Feb 28, 2013


Whatever one's thoughts about Pope Benedict and the man Joseph Ratzinger behind the Petrine Office, the sight of his final leave taking from the Vatican today was a deeply moving experience. His beloved secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, was in tears and no doubt the relationship between them is a tender one. I don't begrudge Benedict the comfort of this personal, intimate friend in his declining years. What I object to is the glaring contradiction of a deeply repressed gay man in an evident (chaste) homoerotic relationship with a younger companion who has expended so much energy attacking gays within and without the Church. In the past the couple has been the object of campy gay jokes, quite understandable in light of the fact Benedict exhibits many of the characteristics of a  gay man in profound denial. However, now is not the time for derision or sarcasm, the situation is simply too sad for words. Instead the departure scene today struck me as the final unfolding of a tragedy, both a personal one for the man behind the office and a universal one for the church as a whole. How did we get this far and what will happen now, we wonder, as we wait for the next turn of events. One feels an unbearable sadness for the never ending cycle of denial and self deception that seem to mark the Vatican culture surrounding the office of the Papacy. One accepts this situation in a spirit of faith, that the Spirit knows what she is about in purifying the church through one contradictory trial after another. Yet we long for respite and for some sign of hope for the institution that carries the Catholic Christian mystical tradition. 

I have little sympathy for those who call for an end to the papacy itself, 'no more popes', if by that call one means a rejection of the charism of the Petrine Office, rather than a dismantling of the medieval structure of kingship that now enshrines it . Part of the gift of the Catholic faith should include an intuitive perception of the holiness of the office itself, no matter how grossly distorted it has become over the centuries. Just as part of the Catholic vocation includes a mystical awareness of the mystery of the 'Real Prescence' within the Eucharist, no matter how clumsy and incomprehensible may be our theological explanations. Watching Benedict's frailty today and contemplating his own disturbing obsession with attacking gay people worldwide, I was only made more conscious of the profound holiness of the office he has just rescinded, a necessary mystical sign of unity that still shines beneath the distortions and weaknesses of the office holder. "The Pope needs to be put in his place," one of my revered theology professors said some years ago (Father Edward Malatesta S.J.). But by that phrase he did not mean the obliteration of the office altogether.

And so we wait - to see what the Holy Spirit has in store with the next figure to fill the Petrine Office. And we wait as persons of faith, not simply as journalists observing a bizarre sociological phenomenon, determined solely by the machinations and conniving of ambitious, duplicitous men.  What message will be conveyed from the Spirit by the next chosen Pope? That the time of trials and purifications are far from over, that we need to cease to look to the central office for any sign of change and renewal, that rigid ideological positions regarding women and gays and sexual morality are too entrenched to be changed or recognized by those at the top. Or will the Spirit surprise us by the selection of a man who will be humble enough to continue the process of demythologizing the office of the Papacy begun so spectacularly by Benedict's resignation. Someone who knows his place, as a humble servant of the whole church, whose voice can only be heard as the spokesperson of the 'sensus fidelium', listening, discerning, respecting and following the guidance of the Spirit expressed through the many currents of change in the church today. In any event, what is most important to remember is that the Spirit began a painful process of purification of our Catholic 'addiction' to the Papacy as a false idol of adoration some time ago, a process that is still underway, and whose turnings will still surprise us.

However, appeal to the Holy Spirit can quickly turn into a mechanism of denial and involve us in abstractions that obscure the real dynamics at work behind the scenes. As Ivone Gabara makes clear in a superb article at Igelsia Descalza's blog:

In the context of the first news reports, what struck me was something small and insignificant at first sight for analysts who deal with Vatican affairs. It was the way some of the priests who were interviewed or those who are TV show hosts responded when asked about who would be the new Pope by going off on a tangent. They referred to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit -- or its will -- as being the element on which the election of the Roman pontiff depended. Nothing about thinking of specific people to respond to the challenging world situations, nothing about stimulating reflection in the community, nothing about talking about the current issues in the church that have led to a significant slump, nothing about listening to the cries of the Catholic community for the democratization of the anachronistic structures that support the institutional church.

