Today was a remarkable day for me at the most personal level.
First, I performed music for the first time in a long, long time. A friend of mine called me two days ago in a panic and asked if I would play the piano for her mother-in-law’s funeral. As a friend and an ordained minister, it was impossible to say no to her. The truth is, with returning to college, assisting a former student of mine with his senior project, and auditions for a musical, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed at the thought of adding even one more, short-term project.
As with all things in my life, now that I’m on the other side of today, I couldn’t be happier to have had the experience. I sang and played piano better than I have for years. As the most critical person of my own skills, I was surprised to be happy with my music.
The most important part of the day was that I heard a homily by Monsignor Dan Madigan, the parish priest from St. Joseph’s Parish in Clarksburg, California, who officiated the funeral mass. His Irish brogue was soft and thoughtful. He spoke as though he was speaking to each person individually. With his history as a man of social justice, having founded the Sacramento Food Bank in the mid-1980’s, his words today had an especially profound effect on me.
During the homily, he discussed the fact that Jesus had once said that there were too many rules and that they burdened the every day people. He said that faith should be simple and a benefit to the people, not a heavy weight on their shoulders.
As he was speaking, I had to fight back the tears. Here was this Catholic priest, in his vestments, standing on an altar speaking about the need for a simple faith. It was so moving.
The church where the funeral was held was my former parish from 1976 to 2004. It was the parish that helped me decide to leave my Roman Catholic tradition.
In the early 1980’s, I had gone to confession, as was the weekly requirement at the time. I offered the truth of what my church said were my sins. I was a gay man who had slept with another man. The eldery, Italian priest proceeded to lambast me with horrific statements of how I was committing an abomination to God and that I would land in hell for my wicked ways.
On that day, I realized I could not be a part of a church that would talk with a parishoner in that way. I could no longer be told that I would go to hell for who I was. I had no choice but to leave the church I so dearly loved. Although I was correct in doing so, it has left a deep sadness in my heart all these years. I miss my church and my tradition.
As I watch women having children they cannot afford, religious clergy injuring children through their illness of pedophilia, and women being denied a rightful place as ministers in this enormous church, I know I made the right decision. I realize, too, that the elderly priest from so very long ago had no right to stand in such cruel judgement of my life when he certainly must have known people who had committed terrible atrocities, which is much different than one man loving another man.
Then, today, I am transported back to that same church where I was so hurt, and floating on the brogue of an elderly priest, I am healed from that hurt. Faith should be simple. It’s what I’ve believed for decades, and to hear it espoused here was truly miraculous.
I still cannot return to my home church as a devout Catholic, but at least now I know that the church has people in it who understand about true faith, and that it is different than structured beliefs.
Somehow, I am more at peace.