In which I make my return to Catholicism

A reflection by Sarah

Yesterday, Lindsey shared with our readers a difficult and painful decision that the two of us have reached after an extended period of prayer and discernment. As much as both of us love the Orthodox Church, we reached a point both individually and together of being unable to remain within that particular Christian tradition. We bear no ill will toward Orthodoxy or its people, and I certainly don’t intend to bash the Orthodox faith in this post. But I will say that as an individual, I could not continue in good conscience to be part of the Orthodox Church. There are many reasons for this, and most of them hinge on the fact that the spirituality I practiced as an Orthodox Christian was breaking me, and I was not able to find a viable path into a better way of life using the resources of the tradition.

The purpose of this post is not to offer an explanation for my leaving Orthodoxy, but I would like to offer some clarifications relative to issues that arose after we published Lindsey’s post yesterday:

Lindsey and I are not giving up celibacy. The reality that God has called us both to a celibate way of life is abundantly clear. That simply is not changing. We continue to understand our relationship as a way of life that combines elements of skete monasticism and partnership lived in the world.

We are not leaving Orthodoxy so that we can get a legal marriage, get a religious marriage in a different Christian tradition, or start thinking of our relationship as a marriage. A number of people seem to be under the impression that our plan is to run immediately to the courthouse and get a legally recognized marriage. A few seem to think we are now looking for a more liberal Christian tradition that will marry us. Both of these assumptions are false.

Leaving Orthodoxy does not solve our problem of insufficient legal protections. We have no idea how we are going to sort our legal affairs in the end. It’s a complicated question that has only become more complicated as non-marital forms of union between two people in the United States are going the way of the dodo.

Our story is not a weapon, and we will continue to call out anyone who uses it as such. Let’s be honest: Lindsey’s post yesterday was the post that many of our more liberal readers have been waiting for since the beginning of our blog. We’ve long known that at times, more conservative readers have used our posts to beat their LGBTQ friends over the head with a celibacy frying pan. But as of yesterday, we also have readers proclaiming, “If a celibate couple like Sarah and Lindsey aren’t even welcome in the Church, that definitely means it needs to change its abusive teachings!” Make no mistake, Lindsey and I are not on a smear campaign and are not advocating for doctrinal changes to any Christian tradition. Our story is not fuel for your political fire.

Not long ago, the two of us gave an evening devotional at a retreat with about 30 of our brothers who are also celibate LGBTQ Christians from a variety of traditions. At the end of our talk, we asked those gathered to reflect on what might be next in their lives relative to their faith communities, interpersonal relationships, new callings, and so on. Given our announcement that we are leaving Orthodoxy, I’m sure that many of you are reading and wondering what is next for us. That’s a difficult question, considering how we came to Orthodoxy from very different backgrounds and left for our own individual reasons, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our readers as we sort the answers.

As for me, less than a week ago I approached a Catholic priest who used to hear my confessions on occasion before I became Orthodox. Though I had intended nothing more than to engage in a conversation about some controversial issues in Catholic ecclesiology, things changed about an hour into our discussion. He told me that I appeared troubled and asked what was on my heart. There was something about the way he said it (or at least what I got from lip reading) that led me to think about a truth I had not considered in a long while: the decision to follow Christ within the context of a particular Christian tradition is as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of the head. And I had known for quite some time that when I took my analytical theological brain with me to Orthodoxy, I left my heart behind in Catholicism. Living in a neighborhood with over 40 Catholic institutions has been a constant reminder of this: one can’t walk more than a few blocks in this area without bumping into a priest, brother, or nun in full habit. As we continued to talk, I found myself forgetting all about my angels-on-pinheads theological misgivings…and before I knew exactly what I was saying, tears filled my eyes and I blurted, “I want to come back!” In a moment of impulsive yet entirely free decision, my theological conversation became a sacramental confession. Soon after, I was welcomed back to the faith where I had first experienced a meaningful relationship with Christ. And for the first time in a very long while, I felt like a free woman.

I didn’t return to Catholicism because I see the Catholic faith as easy, or because I believe that I can do it well after doing Orthodoxy so poorly. When I look back on my faith journey so far, I can say with confidence that I have spent more years of my life being a bad Catholic than a good Catholic. Read this post if you don’t believe me. I have not yet sorted all of the theological issues where I find myself far more in agreement with the approaches of the East than the approaches of the West, and I expect there will be frequent occasions when I attend a Roman Catholic Mass or Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy and abstain from the Eucharist. But I see no problem in taking that approach because Christianity is not supposed to be easy, and the Church does not give up on her children when they find themselves in situations where reasoned argumentation and the internal spiritual experience aren’t matching.

I can be Catholic without being perfect. I can be Catholic without engaging in obsessively legalistic thinking about my faith. I can be Catholic while sitting in the tension as other Catholics disagree with my way of life and the bishops try to sort out what kinds of non-marital legal protections they can support for people in my situation. I can be Catholic while viewing my hearing loss positively, even attending deaf parishes and receiving spiritual direction and confession from deaf priests. To be Catholic is to be part of a worldwide family that is as dysfunctional as it is delightful. It means participating in the tough conversations as much as it means being obedient. And at the end of the day, I’m grateful and relieved to be home.

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19 thoughts on “In which I make my return to Catholicism

  1. I’m subscribed to your blog and I read both this entry and your last entry this morning. Wanted to respond but felt, I should have my quiet time first. So in reading Romans 13 I’m distracted and read to pay to all what is owed … “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed,” and I felt like I should come back here, because what you guys have been sharing over time has seemed honorable to me, and I just wanted to share a few things I feel like I’ve learned from following your blog.

    I love the way that you both write, and I commend you for having the courage to write about such vulnerable, important things. Reading your blog has been helpful for me. As a heterosexual married woman with one toddler and another baby on the way, my life experience has been quite different. As a pretty traditional Christian for 10 years or so, I’ve come face to face with a lot of the things that you talk about, and I’ve found myself tempted to judge or write people off because of one or two particular things about them that I didn’t like, and more importantly, didn’t know how to deal with. It’s so much easier to not engage.

    You are absolutely right … The church should NOT be a place where we have to wear a mask, and we CANNOT love if we’re looking for people to pass tests first. That’s so far from what Christ taught. Your story gives me pause and makes me think about how I and my church family welcome others. It makes me want to look deeper … it makes me want to look past my preconceived notions and try to better see what Christ would want me to see. Thanks for helping me to love better. I have so far to go.

    May God bless you both in your callings – may He provide for your legal protection – and may He help you both find a community where your presence is cherished as it should be. May He plant you somewhere that you can bloom!

    • Hi Molly. Thank you for your prayers. I pray that there will come a time when loving is a higher priority for churches than passing highly subjective morality tests. This is not to say that morality isn’t important or that I support dissent against traditional teachings, but there is indeed a problem when people are afraid to love because being loving *might* be supporting sin. -Sarah

  2. Welcome back !

    Blessings and prayers as you continue your faith journey. Your experience with the Orthodox and other matters will be a valuable contribution to the Catholic Church.

    • Hi Chris. I believe that the experiences we have are always valuable for our futures and also for helping others. Thank you for your prayers! -Sarah

  3. Hi Sarah, welcome home. It’s been two years since I first started to follow your blog posts and made several comments. I’m not sure how to express my thoughts, my impressions, feelings and how it is that I primarily relate to you, identify with you even. which is basically spiritual. When I received this post in my email today of course I was very pleasantly surprised(in my heart I rejoiced) at your decision to return to the Catholic Church. So I’ll very selectively start with what you have revealed about your struggles to find an Orthodox church where you would feel understood and accepted as a celibate lesbian couple. I’ll just touch on a couple of details. As a man who has been an outsider/loner all my life I can relate to your struggles very easily. You protested when people would comment that your sexual orientation must be a cross for you, because you have little or no desire for sexual union with Lindsey or anybody. I must disagree. I think you see a cross too narrowly in this case. The fact that after years of attempting to find acceptance in several Orthodox Churches, few understood or accepted your true situation. That’s a pretty heavy cross to carry when you long for a worship community you can belong to. Yet you and Lindsey are constantly frustrated. And by the way, I don’t mean to imply that things will be hunky dory in a good Catholic Church faithful to the Church’s Magisterium. But there is no getting around the truth that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, as flawed and stupid, as all of us, it’s members are, no different from the Orthodox members, really. Original Sin has wreaked incalculable havoc to our human souls. And the ordeal you have endured to find ways to pay the incredibly heavy medical expenses to cover all the surgeries on your inner ear. Consider, if you were attracted to men, by now you would probably be married and your expenses would be covered by your insurance. I don’t want to harp on this, and I think you can see my reasoning.

