It was Good Friday circa 1989; god, that seems like a million years ago doesn’t it? Where I sat, well knelt rather, in that world, a world of Jesus, god, faith, a world in which I had always been a part. That day was for the first time for me, cast into doubt all things I had ever known or believed. As I knelt in this world, I, new in seminary, prayed on that day, Good Friday 1989; I, knelling on the wooden kneel board which descended from the pew in front of me, had a life changing observation, a revelation of doubt.
In that sacred space, infused faintly, delicately on my nose, with exotic incense, I was supposed to draw closer to my faith. And here amidst incense, I was kneeling before the consecrated Eucharist, the "body" of Christ; which was suspended like a trophy between glass and gold, or so I was told. And all my history leading up that that moment, all this drama, had convinced me that this "miracle" was intoxicatingly believable.
We had been told, I had been told, that this piece of flour and water, the Eucharist, was the actual body of Christ. And the tradition was that from Good Friday through holy Saturday, there is no Mass, and instead one may prostrate oneself before the consecrated Eucharist which is made? Created? Magic-ed by the priest on Holy Thursday in the re-enactment of Jesus' last meal, Passover. There, before us in the golden monstrance, one knelt, humbled before the Christ, this piece of unleavened bread, described to us as transfigured by the priest, so as to become the Eucharist, a literal miracle enacted at every mass by the ordained priest, he who for a moment, at least in Catholic tradition, was the voice of Christ at Mass, uttering, "Hoc est enim corpus meum."
Or was it? I mean here I was, this yearling seminarian, surrounded by Monks and boys who loved the Jesus, or at least the idea of the Jesus. I too, who had very recently before this adoration, had loved the Jesus.
But today, that day, I looked at that piece of flour and water, dried, on the Monstrance. Of which I was told, that this, this dried piece of bread, suspended between glass and gold, was not only a symbol of the Christ, but was actually the BODY OF CHRIST.
Today, that day, I looked at that image, the host, the wafer of dried flour and water, suspended as it was between glass and gold, and that day, Good Friday 1989 actually said, to myself, “wait? What? This cannot be true.”
It was then, at that moment I actually realized, “People literally believe that a priest, who is a man, some random man, who they claim is transfigured, changed in essence, by his ordination, who becomes the actual voice of god (vox dei) and there, during the Mass, he changes the ontological reality of the piece of bread, the host, so that it may become, in essence, the literation of the Christ. No symbol, but in essence, changed so as to be the actual body of Christ. Sanctum, hoc est corpus Christi. Corpus Domini Nostri leu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam, Amen.
That day, kneeling as I was before this Corpus Christi, I asked, in doubt, “do people believe this?” And as I knelt there, I knew that my loved ones, those who I have always known, always loved, did believe this. I looked around the sanctuary, and there on that Good Friday at the Monastery, prostrate around me, were men, boys, people that I had come to know in the last several months, these men I loved, respected, revered even, and I realized in their prostrations, that they loved, lived and believed this host, this flour and water suspended between glass and gold was a literal God, a literal Christ held in a moment like a prisoner so that they might adore it. So that they, these seminarians, these monks, these priests might become in time, the same power, vessel, that creates such a mystery. They believed they rested in the actual, living presence of their god, their Christ.
I, for a moment, on that day, said, “this is more fantastical than any story I’ve ever read.” And it was in that moment the very first seeds of doubt took root. The tendril of “this cannot be true” spread. But it encountered that wall, made of bricks of family, of a personal history as a child, that said, “you mustn’t doubt, for literally every single person you’ve ever known believes this to be true.”
Indeed, every single person I had ever known to that point, mother, father, family, whoever, all of them, believed that the priest had the power to change simple flour and water into a literal god. EVERY SINGLE PERSON I KNEW believed this as literal truth. And me, kneeling there, on that day in 1989, on a wooden kneel board, had to ask, “who the fuck was I to question this?” Seriously, literally every. Single. Person. I. Ever. Knew. believed this to be true. And me, here, a yearling seminarian knelt, with a realization that “what if this isn’t true”, what would that mean. Surely I could not be the first person to ever question this, yet in my entire world view to that moment, I had never questioned it, never not once; and yet, on Good Friday, 1989 I realized I could not believe this.
I stayed in seminary. The more I studied sacred Christian, Jewish, Islamic texts, studying them in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, English, I kept asking, “wait, what? People believe this?” But I could not act on my doubts, because I was, as far as I knew, the first person to ever question this believed reality. I had NEVER met in my 20+ years a single person who did not hold the same basic world view. Not one single person…….and as far as I knew, I was the first person ever in the history of the world to doubt……..in my world view I was alone.
As I learned about other faith traditions, Hindu, Buddhist, Islam. Janist, Jewish, Mormon, Orthodox, Protestant, Druidic, Nordic, and on and on and on, the further I grew from my own faith. We studied faith traditions centuries older than my own, faith traditions no longer practiced. And every time I encountered a new or different faith asked myself, “what makes my religion, my world view, more true? Will not this faith also ultimately lead to the same result. There is no god in the volcano, only man's fear of the unknown.
I found that absolutely nothing made my changing world view on the faith I had more valid, more true, more real. Absolutely nothing. No matter how much I prayed; no matter how devoutly I knelt before the “Christ” in the Eucharist. I realized that my world view was as valid, or as invalid as any other belief system. No evidence for my faith existed other than, "that's what we were taught, this is what we believe." For even the "texts", the scriptures, were as flawed as any work ever written by man. As I studied these, the Dead Sea Scrolls, how a verbal tradition became a written tradition, how it was interpreted and evolved over time, the more I realized this system of belief in which I had been indoctrinated was impossible to validate outside of a "feeling", that is, "faith."
It was in 1989, Good Friday, that day, I realized my world view was smaller than I ever knew. That day, 1989, Good Friday, I realized that because the world, your, mine, community says something is true, it in fact, may not be so.
I, on that day, Good Friday 1989, I, an emerging Atheist, was afraid to tell the world I was a non-believer. But that day, Good Friday 1989, I could not accept my doubt, my atheism.
That day, Good Friday 1989, was the first day of my liberation. That day, Good Friday 1989, was the first day I began to discover myself. That day, Good Friday 1989, was the best day of my life because I said, “wait, why?”
It took me nearly 10 years after that day, Good Friday 1989, to actually stand up to the world of faith, which is as real as Hollywood sets and movie staging, and exclaim, THIS IS NOT REAL.
On top of that, it took me more than 15 years after Good Friday, 1989, to admit I was queer. Which further excluded me from my faith experience, because the same faith in which I had been raised also told me that my sexual orientation was fundamentally wrong and evil. That I was fundamentally wrong and evil.
In 1989, this was the first actual Good Friday of my life because it was the first time I ever, for myself asked, “wait, is this real?” It was the first time I became self actualized. It was the first time I “saw.” It was the beginning of my life, which now, on Good Friday 2022, is still a journey of self discovery.
Indeed, The Best, Good Friday.