The monk woke from having slept two days. Sometimes these moments come in the spiritual life where exhaustion sets in deep, into your bones. You can’t always explain why–sometimes it’s just on faith that you understand somewhere, somehow, you may have taken upon yourself a burden to help someone else. Sometimes those burdens are mysterious, sometimes we are aware of them immediately, sometimes it takes time to understand where the burden came from. Sometimes years.
The monk was thirsty, and took a small drink of water. He took bread. He sat on his bead, took his rosary in hand, began to pray.
In the middle of prayer, the monk heard a voice outside the door of the hermitage. It was not a voice he was familiar with; it was not an unfriendly voice. It asked:
“Are you sleeping comfortably?”
The monk replied, “Yes,” thinking it was the abbot. “I am comfortable enough.”
“Are you in need of anything at all?”
The monk replied, “No, I have all I need.” He realized that it was not the abbot, nor was it a friend, or a fellow monk.
“Alright then.” The stranger left as quickly as he had come, yet there were no sounds of footsteps on the dry earth.
The monk resumed prayer.
A few hours later, as he read scripture, he heard the voice outside his door again.
“Are you resting comfortably?”
The monk replied, “Yes.”
“Are you in need of anything at all?”
“No, I have all I need.”
Again, the steps left. This time, he rose, walked to the door, opened it, and looked out into the desert sunset. He could not see anyone in the valley–the hermitages near his were well enough away, but he could tell the doors were closed. He looked down and saw that the only foot prints were those of the abbot and his own from a few days prior.
The monk closed the door, and returned to prayer.
In the desert, we may find ourselves distracted by what we may feel are well meaning thoughts, practices, teachings. We may find ourselves stirring in our slumber, called to challenge what we know is truth. At times, this is meaningful thinking worth pursuing. But we must be careful that the thinking that we do is not done from self doubt. Recognize where the challenge comes from can be difficult. In those times, return to scripture, prayer, the rosary. Return to the sacraments. Pray for guidance. Dedicate any suffering you may experience, physical, mental, or otherwise, to be united with Christ’s passion. Dedicate it to someone specifically, someone you know is in pain, is suffering.
And do not be afraid of rest when it comes, for God will settle us in hope.
There are times in the desert we are challenged to face what we believe.
The monk had another visitor; this time, a friend from the past. There were tears, laughter, and conversation.
Though one question rang out among the rest that made the monk stop and pause. The visitor asked why the monk called himself a monk, challenged why there was a need to say “monk” over “priest” or “believer”.
The monk took pause, and answered that it was just the way individuals who entered the faith addressed those who took certain vows.
After the visitor left the monk, and the monk returned into silence, he considered the question more deeply. He asked himself why he answered the way he had, why he’d felt defensive.
In the middle of the night, the monk awoke and wrestled with this question. He couldn’t find an answer again, and fell to prayer, asking God for help to see the answer.
In the morning, the monk looked into a framed icon of the Blessed Mother, sunlight streaming through the window of the door to his hermitage. It reflected on the glass such that, behind the light of the sun, the monk could see his own reflection. The answer came to him immediately.
A monk entered the desert to fast. The first day, he considered his piety. He considered what his sacrifice would accomplish, and he went to sleep for the entire day. A spider walked across his face, paused on his eye. He opened the other to greet it, then went back to sleep.
On the second day, a visitor arrived to greet him. A fellow monk who could not stay in his hermitage. He was hospitable to this monk, speaking to him briefly but cordially. He reminded the monk of the importance of staying within his hermitage as the devil was prowling, waiting to devour the wayward. The fellow monk left and did not return, leaving the desert.
On the third day, the monk looked out his cell and saw dew on the cobwebs around his hermitage. Dew in a place of dryness. He was reminded of his thirst, and wandered to find water. Coming upon a spring, he took two sips from his hand, found his thirst unsatisfied, and returned to his hermitage. He was filled with regret.
On the fourth day, the devil came to the door of the hermitage like a whisper, and reminded him of his hunger. The whisper entered deeply into his soul, blowing the monk like a dry blade of grass in a fall wind, consuming him like a fire. The monk cried out to God, weeping like a child, recalling not just his hunger but the pain of his many years prior to the monastery.
