Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
As a child growing up in Catholic school, I heard this song a lot. As it was hammered into me, day in and day out, I held the lyric as a foundation as my faith grew up around it. It started with pure and simple thinking about how God (the overarching name of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) would always love me. It seemed a very easy fact to put into my knowledge bank. God loves me, I get it Ms. Riley, now onto the next lesson. Subtraction seems to be a little hard--can’t we focus on that a little longer?
Some kids struggled with this lesson more than me.
Justin: But what if I am bad?
Ms. Riley: He loves you.
Nick: What if I am different?
Ms. Riley: He loves you.
To misquote a favorite novel of mine: God will love you in a box, with a fox, He will love you here AND there. He will love you ANYWHERE. It’s not that hard, people. There aren’t exceptions. No loopholes. God loves you.
As I got older, I got larger. This is a trend that I have seen with most people that was especially true for me. I was very overweight as a child and weighed roughly 300 pounds by middle school. I was different. Other people poked fun at me for being different, and for a while, I even disliked myself for my weight.
I would pray and pray that I would change. If I were thinner they would like me, and if they liked me, then maybe it would be okay for me to like myself. It wasn’t necessarily my weight that needed the change; it was my mindset. This is a lesson that I will never stop learning. Through this rough time when there was hardly any love to go around, there was still an abundance of love coming from a source that I saw as external from myself. God loves me. The lesson had been learned.
Catholics are a little weird. We do this thing once a week where we eat God. I didn’t really get it for a long time. What kind of God wants to be your meal? For a long time it felt surprisingly sacrilegious and cannibalistic to eat Someone who is in your image. To eat God is known as communion. As I grew in understanding, communion meant re-establishing “communication” with God. I knew that it was meant to connect me with God. I was taking part in a holy sacrament where God wanted to be part of me, and I a part of Him. God no longer only loved me externally, but now that He was a part of me, His love was internal. I could love myself for who I was, because God loved me and God was a part of me. Having God be part of me tasked me with trying to love people the way He loves people: unconditionally. This would be something that I would need to hold onto in the days ahead. (FUN FACT: God’s love was always inside me, but communion helped me see that in a way that I struggled with before.)
When I went off to college, I came out as gay. I think it is important to take a second to unwrap that expression: “I came out as gay”. Notice that I didn’t say that I turned gay, or that I renounced heterosexuality. What I said is that I came out as gay. I have been trying to think of a way to explain it and I think that the idea of being in the closet is a good example. When someone is “in the closet,” they do not change by merely stepping into a different room of the house; rather the person who has left the closet is able to be seen by a larger audience because they are no longer in a smaller area of the house. Coming out is letting people (including yourself) see a part of you. Hopefully, but sadly not always, this seeing leads to a place of acceptance. Luckily for me, I was able to come out in a mostly supportive environment. I knew that God made me, and furthermore that God was a part of me. He loved and knew me before I even knew what it meant to be gay. I may have been in the closet to my family. I may have even been in the closet to myself.
I was never in the closet to God.
I continued to go to church as I came out to my friends and family, because… well... why wouldn’t I? I won’t pretend that people were always kind to me or that the people at my church treated me just like everyone else. I wouldn’t “flaunt my sexuality,” but I also did not make efforts to hide it. When someone asked me about being gay while also being Catholic, they always made it sound like I had to choose. You can either be a circle or a square, not both. Which one are you, gay or Catholic? The solution was simple:
I am gay AND Catholic.
Fast forward: I graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology/neuroscience from Texas A&M University, then went to St. Edward’s University where I earned my master’s in counseling. I am now a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in the Austin area.
While in my master’s program, I attended a conference called the Contemporary Relationships Conference. At the conference, I discussed being gay and Catholic with a fellow attendee. I learned that there was an organization in Austin called the Human Empathy Project that brought Christians and the LGBT community together in a shared space. As a member of both groups, I was highly interested and later joined the organization. Today, I serve on the board of the Human Empathy Project.
Caleb Matthews, M.A. is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in couples and family issues, as well as LGBT issues. Caleb is currently the Board President/Secretary for the Human Empathy Project.