I was standing in a 24-hour laundromat the first time I knew I was going to quit my job. At the time, I worked as a Director of Religious Education and Youth Ministry and lived with the House of the Little Flower Catholic Worker Community. We had discovered a bed bug infestation earlier that evening, and as a community, we sprang into action. Some moved furniture and emptied rooms, others sprayed heavy chemicals and sprinkled desiccants in the corners of the rooms. My job was the laundry. In a community of nine adults, this was no easy feat. Our living room was a minefield of laundry bags- clothes, curtains, sheets, pillows. Every scrap of fabric had been emptied from bedrooms and stuffed into large black trash bags. I called my then-girlfriend to cancel our dinner plans. To my surprise, she insisted on meeting me at the Worker to help. We loaded up both of our cars and drove to a large 24-hour laundromat on the opposite side of town.
The previous weekend Carli told me she loved me. We were curled up together, my head buried in the crook of her shoulder, when she whispered the words gently through a smile she couldn’t seem to contain. I didn’t say it back; it was too soon. I wasn’t certain. I was afraid.
At the laundromat, we worked together to load the machines, left to right, along the back wall. No sooner had we reached the end of the long row, then we were ready to move the laundry from the first washer to the dryer, and finally from each dryer to a fresh trash bag.
Somewhere around 2am I glanced to my right and Carli was bent over, loading another dryer with the clothes of one of the guests at the worker. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a deep understanding and a deep sense of peace: Carli’s act of service to my community was an act of love, and I loved her. The second realization that followed was equally clear, but with a sharpness that almost took my breath away: I was going to quit my job. I knew instinctively that if I loved her then I would need to seek different employment so that we could live openly and honestly.
Our first experience of God is in family. Lumen Gentium, one of the texts from the Second Vatican Council described the family as the “domestic church” highlighting the family as the nexus of faith. In the same way that Catholics are called to be a light to the world, to spread the good news, the family is called to show the light of Christ to each other. My family too is a domestic church. When we serve dinner at the Worker, when we provide hospitality each month at Dignity mass, when we act generously toward each other at the end of a long day, when Carli prepares vegetarian meals for dinner every night even though she eats meat, we are sharing the light of Christ with each other and with our community.
I was recently honored to stand with Shelly Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who was placed on leave after someone turned in a copy of her marriage license. At a recent press conference, Shelly spoke of her love for the school that terminated her and her deep devotion to her faith. Shelly’s family is a domestic church too; to spend time with Shelly, Victoria and their daughter Sophie is to be witness to a holy family, bursting with light even in the most challenging days.
I am going to Panama for Shelly. I am going to Panama for Carla, my high school gym teacher who was fired after she listed her partner’s name in the parenthetical in her mother’s obituary. I am going to Panama for Sam, a dear friend whose advocacy for LGBTQI inclusion in the church led to his resignation from parish council. I am going to Panama for Carli, my beloved wife.
I am going to Panama because for too any years our light has been ignored, our quest for holiness dismissed, and our families have not been recognized.