There’s nothing like spending Valentines Day at a catholic seminary.  Its what I did 40 years ago and it may have been the worst day of my life.  There have been a lot of  cards and flowers and girlfriends since that day and you would think that my older, wiser self would would be able to put it into perspective. Not really.  But it has been 40 years and I guess its time to try.

When I was about 5 years old my Aunt Mary asked me like she often did what I wanted to be when I grew up. What I really wanted to be was a cowboy but for some reason this time I answered, “priest”.  Everyone laughed, I got mad and a seed was planted.  There really isn’t that much difference between a priest and a white hatted cowboy now that I think about it.  They are both costumed loners with a strict moral code that they foist upon the rest of the world.  Good and bad are clear which is very convenient and my how they are loved and admired. Anyhow, my circuits got crossed that long ago day and I said “priest”.  Aunt Mary and the other adults in earshot forgot the lapse but the notion didn’t leave me so quickly.  I started to turn to the ultimate hero, God, for  comfort when things got rough.  I was lonely and so seemed Jesus in spite of all those apostles.  I got to figuring He would understand.  Everything about Him was good except for the part where he doesn’t get the girl. Sacrifice was the key.  Somehow by letting go of something you could have something more.  The “more” I needed most was self love. God loved me and I could love myself more through loving others and forgetting about the horse and the wife and all those material things.  There was a wholeness in holiness.  In my secret heart I decided to go for it.

The problem was of course women.  I was always infatuated with someone of the fairer(?) sex. Kathy, Lana, Tina, Sue, Diane. Diane. I got stuck on Diane.  I fell for her at the age of 15 and there were no substitutes in my fantasy life.  She was the beautiful All-American girl full of self doubts and dreams.  She longed to be respected while I merely longed.  I really couldn’t help myself and I don’t suppose that I’ll ever fully understand why I picked her.  I think in part I just needed to pick someone and be done with it.

My hormones were raging as I quietly pursued her even as she dated others.  I would forget that I wanted to be a priest when I looked into her bluish eyes.  That kiss that I snatched on her doorstep remains one of the happiest moments of my life.  But I had made a pledge to myself that I was going to become a priest.  It was the most significant thing that I could do with my life and besides how could I betray Jesus when He had saved me though all those tearful nights when I doubted and He calmed me, reassured me that all would be well. I believed that I was called to the priesthood.  Pure and simple that was the ticket that had been punched for me.

The summer before I entered the seminary it seemed clear to me that Diane was returning my affection.  Still I had to go.  The hallways echoed as I made my way to the the phone booth, emptied my pockets of all the change I had been saving and called her at Michigan State. I did this weakly, weekly.  My sanity was on a time clock,  the dam could not hold forever. Damn.  During Christmas break I told her between kisses that I had to give the seminary a chance.  I  called a halt to our romance.  No communication was allowed.

Along came Valentines Day, 1969.  I was angry all day.  By nightfall I was impossible to talk to.  When I threw my Latin book against the wall my roommates Jim and Steve decided that they needed to do something.  What they did I’m sure made perfect guy sense at the time.  They wrestled me to the ground.  Bunk beds toppled, chaos ensued.  By 3:00 in the morning I was alone in the chapel crying desperately.  I have not cried like that before or since.

Within a couple of days I was driving up to Michigan State.  I didn’t talk it over with God because I didn’t want to hear His side of the story.  I left the seminary at the end of the school year on a leave of absence but by that fall I was enrolled at Michigan State.  I had made my choice.  I was willing to betray God if thats what it took to be with Diane.

40 years later Diane is very ancient history.  We were married in 1971 and divorced three years later.  When the dust settled she just wasn’t ready to be married to a fanatic like me.  No one really wants to be idealized so she did the intelligent thing and jumped off the pedestal. 40 years later I don’t go to church except for weddings and funerals.  I suspect that I have been angry at God for putting me in that untenable position all those years ago.  The Catholic Church frustrates me no end with its archaic doctrines.  Married Priests are an even remoter possibility than they were back then.  But perhaps its time to stop giving God the silent treatment.  I’ve been guilty of the sin of presumption.  I presumed to know the nature of God and what He/She wanted of me.  I didn’t allow for the mystery.  I didn’t understand love and don’t really yet except to know that I haven’t been living without it. While I have abandoned God, God has not abandoned me.  I have been blessed with the people and experiences that have made life worth living. I have a brother Rick, a sister Marie and a niece named Jana.  My best friends today come from my one year at the seminary and I love them.  Who knows what is in the future?  Surprise me again, God.  If its not what I have in mind I promise I won’t hold it against you.