In a world where controversial ‘Hot Topics’ are abuzz, Brian Gawlak finds the teachable moments in trending issues.
I am not Catholic, but I have a very strong connection to and opinion of Catholicism. I have remained open-minded in my pigeonholed opinions of the Catholic Church since becoming a father.
In an historic visit to the White House yesterday, Pope Francis was met with almost royal/rock star treatment. I watched the news as they reported on the thousands of people who showed up just to catch a glimpse of him in the Popemobile. I was truly taken aback by how much these people were affected by this man. Some people waited for hours just to catch a glimpse of him. I don’t know that I ever experienced anything on par with the crowd’s reaction and response to the Pope.
My father told me he realized he was gay when he was five-years-old. When my father was 16, his step-father realized my father was gay, and threw him down a flight of stairs for being “a queer who’s going to hell!” My father could never tell that story without tears in his eyes. Dad ran away and joined the military, lying about his age, and became a medic in the Vietnam War. He was a decorated Veteran and a true hero who ran out in streams of bullets to literally lift the bodies of his wounded comrades and nursed them back to health.
My father lived across the country for most of my life, but in his final year he moved to Connecticut where my siblings and I lived. We rallied around my father when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. In his final months, my father discussed “going to hell” out of fear that his family may have been correct. Connecticut was one of the first states to allow same-sex marriage, and we were determined to help our father marry his partner of over twenty years before he died. Sadly, he passed two days before his planned wedding. He did not go to hell.
My wife was raised in a Catholic household. I had been baptized and confirmed Methodist. My wife became disenfranchised with the Catholic Church after the sex abuse scandals and her adult understanding of the church’s position on women and those in the LGBTQ community. We were married in a restaurant by a justice-of-the-peace-rabbi-minister who agreed to include “Jesus Christ” and “God” in our service. The Catholic family members (on both sides) in attendance praised our ceremony as “the most beautiful wedding ceremony” they had ever been to. Our daughter was born six months later to boot and everyone in attendance knew we were pregnant! My wife and I had written our own vows and we included all religions and God in our union.
The plan was to continue that mode of thinking in how we would raise our children – to teach them spirituality and about God, but in a less structured more inclusive way than any traditional organized religion.
A dear friend of ours had married her high school sweetheart of 15 years, and upon getting married (when everything heightens for anyone who gets married), they discovered they were not a match. They separated and divorced. Soon after, she met her soul mate and wanted to marry him, also Catholic, but could not in a “recognized” way. She was faced with the choice to annul her marriage, and “pretend” it did not happen, or never be able to fully promise and experience nuptials with her soul mate. Her ex refused to allow the marriage to be annulled. Our friend married in the same restaurant where my wife and I married, and it was an equally beautiful ceremony.
We took this learning moment and decided to baptize our daughter as a Catholic, as we did not ever want her to find herself in our friend’s predicament. We found a church willing to baptize her without me converting. I had to attend “Catholic classes” or whatever they were called. I said, “Amen,” and confessed that my daughter saying, “Daddy” was the highlight of my life. We passed! WIN! All three of my girls will have the option to practice Catholicism, to marry Catholics without having to go through any hoops, and to make their own choices for their own beliefs.
We teach our children faith, spirituality, and God. I confess publically to explaining religion to them in “Lucasian theory” – yes, the force from “Star Wars.” George Lucas nailed the concept of God – at least, that is how I interpret “the force.” We all interpret God differently, but God still surrounds us, binds us, connects us. Much to my surprise, Pope Francis has basically been saying the same thing.
Human rights and equality for all people are central themes for me, not only in my work, but in what I hope to instill in my daughters. Pope Francis has opened my mind and has inspired me to revisit a religion I have always dismissed as archaic. I still disagree with many of the beliefs that are promoted in the Catholic Church, but I see change – however slow – is happening.
I watched the Pope address congress today and I was in awe at his progressive thinking (click here for link). I watched the reactions of the leaders of our country and it occurred to me, “Perhaps!” Perhaps if someone like the Pope, whose position is steeped in thousands of years of tradition, can not only sense but also promote change, change can occur. Perhaps, if the reactions of both Republicans and Democrats were genuine and they truly heard him, change can occur. Or, perhaps I’m an eternal optimist who always sees light even in the darkest hours.
I don’t know what the future will be like for my daughters and their daughters, but if even the Pope can think progressively? Times they are changing, and hope springs eternal.
Photo: flickr/Republic of Korea