The Sacred Path

The Sacred Path

I said a few pages back that there are no atheists in foxholes and I believe that. I was born into a Catholic family that was split on the lines of faith and practice. I have several visions of God depending on the family member’s eyes I am looking through. Not everyone will agree with me that spirituality can play a positive role in the life of those who are suffering from any illness. Notice that I used the word “spirituality” and not “religion.”

Being a student of religion, have given me a perspective on many of the worlds religions and their views on homosexuality and the social aspect of disease in particular religious circles. I am not going to talk about specific religions, per se, but I will tell you about me and my spiritual journey over my lifetime.

I was raised in a Catholic house but like I have said, that vision of God changed in accordance to the person who was taking care of me. I chose to follow a certain belief and that belief is this. I was created by a God who loved me from the day I was born, and no man can take that belief away from me unless I let them.

I differ from my parent’s vision on many fronts, and I have built a good and stable faith life that has brought me thus far in my life, so I must believe that I am doing something right. Listening to the religious authorities of these times spewing words of Hate, Exclusion and Damnation has only steeled my resolve to push the envelope of politically correct adherence to religious teaching.

Coming to terms with my homosexuality took a long time, but I got through it, not before I walked away from the path of religion a few times. What I saw and heard in my life did not connect with what I believed as a young man. But each and every time I returned to the “path” there was always someone there to welcome me back. Contrary to popular belief, many of the Catholic priests that I have known in my life never turned me away from the practice of my religious faith.

As you read earlier I spent a year in a Catholic seminary, it was a truly wonderful year, albeit in the same breath it was a tough year. My faith was pushed to the extreme and my anger and resolve to stick to my guns was also tested. In the end I walked away from the “institution,” bent, angry and resentful at the establishment for attempting to force me to tow the party line and keep certain secrets in order to protect my fellow brothers and fathers, all I wanted was to be a simple priest doing God’ work in a community of the faithful. I never got there, and I never would, not in the capacity of the priesthood.

I kept those secrets for 10 years after my departure from the seminary, but there came a time when I told those secrets to my confessor/Pastor of the parish I belonged to; I could not carry that baggage any longer.

Over the years I have had my share of problems with addiction and the pin point accurate execution of major mistakes which have haunted me my entire life. In the back of my head, that spiritual part of my soul has always existed. Even during the times I chose to ignore it.

When I was diagnosed, I went through my share of arguments with God. When people started walking away and I find myself alone, I would cry and ask God why he would let this happen and why people were treating me this way? And wouldn’t you know it; I learned the lesson of “free will.” People have choices, we ALL have choices. And at the end of the day, we are entirely responsible for our own choices we make on a daily basis.

People will judge you and walk away from you, but God never abandons you. No matter what the religious authority or Christian preacher tells you.

For most of my adult life I have listened to preachers and religious authority tell me and my fellows that we do not have a place in God’s kingdom, that we are abominations in the eyes of God, and that we do not deserve to be loved by God because of the choices we have made in our lives, that being to be gay, and now that we are “positive” well, that is God’s punishment for sins committed.

Well, my life’s work, until the moment I take my last breath will be to refute all the men and women who have committed the greatest sin, by ignoring the “greatest commandment.” And that would be this:

In one of the most defining moments of his ministry, Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest. He answered, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all of your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39, NASB

How many religious men and women in today’s day and age have broken this commandment given to the church by Jesus himself? MANY!! But this is not a religious argument. It is a teaching about the importance of some form of spirituality to help you cope with where you are, in the hopes that you will find a path set especially for you to walk, with the desire for you to live, to thrive and to survive for many years to come.

Faith, in my opinion, is my greatest tool in fighting a disease that takes no prisoners, is merciless and unforgiving. If you don’t have some sort of faith, then you won’t have that fire that will always fuel your search for truth and gives you energy to fight.

God, in my opinion, has been emasculated and horribly misrepresented. My life is rooted in a religious tradition and a very broad belief system, but I practice a spiritual life today. When you look death in the face and you realize that it is looking back at you, you find ways to put distance between it and you, at any cost. I have spent the better part of 13 years searching for some spiritual truth in the many religions and practices from all over the world. I have cultivated my spiritual garden and I guard it with all the strength I have.

I was at a celebration of the life of Marguerite D’Youville last fall (2004) and I had invited the new Catholic Chaplain to the mass at the Mother House of the Grey Nun’s where my great aunt still resides and after that mass, I had spoken to him to advise him that my partner and I were to be married in the church space that is used as a Catholic mass on Sunday’s. Because I belong to a multi-faith chaplaincy at Concordia, Peter and I decided that that was where we wanted to be married in the winter of 2004. As we spoke the priest took one look at me and said the following

“That I practiced the fine art of subverting my faith, and changing the rules of religious teachings to justify the way I live my homosexual lifestyle.” He did not support our marriage because we were gay, and in the end the University backed us up along with many of my professors and advisors on campus.

