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Nirvana or the Disenchantment of Love in the Life of a Seminarian

05/19/2015 04:48 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

By the time I was 18, I realized that I had a rather strong libido, but I also discerned that God was calling me to be a Roman Catholic priest. That's a bummer, too strong sex drive and wanting to be a priest, who takes a vow of celibacy!

At the time, I was a huge fan of Kurt Cobain's band Nirvana, writing poetry, selling hardware at Sears, going to church, and acing out sexually to gay porn. I often went to the beaches on Long Island to reflect on life, to watch the waves crash and sometimes to be one with nature. As my feet kicked the sand, seagulls dove for fish, I pondered life and death with the restlessness characteristic of adolescence. Having been told by my family that I'd "burn in hell for being gay" I sought nirvana, which I thought came with love.

I was too timid; it was 1998, well before gay-teens dared "come out" on YouTube or accompany their same-sex partner to the prom. Instead, I got high, and went for coffee at the Witch's Brew, where I ordered goblin brownies and ghoulish lattes. Like Kurt Cobain, my idol, I couldn't sit still, especially when my dad was drunk, which was often, and when my parents fought. All I wanted was the perfect family, to be noticed, to be part of something bigger. My family was far from perfect as was my church. The third wish wasn't a possibility, and so I drank to escape my reality, seeking nirvana.

During Prom weekend, I drank Dewar's and slept as close as possible, to my soccer playing, Jewish friend, Jacob. He was a stud. When I wasn't getting wasted, I was at Church, working in the main office, and serving celibate priests their dinner. On Long Island, as in America itself, the Church has such undeniable power and authority.

Such power and authority taught me that love and priesthood were mutually exclusive, that the gay man can only be generatively gay when celibate. Thus, I went way into the closet. To love, and to be sexual, meant one was a sinner. I was already rejected by my family, now I'd be ousted from my community of faith. This was not nirvana, but it was the very material that Kurt Cobain wrote about. While Cobain chose to abort Christ, I chose to embrace the cross, at least there I could stare longingly and freely at men and be safe, loved and embraced. Rejection sucks!

I was a Jesuit from 2005 to 2014, a seminarian studying to be a priest in Pope Francis' religious order. During that time, I continued to buy re-mastered albums issued by the remaining members of Nirvana. I couldn't go to concerts since Kurt Cobain had killed himself. I had thought about suicide in the 1990s, and several times throughout my life as a Jesuit. I felt so dishonest about who I was, the nirvana I sought was so "dangerous" because I was constantly denying myself in order to feel a sense of belonging to my family and to my community of faith. Then, like Kurt Cobain and his girlfriend, Courtney Love, I too fell in love. It just happened.

I fell in love with my friend Earl during our second year in the Novitiate, he and I bonded quickly; he was boyish looking, angelic, blue eyed, played the piano and the organ, and when we were together in Denver, hiking on mountains or playing tennis, time stood still. Late one night in the mile high city, he told me about his life, particularly one event when he had been sexually abused by an older seminarian; this along with his story of strife between his parents, moved me, and I felt great compassion for him, one that transformed into love for him. If life didn't give him nirvana, then I thought I could.

One night while we gazed at the Rocky Mountains, I couldn't hold back my love. I embraced and kissed him, and confessed my love for him. He pushed me away, but when we returned to Syracuse, to my joy, he revealed his love for me, and we had an affair, it was bliss. As we walked to the campus of Le Moyne College, we unabashedly held hands, I lost my soul in him, with him I didn't have to think, it was all new to me. As Kurt Cobain sang, we hypothesized our infinity, one stored deep inside of us.

We'd often go to our meeting place on the grass or the wooded area by the gymnasium where we made out through the day and night; afterwards; we'd return to the dorm. I thought about Nirvana's song, About a Girl, where Kurt Cobain sings, I desire a friend with no strings attached, we fit together, but you don't get it yet.

With each night, Earl and I were more daring, the more we kissed the more saying goodnight led my brain to hurt. As I moved closer and closer to professing vows, I thought Jesus wants me for life, not a sunbeam. When I thought about Earl, I heard Kurt Cobain singing his song Aneurysm, whose lyrics went, come over, I love you so much, let's hang out until we're sick from loving one another. While our bedrooms were across the hall, neither of us had the courage to join the other. Such is the disenchantment of the love life of a seminarian, whose life, because of its lack of love, is constantly held in a state that smells like teen spirit. Like the feeling of love in high school, it all felt dumb, constant and effervescent.

But I soon realized that I loved Earl not passionately but more as a friend, it wasn't nirvana, but it was the disenchantment of the love life of a seminarian.

I am grateful that he came into my life because Earl had re-awakened in me a desire for human touch and intimacy, a place where I could call my home. I should have pursued nirvana, but I was too frightened to depart religious life. Earl and I were so excited about being Jesuit seminarians that nothing else mattered. When I professed vows of chastity, poverty and obedience on August 11, 2007, I looked up and saw Earl standing in the back of the Chapel alone, looking gloomy. He wore a white alb, that made him look saintly, but like me, he too was troubled by the "dangers" of living voluntary celibacy. As Kurt Cobain said, in the dark, everything is safe.

A few days later, I packed up my rental van, and left Earl for a time. I wept from the moment I drove my van on the highway. We kept corresponding by phone, letter and email, we wrote about our love for each other, and how our voluntary celibacy had likely blew our relationship. Our relationship plateaued, as Kurt Cobain sang. Such thoughts about Earl and me filled my journals. In the end, Earl knew he was right, and I crawled away from him, in our insides we were afraid of fear.

My disenchantment with the love life of the seminarian became even clearer, when in St. Louis, I fell in love with Malcolm, a young Jesuit from St. Louis.

Malcolm was blonde, blue eyed, tall, and from the moment he opened the door to my new Jesuit residence, I felt that we'd fall in love.

Malcolm and I went from working out at the university gym, to bicycling together to the Botanical Gardens, to dinner out, to making out, to making love, having sex in his bedroom. He would copy my dress, and flirt with me while making perogies. When we fought, it hurt, but we quickly made up. And when more conservative minded Jesuits attack my ideas, especially about celibacy, he stood up for me, and I felt great affection for him because it took courage. In the sun, with Malcolm, I felt as one, full of apologies, easy to smile and light up with the feeling of nirvana.

One night, we climbed to the top of the Jesuit residence near St. Louis University and hung out on the roof, looking out over the gateway to the west. Malcolm held my hand, and we kissed. Soon an older Jesuit came up the nearby ladder, and he told us to disperse, how we scoffed.
Malcolm and I looked at each other and then left for our other rendezvous spot behind the baseball diamond. We needed to feel each other, touch each other, like lovers.

One night in the spring, Malcolm came to my room, he laid down on my bed, and asked to listen to my heart beat. I felt uncertain, fearing we'd get caught. But Malcolm was so handsome, so innocent, and the tenderness in my own heart led me to surrender to him. It was our version of another Nirvana song, Heart-Shaped Box.

My relationship with Malcolm was more than physical, it was also intellectual. We were both "into" feminism, LGBTQ justice, and the Catholic Worker; we both had alcoholic dads, when we wanted, as Kurt Cobain said, fathers, and we both wanted to experience the love of another man. With each other we did experience the complexity and messiness of love, and after we had sex the second time, we wanted to be with each other forever.

But it wasn't meant to be. We separated. It was just a love buzz. Kurt Cobain was right, our live wasn't true love, it was not agapetic, it was something however fragile, still deeper, somewhere in between philia and eros.

As a Jesuit seminarian, I fell in love with Earl and Malcolm. My heart still aches for them, I remain disenchanted. I'm glad I didn't sublimate my love for them, as is required if one embraces celibacy. And I will no longer pray for the strength to be celibate but rather for life more abundant, a life that comes when one reaches nirvana. And that can only be found in others, in loving them, and allowing them to be a part of one's life.

Voluntary celibacy is a haggard, worn out tradition, one that should've been banished long ago.

Truth be told, celibacy was a bad idea right from the beginning, but the church had embraced it, especially during Medieval times, and still today proselytizes its "benefits". What are the benefits? Sexual repression, the lack of touch that results in alienation and loneliness. And surely with what has happened in the church with one wave of sexual scandal after another, the church should reevaluate celibacy, and see how absurd it is to ask modern young people to practice it. Modern young people who still consume Nirvana's music, finding nirvana in Kurt Cobain's lyrics, his montage of heck, and disenchantment in a Church so out of touch with human experience. A Church that is becoming more and more something in the way, something Kurt Cobain sang about in his prescient songs about disenchantment and nirvana.

To be disenchanted is to be disillusioned or disappointed with the wonder of life, where the richer one's life is, the more painful comes the loss. No institution or person will rob me of such wonder. Thus, I oppose with all my being, those who promulgate life-denying ideas, such as celibacy, such ideas are not wise nor prudent, they have never been part of the human condition. Such privations do not allow mysticism to enter the human condition. As the philosopher Max Weber wrote, in The Sociology of Religion, "the world remains a great enchanted garden." Where for us all permanence rests.