Actress Maria Bello’s new book on sexual identity raises questions about the labels used for ourselves and others. In recent interviews, she also opened up about reclaiming her identity as a Catholic while remaining proudly in support of LGBT equality as a bisexual woman.
In her message to seek one’s truest self, she joins Catholic seekers across the ages on the ancient path to holiness.
One chapter in the book, Whatever…Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, is titled “Am I a Catholic?” Asked about this in an interview with GLAAD’s Claire Pires, Bello said:
“I didn’t think I could reclaim the label of Catholic even though I went to 16 years of Catholic school (and) my dearest friend at university was a Catholic priest. But then I remembered that it was really a faith based in love, really, at the end. I have seen, not only through this Pope, but through so many other supporters, more of an acceptance of every person and every orientation, whatever you do, whoever you are, so I’ve reclaimed that. I’ve reclaimed that.”
Religious belief itself is at an interesting juncture because many people are leaving the traditions in which they were raised, Bello noted. Because of her close relationship with an Augustinian priest while studying at Villanova University, Bello always had a lifeline to Catholicism, even during times when she questioned the tradition . Describing this priest as her “partner,” though not romantically involved, this mentor and friend helped her flourish in college and now in her reclaimed faith. In an interview with HuffPost Live, she explained the reclamation process this priest initiated years ago, which bore fruit only recently:
“He said to me one day, ‘The greatest thing you can do is to do what you love most and then you’ll be of service’…so I had to really think about this. I was thinking about what it meant to be Catholic and when I was sick, the first thing I did was reach for these rosary beads that he gave me and I started doing these rosary beads almost like a mantra. And so I started thinking ‘Am I Catholic? Can I be Catholic?’…I don’t believe in the doctrine of the church, much of it. I believe in marriage equality…
“And I woke up after writing this chapter and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to reclaim that label for myself.’ That’s my heritage, that’s the lens through which I see life and my faith…Anybody who has that spiritual connection based in love, I am a proud part of that group.”
Bello starred in such movies as A History of Violence, The Jane Austen Book Club, Coyote Ugly, and The Cooler, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination for supporting actress. She came out as bisexual in 2013, writing a widely-shared New York Times essay that explores the richness of family life today as members are able to be themselves more authentically. Her book’s title comes from 12-year-old son Jackson’s response when she informed him about her new partner, Clare, “Mom, love is love, whatever you are.”
This response is a hopeful indicator that younger generations are already living into a more just and inclusive future. Bello told HuffPost Live:
“Things shift and change, and its fluid. I think the younger generation is knowing that more, and excited about it. Its not static. Life just isn’t. And we need to create better labels to embrace who we are.”
Bello is hoping her book will inspire people to leave behind those labels restraining them in favor of those which make you the best you can be. In this quest to reveal the truest self, Bello is most Catholic and follows centuries of spiritual seekers who understand, in Thomas Merton’s words, that “To be a saint means to be myself.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry