Back in 2017, I was worried about moving to San Francisco. It’s a city at the center of American gay culture and history, and at the time I had not yet found where I fit therein. Because of its rainbowed history, the city is thought of by many conservative Christians as a center of vice and spiritual dangers. That image of the city informed my worries about what life would be like there for me.
That view of the city, however, was borne from a lack of spiritual maturity and caused me to live in constant fear of how things might turn out. I was afraid of walking through the Castro District, of making other gay friends, and even of the others’ opinions concerning my faith. So I thought I’d rather take the least risk possible in my interactions. This outlook on life proved untenable and left me in a state of loneliness and disappointment.
It was through reaching out to Catholics with more insight than me that I was able to break out of that rough period in my life.
Back in college, I remember watching the short film “Desire of Everlasting Hills,” a documentary film about the stories of three queer Catholics and their encounter with Jesus. Out of all the stories, I was most curious about that of Paul Darrow, who still lived with his long-time male partner at the time of the filming. I was used to avoiding relationships with other gay men, mostly because of fear and a lack of institutional support in the Church.
But here was this man, happy to be Catholic and loving his partner in a new way, no longer sexual and respecting his commitment to the Church. There was also the love that his partner had for him, and there remains a great opportunity for hearing more of his partner’s journey as well.
Color me surprised when I found out after moving to the Bay that Paul and I have mutual friends. As a result, I was able to connect with him and ask a ton of questions. I left the conversations knowing that he had a deep peace with being so open and honest with his own story. His truthful look at his life showed me an example of what humility looks like. St. Thomas Aquinas describes that virtue in this manner:
“Truly, the virtue of humility consists in this, that one keep himself within his own limits; he does not stretch himself to what is above him, but he subjects himself to his superior.”
—“Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4: Salvation”
Paul’s willingness to be so honest inspired me to let go of the fear that prevented me from being honest about myself. From that moment on, I was able to see a significant improvement in my own spiritual maturity.
If I’m being honest, I am—among other things—a gay Catholic simply committed to practicing the faith. I had to grow up and live up to the faith with that reality in mind. This divine institution is true, regardless of my fears of walking in a gay neighborhood, having gay friends, and definitely no matter what the opinions of others might be.
In the years since I first started leaning into my true self, it turns out that I’ve grown spiritually by leaps and bounds. Rather than focusing on risk avoidance out of fear, humbly setting virtue at the forefront of my actions has proven better for a rightly ordered spiritual life. It’s also caused me to see and know others with compassion.
“...true humility requires us to live in truth with our gaze placed outside ourselves. False humility denies my gifts; true humility refers all my gifts to God and makes me grateful. It also recognizes all my limitations with self-compassion, and it becomes the virtue of constant growth, self-improvement and gazing at others with compassion.”
—“Two Standards: Stepping Out in Humility,” Fr. Pepe Ruiz, SJ
How much strife in public life is caused by the lack of true humility? How many of us are looking at things as they really are? Much like my friend Paul, when we practice the virtue of humility, we make way for people after us to be grateful for their gifts and honest about their limitations.
If we put this virtue at the center of our way of life, it will break through our fears and set us on a path to true glory.
Stephen Staten is a co-founder of and writer for BCM. A Black Catholic in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Knight of Peter Claver, he is active in music ministry and local Catholic action for racial justice. He is also Claudio Monteverdi's #1 fan.