    As a devout Catholic I can only say that SSM or Civil Unions are impossible. I’m aware that these are not issues for you anyway. I don’t know what you think about the legalisation of SSM in your country. It does make life easier for same sex couples. Or what solution there can be for couples like you and Lindsey, who live a celibate life together. Here in Canada we have universal health coverage, with the exception of dental. So we don’t have that stress you must be plagued with. the downside for us is that the government that provides this coverage is also making more and more inroads into our private lives, with legislation that no serious Catholic can ever agree with.

    Sarah, this is the least enjoyable part of my comment. I don’t have much to offer in terms of support or comfort in your struggles with your rather serious physical problem and insurance coverage. If I understand though it’s true that you’ve gone through the worst of the prognosis for multiple surgeries and are in recovery. Does it mean that you will regain full recovery of your hearing? In any case, your return to the Catholic faith must have choirs of heavenly angels rejoicing before the Holiness of God. Later I hope to comment on what I see as your deep interior life with Christ. God bless you and Lindsey

    • Hi again, Tom. I agree that there is more than one way to interpret the term “cross” here. Though sexual temptation is not a cross for me, the trouble with finding acceptance in a Christian tradition has certainly been a cross. I can agree with you there. I’m also aware that the Catholic Church is not a place where I will find constant acceptance as a celibate, partnered lesbian. However, I’m grateful that the magisterium is willing to engage in some of these difficult conversations. Willingness to talk about LGBTQ issues at all shows me that the Catholic Church is doing its best to figure out how to be loving and kind while also staying faithful to the Gospel. About insurance: fortunately, Lindsey and I did have insurance for the worst of my surgeries so far. But now Lindsey no longer has that job, and none of the other jobs Lindsey is looking at offer health insurance to domestic partners. That’s quite unfortunate: what was once common to find as a job benefit is now more of a needle in a haystack. Soon, we will no longer have that amazing health insurance, and I have no idea what we will do then. A Canadian friend of ours actually suggested to us this week that we consider moving to Canada, where domestic partners are legally recognized and everyone has healthcare access. About my surgeries: it’s true that I’ve come through the worst part of recovery for the procedures I’ve had so far, and right now I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long while. But Meniere’s disease is highly unpredictable, and I may need more surgeries in the future. None of them will ever restore my hearing, and I’m okay with that because I like being deaf. The goal at this point is to regulate my balance. Now I have no balance system left in my right ear, and the balance system of my left ear has a loss as well…but not a total loss yet. Thank you very much for your prayers.

  4. Hi again Sarah, I don’t know if you followed, but the Ordinary Synod on the Family just finished in Rome. the Bishops fell into two camps. Those Bishops who understand that there is no possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics living in the sin of adultery can ever receive Holy Communion without repentance and a firm resolve to remain celibate. The same of course is true of those living in SSA relationships, living in sin. That is sexually active. I believe Eve Tushnet was hoping that the Bishops would give a nod to some kind of affirmation of celibate gays living in a common community of friendship. It seems so simple and reasonable. But from my point of view, as a guy from an older generation, my attitude is that – be grateful, don’t expect too much, life is short and God desires our holiness not our comfort and self-fulfillment in the countless ways your generation sees as their right. I don’t say that out of indifference or insensitivity, for I have experienced great lonliness, psychological and spiritual desolation. Anyway, Sarah, I want to talk about you.

    From the first, I recognised your sincerity, vulnerability, your relentless questioning. I can admire these qualities in you because these are things I like about myself. Truth be told though, liking my vulnerability does not come easily. Your “analytical theological” intelligence is a great gift from God. And now you’ll be able to begin the long hard road we all have to travel so that we learn to trust God and start leading with our hearts. that may be harder for you because I think you are an intellectual, with all the dangers of the sin of intellectual pride that highly intelligent people fall into very easily. Me, I’m more the apophatic type. But everyone, the smart and the average, we live from our lower egos which puts pretty severe limitations on our spiritual and psychological self-understanding. “…I left my heart behind in Catholicism.” well,

    maybe so, maybe it just seems that way. You said in reference to your pretty wild college days – “during those times I always held onto the hope that God would eventually guide me to a place of desiring repentance.” That brings tears to my eyes. Do you see that that hope was the Holy Spirit whispering within your soul, that He would never abandon you to your sinful self?