The theological training of these priest-communicators doesn't let them get away from a well known trivial and abstract discourse, an argument that keeps having recourse, as an explanation, to occult powers, and so, in a certain way, confirming their own power. The continual reference to the Holy Spirit from a mysterious hierarchical model is a way of camouflaging the real problems of the Church and a form of religious rhetoric to avoid revealing the internal conflicts experienced by the institution.

The theology of the Holy Spirit continues to be magic for them, expressing explanations that can no longer speak to the hearts and consciences of many people who appreciate the legacy of the movement of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a theology that is causing the passivity of the faithful in the face of many forms of domination, including the religious kind. They continue to repeat formulas as if the latter would satisfy most people.

I include these comments as a necessary corrective to a too facile dependance upon 'the Holy Spirit,' without abrogating my faith in the ultimate power of Providence working in and through, behind and above the practical considerations and decisions of fallible women and men - or in this case, fallible elderly men secreted in conclave without any accountability to the whole church. Yet even in such a secretive place, the Holy Spirit lives and confounds.

Whatever the choice and whether we consider the choice momentous or irrelevant, we must ask the Lord of the Church, "What would you have us do? Show us the way ahead? How are we best to serve the church we so love and move it forward towards that goal of being a shining city on a hill? O Lord Jesus Crucified and Resurrected, show us the way."

Feb 11, 2013

The Next Pope

Pope John Paul I of Holy Memory

After Pope Benedict's momentous and historic announcement today - that he is resigning his office due to age and infirmity - speculation is already running high as to his possible successor. It is truly amazing how much drama is created by papal elections, they possess a mystique that is mysterious and inexplicable. So here we go again.

I was in Rome many years ago for the funeral of Paul VI (I well remember the green body turning to decay rather quickly because he had been hurriedly prepared and rumors of conspiracies, poisonings,  abounded) And I was present in St. Peter's Square both for the election of the saintly but long forgotten Pope John Paul I and for his installation mass. What a moment of hope that was for all Catholics worldwide and how quickly it was shattered.  And I feel I will be present in St. Peter's for this next election as well, since we're a mere hour and a half from Rome by plane here in Prague. 

For those interested in speculating, here is an interesting lineup from Business Insider
Cardinal Schonborn my personal favorite is #9 on the list with a chance of 25/1. Why so low? His recent decision to reinstate an openly gay partnered man to the parish council, publicly humiliating one of this pastors. 

Feb 8, 2013

Proof of Heaven: Ruminations on Being Gay and the Afterlife

I've been in a period of retreat and seclusion for the past several months, since before Christmas, and it's been a wonderful respite from all of the 'problems and turmoil' of the world. I did keep one eye slightly open upon various news items around the world, as well as the usual sordid scandals within the Catholic Church. Yet  somehow all of it seemed so very unimportant and slightly unreal, when set against the peace and joy from the indwelling Spirit, the living flame of Love, as John of the Cross so lovingly described it, a living Presence calling one into communion with the Beloved in solitude and silence. 

There are times when we are called to retreat into the depths of this inner silence and other times when we are called to carry the peace that 'surpasses understanding' into the troubled marketplace. While I feel deeply connected to the mystical core of the Catholic faith, and called to witness to this essential living mystery, I don't feel called by vocation to focus so intently upon all of the scandalous stories surrounding this imploding institution. If one focuses too myopically upon these scandals up close, it can be quite depressing and dispiriting and give one the illusion that 'this is all there is,' when in fact the Catholic charism continues in its burning intensity and will long outlast the petty if shocking scandals of the moment. Yes, living the charism does compel one to witness against the sins and distortions that obscure this living mystery, but living the mystery itself must take priority over focusing upon the scandals - which can become an addiction all in itself. Personally, I'm not called to act as a watchdog, but I value and respect those who do feel so called and rely upon them to keep me informed. 

As an aside, I've just finished reading Hilary Mantel's Booker Award winning, Wolf Hall, which chronicles the separation of the English Church from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, all written through the eyes of the supposed villain of the times, Thomas Cromwell, who engineered the death of the 'saintly' Thomas More (for those readers who know their English history). I found it interesting and worthwhile to be reminded of the terrible scandals of the past, scandals that always seem to be associated with the Roman branch of the Catholic Church. In this case, it is the fact that Alessandro Farnese succeeded Clement VII to the papacy, despite having fathered four sons (or so Mantel alleges). And it was good to be reminded that we burned individuals at the stake for simply  possessing a copy of the Gospels written in the vernacular.  So this has been the conundrum, the paradox, the continuing never ending scandal of the Roman Catholic Church, that so many of us feel mystically bonded to an inner Mystery living within such a scandalous institution, a Mystery that calls us to belief in its holy existence despite all the scandals and signs of contradiction, as well as despite the baffled, outraged  incomprehension of those outside the Church  who -quite understandably- cannot fathom our complicity in such a faith. What is it that we find so compelling that justifies our continual devotion despite so many crimes and scandals. And then there are those like myself who feel called to live the mystery on a mystical level, without practicing the faith on a practical level by joining a formal Roman community of worshipers. The only way I can personally protect the 'living flame' is by maintaining a certain distance. 

During these past few peaceful months, I've been doing reading and research for the novel I'm writing a crime novel set in Prague which is also a young gay teen love story. Since the novel also has a 'Catholic' aura to it, I've also been going back through some classic Catholic/Christian literature, from Dostoevsky to Graham Greene to present day works (which are few and far between). The first book I finished within the past few months was John Greene's award winning young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which received Time Magazine's endorsement as the 'best novel of 2012,' a fact which somewhat lowers my respect for Time Magazine's judgement. 

Green's award winning book is about two young teens dying of cancer and yes, as the awards attest, he does manage to avoid most of the cliches and sentimentalities of such works, while creating two of the most original teen voices in contemporary fiction. Yet not entirely. The love story is indeed profoundly moving and the unflinching honesty, even cynicism, with which these young teens face death is truly inspiring in part. Unfortunately, however, religion or spirituality of any kind is relentlessly ridiculed in the novel, and one gets the sense that the author thinks it is 'uber' cool to be so starkly atheistic and despairing, when in fact such a stance is already a bit old fashioned. Every adult in the novel is portrayed as foolish and befuddled by life and of very little help to the young lovers themselves, and that is certainly a standard cliche of young adult fiction. Every representative of a belief in the afterlife is depicted as a self serving delusional fool. Only the teens are clever enough to see through the the ruses and hypocrisies  of adult believers and to face head on the brutal fact that this earth is only a doomed and dying rock spinning around a dying star, and we ourselves are mere molecules doomed for extinction.

This rather traditional teen atheism reminded me of a passage from Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, which was itself published in 1940, at a time when such sentiments were indeed fashionable:

In reference to the Mexican lieutenant, who is doggedly tracking the 'Whiskey Priest' with an eye to arresting him (at a time when being Catholic was a crime punished by death in Mexico), Greene puts these sentiments into the man's mind:

It infuriated him to think that there were still people in the state who believed in a loving and merciful God. There are mystics who are said to have experienced God directly. He was a mystic, too, and what he had experienced was vacancy- a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all. He knew. 

The possibility of a spiritual dimension to the human person, a dimension that might be 'eternal' and might transcend the physical limitations of the body, this possibility is not even hinted at within John Green's novel, which I consider quite irresponsible for an author of young adult teen fiction. 

 Yes, it is refreshing and iconoclastic in a healthy sort of way, to reject all false comforts and escapist dreams, and instead to face heroically the stark truths of human mortality. Yet when dealing with young teens, there should at least be the hint of an alternative viewpoint and the possibility of an argument for a more spiritual vision, even if as an author one does not want to endorse that viewpoint oneself. Fair enough.  But there isn't such an alternative viewpoint in John Green's novel, which makes the hype surrounding this work all the more disturbing. Yes, the love story is very moving, so much so that I mourned for days after the 'death' of one of the principal characters (the young boy who so passionately loved the girl), and mourned more deeply than I can remember ever mourning for a fictional character. It is the great achievement of the book, that the young couple come so alive that one grieves for their passing and feels their terrible loss. But stacking the deck against a spiritual viewpoint mars the book considerably, and in my opinion, places it firmly in the realm of old fashioned, outdated cliche, all comments to the contrary notwithstanding. Teens deserve better than this.

