Persisting Like the Widow: A Transgender Catholic’s Journey to Prayer

Michael Sennett

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Michael Sennett, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

Content warning: Today’s post contains mentions of suicidality.

I have a confession to make. For a period of my life, I absolutely dreaded prayer.

By age 14, I realized I was transgender. Unfortunately, there were few resources at my disposal. Although I fondly remember Hudson’s Resource Guide, a website dedicated to advice for trans masculine folks, most media mocked and vilified transgender people. Because of the limited options available to me, I latched onto what I was familiar with—the Catholic Church.

The messages I found in the church were not affirming. Clergy and laity described queerness as a disease that could be cured. As a teenager, I was unaware there were welcoming Catholic parishes and online spaces that would accept me with open arms. I prayed, begging God to fix me, but nothing changed. When I eventually worked up the courage at 16 years old to come out, my family was accepting and my friends were supportive. Yet, I still thought God hated me. Every night, I lay in bed and beseeched God in prayer to mend my identity.

This early approach to prayer was to plead with God out of desperation. I had no intention to listen or be mindful. When there was no evidence of my prayers being answered—namely that I would not be trans anymore—I lost heart and shut down. This style didn’t cultivate fruitful devotion. Instead, it submerged me in waves of weariness. Convinced I was broken and unlovable, I sought a way to escape the pain and fear that weighed heavily on my heart. In my desperation, there was only one solution. Ten years ago today, I attempted suicide.

Thankfully, I have received the grace of healing. Admittedly, the cure was not what I expected. The chaplain who visited me in the psychiatric unit shared hopeful scripture. A priest I spoke to later that year reassured me being trans is not a sin. The Sisters of Mercy I had the privilege of meeting in college patiently taught me how to genuinely pray. A Jesuit I knew during those years emphasized the importance of authenticity in relationship with God. My transgender identity was not what needed repair—it was my manner of prayer.

In today’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus tells the parable of a persistent widow and dishonest judge. I admire the widow for not ceasing in her pursuit for justice. The judge, who neither fears God nor respects any human being, is not inclined to grant her a just decision. Only to spare himself from her incessant appeals, the judge finally renders a just decision for the widow.

Unlike the persistent widow, I was once quick to surrender when faced with injustice. Jesus assures us that God will undoubtedly “secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.” If we keep steadfast in prayer, we needn’t worry—God will attend to us. Faith, though, is not always easy to sustain. LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies might struggle with faith in the face of persistent injustice. I certainly did. How do we remain faithful, as Jesus expects of us, even amidst the disappointment of prayers that seem to go unanswered?

Persistence is key. Persistence in prayer doesn’t mean we simply make demands for God to deliver. God is not a genie who grants wishes. Our loving Creator wants to be in relationship with us. Becoming aware of God’s presence better connects us. Meditating on Scripture or imagining a scene from the gospels, allowing the Spirit to guide us, helps us to recognize what God is trying to tell us. Discomfort and distractions may pop up, but consider where they lead you. God does not ignore our prayers, but the answers are not always what we think. Like any other skill, prayer takes practice.

Our persistence matters because God is persistent with us. In retrospect, I know I’ve witnessed the presence of God many times. In my Auntie Carol who visited me in the hospital every single day to play cards and cheer me up. Through my parents’ sacrifices for myself and my sisters. In the magnificent colors of a sunset over the ocean. God is constantly reaching out to us. When we accept the invitation and persist in our communication with God, it strengthens our own faith. Persistence has encouraged me to recently start the Spiritual Exercises, to truly discern where God is guiding my future.

Jesus prayed. He prayed before meals, in the morning and evening. He prayed in times of joy and sorrow. Jesus prayed during his baptism and his Passion. He prayed daily without losing heart. This is a lesson for us. We shouldn’t be disheartened if we think our prayers haven’t been answered—we should ask for the grace to see God’s response in our lives. Will Jesus find faith on earth when he returns? Only if we return the persistent energy of God in our own prayer to keep the faith Jesus yearns to find.

Michael Sennett (he/him), October 16, 2022

6 replies
  1. Fr. Dale Korogi
    Fr. Dale Korogi says:

    “Because God is persistent with us.” What a great line, a great truth. So grateful that you were and are persistent with your prayer and with the Lord, Michael. So grateful you can claim ten years of life and grace. What a gift these past ten years have been to so very many. Thank you for your very effective witness!

    Reply
  2. Mike Flanagan
    Mike Flanagan says:

    While not LGBT, I have close relatives and many friends who are. Michael’s story hit very close for me. I was taught by the Sisters of Mercy and I can honestly say the only time I was disciplined was when I absolutely deserved it! Those nuns helped instill a faith I still carry. Also when my wife had a miscarraige and then a tubal ligation due to being medicla complications. A priest told her that it was the same as having an abortion. She was devastated! I don’t know how she met him but a Jesuit appeared [in memory, it seems almost miraculous] and patiently explained that God had sent us our children but pregancy should not be a death sentance! So thank you, Michael and please stay strong!

    Reply
  3. John McDargh, Ph.D.
    John McDargh, Ph.D. says:

    Beautiful and brave reflections on the journey of prayer you have made and are making still to affirm the unique and unrepeatable creation that by the goodness of G-D you are..Thank you for sharing Michael

    Reply
  4. Lawrence Kavanaugh
    Lawrence Kavanaugh says:

    Dear Michael, Thank you for sharing your story! As I think about how God answers prayer, I see another angle: Your sharing may in fact be an answer to someone else’s prayer.

    Reply
  5. Nick Fagnant
    Nick Fagnant says:

    Michael! This is beautiful. Thank you for being such a powerful leader who, like Jesus asks of us, serves through selfies vulnerability and compassion. While parts of the Church can often (as you share) try to “correct” you, you show the Church what it really means to love yourself, neighbor, and God. That is a graced strength that I deeply admire.

    Reply

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