    Your description of your behaviour as a college student was so wacky, it made me laugh. Even though the moral gravity of your behaviour was no laughing matter. You have a gift for describing your worst moments with honesty(yes, even naked honesty)that is hilarious and delightful. Perhaps at some point you might want to entertain the idea of you and Lindsey, appearing on Marcus Grodi’s, The Journey Home on EWTN.

    I’m not a prophet Sarah, but every now and then I “meet” an individual, and it seems to me that God is calling this person in some unusual way. What if Christ is calling you to Himself? Yes, Jesus who lives in your innermost heart, what if He is calling you to follow your “heart” more deeply into your interior spiritual life? Your sojourn to the Orthodox Church, even your severe physical health problems may be opening up new ways to see your life.. Food for thought? May God bless you and Lindsey.

    • And hello for a third time! Yes, I did follow the Synod on the Family. I hope that over time, there will be more synod-level discussions on homosexuality and families that include same-sex couples. I’m absolutely grateful that these discussions are happening, and I don’t feel at all entitled to comfort. However, I do think these issues are worthy of much more discussion and I pray that discussion will happen and be fruitful. Personally, I don’t care whether the bishops ever see my relationship in the same way as I do. But I see it as a matter of good pastoral care to provide counsel and support to members of the flock when they are facing world-related problems as well as spiritual problems. The entire time I was Orthodox, I did my very best to seek out counsel and support from various members of the clergy regarding what Lindsey and I should do to make sure that we have basic legal rights to each other. Neither of us received much counsel on that matter. We have power of attorney documents for each other, but that still doesn’t take care of everything we need. Because I cannot work a job right now that provides health insurance benefits, I rely on Lindsey for access. It’s true that I could get health insurance through an exchange, but the premiums and copays on those policies alone would bankrupt us considering how much my healthcare costs. I don’t feel entitled to anything except a representative of the Church being willing to help us strategize in a way that will allow us to be faithful and still have our lives legally connected in all the important ways. That’s really all I ask. And if no solutions exist, fine. But it seems to me that the Church ought to be advocating for solutions to issues of discrimination that disproportionately impact LGBTQ people. Regarding the comment on my college days from my “bad catholic” post that is linked in this one: yes, I’m in awe of just how closely the Holy Spirit sticks with us. That makes me all the more grateful for my baptism. I do believe that God is calling me to deepen my spiritual life, and I pray that I will always be able to say yes to his invitations. -Sarah

  5. Sarah & Lindsey,

    As you have mentioned pastoral counselling above, if someone in your situation needed to enter into a legal arrangement, including same sex marriage, to access health care or other necessities, that would not be against any Catholic doctrine. There is nothing in the vows made at a same sex marriage ceremony which is against any Catholic doctrine.

    God Bless

  6. Hi Sarah, prayed for you both during the incredible ordeal of the last months and wondered how you were so it is great to see you recovering, blogging, and courageously claiming so much joy in the midst of the profound challenges. Deepest congratulations and blessings on your proud Deaf identity, the new vocational possibility in audiology, and coming home to your beloved spiritual community in a place with such rich support from Catholic folks and communities (queer and otherwise).

    We moved across our state recently so I have been discerning which sacred art to keep and which to gift onward, and reading these last few posts makes me feel like one from a pivotal retreat five years ago may be just right for your and Lindsey’s domestic monastery. So if that sounds right to you please email me your snailmail address (laura@grimes.ws) and I will send it on. If not please know that I will also be offering an old fashioned “spiritual bouquet” of prayer practices for you both in the next week or so along with a Gaelic blessing:

    Deep peace of the running wave to you.
    Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
    Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
    Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
    Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
    Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
    Deep peace of Christ,
    of Christ the light of the world to you.
    Deep peace of Christ to you.

  7. As an atheist who has a family who are all Catholic I am grateful that my family like a majority of Catholics in the US believe the church is wrong on same sex marriage. They have been very supportive of my husband and my 28 year relationship. They voted to allow same sex marriage in MD and were there happily celebrating my wedding.

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