Today’s Gospel is about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-32) who demanded an inheritance from his father and squandered it all. When he found himself wishing he could eat what the pigs ate he came to his senses and went home where his father ran to him in welcome. As I teach this story to my catechism class, I bet they have felt like the Lost Son at some point in their life. But there was a time when I would have felt lucky to be a prodigal son.
I felt more like one of the pigs.
Our family had arguments that sometimes got physical, but Dad provided well, and I considered it a blessing that we were more stable than other families I knew. The twin pillars of our home were Church and country. As a boy I had a working relationship with Saint Anthony of Padua because I was always losing things. The kindly Portuguese priest in our small California desert town made Mass something to look forward to. I convinced my friends to join our parish softball team saying church could be fun. At World Youth Day I saw the Pope and met young people from so many countries who shared my faith. The world and my future opened before me.
Like all Kleist men, I wanted to start life in the service. I received a nomination to attend Annapolis but was disqualified because of a rare condition in my right eye. Just like that my future snapped shut. I rebelled against my folks and cut classes. I was sent to the Philippines, Mom’s home country, to live with her in-laws and finish my education at a Catholic school. I went from a dysfunctional homelife to an abusive one — in a Third World country. My aunt wasn’t feeding me or giving me clean clothes. I was being used a courier in her business, and I was missing school. She was not paying my tuition. She told me my parents had abandoned me. But sympathetic school officials alerted my parents just in time to keep me from being expelled.
School became my home, and I was attracted to the brothers who ran it. I felt called to the religious life and became an aspirant to the De La Salle institute. But I felt another attraction too: my classmates. I had a girlfriend before I left the States, but now I struggled with same-sex attraction. I fell into homosexuality. I was being used again and using others in return. My closest friends called me a hypocrite. And when I revealed my sexual sins to my vocational director he was non-condemning but said that it would be at least three years before I could become a brother.
This was the part where I felt like a pig. Was this my life? I couldn’t be a reverse Augustine.
I met an American priest who told me I could pursue a priestly vocation as well as my sexuality. He fed me compliments on my looks and intelligence. He said he would make me a bishop. But then I found out that he was no longer in communion with the Catholic Church and his superior had been excommunicated. Now my vocation looked truly hopeless. I visited a dear friend in Japan who had been a teacher in our school. We visited a Buddhist temple and I asked her: was this the only place I could find peace? She assured me my home was still in the Church.
When I returned to Manila I heard a homily on the Feast of John the Baptist (June 24, 2018) about all Christians being called to be saints. I got back into studying the Bible. I joined a church sponsored twelve-step program to deal with my sexual issues. I came home to the California to help Mom when Dad got sick. Before he died we were able to reconcile – much like I had forgiven my aunt before she died.
I stayed on in our parish in Hemet where I am discerning a vocation to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. My teacher friend from overseas, my Saint Monica figure, and I have talked about marriage and becoming lay missionaries together. But she promises to support me in either vocation.
I learned that “prodigal” means lavish or extravagant. Although I had once been overly extravagant with the time God gave me, I know now that the Father has lavished his forgiveness and love on me.
– Robert Joseph P. Kleist
The above is an honorable mention winner in the California Catholic Daily writing contest, Late have I loved Thee.
The remaining winners will be published Wed. – Fri. this week.