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My faith has been strengthened by being my true self, despite the church and society's rejection of LGBT+ people
Sister Janet Rozzano, RSM, is a contributor to a new anthology, Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious, published by New Ways Ministry
Understanding and accepting myself as a lesbian woman in a community of nuns, or religious sisters, stretches over more than 40 years; indeed, it stretches over the more than 80 years of my life! As it has unfolded, my story has been filled with both struggles and joys.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s and 25 years in a religious community of sisters that I began to deal with and integrate my sexual identity. During those years I struggled with a church and society largely silent about and often unwelcoming of LGBT+ people. I struggled to overcome my own fears – of disapproval, rejection, internalised homophobia – if I told others I was lesbian.
I struggled to find resources to help me understand better what I was experiencing: books and articles on the subject, other lesbian sisters or anyone with whom I felt comfortable enough to discuss these fears. I struggled with uncertainty and anxiety about what might be expected of me if I became more public about my sexual identity. Would I be an embarrassment to my community? Would they want me to keep quiet about this aspect of my life?
The joys and blessings that have been a part of my story, however, are much more important than the areas of struggle. In this whole process of coming to understand and accept myself as a lesbian sister, I believe I have been powerfully touched by grace.
In the Gospel (Luke 15: 8-10), Jesus tells a parable about a woman who found her lost coin, and who rejoices greatly at this recovery. I, too, am eager to celebrate, not once but many times over, the recovery of my identity through the action and presence of God in my life. I view this gift as an immensely valued lost coin. Each new step of my journey is a sacramental reality, a sign that marks and celebrates again the life and wholeness Jesus came to reveal for all.
As a woman of faith, I am invited to set aside my personal fears and to discern very consciously what the Holy Spirit might be asking of me.
Having experienced the pain of the Church’s or society’s rejection of LGBT+ people, I feel continually called to be true to myself in the midst of this oppression. My faith has been strengthened by so many of the liturgies I have attended with gay and lesbian people. When I pray with them, I hear the liberating message of the Gospel in powerful and living ways that I don’t always hear in other settings.
With each new step on this journey over the years, I have felt strengthened and encouraged by the affirmation and support of so many of my sisters. Their response is a source of great pride for me, as well as a very precious gift. The Spirit has led me in ways that sometimes feel so unorthodox, that confound my natural reticence, and that demand risks and a courage I never dreamed I possessed.
Yet I have a strong sense that what I am doing is in the best tradition of my community, the Sisters of Mercy. Our foundress, Mother Catherine McAuley, would understand and bless my journey. She always urged the community to reach out and embrace those most in need with compassion and practical help, to open the door to the marginalised and outsiders, and to follow Jesus’s example of abundant love for all people.
Thus, I am most a Sister of Mercy when I continue to respond to the call to affirm and celebrate my lesbian identity and the LGBT+ people with whom I have journeyed.