Peter and I were married in the chapel on November the 20th 2004, much to the consternation of the Catholic Church and the priest who had been recently installed. I later decided to leave the chapel community. Over the last year I have reconsidered where my religious allegiance stands, the church, as an institution has fallen short of my respect, because of its hard line. As a gay man, watching religious authority exclude those of us who are different and mistreat those of us who are sick, just does not fall within my vision of God’s love and compassion. I have since decided that I would no longer tow the line or attend services in a church that has openly demonized people like us, with the hate and venom that makes God weep.

It is difficult to find the path to life, when so many religious man and women spend so much time preaching that we should just give up and die because God has abandoned us for our choices and with HIV we are suffering HIS punishment. Does that sound oddly familiar to you? How do you find the courage to fight and live, when some of the major religious authorities are telling you to give up!

There is no hope if you give up. If you loose the will to survive by caving to the pressures of society and religion you will surely die a lot sooner than you expected and too early in the life that you were meant to live. In some cases there are angels among the demons of religious authority, and finding them is something that I have spent the better part of my life seeking.

It is a well known fact that hope, faith, prayer and action are some of the pillars to successful living. Without Hope what is left, without faith, what is there left to believe in, without prayer how do you find inner peace, and with out action there is no forward movement on any front. You don’t have to make a decision to believe right now, but I encourage you to find a path to enlightenment because it will be your saving grace.

I have listened to many men and women who are on the spiritual path, and many of the things I hold sacred came from the great teachers we have on the spiritual stage of life. It has been proven that people who practice some form of spirituality live longer and better lives than those who do not. I can say that with total assurance.

In the first years of my diagnosis, people who prayed and knew that others were praying for them, lived longer than those people who had no spiritual belief system. Many of my friends, who gave up on the faith of their fathers lost the will to live, and all of them died within the first few years that I had been diagnosed.

In my life, I have to firmly state that I believe that If I had no faith, or belief in a God of my understanding or the fact that I walk a spiritual path, I would not be writing this book, and I would have died many years ago.

My doctor, who just happened to treat patient ZERO, the French Flight attendant, has been enlightened to think outside the box of scientific proof, and he now respects the fact “that faith has something to do with my continued success with the way we treat and dose my HIV.”

Not everyone who reads this will agree with me, and many have called me an arrogant religious zealot who only wants to push my way of spirituality on others. But I have to ask, I am still alive many years after many of my friends have died, what am I doing wrong?

HIV is a strange beast and not every strain is the same, and not everyone escapes the insanity of serious illness and pain, I guess I got lucky somehow. Many of my friends died miserable and horribly painful deaths at the hands of AIDS related opportunistic infections and cancers.

My belief in spiritual practice also keeps me mindful of my friends who are dead. It gives me the ability to keep them close to me, and in that closeness believe that someone up there is lobbying the universe on my behalf.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger they say. And if you are like me and you believe that there is something more after death, then those people are not far from us, are they.

A lot of my early coping skills came from the lessons of love and friendship. Watching your friends get sick, and eventually die, brings with it a certainty of what to expect. I guess I have spent the past 13 years bargaining with the Universe for just a “few more days” and I guess that prayer for “just one more day” is working for me. In my home town, the exhibition of the Names Project Aids Memorial Quilt was a yearly event, and sometimes more than once in a year’s time.

It was a reminder of the many lives lost to this disease, whether those people were gay or straight, or men, women and children. Everyone deserves to be remembered, and to this day all of the people I have lost are right here with me as I type. Spiritual practice began very simply for me, volunteering for education and condom distribution.

In my original HIV community in Ft. Lauderdale circa 1992-1995, we raised a ton of money for assistance and treatment for those who could not afford it. We cared for the sick. We cooked, cleaned and sometimes we just “listened.” And when all was said and done, we buried our dead with respect and dignity, something that the heterosexual community tried to take from us, because we had AIDS.

Spirituality begins when you decide to take a stance, and you find strength in a community of many, and you build a foundation that is solely yours, and combining that with those in your respective communities, gives one great strength to go on and fight for what is right and just in a world where doing the right and just thing does not always happen, sad to say.

– 16 –

Man gives Information but God gives Inspiration…

I’ll tell you a story about God and why I believe the way I do. Many years ago, during the “sickest” period of my HIV diseased life, I happened upon a little television show that brought me hope during some of the darkest times of my life. I tell this story every so often to illustrate why I believe God speaks to us in certain terms. My home parish back in
Miami is the most wonderfully blessed and sacred space that I have ever been in and had the privilege to grow up in as well.

The good thing about this parish is that they stuck behind me in prayer and support when the greater church at large was raging against the homosexual community. The Pastor of the parish was a sainted man – well – he IS a sainted man included with him are the men who ministered with him to more than 25,000 families and even more today.

The priests in that parish told me that as long as I showed up for mass and prayed that I would get everything that I needed. I went to mass weekly, I even started making mass daily which meant I got on the road at 6:30 to make the trek to the church via a train, 2 busses and a 45 minute walk from the thru-way to the church which was across the street from the high school I graduated from.

I went to mass every Sunday night and I was an altar person and a Eucharistic minister. I had my assigned hour every week praying before the Blessed Sacrament. We had a sacrament chapel in the church that was open 24 hours a day around the clock there was always someone praying before the “Blessed Sacrament.”

Over those years I went to mass our parish was the proving ground for new priests that were ordained. This is where I met my greatest mentor and my greatest critic. One Sunday I was standing in the church during the processional and a man came in on crutches to say mass. I knew then that God had spoken to me that night. I vowed never to back down from a challenge and I also vowed that unless I was dying that I would never complain about my lot ever again.

Fr. J had MS and was crippled, yet he suited up and he showed up and he said mass and the next day on that Monday morning I showed up for a morning mass and asked Fr. J to be my spiritual director. This journey lasted a few years. We talked and we prayed, I had reading to do each week and we discussed my progress along the way. I don’t have that kind of direction these days; it is hard to nail down holy men to a scheduled meeting. Anyways, I digress…

After Sunday Mass I would rush home for a little show I like to call my saving grace in very dark times. It was a little show of little acclaim, but it meant a great deal to me. Get ready for it, here it comes, a little show called “Touched by an Angel.” I longed to hear those words spoken every week in any circumstances – I knew that God was in my house each week saying words of hope in the form of angelic messages from Tess, Monica, Raphael, and Andrew.

“I’m an angel sent by God to tell you that God loves you and that he hears you!” No matter what the problem or the sickness or the tragedy there was always hope and a lesson from the almighty about social issues and problems in society. If a little show like this could move someone like to me Hope and to rely on the Lord, then it mattered to many more people than me. I believe that angels walk the earth and that God makes his presence known in ways we might not always see the forest for the trees. I know it may be hokey and simple, and TV is just TV, it has no value to life, I beg to differ. When I had no one to talk to or was alone for long periods of time, it gave me great comfort to know that at least God was listening to my prayers and that my prayers mattered.

I made some mistakes and I walked off the path because of my stupidity – and God, I think forgave me for that after all the faith I put in him, and I learned that lesson the hard way and that is enough of that thought.

I have a little “Touched by an Angel” calendar of quotes from the show that sit on my bedside table and I look at it every night. And thanks to the age of VCR’s and Syndication, I can get a double dose of TBAA every day here in Montreal. Everyone has an angel, because God loves us unconditionally, no matter what color our skin is, no matter who we are, or what ever life we live. God sees sin and pain and He sees just how the world is running, and it is up to us to make a difference, to bring hope to those who need it, to bring love to those who desire it, to bring comfort to the sick and to love each and every person in our lives. I have tried to uphold those tenets in my life, I believe in God because he believes in me.

I did not need a church to teach me about God’s love, because I knew that God loved me every morning that I woke up and I was still breathing. I have left the path on numerous occasions in my life, and I’ve been on a really good streak for the last seven years and I intend on keeping on. I listen to God, and I search for him and it is rarely that I don’t get a daily reminder that HE is watching over me, in one way or another.

I have a great posse of readers whom I love dearly for their support. I try to lead by example and I hope I have done well. I take time each morning and each night to “remember my spirit.” I am good to myself. And I am good to others as well. If you want to feel good about yourself, go out and do something for someone else without any expectations.

I get that opportunity each and every week on Tuesday’s to give back to my community, at my home group of AA. Ms. Nikki and I set up the meeting each and every week, and it has been that way every Tuesday now for the last four-plus years now I’ve been sober. Each chair I set down during setup is a prayer I offer for one particular person, so I meditate on each and every member that attends our meeting each week, and for every empty chair I pray for the one who will come and maybe sit in that chair. You just have to be there to understand this ritual.

Do I hear God, yes I do.
Do I listen for God, yes I do.
Do I talk to God, of course I do.

I love walking or hiking up the mountain because I hear God’s voice in the trees as the breeze blows through. I hear God every time the church bells ring. From where I live 17 stories above the city we are surrounded by fantastical, sacred churches. And each day those church bells ring at certain hours they call me to stop – get quiet – and I say a short prayer as the bells ring. At my home group in Westmount, they have mass each evening and at 6 p.m. they ring the Angelus bells, like clockwork. We set up and finish before six so that when the bells ring I can stand outside and say my Angelus prayers.

If we don’t take time out of our busy day to remember God and to connect to God, then what are we doing with our days? Where do we find inspiration and energy? How do we maintain a level of serenity to help us through the business of the day? Starting each day on ones knees before God is the way I start my day and doing a gratitude list at the end of the day is also a great way to end ones day. Remembering gratitude keeps me grounded and mindful of all that I have and all that I learned on that given day. Then I come here and I share it with my readers.

God grant me the serenity
to Accept the things I cannot change
the Courage to change the things I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference
Grant me Patience with things that take time
Appreciation for all the I have
Tolerance for those with different struggles
and the Strength to get up and try again
One day at a time