Sunday, August 30, 2009

PAPA LUCIANI AND I

I seem to have wandered off the path of personal reflections on being Gay and Catholic, but just as a reminder I've placed this rather sweet photo of JPI (in one of his more fey poses) permanently to the left as a symbol of the true intentions of this blog. However, I'm trying to follow the lead of the spirit, so to speak and at the moment feel compelled to offer some reflections on 'divine incarnations' and religious pluralism, with the sacred icon, the Shroud of Turin, thrown in for good measure. These are really meant for my own clarity of mind and this blog is really a personal reflection journal, but any readers who are interested are certainly most welcome.

However, following the advice of friends wiser than myself, and with some misgivings, I offer this personal statement about my own personal connection with Papa Luciani, which I made in the comments section of Wild Reed, a blog I much admire. Being new to blogging at the time and rather naive, I thought I was only addressing three persons, Michael of Wild Reed, William of Bilgrimage and Liam, the devil's advocate of the discussion about Luciani's alleged sexual orientation. In fact, of course, the discussion is open to anyone, so I've been asked by good friends to post it here more openly, even though I don't feel a blog is the appropriate forum for such intimate disclosures. However, I noticed that Terence of Queering the Church (another outstanding blog) offered a very moving description of a powerful spiritual experience of his own which helped to orientate his own life at a crucial moment of decision. Out of respect for Terence, I will not link the passage. What follows is a very short description of the 'moment' which connected me spiritually with Papa Luciani.

On a more personal note, I attended the installation Mass of JPI in the company of several gay friends, all priests. We stood right up against the wooden barriers that separated the seating area. This moment was the occasion of one of the great graces of my life, a formative experience that had to do with my own vocation as a Gay Catholic man. Because of it's intimate nature, I'll spare you the details, but I felt a vital connection between my own growing sense of gay identity and the man now being installed as Petrus. Now nothing is more unreliable as mystical experience (as concrete evidence of anything), or prone to personal interpretation and projection. I simply offer this story for what it's worth. The experience seemed to contain the premonition or warning that at some time in the future I would be called to 'move beyond' the formal priesthood of the Church (I was not yet ordained), that my gay identity would be the cause, that I was to remain at peace because there would be a confirmatory sign . At dinner that evening, because I had been so moved by the experience, I related the relevant parts of it to three close gay priestly friends. They all rushed to assure me that Luciani was known to be gay and had made some open comments among colleagues to that effect. There was no suggestion he was not celibate, it seemed beyond question he was faithful to his vows. What was not mentioned was some secret spectacular meeting of Luciani with the curial cardinals about accepting gay unions within the church. And we all know how Romans love to talk! But that a sensitive, gentle gay man within the ministry would make conventional statements about homosexuality in a published work, while expressing more open, more tentative comments privately as part of a process of personal exploration, does that not sound familiar to us all? It perfectly describes my Jesuit novice master in the 70's, who came out to us all in the 80's. None of this is evidence, but it is certainly a plausible scenario. To end this already long reply, less than ten years later I began a Masters in Divinity with the Jesuits in Berkeley. It was at this time that Cardinal Ratzinger issued his now infamous "Open Letter on Homosexuality." The moment I heard of it, I knew this was the sign I had been waiting for. Other gay persons could remain within the formal ministry, I could not. I respected their sense of calling to remain "within the belly of the beast" and "fight the good fight", but I was being called to a different kind of priesthood. It was an extraordinary gift of freedom and I've been so grateful ever since. I attribute this grace, however irrationally, to the mysterious intercession of Papa Luciani.

These final comments were appended:
31 years on the experience remains as mysterious and elusive as ever, and - as I mentioned early - as an experience it offers no concrete evidence of anything whatsoever. The priestly friends who took such good care of me 31 years ago - sober, responsible men not given to gay tittle-tattle or campy gossip. I remain in contact with one of them to this day and his views on this issue are provocative and challenging. I certainly agree that the many myths associated with this good man, Luciani, need to be dispelled, but I believe the work of serious, responsible scholarship in this regard has only just begun.

0 comments: