Friday, June 30, 2006

Water Water everywhere and not a drop to drink... (Revisited)

I wrote this piece a long time ago, and it had been posted "prior to" the Vaticans decree on Homosexuality in the church and the survey visits the Vatican ministry teams were making to U.S. Seminaries when the Pope published his Edict of Hatred, Ignorance and Exclusion.

Just after Pope Benedict rose to power the Vatican and certain religious people had come to read this entry for some reason, I guess they were taking notes because of those I mentioned in the piece. Today I've updated and cleaned it up a bit, I removed some key notations but left key names in the story because I long to see them fall from grace. This is another look at my perception of the past from a much earlier perspective of writing that happened before Naked and Sacred was written yesterday. My writing has changed alot since this piece was first written.


At the parish I belonged to for most of my young life, there were 4 priests at one time. The good Father Fetscher, Fr. Kish, Fr. McGowan and finally Fr. Roger Radloff. The most wonderfully intelligent man I have ever known. When holidays would come to pass and the four fathers would concelebrate mass, there was always a running competition amongst them.

At some point of the mass, the MAIN celebrant of the mass would bless the holy water and go around the church "watering" the crowd. I was always on the altar for most of these "special" events. And every yearly holiday rotation it would get really laughable. It only takes one joker to make some fun during mass. As I remember it one priest walked up to the altar and totally drenched those of us sitting on the presiders area.

And every year that passed, whoever got the Aspergum next made sure to make good on the "dousing" ritual. You always knew there was a cool comradery amongst the holy men of St. Louis, the Best parish that Miami had to offer.

Then one year it happened. One of the bright stars of the parish, Fr. Roger Radloff got sick, and after surgery did not last long for this earthly world. When Fr. Radloff died, the parish was never the same. The loss of one of our members hit home hard. and for many masses that I was blessed to be serving the "fun" had ended.

OK I am going on a tangent here...

Fr. Radloff was one of the men I had to clear to get into Seminary. He had an office in Coconut Grove, at one of the Catholic Schools in that area, everybody loved this man. And his death rippled across the face of Miami like a pall on a casket. He was, a man among many men of faith I knew in my life who never questioned my devotion to God and my unfailing service to the church. All of the parish priests were happy to see another "young person" enter the seminary for the parish. Not many of us made it, actually, to date, I don't think any have. I may be wrong.

He was tall and robust. A man of faith whom I had the opportunity to hear "preach" at St. Richard's Parish many years before, when my family used to go to mass together. I was always the church going family member. I had hoped that my prayers for my family would protect and keep us. I wonder tonight if God ever heard those prayers.

Fr. Kish was my confessor. A very sainted man whom I respect to this day. He was the assistant Pastor of the church. He had a dog named Miguelito. The dog was evil and did not like any of us. When I would visit the house he would always be locked away in a side room. Fr. Kish had a way about mass and I loved to listen to him speak or even say mass. When I went into Seminary, he was the one who would come to check on my progress. St. John Vianney was in Miami.

Fr. McGowan, was the Renaissance Father. He was stoic and grandfather like. I loved him, well everyone loved him, because he always kept us mindful of the past. Mindful of the finer things of the church. Icons and Saints, Martyrs and Blessed. His office was on parish grounds. He aways played classical music and talked about art and architechture. Every Christmas Father McGowan set up what is simply called the "Christmas Window." in the Old Parish grounds was a room with a picture window along the (old) family center wall. Every year as I grw up, the tradition was to set up that window every year. A veritable display of world Christmas ornaments and scenes. Always surrounding a nativity that came from somewhere else, if memory serves.

The Good Father Fetscher was our fearless and sainted leader. Like I shared the other night he had a way about him in mass. But personally, he was a fine man. A sainted leader and wise counsel. His parish was his home. And every loss over the years affected him as if he had lost a child, no matter how old the parishoner was. I grew up with these men. These men were the model of Catholicism that I wanted to emulate. I wanted to be like them, to preach like them, to minister to the many like they had done. And I think today, I carry a bit of each of them in my soul. You can take the boy out of the church, but you cannot take the church out of the boy.

Over the years I moved from one position to another. I was an altar boy, I served with every Bishop and the Archbishop. I always carefully negotiated my way into any mass that a visiting priest / Bishop / Archbishop who would come to say mass. After I left the Seminary, I became a Eucharistic Minister and a lector. I watched that parish grow from what it was into one of the finest parishes I have ever seen in my life. From a small tiny chuch into a parish that serves 25,000 families plus I am sure nowadays. And in the 90's Fr. Fetscher got his wish. they build a school on the parish grounds. I have not been back in some years, but I am sure the parish still does a mean Sunday Business.

Seminary: here it is the real truth...

I entered S.J.V.S. in August of of 1986. I was bright eyed and focused on God more than I have ever been in my life. I was the "runt" of the class. I did not fit in socially nor physically. A freshman always got the raw deal. We were assigned room mates to share a 15 x 15 sized room, with 2 murphy bed set up's, a sink and 2 desks. I had a FEW room mates over that short year. The same admission year, we hosted seminarians from Puerto Rico.

There were, I guess 100 seminarians in residence, as well a team of priests in residence and a few odd nuns on the same propery. There were seminarians from the Caribbean and Puerto Rico in residence with us, we were the Southern Hub seminary. The reason I mention the Puerto Rican Seminarians is that one of them had a personal relationship with Mary the mother of Jesus. And who was I to question this faith? I never saw her, but he did.

We would find him in the small chapels and around the grounds and even in our rooms at night praying to Mary, WHOM he said was there in the room or space or place with him. This freaked many a seminarian out, and he was moved from one room to another until the year ended. I never knew if the visions were real, all I know is that She would visit him daily and nightly.

S.J.V.S. was the minor seminary that was a 4 year college that followed by a Major Seminary run in Palm Beach. I loved that place. I found it home. I had weekly chores to do. Like St. Francis I preferred to be outdoors in the gardens tending my plants and flowers. My peers thought it was kind of queer that I knew how to garden so well. I had a green thumb, and still do to this day.

I met many priests in this year of my life. And I faced many demons of the church as well. Fr. Bernard Kirlin was the rector at the time of my admission. He was a fair and just man. I liked him, but he had a little problem with the drink. I took care of him and rallied for his return when the church sent him away.

His replacement a Fr. Andy Anderson, the then Vicar general of the Diocese of Miami, who wished he was Holy Father was the biggest ego maniacal self centered priest I had ever met. He was the "major" political player of the church that could have been granted a teaching position. He was the veritable THORN in my side. I hated him. He thought he was so great and wise.

I stayed in my own space. I did not socialize nor go out with my peers, not that I wanted to, but that I was NEVER invited. I learned that on Sunday after Mass and Lunch the queers of the seminary would go to Uncle Charlies for Sunday T-Dance. I know this now, because after I left the seminary, I would see them there out in public. Uncle Charlies was a gay bar that would play a big part in my life story, many years later.

What I did not realize was that I would not come out of the closet until 1990. Up till then I was still a conflicted young Catholic boy. I knew God that was about it. What did I know about being gay then, I had no concept of personal identity yet, I had no idea who I was at that age, let alone what I was.

This is based on my perception of what I saw one night, just to be clear on this, hindsight is informative where these perceptions are concerned. One night after dinner, I took a walk along the perimeter road that encircled the quad. Back behind the schools were the raquetball courts, olympic pool and baseball diamonds. Something went on that night in the dugouts, I am sure of it because of what was to come. I knew something was going on between seminarians and students at the high school because I watched them pass notes to each other. We worked the cafeteria lines during the high school lunch shifts.

It was the week before the parents visit weekend. So I kept walking on, as if I did not notice. But I had. And later that night I was confronted by the upper classmen whom I had witnessed, as well the Seminary staff. I was threatened had I ever spoke about this "little secret!" That began my horror.

My best friend David was in a Monastery in Boston at the same time. David left the monastery after he was caught feeding and caring for a boy with AIDS who had been locked in an attic to die. David mysteriously died that year I was in Seminary, that hit me incerdibly hard. I still wear his Immaculate Mary Medallion still to this day, I never leave the house without it. That was the first time I began to see him in corporeal form after his death. I saw David three times. The night of his wake IN the seminary Chapel after the wake that night, and twice more after that, in different places after I left the seminary.

I was a straight "A" student. All of those credits transferred into Concordia University here in Montreal, so many years later. The great vicar general Andy Anderson was into public humiliation. And on the eve of the second round of final exams, we had a house meeting which he singled me out and humiliated me in front of the entire staff, house, priests and nuns. He called me poor and wretched. He said I was not "part of" the whole. That I was a loner and a private man. Something that would not bode well for my future. That day I had a nervous breakdown. I failed all of my exams.

I retired to my room in shame and did not come out for a week. My room mate brought me food to eat and kept me well. After a week of NOT showing up to mass daily and not making my committed responsabilities, that the Vicar General himself came to my room. He knelt by my bed and prayed with me and begged me to forgive him for what he had done and said to me. It was a stroke of God that overcame me, that I said yes, I forgive you.

I never spoke to that man ever again. I had no respect for him, and I was done with the church. this was the first time, now looking back in hindsight that i entered my first "dark night of the soul." I left the seminary and i left the church for a few years.

I could not put GOD and Politics in the same sentance. All I wanted was to serve God and His people, it was very simple, I did not bargain for the difficulty that thought would bring me. They did not ask me to come back the next academic year.

I eventually returned to going to mass, but that secret laid waste in my heart and soul. And there it lingered for 10 years. I never told a soul, not even Fr. Fetscher what I had witnessed. But 10 years later, the seal of silence was broken and I confessed to Father the reason I left the seminary. I was devastated and ashamed I had failed him. It was during that 10 years that I would be diagnosed with Aids. In 1994. I was living in Ft. Lauderdale then.

In 1995 I moved back to Miami and returned to my home parish, to tell the priests that I was going to die. It was from that day forward that they took up the responsibility to make sure I would die with grace and peace. That was over 10 years ago. These men of faith never gave up on me. They invited me to daily and Sunday mass. I was still serving mass. I never lost my post in the parish.

They never ever said to me that I was a sinner, or that I should not recieve the sacraments. They encouraged me to come daily and recieve and to pray before the blessed sacrament. They have a beautiful Blessed Sacrament Chapel that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there was always someone scheduled to pray before the sacrament around the clock.That was a parish wide initiative.

It was I think in 1998 that I was at a Sunday mass and I saw a man with crutches walk into the church and say mass. His name was Fr. Jeff McCormick, this man changed my life forever. It was well known that I was very sick during this period of my life. My parents and famly walked away and I lived alone with my cat, she was a godsend. That night I watched this man navigate the church like an old pro. Up the steps, down the steps, up the aisle, and around the church...

And I thought to myself, that is a miracle if I've ever seen one. What I would come to find out is this, Fr. Jeff had MS and the use of his legs had been lost, except to lean. So, If this man can become a priest and be as holy as he was, I would never complain about my illness ever again.

The next day I showed up for morning mass, and realized that Jeff had become part of the parish. That very day I asked him to be my spiritual director. I saw him every week for 2 year. I went to mass as much as my body would allow. Fr. Jeff changed my life. His faith in my life, was something that kept me fighting to live.

So you see, how affected by the church I am today and how conflicted I am in my life ministry.

God has something to teach me. And I am on the road to figuring that out, one step and one day at a time.


Blogger Echo Mouse said...

I'm just reading this now. Sorry I arrived at this late Jeremy. But your life, all that you have experienced in so few years, it is incredible. You are a definite fighter. And a good, no - a great - soul. Please don't ever let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

As far as I'm concerned, there is a God. Whether he's Catholic, I don't know and frankly, I doubt he cares about the different religions on earth. To me, all that matters is that we believe. The rest is pomp and circumstance for us here on earth. But I understand that it gives many comfort and if that helps their faith, then that's good. But when the people in the church abuse their position, as that man did with you, that's so wrong. That is what keeps me from organized religion. I've been to every church nearly, for every faith. In every single case there was so much hyprocisy I couldnt' stand it. So my faith remains but church...I skip it. Though I do love the beautiful architecture of the old churches :)

Keep being true to yourself. Don't let anyone tell you "how" to minister. Do it your way.

11:59 PM  

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