– Naked and Sacred –
As a young child I have fond memories of old churches and polished pews and candles flickering in dark corners of the building, statues of saintly persons who looked out over the congregational spaces and the dark corner grottos making sure we knew that they were watching over us and praying in tandem with the many who came to find peace, solace and faith within those walls.
I remember that day that my Memere took me to that grand church all alone, just her and I and God. It was an afternoon event; she brought me here for mass on a regular basis. These were the days of the old missal books and rosaries, women wearing lace over their faces, it was an ethnic parish church attended by many from ethnic communities all around.
On that day she took me to the church, she had a purpose. I remember this as if it was yesterday because, in my minds eye, this was very important to her. We went to light some candles and leave our offering in that little tin box attached to the candle display, we sat in quiet supplication and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and we lingered to hear the voice of God speak to us. I am sure that Memere and God had brokered an agreement over me.
After a while she got up from her place and she gathered me to herself and we walked to the edge of the banister that protected the main altar from people walking up on the dais. The banister was open, as if to welcome us to step up there – so with great pride Memere walked me ahead of her until I was standing on the dais before God. I must admit there were no words that were spoken to me; this is where the agreement must have been made. Memere looked up that the altar, then at her favourite statue and then beckoned God to look down upon us and take us into His arms and protect us. In that moment I believe I had been “consecrated” to Christ and to God and the Blessed Mother, not to mention Marguerite D’ Youville. (This will be explained later in the timeline)
Memere had a “tight” relationship with God. Her homes were shrines to the family that had gone before us, to the saints who protected us, and the God who gave us life. I always felt naked before God in her house. As if God sat with us daily and saw us for whom we really were simple God fearing folk. I never for one moment feared God. There was nothing I could not say to Him nor ask of Him, but I also knew that there were things one just did not ask of God, because greed and excess were not part of Memere’s lexicon.
I learned to pray the rosary as a young boy, we went to mass frequently. I don’t know if my mother and father were aware that I had so much “sacred time” in my early life. I am sure she knew that if I was with Memere that I would go where she went and I would love her for taking me and I would love the adventure of going to see God all the time.
The church of old is not the church of now, unless of course you live in Montreal and have living “great” relatives who live in a convent not far from home.
Being the first of two children in a family firmly grounded in the late 1960’s brought a lot of opportunities to me as that first child. I had three years on my brother. Three years are a big deal. I had the adoration of the matriarch’s of the family; I had three years of unadulterated wisdom taught to me over time. My time was my own; there was no one to deflect that attention away from me, which endeared me to the hearts of the women of the family. But secrets existed, secrets that would one day turn my life upside down.
My father was an abusive man; he came back from Viet Nam with major issues. I was born out of the man who came back from war, damaged and lost. He took a wife of Canadian blood, gave her an ultimatum and got her pregnant. I was there at the wedding, my mother carrying me in her womb, walked down the aisle that day and agreed to bear his children and live by his rules and regulations. My father, the racist, bigot that he was wanted to force a continental divide to rise from the ground to separate that which made my mother who she was and force her to become the woman he required.
That divide never rose, and my father’s resentment of the maternal “nursery” that I entered as a child began. I guess this is why I am so maternal, because all the men in the family were war shaken and damaged. They worked all the time in business, in the fields and in factories. It was up to the women to rear the children into the people we were to become. My father’s resentment of my presence was well known. Later in my life I would be told of the fact that my father wanted to kill me, that I was a mistake and should never have been born. He tried many times to snuff my light out as quick as he could. The one thing that he did not expect was the backlash that came in the form of vociferous rebukes by the matriarch’s of the family, hence my “consecration to God.” If I was consecrated to the Almighty, then my father’s plan for ending my life would never come to fruition.
I remember being chased through houses by drunk men in my life, I remember my grandmothers standing in doorways between me huddling beneath a bed, hiding for my life, and my drunk and angry father fighting with them to let him “do it already!” He wanted nothing more than to wipe me off the face of the earth. The women of my family tell me that he fought often with them to abuse me and to hurt me and eventually to kill me.
They were not going to let that happen, my mother was powerless to try and stop him, why, they had an agreement, and she was his bitch, and she did what he said without argument! That was his way unto this very day.
When I was born he gave me my name. I was given to the earth as the man he loved from the war, who died in the war, so every time he looked at me or said my name or heard my name called, the memory of “one dead soldier” would rise to the fore. What kind of man places that kind of sadistic torture on himself? Was he hoping to exorcise that memory from his brain by personal reprogramming? I think there was more to this story than met the eye. Yes, there was, it took me decades to divine the truth from those who knew, and in hindsight I was able to complete the puzzle.
At age 30 I changed that name and exorcised it from my life, it was the final conflict that separated me from my parents. Being gay – HIV Positive and changing my name was three strikes, I was now damned to live without parents. He made damn sure of that.
Needless to say, faith was a priority; God would protect and save me. My grandmothers agreement with God was non negotiable with any one else. Not that my father knew she had this deal on the table. Women are tricky characters you know! When Memere beckoned upon those she regarded as spiritually powerful, hell hath no fury like the wrath of an angry saint and my grandmother generating the turbine of retribution with her dedicated prayers.
Who was God? And why should I care? Because it was beaten into me that I was a mistake and should never have been born, for 18 years my father made it his life’s work to destroy me mentally and emotionally. Later on in my 30’s the revelation of my sexual abuse at my father’s hands would rise from my sobering mind. And you think HE had issues? I went to church, as a young boy. I would complete all my sacraments in the order of succession. I would be in communion with the church I would pray my rosary and my novenas. God was present in my daily life. I was always naked when I was sacred. There was nothing I held back from God, because my relationship with God was between him and me. To stand before God is to be naked in his sight. How much more sacred could it be?
My parent’s went to church off and on. After my brother was born in 1970, my mother found out she was RH positive and a tubiligation was ordered by her OB because she might not live through another pregnancy, and so it was done. This act of “birth control” forced an issue that divides the church and her people to this day. A woman’s right to decide proper birth control and the church’s position that if one impedes the ability of a woman to conceive then you are outside the rule of mother church.
My parents were dealt a swift blow by the parish priest where they were married. That priest, by order of Holy Mother Church, was bound to defend the party line of those times; he excommunicated them both from the church – which meant that they could no longer receive the sacraments. I have to assume my mother was crushed and my father couldn’t give a damn.
Years would pass, life would go on, God still existed in my life, and we, as a family went to church, I remember that much. It came to pass in my years as a pre-teen that we moved to the third home of transition, when I was in grade six. This afforded my parents entry into suburbia. It was a very big step up from where we had been socially and economically. We had made it into the “big time.” My father was proud of this accomplishment. I remember the day we saw the house, we all loved it, and it was sacred. It was in the right place, for the right money and had just the right charm to allow my parents to afford it.
St. Richard’s parish was less than a mile away; schools were “in the neighbourhood” and all was well. My father’s drinking began in earnest so did his abuse, not only of me, but my brother and mother. My mother sought out the parish priest whom would play a large part in my later seminary formation at a later date. They began the process of becoming redeemed in the church; this process took almost 4 years, after decades of living in sin.
My father’s parents were cursed in the years when I was in grade seven and eight. The curse first took my grandmother with a stroke; I was taken from school at age thirteen and flown 1500 miles to her bedside where my father expected that I would be the one to bring her back across the divide. Since I was his first born son, and had the connection I did with her that seeing me would ignite the fire that went out in her brain. I failed to re-ignite the flame. I don’t think my father ever forgave me for my failure to heal his mother. A year later my grandfather was hit with a stroke one year to the day of my grandmother, but he was no favourite of mine, and I did nothing to help him. He abused us all, and for that abuse, death was right punishment.
At age 15, I entered High School. This was a very important period for me. I met a circle of friends that would impact the rest of my life. St. Louis Parish was one block from the High School which I was attending. The youth minister on duty at that time used to open his office at lunch and that is where people would gather to pray, to meet and talk and to learn about God. Who knew it would lead me where it did.
It was in my grade ten year that I would make my confirmation. In order to make that confirmation, my parent’s needed to step up their game in attaining absolution from the church for their “faux pas” with the church over birth control. The Pastor of the parish spoke to them, and gave them counsel and I remember that day he told those, in his Irish Brogue, “the hell with that priest and his excommunication.” I remember my mother doing the happy dance the day that God re-entered our home. He never left, I mean he was in my room, I wasn’t quite sure of any other room in the house up until that point, but for my parents that was the biggest coup of their lives.
When I was home alone on many an occasion, I prayed and I listened to music and in my sacred space within my room I would become naked and sacred. I believed that God was with me, and he protected me, because I really needed it. My father had once again stepped up his attacks, and they were getting even more brutal. My friends all came from broken homes, parent’s divorced, splitting up or on the way there… I was a misfit like all of them. These were the years I spent more time out of my own house than in it. I just could not cope with the ritual mental, emotional and physical abuse.
Where was God when it hurt?
High school was hit and misses, God was here and he was not. I followed him and I cursed him through both sides of my mouth. I was becoming addicted to alcohol; I was starting to slip in school. My relationship with my parents was strained and the priests and ministers of the church had to do something lest they loose me to the statistics of teen tragedy.
I was given chores at church. Any free time was spent working on cleaning the church and keeping the sacristy in tip top shape. I had access to areas of “church” that not many had. In those years the rectory was on site and I spent a lot of time in that rectory doing chores and loving every moment of that time.
Those priests kept me from self destruction. My consecration to God had begun once again. I guess once you are given to God, you don’t have to ask again. Hindsight shows me that I was being groomed for greater things. What my father “beat” out of me, the church replaced in me. What my father on earth took – my heavenly father gave back ten fold. I was in the right place at the right time, when the priests of the parish began to entertain me with seminary speak, serving the church and the greater good. Was I good enough to wear a robe to preach to the masses, to herd a flock?
From the age of ten through out my later life, I was aware of my sexuality. In that I mean I knew how it worked. I knew the finer details of sex and sexual variations. My parents lived a double life, which I was privy to. Knowing the secret sex lives of my parents was an addiction. I couldn’t get enough. Why was I like this? Where did this all begin? I can’t say, and I really don’t want to know when it all began.
I had had relationships in my teen years with others, WHAT I was – was not an issue at any time during my formative years, although I heard the word queer and faggot come out of my parent’s mouths frequently. Our family had been introduced to “homosexuals” when we made that third and final move by friends my parent had and we blessed to have.
I did not identify myself in any “other” term than heterosexual well through my high school years. I dated girls, I had relationships, and I went to prom. I never questioned who I was openly, but between God and myself there was a lot of discussion and praying. Masturbation became a sacred activity, because it happened when God and I were alone. I wanted that sacred experience – to feel that divine communion with the God of my understanding, I wanted to feel sublime love in sacred terms. I’ve never had sex with a woman; I never had sexual inclinations towards the girls I dated in school. I was chaste in that way, but I was profane when left to my own devices.
After completing high school I attended one year of junior college and I failed miserably. I had no tools; I had no knowledge about the “world at large.” My parents never taught me about “transition.” This is the KEY moment in a young person’s life. I know that now, and I teach that to my boys and my fellows. That was when the priests of our parish suggested that I consider the seminary. It was a possible and real option. I got the necessary letters of recommendation and filed my application with the diocese. I was put through my paces and psychological testing, and I passed the boards with a clean sweep.
At this point of my life, my grandparents were getting old. My father’s parents did not know who they were cursed by strokes, Memere was living in a retirement home 1500 miles away, but she saw me enter seminary. When Memere consecrated me to God on that day many years ago in that church came full circle the day I moved into my room at the seminary. All her prayers and novenas were now fulfilled. I was safe for eternity.
I loved God with all my heart and all my soul and all my being. It was unlike any feeling I had every felt before. I remember moving in that day and walking with my parents around the grounds. My mother was so proud, my father had no choice, and he was hell bent on my destruction, my mother on my survival. The battle of the wills was raging on in front of my very eyes. God would win that days cavalry charge. We said goodbye and my mother cried as I walked them to their car and they drove off.
It took a few days to get used to being in the seminary. I sought quiet spaces to commune with God. I went to the chapel whenever I could. There were chapels located on the upper floors of the residence hall where we could pray and have mass said for us. It was the closest to the sacred nakedness I longed for, that I would get that year. God was all powerful and loving. I was there to do one thing, find the way to Him, to serve him to love him in the most sublime way.
The Eucharist became the ritual that would bring me closer to God. I sang my heart out; I prayed until the beads ripped through my hands, I walked in circles until there were ruts in my gardens. (I was a seminary gardener) during that years. It was in this year that things became clear to me. I started to hear God’s voice. I was just a boy in a big world. I was unprepared for the drama of living with others in such tight quarters. My every decision was scrutinized. My every prayer was spell checked. My intentions and motives were questioned. My classmates became my judges but I observed them as well.
My quest to find God was not the same quest that my fellows were on. It had seemed that “identity” was the issue on the table. Many of my peers had figured out their identity and were comfortable in their own skins to “practice their ways.” I had not come to this stage in my life yet. What did I know about identity? I was just this boy in a seminary trying to find my way in a world that was not kind to me. Sex was the first topic of discussion at each and every spiritual direction session I attended that year. It was one of the only lies I told to the man who was interested in my sexual proclivities. What did my masturbation have to do with the attainment of holiness? What I did alone with my God was my business and no one else’s.
I saw injustice in the church; I witnessed people being removed from service because of judgement. I witnessed the church move gay priests and some with illness to our grounds to live and work with us; they were taken from their parishes as a punishment for an unholy lifestyle. Homosexuality was right there in front of me. Grown gay men of the cloth living in community with me, and from my mouth to God’s ears, these men had more sacred reverence for God than any heterosexual holy man in residence with us at that time. I highly respected some of these men. They showed me real faith and real love for God. They gave me more in that year than others. They did not judge me nor force me to be anything but myself. It was the institution that forced choices of identity and allegiance. I was not ready to “identify” nor was I going to pledge “allegiance” to the rector of the seminary or to mother church.
What I do know is this, that I knew then who God was for the age that I was and I was ready to sacrifice my life for that God, but I was hell bent on denying the pressures of the institution to turn a blind eye to blatant abuses of power and human dignity and respect. I had no desire of entering or pledging for the “boys club” it was beneath me. I was better than that and I wasn’t going to compromise my walk with Christ to be like them.
After a year in seminary I was told that my invitation to return the following year had been rescinded. That maybe seminary was not “the place for me.” That maybe becoming a priest was not my “calling.” Who were they to judge with blinder on their eyes? What did they really know about my relationship to God, not that any of them really wanted to know? I walked away from the church and from God.
I moved back home for a short time. That did not last very long. I got a job and traveled the world. I met His Holiness John Paul II twice in the space of 2 years. Once in the states the second time at the Vatican. He was a sainted man; he was a star in my eyes. What I did not know then would not hurt me until decades later.
In my 19th year of life I took a trip to visit family that summer, this was the first time I gave into my sexual desires for another man. It was a one night event under the influence of alcohol, but it made its mark and stuck for good. I knew what sacred felt like when I felt penetration for the first time.
It was a moment I can still recall in vivid detail. It was then I realized what sacred penetration felt like. I buried that secret deep in my heart and never shared that intimate “detail” with anyone for almost two years. I was forced out of my house by my father once again. He was still hell bent on my total annihilation.
I was “Outed” by my best friend on a cruise when I was twenty one. We never spoke again after that. I moved away to be gay, to have my coming out experience. God was no where to be found in my lexicon. He was there; I just refused to allow him into my life, because the church had shit on my spiritual journey. That I took as a clear affront by God so I retaliated.
I got drunk. I stayed inebriated for years after that.
Until that day in 1994 when the news of my impending death made me re-evaluate my relationship with God. The rest they say is history