Homosexuality/My Relationships/Sex and Chastity/Teen Relationships Out of the Closet, Into the Confessional by AJ Santiago It took me 17 years to finally admit to someone that I am attracted to men, and it happened in the Sacrament of Confession at my first Steubenville Catholic Youth conference. When we got to the conference, I remember walking in and being blown away. The lights, the ambience, the big posters, and super cool flashing hashtag on the big screen: #SteubieWest #LifeTeen. It was honestly like a dream come true. I was just so energized by all of it. The night opened with worship and I awkwardly sang. It was the first time I had seen teens with their hands lifted in the air praising God. Sometimes, the music ministry would just let all of us sing and the music would go silent; it literally sounded like the voices of angels filling the air. It sounded so perfect. Hiding in Confession I made a decision to go to Confession that night. I only went because I wanted to get it over with and because it was a habit for me to go before any retreat. That first Confession lasted about five minutes. Little did I know that soon I was going to learn that I had been confessing wrong my whole life. The next day we heard a speaker from the television show America’s Next Top Model, Leah Darrow. Her conversion experience involved a coming home to God through the Sacrament of Confession. She said, “The priest told me to drop the first biggest sin and go from there. So I did it, I dropped my first biggest sin. I said everything I had ever done by name and it felt amazing.” I thought to myself, “I’ve been hiding behind my sins… I’ve been saying what I did wrong so indirectly and I’ve even left out sins at times, too. There are so many things I’ve done by myself and with others that I’ve never confessed because I was afraid.” So I went to Confession a second time. #ImBack #RoundTwo #DealWithItSatan “I’m Attracted to Men.” “Father, look,” I said. “I went to Confession yesterday and I just realized that I’ve been leaving stuff out of Confession for so long, things that have taken place since I was little and I’m ashamed of them. I know sins are forgiven if you innocently forget to mention them in Confession sometimes but I didn’t forget these, I just never said them and I need to say them now…” He told me to go ahead. I sat there, my hands cold and sweaty. A few minutes passed by and I said, “Father I’m sorry it’s just… it’s just this is so hard. I’m so embarrassed about what I’ve done and you’re not going to believe it.” He then said, “I’ve heard Confessions of prisoners in jail, I don’t think it can be that bad. God’s mercy is something so great and powerful. I’m not here to judge you.” “Okay” I said. I then told him I had sinned against purity. That I struggled with an attraction towards men. That I did lustful things with myself because I found myself attractive, and it was hard to not lust because what I was avoiding looking at was a part of my own body! I told him that I committed sexual sins with my male neighbor who was also the same age as me. I told him how I searched for sexual encounters over the Internet that would be anonymous. How I sent explicit pictures of myself to guys. I told him everything. And I told him how I was so sorry and felt so ashamed because I’ve held these secrets in for so long. I don’t exactly remember what he said after that, but I could see in his brown eyes that he looked at me with love and he said it was going to be okay. He told me about a powerful group of Catholic men in a ministry called Courage. This ministry was specifically for men who struggled with same-sex attraction whether they were publicly open about their attraction or not. He said to look into it because it would help me a lot. He then said, “I absolve you of your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Unstoppable Joy As I got up and began to leave, I had a smile I could not control force its way onto my face. I was so happy. My soul felt so clean, wiped away of all my offenses. That was the first time I had ever experienced the true and beautiful reality of the sacred Sacrament of Confession. This whole time I wondered why I kept fading away from the arms of God so quickly and it was because of mortal sins that I would purposely leave out of Confession. The grip of sin no longer had its heavy guilt weighing down on me anymore. My heart felt so free. That Confession was the first time I admitted out loud to anybody that I was attracted to guys. I was 17 years old, and all I knew was that I wanted to eliminate all sorts of sin out of my life after that, in particular lustful fantasies and addictions. As I returned to the conference, we began praise and worship. The lyrics to one song said, “Our God