The Wednesday night Dignity group is less than inspired. Having Tim work his Baptist magic and music on my gay charges the week prior means my mundane list of saints days and parish activities falls flat. The boys don’t blame me for being less than inspiring. I just know they tune me out from the shuffling of feet, coughing, and averted eye-contact. Tim is in Oregon after what I imagine is a decadent weekend in the gay life of San Francisco. He is so young, not innocent, but definitely wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. That image and my misconceptions about gay life makesfor vivid imagery. Half the world is squirrels and the other half nuts. His joke about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence makes me laugh again. I decide to walk to coffee on Santa Monica Blvd. I make sure my clerical ‘dog’ collar is visible – my pass to the gay life. Usually I run into one or two of my Dignity ‘boys.’
Sure enough, I am spotted. In fact, there are three members, passionately carrying on a conversation. Once they notice me, they run across the boulevard to my outdoor table.
“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 follow me back to the parish house and wait as I call 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 comes 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.”
I’m speechless. After a brief delay, I gulp and murmur, “Thank you, officer.”
The boys look anxiously as I hang up. “You’re right. He drowned yesterday. He’s at St John’s Hospital.”
I cannot stop myself from crying. The boys hug me, crying themselves. The housekeeper comes out and gives us the evil eye. She is not a big Dignity supporter.
“Can we go see him, Father?” one asks 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, kneel there in the vestibule. I take out my rosary and pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” and end with “’grant Tim eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine, rest in peace, Amen”
“Amen,” they all answer.
I call the archdiocese in New York, asking for the Cardinal’s office. His assistant asks what I need. I explained it’s about Tim Castle. I am transferred to Father Frank, the Franciscan Tim told me is 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.”
“Holy mother of god. That boy will be a saint, you know.”
“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 Hospital. 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, too. 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.”
The boys and I drive to St John’s. Tim’s body is still in the Emergency Department. There’s an older man sitting with it. He seems oblivious of his surroundings.
“Hello. I am Father Luke. Tim was my parishioner.
“Oh, the Dignity group. I’m Jake Stern. I was with Tim when he drowned.”
“I’m going to administer last rites and make 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 get my last rites kit out, mumbling the words that forgive Tim for his sins and allow his ascension to God’s right hand – the bookend to his baptism. Praying aloud, “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.” It always uplifts my spirits. Realistically, I know it does nothing for Tim but I want everything to be perfect from the Church’s point of view. For God’s sake, he may be a saint.
I turn 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’s pretty equivocal. Tim sure has interesting friends. I sense Jake is in love with Tim, which flies in the face of my other acolytes’ quests for a sugar daddy. I have faith that Tim never prostituted himself. Maybe I’m naïve.
Once I complete the ritual, including the anointing of unction, I lead everyone out of the room. The nurses come in after I complete the rites and prepare his body for transport to the funeral home. As they strip off his swim trunks, I turn away in embarrassment. His virility was enormous.
“Thank you for coming,” Jake says. “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. It 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 launches into a monologue on his experiences with Tim. He spares me the sexual details. Everything else speaks to how passionate they were about each other.
“We never said we were in love,” Jake admits. “The age difference is 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 leave it at that. Jake promises to perform at the funeral. I hope to see him again.
I am pleased to officiate the funeral. Cardinal Manning will do the beatification ceremony at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana downtown on Sunday. I know 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 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 is understandable, if he is forced to ascend into a heaven in which his kind are not welcome. How I had become the advocate for gay Catholics seemed so ironic. I believe the Church sent me to West Hollywood as punishment for being so straight. As I write Tim’s homily, I emphasize 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 is controversial but he never wavered in his faith. He embraced the ecumenical spirit that even the Church is starting to come around to embrace. Only recently is it okay to not hate Jews for murdering Christ. I 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 ask Father Frank to review it and make suggestions.
“You don’t mention Tim’s sexuality,” he notes.
“I promised not to mention it specifically. I try to say he embraced all the good qualities I see in my gay parishioners.”
“I like the Baptist mention. It is so true.”
“He claims that holding Jesus in your heart returns you to the child you were at first communion.”
“He trusted people who opened their hearts to him.”
“Half my Dignity members are out hustling to survive. Real hustlers harden their hearts 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 perform 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 close to 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.”
“Two thousand years. Don’t expect the Church to be au courant.”
“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 are practicing in the Parish Hall. Father John has five boys and one girl going through their paces. Two very Irish blond boys have electric guitars. Instead of traditional hymns, the guitars are playing long Pink Floyd instrumental solos as the others wait for the vocals to begin. Father Frank and I sit in the back. It is quite moving. I am stunned when the guitarists have tears rolling down their cheeks. Even Father John is crying. Only a pouty boy is unaffected, looking disgusted by the emotional display around him. The guitarists go down on their knees and are playing long leads. The pouty boy, a dead ringer for John Lennon, sings 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 are overwhelmed and stop playing and backing up the Lennon boy. The girl, Nina Bernstein carries 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 recover, playing and singing the last verse with vigor and steel-edge resolve. It’s 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 finish the instrumental conclusion. It sounds almost mechanical. They all collapse at the end, including Father John. As the youngsters softly sob, Father John picks up an acoustic guitar and starts in with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ He plays 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 pick up their guitars and play 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 look miserable as if defeated by the music. Father John picks out acoustic notes to Pink Floyd’s ‘Crazy Diamond.” The guitarists wait before coming thundering in. Everyone, including Father John, raises 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 grabs my hand. With tears flowing, we leave the parish hall, not wanting to interrupt the rehearsal. Father John is a genius in arranging these songs with kids playing on pure emotion. I feel as innocent as Easter morn. I need to up my game on the homily.
The processional ends 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 complete the entire ‘Wish You Were Here.’ Thankfully no miracle occurs, although at the end as Tim comes to rest before me, there is a murmur throughout the church of disappointment that nothing miraculous transpired. In his open casket, Tim in an all-white suit looks even more beautiful than he did in life.
I proceed 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.
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 continue with the prayers and Eucharist. Many attendees take communion. With little confession being held in the morning, I have to accept that Tim would have forgiven the young parishioners for their venal sins, at least in their own hearts. I will soon have work to do. But a sense of Grace permeates the church. Jack is to do the New Testament reading and deliver the eulogy. As he walks to the altar, dressed in a similar white suit as Tim’s, it strikes me how blessed Jack was to be Tim’s lover. How blasphemous I have become.
It’s my fault for not securing the hearse that results in his body being stolen and now parading 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 has a droll take on the heist. “They won’t let Tim miss his celebration at the Troubadour.”
“It just seems so sacrilegious,” I complain.
“Maybe it’s a protest against the Church’s plans to sell off parts of Tim as relics once he’s canonized.”
Maybe I should join an order to retain my sense of humor.
“Are we going to the celebration?”
“If I 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.”
“Why. How many young priests have a potential saint in their parish. You get some credit for your work.”
“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 is having difficulty keeping control of his pre-teen choir. We walk over and ask the kids what they saw.
“It was another miracle,” Liam proclaims, overcoming his disappointment at not creating a miracle with their guitar playing during the service. “Tim is resurrected from the dead.”
“Do you know where they’re taking him, Father,” Kevin asks 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.”
They all plead to go right then.
“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 exudes urbane confidence. The others surround him, asking silly questions about satanic rock clubs. Liam takes my hand. I’m conflicted that it feels so reassuring to me, not just to him. Lambs to the slaughter.