The evening of the fourth day, the abbot came to his cell. Seeing his tears, the abbot without words embraced him, lending him strength. The monk returned the embrace, returned to his prayers stronger for the tears.
We question now when we reach out for convenience.
We pause when we consider ease, recognizing we have entered a time of restraint and self denial.
We are four days in the desert.
There may have been temptations beginning within us that we have had to work hard to resist, or they may be building slowly. This is not just a time of reflection and restraint, of prayer and fasting. This is a time when we go to battle with the baser elements of ourselves.
Today is Ash Wednesday: the official beginning of the season of lent. Last night, I did some cooking: I fried two steaks for Dan and myself, last last meat that I’ll see until Easter.
I also took three leaves from last year’s palms with Dan’s help, and carefully burned them in a bowl. Although late in the day, when I get in from work tonight I’ll be vesting and saying Mass.
The leaves smelled sweet, something I wasn’t expecting; Dan commented that it smelt like someone was having a ceremony in the kitchen as it smelled of sweetgrass. He also said he hoped it didn’t set off the smoke detectors. I was hoping the same, but it was so cold outside last night I couldn’t bear to do the burning outside.
Today is Ash Wednesday: burning of palms is symbolic of burning and letting go of those things that would encumber us as we enter the desert, the time as Christians when we more seriously focus our prayer, our spirit of charity, and the self mortification of fasting. It’s a hard thing to do in a time when we get whatever we want, whenever we want. I’m going to be cooking a meat dish with someone I support today, and I’m going to have to trust my ability and their pallet because beef strew requires beef.
We make a commitment to let go of those things which hold back our spiritual journey: self depreciation, negative self talk, unjust anger, gossip, criticism, selfishness. We take a chance on letting go of those behaviors that have kept us safe, but now hold us back from the deeper encounter with Christ and our Christian community. Let’s take a journey together.
Let’s say hello on the street to a stranger.
Let’s make a contribution to a food bank.
Let’s have the courage to approach someone in distress to ask if they are ok.
Let’s engage in forgiveness when it will heal all involved.
Let’s pray to know when forgiveness might cause harm if it is direct.
Let’s let our stomachs growl a little before we eat.
Let’s think about our food.
Let’s think about those without.
Let’s take a step towards embracing who we are, learning in that knowledge when we can change, and when we have to accept something as a gift from God.
Let’s prepare to carry the cross.
Let’s pray the rosary, and really consider and try to connect with the Sorrowful Mysteries.
In a week, it will be three months since our family lost our dog. Sookie had multiple tumors in her body, one of which was large, pressing against her stomach, and was likely the cause of her not being able to eat. When I think about the day she left, I do so knowing that there is beauty in what happened–both Dan and I were there, she went to sleep quietly in our arms, then left fast. I suspect everyone in the room was a little shocked when I started talking about feeling this overjoyed, happy puppy running around me, licking my face, being overjoyed, and then running out of the room through the wall I was sitting against.
The first week was the hardest; then it got easier. The vet called and said her cremated remains were ready for pick up. I though tit was going to be easy. I cried when I got into the car, holding a carboard container that held the ashes of my dog. We opened the card from the vet when everyone was home. I saw the paw prints they’d taken. Again, tears.
I started looking for a new puppy about a month in. It helped with the grief, but it also helped to know that the desperate silence that engulfed my life might not need to be. Sookie was beside me almost every moment we were in the same space. She was my shadow. When she got older, I’d lift her into bed and she’d duck down and snuggle into my face, laying belly to belly, sniffing. I’d make the same happy grunting noise she’d make when we were close. She bonded with Dan. That meant something important for me because Sookie, until that point, had always not taken to the guys I brought home. Dan became a papa, we became a family.
It’s still so desperately empty. And when I thought the tears were gone, they’ve returned. Quieter, not nearly as forceful and intruding as they were in the beginning. But the loss is still there. Some days it feels like it won’t be going anywhere. Yes, the grief will likely not be quashed by bringing another dog into the house. But the silence might cease.
It’s not that I don’t like quiet. I love quiet. This is emptiness. This is silence when I pray at the end of the day, and there isn’t a dog in the chapel with me sleeping; this is the quiet of not hearing the dog snoring on my chest while watching television, or the smiling barks that came when we went for a walk.
I suspect that dogs are angels in disguise, that they in many ways are embodiments of what our guardian angels must be like. Unconditional love so intense, so utterly freely given that it can only last for 10 years, longer if we’re lucky.
In all the experiences of fear, anguish, depression, anxiety, in all the changes that I went through in terms of my victory over the darkness that had infiltrated my life, Sookie was there for it all. Warts and all. She simply loved me when I felt unlovable. When I felt down, she would curl up next to me and give me comfort. She got me out of the house, walking daily, helping me get the sun and fresh air that was so essential to my mental health.
The emptiness weighs heavy on me. I go to prayer for some consolation, but even then, in praying, I am brought back to the words I whispered over her head in the last embrace:
“Lord, now let your servant go in peace.”
I told her to run to the lady in blue. For if there was a dog that would be a good companion to Our Lady, Sookie would’ve been.
At that time, one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to dine with him; so He went into the house of the Pharisee and reclined at table. And behold, a woman in the town who was a sinner, upon learning that He was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment; and standing behind Him at His feet, she began to bathe His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with ointment. Now when the Pharisee, who had invited Him, saw it, he said to himself, This man, were He a prophet, would surely know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner. And Jesus answered and said to him, Simon, I have something to say to you. And he said, Master, speak. A certain money-lender had two debtors; the one owed five hundred denarii, the other fifty. As they had no means of paying, he forgave them both. Which of them, therefore, will love him more? Simon answered and said, He, I suppose, to whom he forgave more. And He said to him, You have judged rightly. And turning to the woman, He said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I came into your house; you gave Me no water for My feet; but she has bathed My feet with tears, and has wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, from the moment she entered, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil; but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Wherefore I say to you, her sins, many as they are, shall be forgiven her, because she has loved much. But he to whom little is forgiven, loves little. And He said to her, Your sins are forgiven. And they who were at table with Him began to say within themselves, Who is this man, who even forgives sins? But He said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
I like the image I’ve posted here because to me, it reflects a key principle of Franciscan theology, one that I locked onto hard in my early formation: the idea that in order to truly know God, we have to transcend the boundaries we put in place that keep us from seeing God in some of the most intimate ways. Namely, in the faces and lives of those who frighten us or challenge us. The story of St. Francis and the leper is one I’ve held onto tightly.
Recently, an old friend replied to my posting this image on Facebook:
“Yes, everyone is unconditionally worthy. Unfortunately this has not been the message and I don’t think any institution endorsed plan will change this because of christian history and manipulation of scripture and the ” perception” we are all “sinners” and immoralists. As a therapist counsellor this is the hardest toxic shame issue to bridge because it is so ingrained in people. Wishing you peace and happiness on your journey Peter.”
I promised a blog post on this because it required some thought; but also, because I believe the message is important for Christians, as well as those of us who identify as the descendants of colonialism, to take to heart.
Everything this man says is true. Men have acted in the name of Christendom to further an agenda requiring genocide both covert and overt that continues to this day. Indigenous people make up a significantly higher population in Canadian jails, 52% of Indigenous children today are in foster care; 25% of Indigenous people in Canada currently live in poverty, and an estimate 40% of Indigenous children live in poverty.
Christendom also has the legacy of antisemitism, simony, murder, rape, pedophilia, corruption (read residential schools, child sexual abuse scandals where perpetrators were often simply moved to other parishes, Magdalene laundries, not to mention the untold damages done by conversion therapy).
So this is the strange set of crossed wires that I encounter as a priest, and a queer person. Knowing everything I do about Christendom, how do I find myself a member of a religious order and priest?
I think before we even begin to unpack this and respond to these comments, we have to clearly define the difference between “Christendom” and “Christianity”. And there is a big difference! Christendom is the political philosophy that includes a self defined Christianity which justifies its motivations, its actions, and its outcomes. Great example is what is the evangelical political right in the United States and Russia right now–both justifying political ideals which are fascist, pure and simple. (Fascism is an extreme form of socialism which excludes individuals who do not meet a criteria, often villainizing the individuals it excludes as the cause of suffering experience by those focused in the fascist umbrella.)