By a synchronistic coincidence, simultaneously with The Fault in Our Stars, I was also reading the remarkable 'near death' memoir by neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, Proof of Heaven.

Dr. Alexander, a brilliant neuro-scientist who received his credentials from some of the most prestigious schools in America,  shared the convictions and scientific view of the vast majority of doctors and scientists - that near death experiences, while certainly real enough subjectively for those who passed through them, were also simply nothing more than the final chemical discharges of the brain. It was a prejudice he was to see shattered by his own seven day near death experience. 

This book is being lauded as 'the longest near death experience' ever recorded (seven days in a coma), and it is an astonishing, inspiring story, not least for the fact that Dr. Alexander is precisely the sort of scientist who would have endorsed Greene's sentiments above. He had no religious convictions at all prior to his experience and remained convinced - ala the prevailing scientific world view - that when the brain dies, consciousness dies with it. " Human beings ... had evolved from animals for no purpose at all."

From Amazon.com's blurb:

One morning in 2008 he fell into a coma after suffering a rare form of bacterial meningitis. Scans of his brain revealed massive damage. Death was deemed the most likely outcome. As his family prepared themselves for the worst, something miraculous happened. Dr Alexander's brain went from near total inactivity to awakening. He made a full recovery but he was never the same. He woke certain of the infinite reach of the soul, he was certain of a life beyond death.

In this astonishing book, Dr Alexander shares his experience, pieced together from the notes he made as soon as he was able to write again. Unlike other accounts of near-death experiences, he is able to explain in depth why his brain was incapable of fabricating the journey he experienced. His story is one of profound beauty and inspiration.

Dr. Alexander should not have recovered at all from his coma, let alone a full recovery with all of his mental faculties restored. Medically speaking, his recovery is nothing short of 'miraculous', and he now firmly believes it was for a reason. He feels he has been  called, because of his medical background and former convictions, to witness to the nature of the Afterlife, a 'reality' which so many of his scientific colleagues firmly refuse to accept. 

His account of his spiritual journey into the world of the Spirit beyond death is the most profoundly moving rendition of a NDE I have ever read, it is beyond astounding. And because it is so extensive and detailed, you feel as if in some way you have taken the journey with him. This is by far the most 'realistic' description of a NDE currently on record. Yet it needs to be read to be experienced, so there is little point in my attempting to summarize it. I cannot recommend the book too highly. 

However, apart from the beauty of the Spirit world he encountered, two other things struck me with particular force about the book. The first is his sensitive account of the thoughts and sentiments expressed by his concerned family members and friends who gathered around his bedside during his coma and who attempted to comfort one another. Alexander gathered these comments together after his recovery and they give a picture of a remarkable community of loving friends struggling through a terribly painful and distressing experience, one which challenges their own faith and convictions. The  comforting, spiritual remarks they make to one another (not always with complete conviction, more out of desperation and hope) are precisely the kinds of comments that John Green ridicules with such sarcasm in The Fault In Our Stars, and reading these accounts simultaneously with Green's novel revealed to me in stark clarity how shallow and contrived Green's writing is in this regard, despite his justly lauded success in characterization. Dr. Alexander's loving community of family and friends seems so psychologically healthy and well balanced and gives one a sense that they reflect the best of human nature during the most trying of times. 

The second thing that struck me about the book is that during Dr. Alexander's seven day journey into the afterlife he meets a sister whom he never knew he had (since he was adopted at an early age), but whose existence he discovered when he inquired of his natural birth parents after his full recovery. But...and this is my point, nowhere during his seven day sojourn does he encounter Jesus or any representative member of the Christian faith, despite having attended Episcopal services with his family. He states that the Episcopal Church and its services never resonated within his being, since he did not consider himself a 'man of faith,' and attended more out of familiar bonding. After he returned from his NDE, however, he found he could experience a connection with the same loving Divine Presence of his NDW within the hallowed walls of the Episcopal Church- but still without any explicitly Christian content. He had become a believer in the Divine and the Afterlife, but not in strictly Christian terms. And that is a very contemporary sentiment and a healthy counter balance to any sense of exclusivism on the part of any religious tradition. His book also makes a perfect counterbalance to the cynicism and bleakness of John Greene's teen novel.

But back to The Fault in Our Stars. One of the stories John Greene does hold up for ridicule is the story of the 6 year old Italian Catholic girl , Antonietta Meo,  whose leg was amputated and who died at the age of six, radiating joy and serenity to all those around her and expressing a passionate love and devotion to Jesus that rivals the greatest saints. Her cause for canonization Benedict XVI approved in 2007, thus paving the way to making her the youngest non martyred saint in Catholic history. The story of Anonietta is introduced into Green's novel by one of the more reprehensible and untrustworthy characters in the book, Peter Van Houten, and for the young cancer ridden young teens he constitutes one more failure of the adult world to offer them any authentic succor or hope. Hazel, the narrator, responds to the story of Antonietta and her joyful embrace of suffering and  sublime acceptance  of death, as "Bullshit," which is probably understandable in a young teen dying of cancer without any spiritual resources to aid her. So we are not expected to take the story of Antonietta Meo seriously in Green's novel, or are we...It's difficult to say, and I suspect he may have dropped the story into the text as a subtitle indirect suggestion, knowing that certain curious readers would immediately follow the link, which is exactly what I did. 

Born in 1930, Antonietta contracted osteosarcoma at the age of six and had to have her leg amputated. 

From the Vatican website:

A religious sister who was a nurse in the clinic testified: “One morning, while I was helping the nurse was in charge of ordering the room of the little girl, her father entered. After caressing her, he asked her: “Do you feel much pain?” And Antonietta said: “Daddy, the pain is like fabric, the stronger it is, the more value it has.” The religious sister added: “If I had not heard this with my own ears, I would not have believed it.”

She begins to go to elementary school at the age of six, with a prosthesis that bothers her greatly. However, she offers it all to Jesus: “May each step that I take be a little word of love”. She wants to celebrate the day of the anniversary of her amputation with a big lunch and with a novena to Our Lady of Pompeii, because thanks to this event she was able to offer her suffering to Jesus.

The night of Christmas of 1936, she receives her First Holy Communion with great fervor, and a few months later she receives Confirmation. The amputation of her leg had not stopped the tumor that had spread to the head, hand, foot, throat, and mouth. Both the pain of the illness and the treatments that tried to heal her were very strong.

When they would meet a poor person, it was she who wanted to give her the cent that she had. She liked to attend school and catechism class; she wrote to Jesus: “I go enthusiastically, because I learn so many beautiful things about You and Your saints.”

She died in the midst of terrible pains. She had not even completed seven years of age.
She has been declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI on December 17th, 2007. Her life has been a witness of sanctity for children who suffer.

However, the Vatican website was certainly not enough for me, so I came to Antonietta's letters, and it was here I became convinced we are in the presence of one of those remarkable mystical events in the Roman Catholic tradition that are so inexplicable to non believers. How can a child so young be so evidently advanced in the spiritual life, reaching heights of rapturous love for her Divine Beloved. This is what the Roman Catholic tradition does best, however, which is to provide a tradition that fosters such sanctity and a haven for such astounding mystical growth for which no rational explanation suffices. And no amount of cynicism on our part or resentment against the hierarchy and the Pope for this or that grievous offense, should prejudice us against believing in the sanctity of this extraordinary child. 

Here is one example:
Dear Jesus the Crucified I love You so much I love You so I want to stay with You on the Calvary and I suffer with joy because I know I'm on the Calvary. Dear Jesus. I thank You for having sent me this illness because it is a means to get to Paradise. Dear Jesus tell God the Father that I love Him, too. Dear Jesus I want to be Your lamp and Your lily dear Jesus. Dear Jesus give me the strength to bear this pain I offer You for the sinners. Dear Jesus tell the Holy Spirit to enlighten me with love and fill me with Its seven gifts. Dear Jesus tell sweet Virgin Mary that I love Her so much and I want to stay with Her on the Calvary because I want to be Your victim of love dear Jesus. Dear Jesus I entrust my father confessor to You and grant him every necessary favour. Dear Jesus I entrust my parents and my sister Margherita to You. Dear Jesus
Greetings and kisses Antonietta of Jesus

It is one of the hallmarks of very advanced spiritual development, in the Catholic tradition especially, that the 'soul' displays a passionate, loving thirst for 'suffering,' not as a good in itself, but as a means of further purifying the soul to bring it closer to the Divine Flame and as a means of proving one's love for the Beloved. It is not suffering itself that is being lauded, hallowed or absolutized, but a thirst for sacrifice born out of love. This is all the more remarkable when such loving sacrifice and sanctity manifests itself in the life of a child - which in my view simply offers evidence for belief in the possibility of 'reincarnation,' and that is hardly a Catholic view. (Thanks for Prickly Pear for pointing out to me that 28% of Catholics believe in reincarnation.)

