A Catholic parent of a transgender person is hesitant about stepping back into her parish after shifting to virtual services during the pandemic.
“I’m afraid, but not of the virus,’ Valerie Schultz, a freelance writer from Oregon, wrote in America. “Frankly, I’m afraid of what I will see, of what I will hear when I get there and step inside.”
Schultz’s life changed when her child came out as transgender. She worked at a Catholic parish but left because she “felt called to advocate publicly for civil rights and equal treatment for the L.G.B.T. community.”
She writes that after that change:
“I fell from being a pillar of parish programs to sitting alone in a back pew. I think of my Catholicism now as a fragile little bird that I keep sheltered in the nest of my heart. I’m still here. Even as my trans child felt abandoned and reviled by the faith into which they were baptized, even as my husband was no longer at my side during Mass, I stayed. I was a Catholic, by God. I was not going to be driven out. Rather than throwing up my hands and surrendering, I held on by a fingernail. The personal criticism, the institutional blindness, the wear and tear of alienation, even the lurking guilt I had for not leaving the church to support my child would not win.”
Schultz’s Catholicism became fragile as she clung to tradition while also wanting at times, “to get up and make a dramatic exit during a homily that, for example, compared civil marriage equality to letting monkeys marry.” She says, “I would tell myself that one priest’s unkindness did not represent Jesus.”
When Covid-19 struck the world, Schultz joined for virtual services, leaving the back pew for her kitchen table. She began attending virtual Masses based in Chicago and in Los Angeles. Through these opportunities, she not only “felt protected from the virus,” but her “little bird of faith felt protected too, by the love and compassion that informed the homilies given by the priests and deacons at these Masses.”
“It’s not that I felt safe from controversy, or placated in my own bubble of belief, because these homilies were thought-provoking and challenging. I wasn’t only hearing what I wanted to hear. But I felt engaged. I also felt focused. Sitting alone at my table, nothing distracted me from the Scripture readings or the prayers of intercession. Seeing the digital grid of fellow Catholics—living, breathing worshippers who were similarly isolated—somehow gave me a stronger sense of communion than I had felt in a church building in a long time. Several of us sometimes stayed online after Mass ended to discuss the homily. I was finally grasping the meaning of spiritual communion. I didn’t expect it to be enough, but it was.”
Throughout her story, Schultz comments on the importance of the Eucharist for her faith experiences. During the pandemic, she “expected to yearn for the Eucharist” but the communities she found through virtual Masses fed her in unexpected ways. Instead of experiencing the Eucharistic meal at the altar, she experienced it spiritually at her own table.
“I’ve felt more connected to God and to the Church than I have in years,” she says.
This spiritual communion, a true intimate encounter with God, is one that many queer Catholics may relate and respond to, considering how LGBTQ persons are denied communion.
As parishes open their doors, Schultz questions why she does not run back to the altar, but realizes:
“I’m afraid of once again confronting a superficial pro-life philosophy, one that is pro-pregnancy but against providing any assistance to those in need, even the bootstraps by which they are supposed to pull themselves up. I’m afraid of once again encountering members of the clergy and laity who parrot cruel political talking points while dismissing Pope Francis’ call to tenderness. Mostly, I’m afraid that some misguided homily is going to be the straw that breaks me, the last straw that finally makes me leave this church that I belong to, that I say I love. Even as I confess this weakness of faith, I recognize my fear that my little bird is not viable outside the nest. I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2022