The Field Hospital

Footprint in the sand and the figure of a man cultivating Nordic walking

James’s conversion to the Catholic faith and the shedding of his old ways was a gradual journey, aided by the Catholics who befriended and welcomed him.
It took me a number of years to move from coming out as gay in my late teens, through a season of promiscuity, before settling into a committed gay relationship as a young adult. It was only once my search for Mr Right had ended that another search slowly began to rise within me. I never expected it to lead me to the heart of God in the way that it did.

There I was, happily settled with my boyfriend, and at the same time being drawn into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It was totally unexpected.

As I began to pray and read scripture, Jesus gradually became my primary focus. As his love filled my heart day-by-day and month-by-month, my hunger to know him better intensified.
I reached a point where I had to choose; the life I was leading just wasn’t compatible with my growing faith.
And so I chose my Lord.
Over the next few years, I deepened my prayer life and attended prayer gatherings with other young Catholics. I’d been raised Protestant and so I was suspicious of many practices of the Catholic Church. Imagine my surprise as I gradually encountered Jesus’ presence in the Rosary, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and at Mass. My heart started to yearn for the Sacraments in such a way that I couldn’t wait any longer.

When I was received into the Catholic Church, I knew that I had finally come home, and man, it felt good!
During this time, I also underwent counselling to process the events of my past including my experience of sexual abuse when I was a child. The healing continues as I now work helping others who are sexually broken to find truth in their lives and learn how to receive God’s unconditional love. It is a long, slow journey for every one of us who dares to embark upon this quest across uncharted territory.

For the wounded heart, accepting love, truly trusting it and believing in it, is a monumental task that doesn’t happen easily or quickly. My journey towards wholeness, and holiness, is a gradual process over decades. If someone had said to me years previously that I would have given up my ‘dream’ boyfriend and left behind the gay community to find Jesus in all his fullness in the Catholic Church, I would have thought they were crazy.

I am so grateful to those who loved me into faith and into health, even as I was living in ways they must have found abhorrent. They were my ‘field hospital’, as Pope Francis calls it, the ones who accompanied me into life in Christ.

Many people today tell me that they would not know how to accompany others as they go about examining aspects of their sexual attraction. But all it takes are small gestures of unconditional love from as wide a group of different individuals as possible to help those questioning realise that they too are part of an imperfect common humanity seeking out truth and light.

So 20 years on, is my life perfect? No, it’s not. It’s complicated and at times painfully hard. My story now includes marriage to an Aussie lady, fatherhood and most recently divorce. As I continue to walk with survivors of sexual abuse and same-sex attracted men I am grateful to those who walk with me in my own journey.

Brothers in Arms

In my support groups for men with same-sex attraction, I often get requests to join from heterosexual men. These brotherhood groups provide encouragement and allow members to be open about their sexual struggles.
Although the expression of sexual confusion is different for same-sex attracted and other-sex attracted men, we all share in the same struggle. It’s not uncommon for some of the gay men to comment quietly to me “I thought I had problems, these heteroes are just as messed up!”
And really, isn’t that true of us all to some extent? We all struggle to live our sexuality authentically.
It’s not about sexual orientation or gender identity but about how we process the internal wounds that are preventing us from fully embracing the manhood God gives us.
Of course the same applies to women. We all have a preferred way of avoiding intense emotions and painful truths in our lives. To walk with each other, offering encouragement and acceptance in the midst of our many messes, is truly the work of love. We all need this, even those among us who appear to have it so confidently together.

Preserve in faith

I can guarantee one thing: if you persevere, beyond every valley to plumb and mountain to climb you’ll find glimpses of new life that brings profound relief and restoration to traumatised hearts.  – James Parker

James Parker was a gay activist in London as a young adult. He was received into the Catholic Church in his mid-twenties and has since worked in and for the Church in Britain and Rome. He now calls Australia home.

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