The problem arrises, however...and it goes without saying this constitutes one of the weakness of the Roman Catholic Tradition - when this mystical thirst becomes misinterpreted by those of us who are not so highly developed spiritually and in our lesser hands, this thirst becomes distorted into an unhealthy obsession with suffering as a good in itself and the suffering saints of our tradition are then worshipped and 'pedastaled' as signs of the tribal superiority of our religion. This is especially a temptation for figures of authority like the Pope, who one suspects, uses the existence of such special charisms within the body Catholic as justifications for his own particular policies and spiritual worldview. 'See the kinds of holy witnesses I am called by God to protect and  foster, and part of this protection must include resistance to all the 'modernist' influences in the Church since Vatican II which would diminish our respect for the kind of holiness manifested in the life of Antonietta Meo.' That this particular kind of holiness is a very partial and limited one goes without saying. 

However, how many schoolchildren have been oppressed by such stories told to them at an age when they are far too young to appreciate the mystical depths of such young lives. And this brings me back to Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. At one point in the novel, a mother is tirelessly reading the story of the Mexican martyr, Blessed Padre Juan Miguel Pro, to her young children, one of whom is a perfectly normal, rambunctious little boy of six. As the mother drones on and on:

"Juan, unknown to all but his Confessor, was preparing himself for the  evil days ahead with the most rigorous mortifications. His companions suspected nothing, for he was always the heart and soul of every merry conversation...."

I don't believe a word of it, the boy said with sullen fury, not a word of it.

How dare you!

Nobody could be such a fool. ...

Go to your father.

Anything to get away from this....it  sounds so silly..." 

And of course as readers, we sympathize completely with the little boy and his resistance to such stultifying sanctimoniousness, one of the worst aspects of the Roman Catholic tradition, and this resistance brings us back to the cry of "Bullshit" uttered  by Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars in reaction to the story of Antonietta Meo. 

And yet such holy children exist and their sanctity is real as is their witness in the face of suffering and death, however qualified by weaknesses that have been blotted away by hagiography. 

As an example of synchronicity, which we used to refer to as 'Providential' coincidences, at the same time as reading the above two books, I was also browsing through the superlative new biography of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson, The Voice Is All, because Kerouac is another tormented Roman Catholic writer, who remained 'chained' to the Roman Catholic tradition, despite his immersion in Buddhism. 

And what did I find? That Kerouac remained haunted all his life by the memory of his 'saintly' older brother, Gerard, who died  of Rheumatic Fever at the age of nine when Kerouac was four. Kerouac remembered the gentleness and sweetness of his brother's nature and his remarkable courage and serenity in the face of death. So yet again another example of youthful spirituality in the face of death.

As another example of synchronicity, I was also reading and just finishing, David Plante's deeply moving memoir, American Ghosts, which chronicles his experience of growing up Catholic and gay in Canada in the 1950's. (I read about four or five books at the same time, switching from one to another when losing concentration, a practice I picked up in college.). 

In his youth, Plante went through a deeply pious, intensely devout Catholic phase, attending daily Mass in the early morning, practicing mortifications, and contemplating a vocation to the priesthood. He was nonetheless haunted by the Indian religion of his Canuck Indian ancestors, which colored his own Catholicism with the hint of a deeper, darker mystery.  However, in early youth, he had left the faith of his childhood behind, convinced that God did not exist, and like the young lovers in The Fault in Our Stars, equally convinced that reliance upon religious sentiments in the face of death constituted false hopes and delusions to be avoided. One needed to face the stark reality of death without flinching. Plante also has a model of Catholic mystical devotion to sacrifice and suffering, his demented and unbalanced Aunt Cora, who at first impresses him deeply until he sees through the sham of her mystical devotions. This is biography not fiction and the reader accepts Plante's sorrowful judgement that this one witness to holiness is ultimately false. 

Plante then embarks upon an astonishing spiritual journey as a gay man and discovers in his gay sexuality an experience so rich and powerful that it transports him into a rare spiritual dimension, a dimension that would be denied him within the Roman Catholic tradition, not simply because it is gay, but because it is simply richly sexual and mystical combined. 

In a moment of epiphany with is first lover, he states:

I saw him walk through the streaming beam of moonlight towards my bed, towards me, his erection preceding him. My defeat (he thought the young man had earlier rejected him) turned immediately to the glory of the onrushing realization of everything, everything, everything I had ever wanted, with no possibility now of anything being held back, and I held out my arms to him. No sensation, none, had ever been or would ever equal the sensation of his body in contact with my body. 

And in having so much, I wanted more, and the more I had the more I felt that everything would come together into something complete, something even more complete than a body, something that, as if it enveloped, gave the body its  completeness. I made love, made love with a passion that amazed me, for that completeness, for that more, for everything. I made love for the completeness of everything beyond us, of everything out in the world there was to see, to hear, to touch, to taste and to smell...Making love, I was free joyously free, in the sense of everything coming together of itself, far beyond my ability to bring it together. 

Coming alive for the first time as a sensual human being, Plante felt he could now approach the communion rail in Church and that "instead of my bowels bursting asunder, I would emit a glow from all my body for having come alive in all my senses. Able to imagine, with delight in my imagination, being in my own beatific state, I felt very far away from a state of sin."

His journey takes a dark turn after these transcendent moments, however, as Plante is unable to find any support in his traditional Catholicism for his radiant sensual experiences as a sexual gay man.

The death of a dear friend in Paris, leaves him "feeling with utter starkness, that nothing, absolutely nothing was possible that might give meaning to this world, and that any longing I had for such a meaning led only to a false devotion to what did not exist." And that, of course, is the sentiments of the young lovers in The Fault in Our Stars, and one suspects, of the author John Greene, himself, the fear of believing in false comforts. 

Of his dead friend, he says, "That Sonia and I were both lapsed Catholics was, she had said to me when we'd found this out about each other, 'our secret.'
She rejected God, any God, with a force that would have destroyed God had God existed....She would rage, rage, not only against any belief in God, which she found totally uninteresting, but against God himself for ever having supposed he existed, for ever having supposed he was of any interest to anyone. He had never existed, and he was of no, but absolutely no, interest. 

As a beautiful girl and athletic and blond, Sonia was born in India and then educated in the convent school of the Sacred Heart nuns in Roehampton, England. She hated, then and forever, the nuns...The nuns, she said, had made her bathe in a long white shift so she wouldn't see her body, had denied her a mirror to brush her hair, had insisted she lie in bed with her arms crossed over her girl's bosom as if she were a corpse so that she would be in the position to receive God if he came during the night to take her away into the hereafter, that hereafter for which she must sacrifice everything here.

One reads such a passage with a weary sigh of recognition,  the terrible harm caused by a sexually repressive religious tradition, which has absolutized and exalted a false sense of suffering into a mystical ideal. And yet the soul of Antonietta Meo remains a pure witness to the possibilities of joy in suffering borne out of love. 

Plante continues:
She reacted with outrage to the saying that humans can be more than human, that when they are touched by God's grace they transcend themselves, cease to be selfish, and become selfless and devoted and helpful to others, that a person has a soul and that after death the soul is meant to be united with God in eternity. She would have denounced you: Humans have no souls and no other fate but to die, and to die means to cease to exist and nothing more...

I believed she had the right to, believed that in rejecting a faith that tried to destroy her in the name of trying to save her she had earned the right to denounce hypocrisies.

From this point on, Plante's journey becomes even more interesting. He meets, falls in love with and marries a Greek man named Nikko, who is a devout Greek Orthodox Christian. He attends Easter services with Nikko every year without recovering his childhood religious faith, the loss of which he counts as the "worst thing that had ever happened to him." 

He then meets a young woman named Mary, a devout but enlightened Catholic, who seeks to draw him back to his religious faith. Following her suggestions, he does visit a Catholic Church and immediately feels himself transported into a deep and silent mystery.

So there was a great silence and stillness in the church, and I, in that silence and stillness, went into what I can only call a state of grace.

Yet Plante feels this is not a 'state of grace' leading him to abandon his present convictions and return to the faith of his childhood. Meeting his friend, Mary, that afternoon, he tells her. 

"Mary I do not believe in God . All I believe is this: There is no salvation for us, there is no life after death for us, there is no eternity for us. God does not exist. 

Accepting a temporary post at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Plante returns home to Canada in 1990 after many years of exile living in London with his husband, Nikko. He finds that religion had disappeared from the language,

"that religion, for which  le Canada had been, when I was growing up, the mystical country of miracles, had vanished...Canadians stopped going to church, boys no longer had vocations to be priests or girls to be nuns, and the seminaries and convents were left to the old religious who could no longer function, or they were sold. ...My students were writing in a language that had nothing to do with God..."

Yet Plante continues to yearn for transcendence and to heal the split within his own being between the secular and the religious. He finds himself in church both wanting and not wanting to be there, and yearning for a sense of meaning both for himself and for his ancestors, 

"I wanted this, I longed for this, for all my ancestors. And at the same time I knew, with the same starkness of fact that came to me when I saw how many in my ancestral world could not sign their names, that what I wanted, what I longed for, was impossible for them, for for anyone, because there was no world beyond this world."

Plante then travels to France in search of his roots and the history of his French ancestors, and while there experiences an epiphany that resolves in one powerful spiritual insight the sense of division between his own being. One can only call such a moment a 'state of grace,' given to him freely and gratuitously outside the context of his childhood faith, because he has been called into a different dimension, one free of reliance upon religious institutions, but no less spiritual and whole for all that. It is a Zen like moment of pure awareness that lifts Plante above the need for the reconciliation of opposites and in that pure moment, his longing for healing disappears, because he has become whole. Suddenly, he is free of the past, of his Canuck Indian ancestory, his Roman Catholic history and devotions, free of his supposed atheism and despair, free of all negativity and doubt, simple immersed in the sacred awareness of the moment. 

He sees the dead filled with 'star bright awareness.'

I thought, "Their awareness is illuminated by that infinite darkness behind them, which makes their awareness so acute, so dazzling, so utterly without personal thought or feeling, so utterly without commentary, utterly without opinion, utterly without judgement, but radiant with attention to everything all together, with impersonal compassion for everyone, with all-inclusive love, which the living themselves are incapable of. 

He returns home and a year later travels with his lover Nikko to the island of Paros. One evening they walk to the sea and stopped and gazed at the dark blue waters. Plante said to his lover, Nikko, and realizes that here, just here, has always been the answer to his quest and his relentless searching. He says to Nikko, "If I were to fix one of the moments in my life which I would like to last forever, it would be this one."

And Nikko asks, "Why fix any moment?"

To which Plante replies, "Because it's so pleasant, because I feel it's so whole."

And to himself, Plante asked the question, "Why did you feel the moment whole? I answered myself, because his love is enough. 

This gay man has ended his long, lonely, religious journey with the awareness that the love between himself and his lover is sufficient to all things. This love even answers the question of personal survival after death, because in the radiance of this love, such a question is no longer relevant  and the supports and comforts of religion are no longer needed.  Love is enough. 

It is a beautiful, moving ending to a long religious search and it is noteworthy that Plante's  'enlightenment' occurs outside any explicit religious context or structure. The message I take away from this is that each of us is called to a particular path, the Spirit blows where she wills, and while some find their sustenance within a religious tradition, others are led elsewhere, the Spirit thereby revealing to us that no spiritual path, tradition, institution is an absolute. However, what should be most moving to us in the LGBT community is that the Spirit revealed herself most fully to David Plante within the love that flowed between himself and his husband of forty years, Nikko. 

Plante ends his book with this poem. 

In your darkness, God,
Help me to see
The carafe of water, the glass
The spectacles left on the open book,
And the pillow on the unmade bed. 

Check out David Plante's memoir of his forty year relationship with Nikko:

The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief