This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive comments are welcome on my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce, Chapter 32 - Getting Serious
Sunday, 1 November, was not just an ordinary Sunday, but also the feast of All Saints, all the hallowed ones for whom the evening before was commemorated in the name Hallowe'en. Bryce and Damon had breakfast at the cafeteria in the University Center, and spent a few moments enjoying the ambiance of the campus in fine fall weather. Inevitably, however, came a temporary parting, as Damon went off to spend some time with his mentor and friend, DuBois Kennedy, and Bryce met his mentor, Keith Henderson, and left for Mass at St. Boniface. That separation hurt, but at the present time it seemed that there was nothing to be done about it.
In the parking lot, Bryce and Keith met the Sandovals. Keith knew Mike slightly, and the rest of the family not at all, so introductions were made. Isobel Sandoval asked about Damon, as she had been told something by Mike. Thanks to the muzzle exercised by the University's public relations office, nothing more than a terse statement had appeared in the public media. The entire Sandoval family expressed their concern and outrage at the attack on Damon, and insisted that Bryce bring him to La Rincon Latina for a meal on the house. Buoyed by this support for his boyfriend, Bryce entered the church, where he and Keith sat with the Sandovals. In the normal rotation, this would be another Father Payne sermon Sunday, and Bryce wanted to leave with the Sandovals if it became offensive. He had already warned Keith of this possibility. He allowed himself to muse on the fact that, in Catholic services, the sermon was a minor part of the whole, so he did not have to sacrifice his duty to God in order to object to the babblings of God's benighted servant. He was very pleasantly surprised, however, when he witnessed the composition of the entrance procession, and noted that a completely different priest was the celebrant this week. When the procession reached the sanctuary, and its members distributed themselves appropriately, the priest greeted the congregation, then introduced himself. "You are probably wondering who this stranger is. I am Father Philip Howard, standing in for Father Payne this Sunday. I really am not an altar boy." The congregation laughed, as the visiting priest did, indeed, look very young. "I was ordained a year and a half ago, and have been serving as an associate at St. Cecilia's since then. I have heard many good things about you here at St. Boniface, so I am pleased to be with you today, on this beautiful feast of All Saints. Let us begin, in the name of the Father ...."
When it came time for the sermon, Father Howard mounted the ambo. Bryce held his breath, wondering what this one would be like. Father Howard took off on the words in the Apostles Creed: "I believe ... in the communion of saints." He startled Bryce when he said, "When I was a small child, I had an image of a line of saints, each with a white robe and a golden halo, lined up ready to receive Our Lord in communion." The congregation laughed again. But Bryce was agog. That was his early impression as well, but he thought it was something unique to him. Finding out someone else had the same misapprehension was somehow like someone stealing his ideas, but then he remembered that at age twelve he thought he was the only one who knew about masturbation, too. Father Howard continued, "I have not heard the following approach lately, but my father told me of the way the communion of saints was explained to him as a child. Perhaps some of you remember this version. There is the Church triumphant, consisting of those among us who have, in St. Paul's words, 'fought the good fight, run the race.' These are the saints in heaven, enjoying the Beatific Vision, the very presence of God. Then, there is the Church suffering, consisting of the poor souls in purgatory. While they are suffering, knowing what they are missing in heaven, they are also saints, in the sense that every soul in purgatory will at some point enter heaven. They suffer now, but their future is assured. And then there is the Church militant, which is us. We are the saints who are still striving to fulfill our mission. Often in his epistles St. Paul refers to the members of the various churches to whom he writes as saints. Saints are the holy ones. We are all called to be saints. If we are not perfect today, that is because no one is perfect in this transitory world, but we are all called to perfection. Each part of the communion of the saints is related to the others. We pray for those in purgatory to hasten their arrival in heaven, while we pray to those in heaven to assist us in fulfilling our role, in striving to fight the good fight, here on earth. We are part of the communion of saints which we celebrate today. We are part of the Church."
Damn, Bryce thought, then immediately apologized to God. The perfect time to bring Damon, with no Father Payne. I wish I had known beforehand, but last Sunday, when they would have made an announcement, I was in the hospital with Damon. I wish this guy were here on a regular basis. At communion time, Bryce closed his eyes after receiving, and thanked Jesus that Damon was recovering rapidly from his wounds. He thanked Jesus for Dr. Gianelli, but also for Curtis, for Caroline, for Sheila, and for all the people who had expressed support for Damon when he needed it. There was no specific response, but again Bryce felt that aura of well being which he had come to associate with the presence of Jesus in his life.
After Mass, talking with the Sandovals, Bryce learned that Father Payne's assignment to St. Boniface was slated to expire next summer. They wondered whether Father Howard had been sent as a trial balloon, to see how he was received by the congregation. There would be others before next spring, when the diocese would announce the new assignments. Bryce mentioned keeping his fingers crossed, but Isobel told him, "No. If you really like or dislike one of the visiting priests, write to the bishop. How else will he know what we in the pews think?" And so it was that, that afternoon, Bryce wrote a letter to the bishop praising Father Howard's sermon.
On the way back to campus, and over lunch with Damon and DuBois, they discussed the liturgy at St. Boniface, and the sermon presented by Father Howard. Keith said he was usually inclined to something simpler and quicker, but he enjoyed the experience, and especially the music. He might attend with Bryce from time to time. Damon almost looked embarrassed when he tentatively suggested that, at least when Deacon Jeffers was preaching, he just might revisit "that homophobic church that you're so fond of." Bryce began to defend the Church, distinguishing between the Church and Father Payne, but the other three told him to stow it, they had enough for one day.
Also that afternoon, Bryce spoke with his mother for the first time since Damon's attack. He gave her verbally much the same information he had already sent her by e-mail, but she wanted to hear it from Damon directly. As he was in his room at the time, Bryce surprised him by walking in and handing him the phone, saying, "Here. Mom wants to talk to you."
That caught Damon completely off guard, but the obvious concern expressed by Martha Winslow soon put him at ease. In only a few minutes, they were talking back and forth as though they were old friends. As they completed their conversation, Martha said, "Now, I expect to see you and Bryce on Thanksgiving. Don't you disappoint me." And so Damon found himself promising to be there. He handed the phone back to Bryce with a guilty grin.
After Bryce had signed off with his mother, he looked at his boyfriend. "So. You wouldn't commit yourself for me, but all my mom had to do was ask, and you're promising to be there for Thanksgiving."
Damon blushed. "Your mother is very convincing," he mumbled.
Bryce laughed. "You don't have to tell me that." He took Damon in his arms, and kissed him, carefully but tenderly.
Somewhat later that afternoon, Damon accompanied Bryce out to the soup kitchen. When they arrived, DeShawn practically threw himself at Damon. "Whoa. Easy there, Dynamite. I'm still a little sore in places," Damon cautioned him. DeShawn leapt back as though he had damaged his idol, but Damon laughed. "I'm sore, but I won't break. See, bad things happen, but us good guys can bounce back. You remember that."
"You bet," DeShawn promised.
Deacon Jeffers welcomed Damon, but insisted that he be careful of his arm, which was still in bandages where he had been cut. When it was time for grace, the Deacon announced to the diners that Damon was back, resulting in a chorus of cheers. As individuals went through the line, almost every one had a good word for Damon, wishing him well and a speedy recovery. By the time he and Bryce sat down to their own meals, Damon was teary eyed at the expressions of support he received from these people, who surely had problems enough of their own.
On Sunday evening, Damon returned to Pat's Tavern for the first time since his attack. They sat in a booth rather than at a table, as there was less chance of him being jostled there. Damon was still very sore in numerous places, but was healing satisfactorily. He had an appointment for a check up on Monday after his last class. There at Pat's, just the two of them this time, they began to speak of the feeling they had for each other.
"I am eternally grateful to you, Damon. More than any other single thing, it is you, and your friendship and love, which has permitted me to be myself. Without you, I would probably still be agonizing over whether I were gay or not. You're right, you know. Sometimes I over analyze things and put off making a decision," Bryce declared.
"Yeah, I know. I've been telling you that all along. But it's not all one way, you know. I've got as much out of you as you could possibly have gotten from me," Damon replied.
"How so? Sometimes I think I'm just taking, and giving nothing in return," Bryce admitted.
"Nothing in return!" Damon exclaimed. "Do you remember what I was like at the beginning of the semester?"
Bryce grinned. "Pretty cocky, as I recall. And I don't mean that as a double entendre."
"Sure. You were always the one who knew what was what, and knew your way around," Bryce reminded him.
"Well, maybe I came across like that, but it was all for show. I was scared stiff. You know what my background was like. I wanted like hell to leave it all behind me, but I had no idea how to go about it, or what to put in the place of what I was abandoning. Above all, I was not at all sure I could do this thing."
"College, man! I knew my high school was shitty. I wasn't really sure I won that scholarship on my real merit or because I was a black boy from the projects," Damon admitted.
"That academic scholarship," Bryce reminded him with a grin.
"Yeah. That one." Damon grinned back. "But you accepted me. Do you know what that meant? I had never had a white friend before. I never even knew any whites on a real personal basis. Here was this rich dude who wore designer clothes and drove a new car who was willing to be my friend. Do you have any idea what that did for my fragile ego? And you're the one who made it possible for me to seriously consider pledging Sigma Alpha Tau. And the acceptance I found there is what has kept me going. Acceptance of me as a black man, and as a gay man. Man, that says I can make it outside the closed world of the projects. And then, you and me. Boyfriends. That really sealed it, man."
Bryce was embarrassed at these accolades. He tried to deflect them by deprecating himself. "You must have been bad off if being accepted by a loser like me counted for so much. I was totally screwed up, and still am."
"Yeah, I was bad off, and yeah, sometimes you're screwed up, too. But without you I could not have made it. Your weaknesses and mine sort of blend together to make us both stronger."
"You are a true philosopher, Damon. You complain about me thinking too much, but what you just said is full of so much wisdom. I love you," Bryce emotionally declared.
"That's something else. You remember the first time we talked about love, and I said I wasn't sure what love was? Well, I'm learning. And that's because of you, too. This past week has been something real special. I sure as hell don't want to repeat it, but getting beat up has had some good results. Thanks to Sheila, and to Caroline, and to DuBois, but most of all to you, Bryce, I now realize that, as important as sex is, love is something more. We've gone a full week with no sex, but I feel more loved than ever."
"I hope this doesn't mean you're giving up sex," Bryce said with a crooked grin.
"No way, Asshole. I was just being totally serious for a change," Damon riposted. "Of course, you had to go spoil it."
"My function in life, the spoiler," Bryce preened.
"I love you!"
"And I love you, too!"
On Monday, it almost seemed that things were back to normal. Bryce arose early and had his workout with Curtis, then woke Damon, who complained as he had always done. After breakfast classes followed one upon another in their ordered progression, seemingly as fixed as the seasons of the year or the orbits of the planets. The rhythm of life at the University seemed restored to its proper beat. When they left their Biology class at 2:00, Damon reminded Bryce that he would be heading in for a check-up at the hospital after his Math class, at which time Bryce would again be closeted with Father Miller. He assured Bryce he would be fine, then added with a feisty grin, "Besides, Sheila and DuBois both volunteered to go with me and hold my hand."
"Are you thinking of replacing me?" Bryce teased.
"Only pointing out that it takes at least two others to take your place," Damon responded.
