I am or I’m not

I went to Scott’s 35th ordination anniversary yesterday. I rode with Steve and we met up with a group from AA. I wore a black polo shirt, black slacks, my black Birkenstocks and a wool tweed jacket. I was feeling a bit emotional during the liturgy —  it has been 4 years since I’ve attended one. The last one was Mom’s funeral. I recovered in time for the liturgy of the word and was singing along without getting choked up through the rest of the Mass.

As we were gathering in the courtyard for the spaghetti dinner, a woman walked by. She had accompanied a woman who was blind (we had waited for them to cross in the parking lot when we arrived) and she seemed to be curious as to our identities. She looked at me full in the face and asked “are you a priest?”

Surprised, I shot back “no.”

Instantly, I regretted my response. She asked Dan W. the same question who answered the same. His answer was truthful. Mine was a lie. I am a priest. According to the order of Melchizedeck, I’ll be a priest until I die. Her query was an honest one. I was dressed in black, I’ve been mistaken before for a priest (witness the female patient at Kaiser in 1993 when I went to assess her for discharge needs). Why did I fear to tell her the truth? All I gained by telling her “no” was to squirm with the realization of lying so easily, even in the face of believing that I was so spiritually enlightened by reading Christ in Evolution by Delio and just having come from the Eucharist.

What was I afraid of? To face the shame again of being a priest who is not active? Charley Parker stopped by to say hello. He looks older, of course, was dressed casually in mufti, most unclerical looking. Why did I dress so clerical and yet act defensive when I was asked if I was a priest? I “resigned” in 1995. I’ve been away from ministry for almost as long as I’ve been active. Yes, I do have unresolved issues in not being active in ministry, and in the church. But the church that I knew in the 70s and 80s no longer exists. Three popes later and the church seems to have fled back to the dark ages, the hardening of dogmas, the calcifying of credos. The writings and teachings that I was nurtured on at St. John’s and at USF is now suspect and is no longer shared even among other priests. Instead, novenas, devotions, reliquaries and the like fill people’s lives and they consider that “church.” Scott is the one brave candle of Vatican II flickering in the world that is on the brink of being snuffed out by local leadership.

As a gay man, as an older man, as a man who lives alone in the ancestral home, I’m used to being alone and invisible. I relate to people, family, clients at St. Joseph the Worker, fellow AAs, only from a surface, detached level. My shares at AA are not deep. Everything I ponder is couched in  intellectual terms. Delio talks about “vernacular Christology” in which there is a language of spirituality that is born out of contemplation that engages the heart and not the brain.

To let go, and to plunge into the soup of love and surrender, ah, I’m still standing on the side of the pool, wistfully looking at the water and hesitating to jump in.

I believe Lord, help my unbelief.

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