Christendom cannot endure, and thankfully, likely won’t. Christianity, however, might have a chance. I see it’s roots in the Desert Fathers, those who left the world of institutions to commit themselves to knowing, to understanding, to challenging their faults in solitude. It’s in the spirit of Luther who challenged the rule, Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, St. Augustine, Sts. Francis and Claire, St. Dominic, Sts. Bacchus and Sergius.
The difference between Christendom and Christianity is that, as a way that is narrow, it requires the humility to say that yes–we were wrong in our past. Yes, as stewards of our spiritual practice today, in order to proceed in a good way we need to accept that there will be people who are unable to see that we are part of change. There will be people who were harmed so much that they will not be able to forgive. We shouldn’t fight that. We should, however, accept it and embrace it. The Christianity I know doesn’t name itself–it acts, it supports, it loves, it lifts, it feeds, it comforts, it advocates, it challenges institutions and injustices–it acts individually, causally, courageously. It pushes itself from the idea of institution and deeper into the idea of community, acting within and without a greater community.
The comment says that while everyone is unconditionally worthy, “… this has not been the message and I don’t think any institution endorsed plan will change this because of … history and manipulation of scripture and the ” perception” we are all “sinners” and immoralists.” From the point of understanding Christendom, this is true. Outside of that, however, I think its mistaken.
Reconciliation, being at the heart of what I believe Christianity to be, has to first require action outside of any institution. Not everyone acts within an institution. I’m assume here, the institution in question is the Church, but I think we can broaden that definition to mean government and political movements as well because fundamentally, they have been built on the back of the principles associated with Christendom.
My calling has included, uncomfortably sometimes, the reality that I have to allow myself to be a focal point for people’s anger. Not with the mindset of martyrdom, but instead the reality that people have a right to be angry given the history of scripture manipulation, and the perception that we are all sinners and immoralist. Owning the truth is hard! A lot of people understandably run from it, or try to make it “not their fault” because of the uncomfortable nature of it. But we have to own our shit! And while our faith has fulfilled many of us, it has also been used as a weapon to cause others harm.
Truly loving others without inquiring whether or not they are worthy: this is not so much an instruction for how we should approach others, but rather, a prayer. We must ask if we, given the history of our faith, are worthy of the love of others. The idea that I would spend even a moment of time pointing out other’s as being in “sin” or unworthy, or an immoralist is abhorrent to me.
What is painful is that someone I regarded as a mentor, a teacher, can’t get to know me, or where his teachings have formed me to where I am today, the joy that vocation and those teachings have brought me and others wanting to reclaim their heritage, because the perceived sin I have incurred is in the way. He once told me he had a dream about me being surrounded by many people and having many gifts.
I wish you could see those gifts. I understand why you can’t. I understand the reasons why it’s not possible. I know this is your truth. I respect that truth.
At length he appeared to the eleven as they were at table: and he upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen him after he was risen again. And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God. But they going forth preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.
This post is dedicated to my good friend and confessor, Bishop Greg Godseye.
After the shootings comes the outcry, the scream, then the return to normalcy.
Be it a planned or passively accepted behavior, when there is something that spikes a change in our perception bubble, we react. If the behavior that causes the reaction gives us some benefit of some kind, then our level of reaction, our level of determination to change the behavior, we calm down.
Take for example the prices at the gas pumps. Often I’ve seen a huge increase that creates an outcry, then a reduction. We as consumers have a threshold that the gas companies know about. They know if they slowly increase the threshold, we as consumers are less likely to react. They also know if they throw other factors into the increase, such as carbon taxes, environmentalist concerns–those things that run contrary to the comfort of fossil fuel consumption, society will be less likely to see the profit margins; or worse, less likely to care or feel that they have the power to do anything about it.
I need to define two terms before I continue: society and violence. Violence in this case will be defined as any unjust behavior, potentially involving force and/or intimidation intended to invoke the diminishment, degrading, or oppression of a belief, value, or action contrary to that of the entity invoking or behaving in a forceful or intimidating way. An example of this could be a disgruntled employer behaving in a way that infringes on a worker’s basic human rights; or, a government that engages in covert or overt genocide. Poverty can also be a government’s social welfare system and how it treats individuals with addictions, mental health issues, physical health issues.
The second term, society, refers to the views and beliefs, both overt and covert, of the overall population of any given community.
Gun violence, any violence, continues to exist because the benefit of a society that endorses violence outweighs the detriments. The endorsement does not take into consideration the damages caused by the violence because the removal of the benefit is deemed a greater violence on a greater number of people.
School shootings continue to occur not because of a lack of gun control, and not because there is a lack of mental health and harm reduction. School shootings continue to occur because society embraces the benefits of a culture of violence.
A great example of this is how TikTok regularly and consistently allows 2SLGBTQ+ content creators to be abused through loop holes in their reporting systems. There are three points of violence in TikTok society. The first is the lack of action for TikTok owners (one seat, incidentally, is held by officials in the Chinese Government, a government with consistent human rights violations and abuses) to amend the loop holes around reporting. The second is the ability for individuals to use the loop holes to report and ban content with 2SLGBTQ+ content. But the third form of violence is that of those users who continue to use TikTok because the enjoyment of using the service either does not affect their use directly, the violence occurring does not invoke a sufficient response to act, or the algorithm of the platform keeps their awareness of the issue from being present. I’d argue the last point to be a deliberate action of the platform design, although individual users contribute to how that platform behaves by their choices of what they want to view.
That choice, if it involves not acknowledging a reality that is causing harm to others, is then a choice for violence.
As long as our collective society continues to make choices towards violence, be it rape culture, be it anti-Trans culture within and without the 2SLGBTQ+ communities, be it the culture of violence-capitalism (read a culture which supports the trade of weapons, which supports the right to defend a culture of violence-capitalism under the guise of “the right to bear arms”), a culture which quietly permits a class of untouchables to continue to exist, and justifies that with statements that enforce a dream of wealth in a world where the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the ultra-poor is only getting bigger and bigger; as long as we live in a society that prioritizes the use of energies that destroy the world we are living in with the same potent arguments used by drug addicts and with the same vitriol as a drug addict defending the benefits of their drug, there will be school shootings. And we will continue to be outraged, and continue to burry the dead, and continue to ask ourselves why it still is happening.
Because: it’s easier to continue down that road than it is to go down the road which is narrow, which will hurt, but in the long run will give us life.
Stonewall hurt. But even before Stonewall, there were moments where, as Our Lord did with the disciples, individuals braided up a society for unjust actions. I like to say that the Pride Movement didn’t actually start as a riot because, for me at least, it started at a communion rail in 1944. In some ways I think that may have required even more courage than standing up to police. Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Atlanta, Georgia, should be a pilgrim site for the 2SLGBTQ+ minded Christian.
Imagine the courage to stand at the communion rail in 1944 as a queer person. Take a moment to think about the violence you would be confronted with for doing so. Imagine then how it would feel over the weeks for the number of people standing with you until the ending of Mass to gently increase.
Even then, the majority of individuals condoning the violence of the catechism outweighed those who challenged it. My congregation, the Eucharistic Catholic Church, draws it’s lineage from those individuals who stood at that rail, from bishops like John Kazantkz, like Robert Mary Clement.
As Christians, as queer people, as human beings, we are challenged to end violence in any form every day. We are upbraided by Christ every time we see violence of any kind and do nothing. We are upbraided by Christ when we know we are continuing to behave in ways which endorse violence towards our neighbors, our families, our friends, our planet.
I am a sinner! I too am part of the culture that embraces the comforts of violence. I too find it hard to let go of those things which give me pleasure. But as I get older, as I look at the benefits over the pains to others, I ask myself: is it necessary to log into Facebook? Is it necessary to log into TikTok and give up my algorithm to entities that will use it against me, against my friends, against my community?
Is the vote I cast violence?
Is the party I support violence?
Is my privilege violence?
Is my perception of justice violence?
Is Pride in allowing corporations a spot at the table, violence?
Is withholding communion violence?
These are big questions, and it likely will take generations to unravel them. My thought is now is not the time to wait to begin. Now is the time to realize that, perhaps, it is too late already–in which case, it is even more important for us to decide: will we stand alone at the communion rail even though the congregation stands behind us and asks, “What’s wrong with them? Why are they doing that? Why are they making me feel uncomfortable?”
At that time, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And when the angel had come to her, he said, Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. When she had heard him she was troubled at his word, and kept pondering what manner of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and shall bring forth a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father, and He shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
The Mass today was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin; many might not realize this, but Our Lady of Guadalupe is often taken as the patroness of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
The Blessed Mother presented herself as an image in a way that local indigenous people would recognize the message as a “codex”–she used the language of the people to reach the people. She allowed herself to be transformed so she could be understood, then loved.
That’s the short version.
Tonight after Mass I realized I’m more than half way through a year being a priest. I took some time to think about the direction my service has been aimed. There’s been moments where I’ve had invitation to take part in the “drama” of the Independent Sacramental Movement, moments where I’ve asked where the Eucharist plays a part in all of this. I realized that, for the most part, I’ve carried the Word through the Mass in my own private chapel out into the world in actions–hopefully–that have conveyed the love of God without saying so.
I asked myself, as I often do, how to best serve the Alphabet Mafia as a Catholic Priest. I’m not sure I have that answer yet–I’m not sure I’ll ever get that answer. And that’s ok.
I also have witnessed in the last 30 days tremendous pain and suffering around me. Not without purpose, but rather transformational. We lost our dog of 13 years. I wept tonight again, it still feels as fresh and stings as much as the night we came home after we let her go. She left this place, ran free, and her energy and love are still here even though she’s not. I’ve seen people I care about recognize that the suffering they’ve undergone, the sacrifices they’ve made, not recognized by the people they made those sacrifices for, but rather find themselves caught in a cycle of dysfunctional thinking, blame, all caused by a lack of communication and a childish resentment for the inability to read minds. Risks taken at the cost of contemptable safety. Courageous risks! And I’ve seen how the effort of two or three people can cut, can exhaust, batter, and bruise the heart.
I listen. I hug, support. I fold clothes, wash floors, clean counters, cook meals, fade into the background, pressing hard the ego that wants recognition. Recognition isn’t part of this. I allow the pain around me to resonate in my own pain, unify that pain with Christ’s suffering, offer it up and ask it to be used as a grace in someone’s life.
In doing that, we allow ourselves the opportunity for the event, the emotion, the moment to transform us, to be understood by others.
At that time, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought sweet spices, that coming they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen. And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe, and they were astonished. Who saith to them, Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here; behold the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples, and Peter, that He goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him, as He told you.
This was an article I submitted for the Vine and Fig blog. Just a heads up: I talk about my struggles with mental health and eating disorders.
When I was a little boy, maybe three years old, my mom taught me the song, “Jesus Loves Me”; looking back into that memory it feels less like it was something I was taught and something she helped me to remember–I can clearly remember knowing everything about that song being true, that Jesus did love me, that subsequent to that love, Jesus died on the cross and on the third day lived again. It was true because I knew it to be, as much as I knew that one plus one made two.
At ten, I didn’t really believe the Easter bunny was something but there were chocolate eggs in the house in the morning and that was all that mattered. It wasn’t as big of a day as Christmas because there weren’t as many presents, there weren’t as many decorations, but it was a holiday with chocolate. And of course, church. My father was usually hung over from the night before, my mom was frazzled from being up all night hiding chocolate. Just not as frazzled as Christmas morning. The protestant church we went to on Sunday had a huge stained glass window of the Annunciation. But I didn’t know that. I’m not sure any of us knew it. It was just an angel standing in a room with a woman. When the minister would start the sermon, I’d usually fade out. Not go to sleep really, but I’d just get fuzzy and imagine things. I pictured a resurrected Jesus coming into the church from the side door, shaking hands with the minister, and taking the pulpit. Jesus was going to go to all the churches like that, I rationalized. He was going to go on tour like Billy Joel.
At thirteen, we’d moved back into the city and I’d become reclusive and shy. I was a fat, quiet, queer kid in a school with a lot of other kids and I knew the best way to protect myself was to hide, to disappear. Don’t get noticed. My first day, one of the kids from the popular group of kids actually came over to me, said hi, and asked if I’d like to hang out with them! I was stunned! I said no! I mean, why would I want that kind of attention right? By that time, Jesus was gone. Jesus didn’t stop my dad from drinking. He wasn’t there when I needed him, when I got beat up at my old school, or when people called me a fag, what ever that meant. Jesus was an Idea on Sunday. He was my dad’s Idea. Jesus didn’t make my dad and I closer. It felt like we grew further apart. Jesus didn’t stop my parents from divorcing. Jesus didn’t stop me from being attacked in high school. He didn’t stop me from falling in love with my best friend, and then experiencing the heart break when that friend fell in love with a girl. Jesus didn’t stop me from the pain I experience, the depression, the desire to end my life; I could’ve sworn at 17 that Jesus wasn’t there when I opened a bottle of pills, then wept harder because I didn’t have the courage to take my life. Jesus wasn’t there when I purged into a toilet bowl after a binge the first time.
