06/22/2012 11:37 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Pride and HIV/AIDS: The Spiritual Goodness Within

June, the month of LGBT Pride, sends out the call for dignity with special urgency to those seeking a rightful place in church, synagogue, or mosque. Answering the summons is doubly difficult. We share with all LGBT people the struggle against political injustice. Then there is the special rejection by religious institutions. There is no suffering greater than being excluded from a believing community one hopes to join. My new book "Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire" explores my conflicted life as a gay Christian. My clash with the church is not an opposition to God but rather a personal defense of his mysterious creation of human sexual love. How, I ask, does living by the inescapable truth of one's homosexuality dispose one to God's will when Christianity has made homosexuality an affliction?

To venture an answer, I take a long look back. At 75, I write as a cradle Catholic while addressing the full range of spiritual search, including dissent, which is deeply related to mature faith. The story begins in Greenwich Village, 1981. AIDS was engulfing gay life. By chance I met Frank, a Jersey boy like me. Frank had resigned from active ministry and was ready for new life. I was grappling with survival. Anxiety over contracting AIDS had locked me into fearful self-concern that verged on emotional shutdown. I had all but forsaken my body. But as sexual need sent me into hiding, so physical stirring drew me out to another man. Undesirable desire turned desirable. The emotions that the Catholic Church had disparaged as "objectively disordered" called Frank and me to repossess our bodies as our own.

At the time, my mother was sinking into dementia. My older sister, who cared for our ailing mother, needed help and eventually in the1990s fell into grave illness. Frank and I became their mothering sons. An old-world Italian American family, long without a father and buffeted by aging and illness, became a modern family held together by a gay partnership. Seeing both women to their death tells a saga of uprooting, mother-loss, solitude and spiritual recovery. Material concern for others brought me beyond the modeling power of institutional Christianity to the tempering influence of homosexuality on the gospel. I could be useful.

In the gospel, faith is human relations. Jesus says nothing about sexuality and much about self-giving. Love and human need transform law. Jesus heals on the Sabbath. To the chief priests' indignation, Jesus reforms law through compassion for the poor, the sick, and the violated. Jesus attends the human body, the fragile token of our humanness that holds the creator's spirit.

The AIDS crisis in the 1980s revealed the sacredness of our bodies at the daily 5:30 evening Mass. Though the church had not been a mother to her stricken gay children, some came anyway. They were Isaiah's "distant peoples" whose return signals achievable restoration. Their act of religious defiance brought life back into a church that left them for dead. At Mass one witnessed the spectrum of AIDS from halting gait and blemishes to emaciation. All found a place at the table. HIV was making people realize, not that religion was helpless and the world was ugly, but that the tenacity of love of life flourished in these wasting men.

My mother's sickness embodied that sanctity. On her deathbed, she stared at me with a clear-eyed invitation not to disavow the human body, but to love flesh as the material worthy of life and the divine spirit. With her body half consumed, the old woman drew me toward the Christian mystery of materiality. The relinquishing of life in her mind and devastatingly thin frame taught me to love things precisely because they are subject to decay. The physical and the spiritual are inextricably one. Such sanctity informs the bodies and love of LGBT people. Our bonds now confront religious institutions with claims of just love as Jesus' action challenged ancient authority. The circumstances in which LGBT people will find the inner living God will vary, but our bodies are good places to begin the recovery of fundamental goodness. This June as we shout our lungs out during pride festivities, let the cheer come from this deep goodness.