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Prayer life provides a focus as I cope with dropping T-cell counts.

"... from the womb before the dawn I have begotten you." (Psalms 110:3).

I have always felt there was something special about me. Most gays and lesbians have these intuitions, but this was different. I remember that as a 5-year-old I would sit for hours and contemplate the origins of my life, trying to enter that realm of existence before birth. I never got there.

But as I went to Catholic grammar school and took religion classes, I discovered that prayer satisfied some of my questions and helped me understand my feelings of being different. At that age, I believed I was destined to become a priest. I would play "Mass," pray the rosary and say all of the rote prayers that the sainted Sisters of the Holy Spirit taught me. But there was something missing. When I prayed, I was jabbering away and not listening. At age 15, this changed.

In spring 1974, my grandmother asked me whether I wanted to go to a week-long prayer encounter at the Marian fathers' house in Stockbridge, Mass. I agreed. While I was there I learned that I didn't need to pray only the "formula" prayers, that there was an inner voice sent from the Lord. Sometimes this voice was prolific, at other times I just basked in his presence.

I remember turning my bedroom closet into a prayer closet. I put velvet on the walls and a cross and icons on a shelf. I also put candles on both ends of the shelf. One day during prayer, I had to use the bathroom. While I was gone, one of my grandmother's cats, aptly named Puff the Magic Dragon, jumped on a shelf and knocked a candle over. I returned and saw blue smoke coming out of the closet. I rushed to the closet door and saw that one of the wall coverings had caught fire. I pulled down the flaming covering and danced a jig on the burning material.

No more parties. No more candles. And no more prayer closet.

When I was in high school, my prayer life continued unabated, and I decided I wanted to try the priesthood. I entered the Marian Novitiate in Maryland. My two and a half years there were some of the best of my life. I loved the prayer life, the sense of community, the singleness of purpose. But there was one major question that haunted me -- my sexuality. I had never had a relationship in high school, and the only date I had was for the prom.

Have you ever thought that if you did something like get married, make your confirmation, buy a new house or car, that suddenly all your doubts, fears and questions about life and its meaning would be answered? When I made my promises as a postulant, I fully expected some sort of metamorphosis. It was a let down to go back to my room and find out I was still just me, with all my faults and pimples.

I was in crisis. Soon afterward I started talking to my spiritual director; I finally told him I thought I might be gay. Those who are gay and lesbian know that the first time you tell someone about your secret (also known as "coming out") is traumatic. You are afraid of rejection; the fear can be paralyzing.

Instead of rejecting me, though, my spiritual director hugged me and told me I had much to give this world. He also said that if I continued through life hiding my sexuality, I would never feel truly whole. He gave me a book, The Sexual Celibate, by Fr. Donald Goergen. This book revolutionized my prayer life and put into place the last major piece in my life's puzzle. I learned more about how to integrate my sexuality with my prayer life. One paragraph suggested that even though the homosexual act is a sin, the greater sin is reserved for those who persecute gays and lesbians solely because that is who they are. About this time, February 1980, I decided I should leave community and experience life without support and family.

My prayer experience since has gone from seemingly unproductive to insightful. I moved to California and, after a couple of years, joined the Army as an infantryman.

In June 1990, I was posted to the Presidential Marching Platoon, the showcase unit of the U.S. Army.

On March 1, 1991, my commander called me into his office and informed me I was to go with him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I asked him why; his answer was evasive. I thought, "OK, Scott, what did you do?" When we got to the physician's office, my commander came in with me. I was informed that I was HIV-positive. The remainder of that day is a blur.

After getting a five-day pass, I immediately visited the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I went into the crypt church, lay in front of the tabernacle and prayed the prayer that our Lord prayed in the garden.

It has been more than three years since I learned I was HIV-positive. My prayer life has been prolific. Meditation, contemplation, the Mass, rosary, stations of the cross and all kinds of spiritual readings have been integrated into my arsenal of prayer. My favorite is the divine office. It centers my life and helps me focus on what is relevant.

This is not to say I don't despair. I do. But prayer and perseverance help me to live the life I have been given. My life partner prays with me as well. Through it all -- the dropping T-cell counts, opportunistic infections and at times intense pain -- I have maintained a positive equilibrium with prayer.

Aware now that my time may be near, I am able to concentrate on perfecting my prayer life and on what is relevant to that goal.

To me it appears that when someone is standing on the lip of the abyss of despair, the hand of God, through prayer, draws us back and gives our life new purpose.

"Let not the flood waters overwhelm me, nor the abyss swallow me up."
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Gay Men and Lesbians Describe Spiritual Journeys
Author:Trepania, Sctt
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 2, 1994
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