Leaving the Church for Love

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As a man who was once a celibate priest, I never expected to fall in love, much less to become involved in an intimate relationship that dishonored my promises and offended the Church, but that is exactly what happened. Despite the fact that I was in love with the ministry God had called me to, at a deeply personal level I had been struggling for many years with the feeling that I was missing something at the very core of the human experience: love and intimacy with another human being.

During my twenty-two years as a seminarian and Roman Catholic priest, I served several parishes, most recently at St. Francis de Sales on Miami Beach, right in the midst of the noise and nightlife of what is popularly known as South Beach. For years I was called "Father Oprah" by members of the media, because of my work hosting several Spanish-language talk shows and radio programs broadcast worldwide. In addition to parish work, I served as president and general director of Radio Paz and Radio Peace and wrote a syndicated newspaper advice column called "Padre Alberto: Advice from a Friend," as well as a book called Real Life, Real Love — 7 Paths to a Strong & Lasting Relationship.

I was fortunate to find good friends everywhere I went, from members of my parish to those of other denominations and religions around the world, as well as with countless celebrities and media personalities. Yet, despite my passion for spreading the love of God throughout the world and the deep satisfaction I found in my work, I often felt an inexplicable void within me.

In my capacity as a talk show host and advice columnist, I heard from many people who felt frustrated because they were having a hard time finding love in their lives. They would often ask, "Father, how do I find someone I can truly love and spend my life with?"

After listening to so many people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, I knew full well that, even though love is the greatest power in the world, it is also the most misunderstood. Love is not something we can calculate or actively look for, but something that often surprises us. Nobody really plans love. We call it "falling in love" because truly loving someone else requires you to let go and actually fall into the embrace of another.

Eventually, like that captain at sea, I lowered my bucket one day and discovered that the love I always thought was beyond my reach had, in fact, come into my life. Love can truly come when you least expect it, and in the most surprising ways.

This book is the story of my struggle to accept that love in my own life. On one level, it is a story about the Roman Catholic Church, the people who serve it, and the dilemmas they face when they try to reconcile their powerful love of God with their very natural desires to love another human being. This dilemma cannot be reduced to the basic fight between good and evil, because it isn't just about breaking a promise to the Church or committing a sin. It is more about the very real emotions and complex struggles experienced by those serving the Church as they try to do what God expects, what the institutional Church expects, and what others expect from them — no matter how unrealistic those expectations may be.

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