The Wednesday night Dignity group was less than inspired. Having Tim work his Baptist magic and music on my gay charges the week prior meant my mundane list of saints days and parish activities fell flat. The boys did not blame me for being less than inspiring. I just knew I was being tuned out from the shuffling of feet, coughing and averted eye-contact. Tim was in Oregon after what I imagined as a decadent weekend in the gay life of San Francisco. He was so young, not innocent, but definitely wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. That image and my misconceptions about gay life made for vivid imagery. Half the world was squirrels and the other half nuts. His joke about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made me laugh again. I decided to walk to coffee on Santa Monica Blvd. I made sure my clerical ‘dog’ collar was visible – my pass to the gay life. Usually I ran into one or two of my Dignity ‘boys.’
“Father Luke, is it true about Tim?”
“He’s not Teen Jesus. He says it, just as a parable for our times.”
“Not that, Father. We heard he drowned in Malibu on Wednesday. Is he really dead?”
“Oh, son. I hope not. Don’t always believe rumors. I’ll call Parker Center and find out.”
They followed me back to the parish house and waited as I called the Police.
“This is Father Luke at St Viktor. Can you check on one of my parishioners? The boys say he was in a swimming accident. His name is Tim Castle. He’s eighteen.”
“Hang on. I’ll check, Father.”
After a short delay, the officer came back on the line.
“Yes, Father. An 18-year-old Timothy Castle drowned at Zuma Beach on Wednesday. He was pronounced dead at St John’s. His body is still in the Emergency Department.”
The boys looked anxiously as I hung up. “You were right. He drowned yesterday. He’s at St John’s Hospital.”
“Can we go see him, Father?” one asked me.
“Yes, but first I need to let Cardinal Cooke in New York know.”
“He’s with God. Sainthood is a long procedure. But in my eyes, he’s always been a saint. Do you want to pray for him?”
The four of us, three gay hustlers and a novice priest, knelt there in the vestibule. I took out my rosary and prayed, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” and ended with “’grant Tim eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine, rest in peace, Amen”
“Amen,” they all answered.
I called the archdiocese in New York, asking for the Cardinal’s office. His assistant asked what I needed. I explained it was about Tim Castle. I was transferred to Father Frank, the Franciscan, that Tim had told me was his confessor.
“Father Luke, you know young Tim.”
“He has been attending our Dignity group in Beverly Hills.”
“Yes. Always advocating for the gays with his Baptist ways.”
“I have sad news. Tim drowned in a surfing accident.”
“He always denied that.”
“That’s Tim. Did anyone administer last rites?”
“I just found out. I’m on my way to St John’s. I can do it. I know his heart was pure, regardless of how he treated his body. I have no problem forgiving him his sins.”
“Please document everything. I’m sure Cardinal Cooke will start canonization procedures. We’ll contact Cardinal Manning and arrange a suitable service. I know his family, good Catholics. Hopefully the internment can be out there.”
“I’m so stunned. I can’t believe this is happening, Father.”
“Call me Frank, Luke. I can tell you love the boy.”
“I know that. Tim taught me how to recognize an open-heart. We have much to talk about. But first we have our duty to Tim to complete.”
“Hello. I am Father Luke. Tim was my parishioner.
“I’m going to administer last rites and then, arrangements for the funeral.”
“Do you want me to leave? I really should. I’ve been sitting here for hours.”
“There’s no need. Do you mind being a witness for the last rites.”
“No problem. I know Tim was very religious. Is it okay that I’m Jewish.”
I got my small last rites kit out, mumbling the words that forgave Tim for his sins and allowed his ascension to God’s right hand – the bookend to his baptism. Praying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up,” always uplifted my spirits.” Realistically, I knew it did nothing for Tim but I wanted everything to be perfect from the Church’s point of view. For God’s sake, he was bound to be a saint.
