Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Our Pope has asked all of us to be inclusive. It is sometimes a struggle to do so. In this book we see the struggle of a gay Jesuit priest to be accepted by the priesthood in his gayness. This book tells us about his struggle and the decision to leave the Jesuits since he could not reveal to all that he was a gay man.
Brenkert reveals his time growing up as a gay Catholic. He feels/thinks that he was with Jesus even in his suffering that he was with Jesus during his own disappointment, darkness and diminishment in the face of rejection by his family and his Church. What if priests could identify their sexuality? No, during the 1980’s and 1990’s were a time when the Roman Catholic Church on Long Island had a great impact on Benjamin. Soon he sought to serve God as a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, all for the Greater Glory of God.
In truth, the Church does not want gay men to apply for the priesthood. There are religious orders who ignore such contrivances; for Benjamin this was the promise the Jesuits made at least he thought so. The commitment of the Jesuits to social justice differentiates their priests and brothers from the more well-known diocesan Roman Catholic priest, but the commitment is neither valid nor reliable. Brenkert came from a middle class family, his parents were in their forties and fifties when he was born. The one place Benjamin sought comfort was a place he visited regularly, the Church, At home in the privacy of his room, he’d pray to Jesus and would come to have a very different personal relationship with his faith than with his family.
Benjamin’s love for Jesus started in this way and his faith developed along those lines. As he met more and more Jesuits he grew confident that in this order, as a gay Catholic that he could pursue God’s will for himself. He felt rekindled by what He called the pre-corporate Society of Jesus, a Society of Jesus much closer to her roots than that of the Society today, a Society of Jesus much more in touch with humanity, one that lived closer to the poor, one that more easily confronted the Catholic hierarchy, A Society of Jesus before I-phones and Facebook and the Jesuit Post. This was the Society of Jesus Benjamin entered at age 25.
In college there were certain classes he would take in part to fulfill his remaining requirements as a double major in American Studies and History. As he became editor of the newspaper, he was charged with leading the Opinion Section. He promoted multiculturalism and pluralism; he challenged the whiteness of Marist’s campus, its xenophobia, its heteronormativity and heterosexism. Even though He was still closeted, he wanted Marist, he wanted the Church, and he wanted the world to become a far better place for LGBTQ youth, the people behind him. He longed for parents to let their LGBTQ children to pursue their dreams, to become anything, from a ballet dancer, to a member of the US Military to a Roman Catholic priest. His attachment to his Church and to the desire to be a priest was growing stronger. He saw the Church and the sacramental nature of the priesthood as a means to inclusivity, to helping the LGBTQ nature of the priesthood as a means to inclusivity, to helping the LGBTQ community become full members of society, a society well before marriage equality, or the free markets embrace of secularity and gender equality and civil rights for LGBTQ people. For two and a half years he grew to know Jesuit community life and vowed life in action; he went to every Jesuit Community in New York, meeting many less known Jesuits, even some outcasts. What haunted his dreams was the voice of LGBTQ youth so negatively affected by anti-gay theology and anti-gay rhetoric. He remembered his own rejection by his family and by his Church. Not every LGBTQ person can be celibate, nor is every LGBTQ person called to celibacy by God He desired to confront dogmatism and domination, patriarchy and power.
He entered psychotherapy with a goal in mind, to seek treatment for interpersonal conflicts, which he discerned resulted from a lack of insight into the chaotic institution he worked in. He went into treatment because he couldn’t be openly gay at his job. After sometime in therapy, he had matured in his thinking and rejected such overtures outright. Through therapy he grew the confidence to tell of his sexuality. Benjamin felt freer than ever before to see and to hear God’s will for him reflected back to him in prayer, in the face of struggles, smiling friends, dreaming students; in the Sacraments and in and through God’s intimacy and initiative with him. Being a Jesuit priest for Benjamin is about making choices in Christ, and for Benjamin the Jesuit priesthood in service of God’s people fuses with the narratives of other people’s lives and experiences along the road.
This is a thoughtful and caring book that has as its purpose the ongoing liberation of those in the LGBTQ group who feel oppressed. When you finish it, pass it on to another.