is greater Our God is stronger God you are higher than any other Our God is healer Awesome in power Our God, our God.” And it was at that moment I felt God began to massively move within my heart, He began to reach into the deepest parts of my heart and cut things out that didn’t belong there. Then the drums began to pick up the tempo, the beat got louder and louder, and my heart began to race. “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us, and if our God is with us then what can stand against?” As song progressed I began to cry. I tried so hard not to break down in the crowd of people around me, but God’s healing power was too strong for me to stand against… and it was at that moment I felt God tell me that He has been there since the beginning. He’s been there at the moment of my birth, He’s sorry I had to go through the bullying, through the pain of being made fun of and rejected, but He’s always been there, and although that I feel at times like the weight of the world is too much for me to bear, although I feel like nobody truly accepts me, I can do all things through Him. He’s been there, and always will be. He told me there’s no need to be afraid anymore. Like the song said, if our God is for us, then who or what can stand against us? No principality, no evil, no sin, nothing can ever stand against our God. God Wants Me Next, the priest for the weekend was giving a talk about the sacrificial love of Jesus. He said, “I don’t know if you struggle with lust, I don’t know if you struggle with pornography, I don’t know I if you struggle with masturbation, maybe you’ve had an abortion, maybe you struggle with same-sex attraction. I don’t know if you struggle with materialism, greed, or jealousy. Maybe you cut yourself so you can just feel something just because you feel so numb. The Lord sees all of that. He sees all that brokenness, and our sin doesn’t prevent Him from going to the cross, but our sin is the reason that He goes to the cross, and through it rises to new life. And so St. Paul says, ‘This is how God proves His love for us. And that while we were sinners, Christ still died for us.’” Later on he finally said, “And I want to tell you what love looks like. It’s a man’s face and he has a crown of thorns pushed down, and there’s blood coming down his face and He has one eye blacked out and His nerve endings are on fire because of the nails in his hands holing Him to wood. And if you were to make eye contact with Jesus at that point, what you would see in His face is that He’s satisfied. He’s satisfied, because He’s dying for you.” I sat back in my seat with glossy eyes staring at the crucifix up on stage. I was astounded. I had just admitted to a priest earlier that I was attracted to men, and I had just dropped all the weight of my sins onto Jesus arms for Him to wash away. The beauty of the crucifixion seeped into my heart… just to know that Jesus accepted this treatment, and was satisfied, it set my heart on fire. What a moving thing for somebody to do for me, to die for me. I was mesmerized by who Jesus Christ was, who He is, and who He will forever be. Putting My Pain in My Father’s Hands Soon after that, we prepped for Eucharistic Adoration. I had been in a Eucharistic Procession once before, but what was about to happen was something I did not expect. The priest walked out with the beautiful monstrance and altar servers in front of him in a procession. The smoke from the incense bathed the Eucharist and the area surrounding it. I saw, for the first time in my life, teens with their hands raised toward Jesus in the Eucharist. It looked absolutely beautiful. It looked like an ocean of people rising and falling as soon as Jesus came closer to them in the monstrance. I broke down crying again, and fell to my knees with my hands over my heart and released the pain of being called gay and being treated so harshly by my peers when I was kid. I let it flow right out. I let my tears run in front of my God, my sweet Jesus; the only Man who has ever seen every part of who I am, with the same-sex attraction, with the addictions, and with my genuine love for Him. The Messiah whom I desired so much of all fully present in the Eucharist. He made Himself known to me in a very real and powerful way that night, as He did for thousands of other teens too. After the conference was over the next day, I felt so renewed. I had never felt so whole in my life, ever. It was all because of Him. I had helped on numerous retreats, and saw many lives changed, but God used that weekend to tell me, “I’m not finished with you yet.” Editor’s Note: This blog is an excerpt from an upcoming book called, “In Pursuit: Confessions of a Gay, Catholic Teen,” available now at store.lifeteen.com and on Amazon Kindle.