I turned to Jake, “You may find these rituals quizzical. We believe they heal the holy spirit that is bereft by a believer’s death.”
“No more than the rituals of the Kabbalah in my faith. If it helps you and others deal with death, I have no reason to be skeptical.”
That was pretty equivocal. Tim sure had interesting friends. I felt Jake was in love with Tim, which flew in the face of my other acolytes’ quests for a sugar daddy. I had faith that Tim would never prostitute himself. Maybe I was naïve.
Once I completed the ritual, including the anointing of unction, I led everyone out of the room. The nurses came in after I completed the rites and prepared his body for transport to the funeral home. As they stripped off his Speedo, I turned away in embarrassment. His virility was enormous.
“Thank you for coming,” Jake said. “I didn’t know what to do, after calling his lawyer and boss.”
“Everything will be taken care of. Do you want to talk about what happened?”
“Tim wanted to go bodysurfing. The ocean thrashed him. I watched from the shore. When he didn’t come up, I alerted the lifeguards. They got him ashore, but he had already drowned. They tried resuscitation, but failed to revive him. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. I’ve sat here in a blur until you arrived.”
“You want to get coffee?”
“I don’t know what I want. Coffee may help.”
Jake launched into a monologue on his experiences with Tim. He spared me the sexual details. Everything else spoke to how passionate they were about each other.
“We never said we were in love,” Jake admitted. “The age difference was too great. He seemed to absorb my experience and point of view as a classical composer. He didn’t find it a contradiction to his life as a rocker. He wanted to synthesize these oppositions into performance. He was a genius who brought out the best in everyone, as if he could see possibilities that anyone else would ignore.”
“He was an incredible preacher with my Dignity charges, much better than I ever was.”
“I guess we just need to carry on. His inspiration remains.”
We left it at that. Jake promised to perform at the funeral. I hoped we would see each other again.
I was so pleased to be asked to officiate the funeral. Cardinal Manning would do the beatification ceremony at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana downtown on Sunday. I knew my gay parishioners and Tim’s many gay friends attending my service at St Viktor would upset the Church hierarchy if they came en masse to the Cathedral. ‘Separate but equal’ may seem like progress for the Church, but it exposes the hypocrisy of its ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ philosophy. I had to promise not to mention the gay issue. I would be happy to talk about how happy and gay (in the old definition) Tim was. Tim’s reluctance to embrace his role as potential saint was understandable, if he was being forced to ascend into a heaven in which his kind were not welcome. How I had become the advocate for gay Catholics seemed so ironic. I had believed the Church had sent to me to West Hollywood as punishment for being so straight. As I wrote Tim’s homily, I emphasized how important it was for Tim to bring people back or for the first time to the Church’s mission of Christ’s love for everyone. His Baptist ways of proselytizing through the Holy Spirit was controversial but he never wavered in his faith. He embraced the ecumenical spirit that even the Church was starting to come around to. Only recently was it okay to not hate Jews for murdering Christ. I had always felt it was hypocritical to hate Jews when Jesus was Jewish and the Romans were the ones who crucified him. Maybe the Roman Catholic Church stole Jesus from the Jews.
After the first draft, I asked Father Frank to review it and make suggestions.
“You don’t mention Tim’s sexuality,” he noted.
“I promised not to mention it specifically. I tried to say he embraced all the good qualities I see in my gay parishioners.”
“I like the Baptist mention. It is so true.”
“He trusted people who opened their hearts to him.”
“Half my Dignity members are out hustling to survive. Real hustlers harden their heart to others once they start to believe their own hustles.”
“Tim must have been amazing to gay Catholics.”
“Yeah. He was so fun and attractive. After advising our group to stop hustling others, he brought out a ghetto blaster and taught the boys how to do the Hustle.”
“Have you met Father John from the St Paul’s Boys Choir and the boys he brought to play tomorrow? The boys learned to play electric guitar from Tim. When he came to hear them play a processional, golden tears fell down on the parishioners.”