In History, Dr. Dickinson called Bryce up to his lectern before he began, and asked about Damon, which affected Bryce greatly. In class, the Professor spoke of the writings of John Locke. Locke had been secretary to Shaftsbury, and had shared his exile in Holland. When he published A Letter Concerning Toleration and Two Treatises of Government, both in 1689, it was therefore not pure chance that he was seen by many merely as another apologist for the seizure of power by William and Mary from the deposed King James II, the Queen's father. Although, like John Milton, Locke was often praised for advocating religious toleration, in fact he advocated toleration only for Protestant Christians. He specifically excluded Catholics, for like Milton Locke regarded Catholicism as a foreign presence in England. It should be noted, too, that when Locke writes of "the people" or "the public" he is not including everyone. His political arguments specifically favored Parliament, and those represented in it, which meant property owners. From the fifteenth century until the Reform Bill of 1832, there was no redistribution of seats in the House of Commons. A very small minority of propertied men elected the lower house of Parliament, and this is who Locke meant when he spoke of "the people." Furthermore, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding of 1690, Locke made perhaps his most significant impact on Western thought. By maintaining that the mind of a person was a tabula rasa, or blank tablet, at birth, he denied the entire Western tradition that we possess innate ideas. By so doing, he laid the groundwork for the modern philosophy known as Postmodernism, which denies that there is any objective truth or any objective standard of right and wrong. Rather, right and wrong are whatever society says it is. Thus, we jettison the concept of human conscience, and deprive ourselves of any standard by which to judge malefactors.
With all this newly imprinted on his consciousness, Bryce left his History class and made his way to the Newman Center, and his next session with Father Miller. As he arrived, Bryce again encountered the student receptionist whom he had seen there on previous occasions. This time, she spoke to him of something more than his scheduled time for meeting.
"Aren't you the friend of that guy who got beat up at Homecoming?"
"Yes. Well, it was actually after Homecoming, but later that night. That's Damon Watson," Bryce replied.
"Yeah, that's the one. A girl in my sorority, Sheila, talks about him a lot."
"Oh, do you know Sheila Officer?"
"Yeah. Like I said, we're in the same sorority. Sorry to hear about your friend."
"Thanks. Uh, you know I'm Bryce Winslow because I'm on the appointment book there, but who are you?"
"Oh, sorry. My name is Patricia Murphy."
"Nice to meet you, Patricia Murphy," Bryce said. She giggled.
At that point, the door of Father Miller's office opened, and the priest and another student emerged, bringing this tête à tête to a close. After a moment or two, Bryce was again seated in the comfortable chair in the office where he found himself every Monday at this time.
Father Miller again opened by asking about Damon, and was told that he was coming along pretty well, now more concerned that he looked terrible than about anything else.
"Several things have come up in class that I would like to ask about, if you don't mind," Bryce suggested.
"Go ahead. This is your time," he was told.
"Okay. In French, we discussed Jean Racine, and a group called Jansenists. How do they fit into this Catholic tradition we've talked about?"
"Cornelius Jansen was a seventeenth century Dutch priest and eventually bishop. He taught at the University of Louvain during his most productive years. His intention was certainly admirable, as he sought to find common ground on which to reunite the various Christian churches. He thought he had found it in the writings of St. Augustine. Now, towards the end of his life St. Augustine, who died in 429 A.D., became obsessed with the writings of a British monk named Pelagius. We have few of Pelagius' own writings, so we are dependent on what Augustine and others wrote attacking him, but if Augustine is to be believed, Pelagius taught that humans could get to heaven entirely on their own efforts, without the necessity of divine grace. If that is so, then there was no need for the Son of God to live and die for us. The entire life of Christ was simply unnecessary, so naturally Augustine was incensed. But most theologians, then and later, thought Augustine went a bit overboard in his reaction, stressing our entire dependency on divine grace to attain salvation. This is inconsistent with Augustine's earlier writings, so it is not clear whether this represents his entire outlook, but be that as it may, in the sixteenth century both Luther and Calvin picked up on these anti-Pelagian writings to stress the helplessness of mankind and the necessity of grace to obtain salvation. The Council of Trent insisted that salvation is obtained by a combination of faith and good works, placing more emphasis on human ability in the tradition of the Renaissance, but Calvin wrote a stinging refutation of this teaching. With Calvin we have the most complete rejection of human participation in the process of salvation with his doctrine of double predestination. Now, Jansen attempted to find a common ground between Catholic and Protestant by appealing to the teachings of Augustine. His own writings attempt a balance between grace and good works, between predestination and free will, although today we would say he leans towards the predominance of grace or predestination. However, in France, his writings were taken up by Antoine Arnauld and others, who stressed the sinfulness of mankind and our entire dependency on God's grace for salvation. In this, they are little different from the Calvinists, although they insisted on the importance of the Church, and especially of the sacraments, as sources of God's grace. It is in that tradition that Racine falls."
"Thanks, Father. That helps me put Racine in historical perspective," Bryce replied. "But where do we stand today? St. Paul does write about predestination."
"Yes, he does. But he also writes over and over about the importance of our own actions in achieving salvation. I think it is best to think of it in these terms. God wants all of us to be with him for all eternity. In that sense, we are all predestined for heaven. But, by our own sinful actions, some of us forfeit the destiny God has set out for us. Our actions, accepting or rejecting God's grace, make a major difference. Both are needed. We humans are weak and flawed. We see that in the headlines every day. We need God's grace to attain the supernatural goal of eternal salvation. But at the same time, God does not force us. Remember our previous conversation. God will not rape us by forcing us to love him. Our individual actions, accepting or rejecting God's grace, are just as important. Balance. Faith and good works. Grace and free will."
"I like that," Bryce said. "The concept of balance or proportion has always appealed to me."
"It is usually best to avoid extremes," Father Miller agreed. "Some would not see it this way, but if you study the history of the Church, you will find that she almost always comes down on the side of balance and avoiding extremes. There are a lot of 'ands' in Catholic theology."
"The other thing which came up in a class of mine was only earlier this afternoon," Bryce said. "Dr. Dickinson was lecturing on John Locke. He said Locke's concept of the tabula rasa opened the way for today's Postmodernism and the rejection of all objective standards of right and wrong."
Father Miller considered this for a moment. "In a way, I think Dr. Dickinson is right, but I doubt that Locke intended these consequences. That is so often the case. I doubt that Marx intended Stalin. I doubt that Nietzsche intended Hitler. And, just to be fair, I doubt that Jesus intended the inquisition. Putting any theory into practice often results in the theory being twisted. One thing is clear: the idea that there are no objective standards of right and wrong is definitely incompatible with Christianity."
Bryce sighed. "That brings us back to me. Last time, I said I did not believe that sex between two committed gay people was wrong, but the Church seems to say the opposite. Where is the objective standard there?"
"Ah yes. I have given much thought to your theology. As I said last week, I have never before come across this analogy between the reception of the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist and the sexual act. The first thing which occurs to me is that this is not unique to gay sex. If your analogy holds, then it is as true of heterosexual activity as homosexual activity."
"I guess that's so," Bryce conceded. "Obviously, I was not thinking of heterosexual activity. My experience of that has been anything but sacred."
"At this point, Bryce, I am not willing to agree with you. However, I am not willing to rule out your approach either," Father Miller temporized. "This is a very personal outlook, based in large part on what you believe to be the conversations you have with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Church does not base her theology on what is called private revelation. If this were the only basis for your position, I would have to completely disagree with you."
Bryce began to object, but Father Miller held up his hand for permission to continue. "If you will recall, there are other arguments which we might explore, which are more objective in nature. One of these is the nature of love, which we have touched on. Another is the nature of the Church, which we have not really investigated."
"If what you call private revelation is not admitted, what is the role of the individual conscience? My friend Mike Sandoval told me his spiritual advisor in high school told him that in cases like that of gay sex, the individual conscience is the final authority," Bryce protested.
"The two things are not exactly the same, Bryce. I think we need to investigate the nature of the Church before tackling the question of conscience. But, just so you do not worry in the meanwhile, essentially your friend is correct. Now, however, our hour has again fled. Next week?"
"Yes, again next week. I've got to understand this whole mess. It's important for my entire future, and the future of Damon and me together," Bryce said. "Unlike a lot of people, I can't live only for the day. I need some connection with a reality outside myself, something real. I guess I need that objective standard."