Women of Christ Wednesday: Mary Cieslak

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Mary Katharine Cieslak is 22 year-old college grad who aspires to be a filmmaker, whatever that may mean in this ever-changing media landscape.

1) Tell me your “coming out” story.

I mean, my “coming out” story is still happening: I only just came out to my little sister last week!! That’s two out of eight people in my immediate family. Personally, I find people’s stories of coming out to themselves infinitely more fascinating. I think in cultures where it is dangerous to come out—and it is undeniable that Catholic culture is generally negative towards accepting anyone other than cisgender and heterosexual persons—there tends to be this self-repression of people within that culture. It took me 12 years to realize I was gay. I just compartmentalized all the little hints, the nagging doubts, and forced myself to forget. That’s just not healthy, and I think there’s also a danger that people will ultimately leave the faith altogether. Heck, it’s already happening, it’s been happening!!

2) What are your perspectives on SSA and being Catholic?

I really dislike the term “SSA” (same sex attraction). To me, it’s another way of disassociating queer people from that identity: “You’re not gay, you’re just a person with same sex attraction!” But you can’t discuss accepting your identity when it’s considered a tacked-on attribute, akin to having brown eyes or blonde hair. I admire how words and meanings matter very much in the Catholic Church, but here? It’s a conversation-halter. That shouldn’t be our goal. Catholicism isn’t a one-liner, so please, stop quoting Galatians 3:28 like you’re dropping the mic. Our faith is a constant dialogue between Scripture and Tradition. And a 2000+ year old conversation will not be nullified by people identifying as queer any more than people identifying by race, ethnicity, or nationality did.

3) How has coming out affected your life?
Well for one thing, a lot of personal questions were answered! But of course, many more took their place. It reminded me of how I felt immediately after I was confirmed in the faith: “Okay but, now what do I do?!?” In an unexpected but pleasant surprise, I do feel more sure in my body now that I recognize its intricacies better, even as I slowly, anxiously come out to people one-by-one. It’s become a journey of self-discovery, and I find myself getting excited each time the Church talks about this subject. More than anything, it’s has made me realize that my faith is happening, it is ever-present, and I must engage in dialogue with it! How could I not?

4) Who are your go-to saints?

Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes!! *laughs* But in all seriousness, my go-to is my namesake, the Virgin Mary; she is such a benevolent Queen, a comforting Mother in a time where I am afraid to come out to my own. And I’m intrigued by the various discussions of saints and Biblical figures who were queer. The tomboy in me has always loved St Joan of Arc, so even if the idea that she is transgender is unfounded, make her the patron saint of it. Right now there is no official patron saint of any queer or MOGII persons. Give us someone, please!!

5) What advice would you give to Catholics who identify as having SSA?

You are made in the Image and Likeness of God, and you are loved by the Creator who made you. Now that you have discovered this new part of yourself, you can embark on this spiritual journey! And you do not have to make that journey alone. There are more and more of us realizing and accepting God’s creation within us every day. Seek us out. You were made from Love; you were made to be loved. Just knock.

6) What would you say to adults who struggle to understand homosexuality?
I was once like you. I thought, love the sinner, hate the sin. But love is not manifested through disapproval and disregard. How uninspired, how lazy of the Church Militant to approach its vulnerable members in this way.
Listen to the people who come forward. Make a safe space for people who do not. You are eager to direct people to God and show his love, but you cannot welcome them with one arm wrapped around them, while the other pushes them away.
Do not assume that you are never in the company of queer persons. Many times my father has unwittingly belittled his lesbian daughter at the family dinner, while in fear I bit my tongue on the truth.
Be gracious to people who fall from grace. The amount of times I’ve come back to confession pleases my priest to no end. Because the Church was made not to condemn but to save. Continuously. Constantly. Limitlessly: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?”

 

The Laments of Liabilities in Discerning Religious Life

I’ve mentioned on here before that although I want to get to know what it’s like to be a nun more, I haven’t exactly been provided with opportunities to do so. I do have a wonderful nun who acts as my spiritual director, but she’s told me that pursuing religious life would be harder for me because I have more liabilities. What are my liabilities, you ask? Mainly the fact that I have autism and that I have a long list of food allergies. 

When I told a few orders about myself as part of the interview process for come-and-see events, they told me outright that I wouldn’t be considered as a potential sister. One order even said that I wasn’t qualified to go to the come-and-see retreat they were hosting.

I know everyone’s praying for an increase in vocations but it’s kind of hard when convents and monasteries feel more like a VIP nightclubs. I get that I’m socially awkward. I get that being in a convent is a completely different lifestyle change and for people with autism, the process of adjusting would take a long time. What really bugs me is that these people decided to slam the door before they even saw my face.

And I’m not the only one who faces this problem. More than a few young adults who identify themselves as under the LBGT+ spectrum also face rejections from religious orders just on the basis that they have same sex attraction. These Catholics could be living chaste lifestyles, but their sexual orientation becomes a liability instead of an opportunity to further understanding.

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I’m not asking for religious orders to be as open as Grand Central Station. Nor am I asking for them to give people who may not fit the usual mold any special treatment. I’m just asking to give those who seek to understand religious life a chance. Get to know all those who desire to be a nun, a monk, or a priest as individuals. What people call “liabilities” are still parts of our lives. And if there’s anything we know, it’s that God has a way of turning what the world sees as a liability into a strength. After all, love is an open door and besides that…

“Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Abraham was old,… and Lazarus was dead. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED!”