“The second miracle.”
“Tim said to give credit where it was due, to the boys.”
“He hated the whole idea of the Church making him a saint.”
“Do you think he wanted to die?”
“That it was a suicide? No.”
“He believed he would join Jace in a spirit world of pure energy.”
“He told you that? It’s not what we believe.”
“He had a drug experience where he denied the devil, met a guardian like the ancient Greek god Charon, and was told he would become pure energy with no sense of self when he died. As long as he lived, the ghost of his friend Jace would stay with him.”
“How did he become so religious?”
‘The Baptists. He went to their youth group and some of the kids could see Jace’s spirit when they were holy rolling.”
“No, Teen Jesus. A Miami policeman called him that when he defended Jack from a drunken redneck, turning the other cheek by not having him arrested. The cop wondered if Jesus had been a rowdy teenager.”
“You believe there’s an actual ghost who’s really Teen Jesus?”
“I’m too old to see him but it sure helps converting young sinners back to the fold.”
“I felt him during one of Tim’s sessions with my Dignity boys.”
“As Tim would say, your faith must be strong. You don’t mention Teen Jesus in your eulogy.”
“What should I say?”
“Just speak from the heart and trust your faith. If you can show that Tim’s love for so many people wasn’t just homosexuality, he may end up a saint after all. And Dignity won’t get closed down, like so many priests want.”
“How did I become the attacker of the Church proscription against homosexuality?
“Your record of spurning any unwanted advances at Assumption Seminary in Dallas is well documented.”
“Why was I sent here? Was it punishment for being so straight?”
“Maybe you were the perfect candidate. The anti-gay clerics thought you would shut down West Hollywood, while pro-gays knew the Church would only listen to a priest who wasn’t gay.”
“No wonder the Church is so out of touch.”
“Let’s go see Father John. He’s helping his choir boys teach the Jace’s Place kids the hymns to sing tomorrow. I Think John Lennon’s son may be there too, with Leonard Bernstein’s daughter.”
“We’ll call the choir ‘Angels with Dirty Faces.’
They were practicing in the Parish Hall. Father John had five boys and one girl going through their paces. Two very Irish blonde boys had electric guitars. Instead of traditional hymns, the guitars were doing long Pink Floyd instrumental solos as the others waited for the vocals to begin. Father Frank and I sat in the back. It was quite moving. I was stunned when the guitarists had tears rolling down their cheeks. Even Father John was crying. Only a pouty boy was unaffected, looking disgusted by the emotional display around him. The guitarists got down on their knees and were playing long leads. The pouty boy, a dead ringer for John Lennon, sang the short lyrics to ‘Wish You Were Here’ with a Liverpudlian, Merseyside accent.
‘So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?’
The boys were all overwhelmed and stopped playing and backing up the Lennon boy. The girl, Nina Bernstein carried on, completing the vocals without accompaniment.
‘Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?’
The two guitarists recovered and played and sang the last verse with vigor and steel-edge resolve. It was less lyrical than determined.
‘How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here’
DAVID JON GILMOUR, ROGER WATERS
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Barely able to keep it together, they finished the instrumental conclusion. It felt like mechanical playing. They all collapsed at the end, including Father John. As the youngsters softly sobbed, Father John picked up an acoustic guitar and started in with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ He played strongly, roughly strumming the chords.
‘I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this :
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah…’
Songwriters: Leonard Cohen
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
The boys picked up their guitars and played another long Pink Floyd intro”
‘The lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path.
The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
The lunatic is in my head.
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me ’til I’m sane.
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.
And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
“I can’t think of anything to say except…
I think it’s marvelous! HaHaHa!”
Lyrics © T.R.O. INC.
