet Planted In Midair

Sex as God Intended