Saturday, August 4, 2012

Opening up: A Jesuit and his Mentor

From: Renita*

Date: Thu, Aug 2, 2012

Subject: Letter

To: Andy Silveira

Dear Andy,

I thought about you today, a lot. Quite apart from the fact that I've been meaning to get in touch and ask how you were. And now I'm about to bore you to tears, so is might be a good time to stop reading what may turn out to be a pretty long message.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my students came to talk to me. He's a novice sent here to do his science undergrad. We got to talking, and for the first time I saw among my students a Jesuit who wasn't afraid to ask questions, who reads and thinks for himself. You get the picture. So I did what we do in the English department here with people who want to talk. I took him out for coffee.

He talked. A lot. About growing up, becoming a Jesuit, falling in love and not being certain about being a Jesuit. A lot. Mailed me after to tell me it was the first time in two years here that he could talk to someone. So I told him anytime he needs someone to talk to he should feel free. Which he did. So feminism happened at some point, and race, and sexuality. Which is when he asked me, over an email, if I was gay.

I met him today, a couple of hours ago. Wasn't sure whether to tell him or not and then he brought it up again. And somehow I felt I wasn't comfortable with the dishonesty of not telling him, though I couldn't see what difference it would make. So I told him.

It was one of the saddest things I've ever done. Suddenly, this human being, who seemed perfectly comfortable around me, turned to me with a mixture of disappointment and pity and told me 'but you can't be, you're too good to be that.' So I asked him what he meant. He meant I seemed like such a nice person, intelligent, could talk philosophy, could talk oppressive systems, and here I was, betraying it all by being gay. So I asked him why it was a betrayal, why it was a bad thing. And he replied with the view of the Catholic Church on it. Same person willing to otherwise question imposed views, same person willing to risk disobedience, now tells me that for normal people it's easy to disagree. But a Jesuit knows that the church takes these issues seriously, considers all the social implications, and therefore whatever decisions it arrives at are final and they're good enough for him.

I sat there feeling bad for him. I could see that he wanted to continue liking me, being comfortable with me, but the knowledge of my being lesbian was hanging between us, giving him a look of unadulterated misery. So I did the only thing I could do. Told him to think things through and make up his mind for himself what he thinks.

And now I reached home and I don't know what I feel. I spent an hour there trying to figure out how to make it easier for him, but what I feel is something I didn't have time for. What words do you use to describe what you feel when someone looks at you with pity, as if you are genetically deformed? I mean, my dad told me it was abominable, it was a disease, and nobody in my family had it, so I couldn't either. And that made me angry. It was easy. This makes me infinitely sad and something else. I don't know what. Like having swallowed a ball of fur and feeling it in the pit of my stomach.

Why am I telling you this? Cause I don't have the need to juggle faith and sexual identity, mine or anyone else's. It's easy, cause what I believe in is freedom and trying really hard not to hurt people. I can't begin to imagine what it's like trying to reconcile gayness with god, for someone who for twenty five years has been secure in the belief that they won't ever need to.

I'm sorry I made this so long. If you've reached this far, thank you. Hugely.

Be well,


From: Andy Silveira

Date: Fri, Aug 3, 2012

Subject: Re: Letter

To: Renita


I can only imagine what you might be feeling. However, I'm sure that the current discomfort that both of you are experiencing is a growing experience. You'd be feeling angry and hurt because the response you anticipated backfired. And he'd be feeling angry and hurt because you were exactly what he didn't want you to be. (An avatar of Beelzebub in human form!) But, I'm sure for a guy like him, what you told him was exactly what he needed. You struck the right chord by opening up yourself to him and challenging him to take his own stance.

People of faith often regard themselves as self-righteous which is bolstered through their relationship with "their" immaculate, omniscient god. And by this equation, those who do not share a similar relationship with "their" god only evoke pity or, at best, their concern.  A person who is grounded in faith may not call into question anything that threatens her belief. Questioning her faith, which she has been constantly absorbing since childhood is a process. And being ready to position herself against the echoes of her church’s teachings involves risking her comfort zone of familiarity and apparent security.

And more so, for someone like this young Jesuit, who has decided to live his entire life by the dictates of his faith. For him to reconcile your sexuality with his god, would also involve rethinking his own sexuality which he has assumed as given. And this might open unforeseen possibilities for him which, at this moment, he might not be prepared for. Also, you have challenged the horizons of the Others in his life whom he considers worthy of his recognition. This would involve making changes within his personal world. What you have shared has made him realize that there are fissures within the foundations of his own belief. I believe it will take time for him to sort this out. A week, month/s or perhaps years! However, I do hope it'd happen soon. And even if it doesn't happen, I sure that this experience would make him realize the limits of his fragile belief system.

Renita, you should be feeling shamelessly wonderful about yourself. Without this Jesuit knowing it, you have been an angel in his life. A messenger of hope and promise. You have challenged him with an invitation which he would either have to accept or deny. Irrespective of what he decides, you should consider yourself fortunate, because at some level, by making yourself vulnerable to him, you have grown stronger and, hopefully, wiser in understanding the way people act and react.

Thank you so much for sharing this experience with me. And you don’t have to be apologetic for sharing this. This is your own story, your own reality, which is infinitely more arresting than the ideal possible lives that we seek.



* Name changed in order to protect the identity of the persons involved. 


  1. Powerful stuff, Andy. You should keep blogging :)

  2. Andy,

    Really nice to see how people are sharing their with you here.Perhaps one day I will share my own as well ;)


    1. Vijay, thanks for your response. I'm looking forward to the day when you'd share your experience.