The kids looked miserable as if defeated by the music. Father John picked out acoustic notes to Pink Floyd’s ‘Crazy Diamond.” The guitarists waited before coming thundering in. Everyone, including Father John, raised the roof with the lyrics:
‘Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky
Shine on you crazy diamond
You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom
Blown on the steel breeze
Come on you target for faraway laughter
Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon
Shine on you crazy diamond
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light
Shine on you crazy diamond
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision
Rode on the steel breeze
Come on you raver, you seer of visions
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine’
Songwriters: DAVID JON GILMOUR, RICK WRIGHT, ROGER WATERS
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Father Frank had grabbed my hand. With tears flowing, we left the parish hall, not wanting to interrupt the rehearsal. Father John was a genius in arranging these songs with kids playing on pure emotion. I felt as innocent as Easter morn. I needed to up my game on the homily.
The processional had ended with Tim’s casket brought down the aisle to the altar. The St Paul’s Choir boys, with added voices from the New York boys and girl had completed the entire ‘Wish You Were Here.’ Thankfully no miracle had occurred, although at the end as Tim came to rest before me, there was a murmur throughout the church of disappointment that nothing miraculous transpired. In his open casket, Tim in an all-white suit looked more beautiful than he did in life.
I proceeded with the funeral mass.
For the Old Testament reading I chose psalm 139, lines 1-12.
‘A psalm of David.
LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.c
If I take the wings of dawn*
and dwell beyond the sea,*
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light”*—
Darkness is not dark for you,
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one’
“Tim felt the hand of our Lord in all his adventures. He did not flinch but lived with the belief that the holy spirit held him, guided him, and protected him. He inspired us to follow his example. He rejoiced in the presence of the Lord, ascending into the heavens, knowing the Lord was there watching him. Taking that wave that killed him as ‘the wings of the dawn,’ he now ‘dwells beyond the sea.’ The purity of his heart surely cleanses any earthly sin. This grace was not a sense of self-righteousness as it may have affected an imperfect man. He trusted the Jesus in his heart to show him the way to eternal life.”
I continued with the prayers and Eucharist. Many attendees took communion. With little confession being held in the morning, I had to accept that Tim had forgiven the young parishioners for their venal sins, at least in their own hearts. I would soon have work to do. But a sense of Grace was felt through the church. Jack was to do the New Testament reading and deliver the eulogy. As he walked to the altar, dressed in a similar white suit as Tim was dressed, it struck me how blessed Jack was to have been Tim’s lover. How blasphemous I had become.
It was my fault for not securing the hearse that resulted in his body being stolen and now paraded around Hollywood. At least his soul is safely dispatched to his just rewards. My gut reaction watching him fly by the Church steps, waving from the back of an open convertible was a mixture of shock and glee.
“Don’t worry about it, Luke,” Father Frank had a droll take on the heist. “They won’t let Tim miss his celebration at the Troubadour.”
“It just seems so sacrilegious,” I complained.
Maybe I should join an order to retain my sense of humor.
“Are we going to the celebration?”
“If you want the body back. And who knows what bands will show up. I’m betting on the Beatles.”
“No, but two of them played with Tim at St Patrick’s during Advent last month.”
“I need to be rescued from West Hollywood.”
“I’m a fish out of water here.”
“More like, a fisherman who reeled in Teen Jesus. Your saint’s name can be Peter.”
“Yeah. Peter Pecker of Boystown.”
On the church steps, Father John was having difficulty keeping control of his pre-teen choir. We walked over and asked the kids what they had seen.
“Do you know where they’re taking him, Father,” Kevin asked me.
“First, Tim is not resurrected. They stole his body from the hearse. That’s my fault for not having it locked. Second, the celebration is just a few blocks away. I’m sure his body will be there, eventually.”
“We’ll walk over. We need to stay together once we get there.”
“Nina and I played there last summer. It’s a cool club,” the Lennon boy exuded urbane confidence. The others surrounded him, asking silly questions about satanic rock clubs. Liam took my hand. I was conflicted that it seemed so reassuring to me, not him. Lambs to the slaughter.