My life is my gospel, no different from Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, or John’s of the New Testament; it is a testimony to the existence of God in my life as witnessed by me.
That, I recall being told by the Jesuit Tom Green (since gone) at a recollection for St. Theresa’s alumni some years ago. I had gone there for no deeper intention than to bond with my high school classmates of old.
At the time I was no longer a regular churchgoer. But Father Tom struck a chord too deeply resonant to ignore, and it made clear sense to me, like some epiphany. I heard him say, effectively, that I’m writing my own gospel, my own truth. Father Tom’s words were so very now, so very New Age, so very Jesuit, and in them I found emerging a common ground between the likes of me and the church of my tradition.
I grew up Roman Catholic, studied under Belgian nuns in high school and college, and in the interim—age 15 to 17—was interned, for some cultural exposure to my Spanish roots, at Colegio Mayor de Padre Poveda in Madrid, run by the Teresiana nuns, who wore no habit.
I had gone to Maryknoll College for grade school, tutored by American nuns who had demystified for me the nun’s persona. As teachers and elders, they were tolerant and understanding, even encouraged individuality and imagination. Many of them were young yet themselves and, their penguin-like garb hardly getting in the way, they played and laughed with us. They were to me the Jesuits of the religious sisterhood.
Thus, by the time my more doctrinaire Belgian mentors found me, it was too late: The veil had been lifted; I could no longer be intimidated by their Batman hoods; I had already tasted freedom of thought.
Although primed to take life in relation to religion critically, I somehow learned to love Jesus, as both baby and grown man, and love him unconditionally, regardless of what any newly uncovered scrolls might say about him. In fact, I’d feel consoled if, along with being martyr for all mankind, past, present, and future, Jesus also had had an ordinary human life for me to celebrate.
Actually it was his death, in all its anguish, humiliation and pain, that had always bothered me, and, with that, the conditional Catholic promise of salvation, attainable only through him and by our own Calvary.
I have always had a problem with claims to exclusivity; they come across as intolerance, dividing instead of uniting, thus defeating the very purpose of religion.
How can there be only one route to God? The world, after all, is older than any church, and records seem to show that, at every stage of the development of mankind, man was never without some spiritual guide.
This to me is evidence of God’s undiscriminating compassion, and that serves to fortify my disbelief in one exclusive path to salvation and in the forever-ness of hell. I like to believe there’s always hope and forgiveness for everyone, and a heaven that welcomes all.
Alas, the Roman Catholic church will have none of it, a rigidity I have heard justified with a biblical basic: It was the church built on a rock, the singular circumstance from which derives the self-assertion that it is “the one true, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.” I can still hear Mother Laurentina telling us precisely that in high school Religion class, although in a tone that does not at all reflect happy surrender.
“Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church,” she intones, her far-cast, blank-visioned, gray eyes beginning to glisten with the onset of tears, and continues in darkly romantic rhyme, “One day you’ll know how unyielding it can be; how it will not budge for neither you nor me.”
A normally cheerful, atypical Belgian nun, a favorite teacher of mine, Mother Laurentina was possibly going through her own struggles of faith. (She died before she was 60, of breast cancer.)
My own similar struggles intensified after the annulment of my first marriage by a civil court. Its own imprimatur unbestowed, in fact unsought, the Church looked upon my soul as having been in the meantime compromised.
Kept out of the fold, I ventured onto other paths to God. But what am I really looking for? All my big decisions have been motivated by my desire to be happy, surely a worthy cause.
In the course of my wandering, a friend and fellow seeker gave me a book whose title precisely asks, “Where are you going?” The book is one of a number by an Indian meditation master whose philosophy happened in my life after he had himself passed away.
He says that what everyone is looking for is, again precisely, happiness, and that happiness is, in fact, everyone’s inherent right, nay, everyone’s very nature. He prescribes spiritual practices—meditation and selfless service, among them—and a non-judgmental attitude.
At it for 21 years now, I’m being shown that God is as much in happiness indeed as He is in pain and suffering; that He is in everything and in everyone, in fact playing every role on the stage of life. But, of course, if He is everywhere, where is He not?
Arriving in the United States for the first time, he was asked by a reporter what business he was in. He smiled and said, “I am in the business of happiness.”
Well, I absolutely buy that, and am determined to write my gospel around it.