Jesus wasn’t there. I mean, He was there. I knew at 17 that He was there. He was just down deep inside of me, in a dark corner. When I decided to go looking for a new faith path, one that would affirm my queerness, He was there. He told me: “I’ll be here when you get back.” I passed it off as just my imagination, an inner voice. I told myself, Christianity and being queer don’t conform. They’re like oil and water. There’s got to be a faith tradition that will affirm me.
Was Jesus in the statues of the Buddha I meditated in front of? Was Jesus in the tobacco ties and the sweat lodges? Was Jesus in the Pride movement? I wandered for what feels now like an eternity. Was Jesus with me in my most painful moments of acute loneliness and depression? Was Jesus there when I began listening to an online course on philosophy and the Christian faith? Was Jesus there when I began to experience, what I can only describe as a recurring three year demonic oppression? Jesus was there when He rolled back the stone from the tomb. He was there to take the shroud of pain, of suffering, from my face and rolled it up. He was there when I was lifted from my bed of anguish. He was there and welcomed me home.
Jesus was there through the pains of realizing I’d put myself in a job where I was emotionally abused and I had been taken advantage of for 20 years. He was there the day I met my fiancé. He was there when I told my father, “No more. You have to leave my life.” He was there when I dug the hole in my garden for my first day lily. He was there when I discovered how beauty of wild plants. He was there when I was lead to support work. He was in the faces of the people that I supported. He was there in the face of meth addiction, multiple personality disorder, frontal lobe brain injury. He was there in their poverty, and I loved Him, and He loved me in return.
He was there the day I sat at my computer, and finally acknowledge my vocation. Through all of this, through everything that I have lived, Jesus was there. Jesus was calling me to the priesthood. I couldn’t follow it. I ran from it. How could I be a priest in a faith that openly says they will not ordain those who are queer? How could I be a priest in a faith that teaches that those with same sex attraction should carry their cross and have ‘disinterested friendships’?
Jesus was there when I asked for help. Jesus led me to Father Bob. Jesus led me to Father Tomas. He was there when I received tonsure and professed my vows as a Franciscan. He was there four years later when I professed my perpetual vows in latin. He was there, like a lover from a long distance, waiting for me and my ordination during the early days of the pandemic. He was there when the archbishop anointed my hands. He was there at my first Mass when I leaned forward and said: Hoc est enim corpus meum.I know He is there now, but not in the same way as I did when I was a child learning “Jesus loves me.” I know He is there, but there is doubt. Doubt is normal. The apostles felt doubt! They doubted right up until the moment they were able to recognize Him from what He did. Of course we doubt! Given the tremendous pain some of us have, and continue, to experience–how could we not doubt? We have to come to place where we believe in our own hearts, sometimes on a thin thread of faith, that He is there, that He has always been there.
The Good News is not announced from a pulpit, it’s not in the pages of a book, it’s not behind a URL. It is in our actions, in how we love. It is in the moments when we come home exhausted, lay head in our hands, and know that He was with us in our most difficult times–especially if we need to remind ourselves afterwards. The Good News is in our hearts from the moment our hearts being to beat, and it is this: God has touched us from our birth to know innately, like one plus one equals two, that He is there. And from that knowledge? Anything is possible.Jesus Christ is here. Now. Christ is in the eyes of the person reading this, right now. Christ is in your tears. Christ is in your laughter. Christ is in the Eucharist. Christ is in the hearts of the people who suffer from the disease of hate. Christ is in the heart of those who are hated. Christ is in the presence of every opportunity to express love. Every. Single. Opportunity.
Even when we are disinterested, Christ is not now, not ever, a disinterested friend. Pax et Bonum. God love you.