Visions of St Lazarus 1
Will someone say, why, then, this
divine compassion extended even to
the ungodly and ungrateful? Why, but
because it was the mercy of him who
daily "maketh His sun to rise on the
evil and the good, and sendeth rain
on the just and the unjust." (Mat 5,45)
St. Augustine, The City of God
I take the liberty of chronicling a Gay Sainthood foretold.
My friend, Lazaro Sembrano, was a sucker of tragedy; this he attributed to his mediocre looks and strict Catholic upbringing. He was, as a product of Tarlac farmers, replete with superstitions. A mole on the side of his nose was a destiny to weep gallons of tears; his shoulder growth meant a lifetime cross to bear; his buttock birthmark supposedly spawned disasters. He blamed his misfortunes, earthquakes, typhoons, drought, floods, fires and volcanic eruptions to these bodily marks. Their house used to stand beside a cemetery. As a kid, he'd jump over the fence during the burial of anybody and join mourners just for the heck of it; when it was time to wail, he'd wail the loudest. Such a nuisance! He said, "To cry for someone you don't know is the highest form of sympathy." He sure found tragedy everywhere.
During his residence in Murfreesboro Tennessee as a nurse, he learned through Discovery Channel that Marlon Brando championed Civil Rights and Native Americans. He wrote him a letter - addressed to Marlon Brando c/o Tahiti - "I'm rooting for you. Sincerely, Lazarus." Just one problem - Brando's activism occured thirty years ago and was residing in California when my friend mailed him the letter. Worse, when Brando's son was charged for the murder of his half-sister's husband/lover and, when later, this half sister committed suicide for the same reason, Lazaro cried for days. He got hysterical in the middle of A Streetcar Named Desire, where Brando, his wet shirt torn, cried - "Stellaaaaa!" And I couldn't pacify him. His tears carried-over Guys and Dolls, a comedy. More recently, he wept with Tom Cruise in Jerry MaGuire. Which reminded me of his previous similar reactions to Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams , Mickey Rooney's BoysTown, and Mel Gibson's Ransom. Judging from the looks of these actors you'd become suspicious. Suspicious or not, Lazarus also cried through The Sands of Iwo Jima, All Is Quiet in the Western Front, The Dead Poets' Society, Hamlet, Kiss of a Spider Woman, Ten Commandments and Chariots of Fire. Nothing could beat the impact of Philadelphia though. On the scene where the young brother of Tom Hanks could no longer bear the dying Tom, I thought Lazarus would collapse!
Call his weeping multimedia. He burst into tears listening to Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, which I bought him for Christmas. He cried over the biography of Ernest Hemingway. I teased him all the time; I said, "Your favorite tree is weeping willow and passage from the Bible- Jesus wept." Lazaro I believe, was born with the largest lacrimal sacs in the world. Of course he is gay.
He'd find travesty in mundane things. I dragged him to a gay bar. When a go-go dancer mounted the stage and gyrated, Lazarus asked me, " What makes a man drop his pants for a few bucks? Is he hungry? Is someone in the family sick? Is his child needing milk?"
Goodness, where did he get these ideas? When the rich Bill Gates was featured in C-SPAN, I said, "That Gates is one lucky guy." Lazarus murmured something like, "Sadness is written on his face. It is lonely at the top." To test him I asked him once, "Is this glass half full or half empty?" His answer was, "Do you realize how many people on earth need clean running water? How insensitive of you to even ask that."
Eventually I had to confront him about his miserable psyche. I said, "What is disturbing about you Lazaro is that your love for tragedy is turning you into tragedy itself." My question was ill timed, he was reading Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Right after finishing Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice. Which meant he was on the verge of tears. Again.
"I can't help it," he said. "I love tragedy because I'm gay."
"Excuse me. Say that again?" I asked.
"Are you blind? Gays like us are pressed down, buried under the feet of society. Teen-age gays have the highest suicide rate; gays are dying by the thousands because of AIDS; we are deprived of honorable positions, made fun in all forms of Art, condemned by religions, discriminated and deprived of happiness. Can you blame me if I find everything tragic?"
I stood there counting one to a hundred. I was really pissed. "So?" I said, smarting. Did he read something in the Servant of the Bones? When my counting reached fifty seven, I resumed the konfrontasi. "Stop this weeping now Lazaro, this immense attachment to tragedy or else you'd join the long list of gay psychotics and eccentrics."
Wrong again, he had an immediate response - crisp, strong, full of conviction. "What else is new Mario? Aren't we considered abnormal now as we stand here?" I surrendered.
My friendship with Lazarus was, to put it mildly, an act of charity. It began when one of the Filipino nurses in Tennessee tasked me to visit him. She said he was extremely depressed and homesick. I soon found him virtually dead. Socially. He limited his adventures to five places - the SNF where he worked, the Xanadu video store, Kroger Grocery, Texaco gas station, and the library. I beseech him to come with me to Nashville Mall which he declined, preferring to mail order from International Male. On week-ends, he'd rent twenty videos and watch them in a row until his eyes hurt. He'd finish reading two novels a week until his vision became blurred.
After our confrontation, our friendship took a sharp turn. He did something unimaginable. My hermit friend who never ventured beyond the two mile periphery of his apartment suddenly turned into Houdini. He vanished.
Because he received his green card. Or so I thought.
That was three weeks ago, on the Feast Day of St. Augustine. In three weeks, he submitted his resignation, hoarded his little property to a Nashville Storage, packed up his duffle bag and drove all the way to Fort Lauderdale. He did these without telling anyone, including me. And I was his best friend. The rat.
And then, he called me.
"Mario," he said in a mild and nervous tone.
I blurted out my fears and anger. "What have you done? Where are you now? Are you okay? What happened?"
"Calm down," he answered. "I am safe here."
"In Florida?... Why did you do this shit Lazarus?"
"I was visited by St. Augustine."
Being a La Salle graduate, I have a low regard for any Augustinian. I was Dominican bred. Besides being sociable, I was practical.
"Do you have a job there?"
Dammit! "Medical insurance?"
"Do you have money?"
"Lazaro, Lazaro, why are you so impulsive? Do you know what you're doing?"
"Please understand Mario, I need to act upon my visions. They are gifts from God."
I had the urge to hang up the phone, guilty for what I suspected was his mental demise. I should have done something. I was imagining a headline in Fort Lauderdale: A Homeless Filipino Nurse - Murdered.
And then he narrated his visions, he talked as if I was not even in the other line:
St. Augustine came wearing a bishop's habit, stomped his staff on the floor three times and cried, "Lazarus, wake up." I raised my head and asked him what he wanted.
"How long will you remain dead?" His words made me tremble. I corrected him by saying I was alive.
He raised his staff and pointed it at my chest. "The world and time have passed while you lie in your tomb. Lazarus, the Saints and Angels in heaven are agitated, for lately, there are droves of souls knocking on our doors, crying out for justice. They died before their appointed times. This was unprecedented since the Black Death of 1346. You've seen them, Lazarus."
I stared at him puzzled. He continued. "Have you closed your eyes so long you're blinded to them? Saying this, thousands of spirits came to me like a tornado, encircling me. They were the faces of people who died of AIDS. Arthur Ashe smiled.
But these souls did not know me at all. I was just an ordinary person. I shook my head.
The Saint's voice became threatening. "Don't make your resurrection too hard for me Lazarus. You don't want the Saints to get mad. During the Black Death, 16,000 Jews were murdered after being accused of starting it. Now, listen to the voice of times, there are hidden whispers blaming homosexuals for this new plague. If you do not act now, history will be repeated."
I told him to forget about it, who would listen to me, I was a homosexual myself. After I said this, a flash of lightning cut across his face, he released a thunderous cry, raised his staff again and struck me, yes, he hit me so hard I rolled in pain.
"From what measure do you judge yourself Lazarus?"
Well, who else but the modern moral crusaders, especially the Catholic Church.
"Stooop!" he cried. "I am not exactly proud of the Dark Ages. Who could have ever thought that the earth was round; that Joan of Arc was guiltless; that the sun was the center of the universe as Galileo claimed; that man would land upon the moon? And the gravest mistake of all, who could have ever thought that the Inquisition would imprison the great writer Cervantes? But Lazarus, who said that I, the scholarly Saint of Christendom, would be free from mistakes?" He paused for a while, mulled his thoughts, and then continued. "Hear my confession. When I was your age, I lived in sin. I housed a woman who bore me a child. We were not even married! I continued living in the joys of flesh, torn apart by the good and evil within me. I was on the verge of suicide one day when I heard the voice of a child. He said, 'Take up and read. Take up and read.' I began my Confessions. Today it's a classic. Oh Lazarus, you are no worse than me."
Still, I argued, people listened to him because he was a solid heterosexual.
"Oh your affinity to self condemnation makes me sick," the Saint said.
I told him that nowadays, people categorize sins in a certain hierarchy, homosexuality being at the bottom of the totem pole.
"And you believe that rubbish?" He asked.
That's the Catholic tradition, I answered.
"No one can be blamed for that but the secular Dante. And he was not even a man of God. Listen to me my child, to our Lord and Master, a sin is a sin. There is no difference between a lie and a murder. That is written in the Bible."
That was new to me. So I expanded our discussion into some moralists' claims. Which was homosexuality being responsible for the falls of Greek and Roman empires. And for the spread of AIDS. And for the moral decline of America.
St. Augustine seemed surprised.
"How wrong and pitiful. How odd. I thought the modern man had erased myths already. Listen, during my time, after the Goths sacked Rome, I believe it was in 410 AD, Christianity was considered the culprit. Otherwise, I would not write the City of God in the defense of persecuted Christians. Lazarus, people will always find a scapegoat for their failures. Don't listen, look instead to the visions I am going to show you."
He raised his staff and two doves, carrying the Bible between them descended upon me. The Book opened before my eyes. A passage was marked, it was Romans 1,26: "Because they do this, God has given them to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. In the same way, the men give up natural relations with women and burn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result, they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing."
After reading the passage, one of the doves flapped its wings turning the pages, which stopped at another marked passage. It was Matthew 5, 27-28: "Do not commit adultery. but now, I tell you: Anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery in his heart."
The Book and the doves disappeared. I looked at Augustine, confused.
"Lazarus, God who condemned homosexuality is the same God who condemned a heterosexual fantasizing about a married woman. So stop condemning yourself. Look at this new vision."
Two men appeared.
One was in drag, swayed his hips, danced before a raucous crowd, he lip-synched Ertha Kitt, the audience was delirious with laughter. Naked dancers toured the tables, some of the men tipped them as they passed.
The other was married, I could tell by the wedding ring he wore. He came out of a hotel with a woman, they furtively drove away. "That was his mistress," the Saint whispered.
Sunday came. The man in drag shed off his clothes, counted the money he earned from his show the previous night, kissed his lover goodbye, proceeded to Publix Supermarket, bought groceries, drove to his mother, laid the groceries on the table, cleaned the house. Then his mother came out of her room and shouted, "I don't need this! This comes from your sinful job! Get out of my house!" He left in pain, crying.
Then his mother changed into her Sunday's best clothes, proceeded to her local church and worshiped God with her preacher. The preacher was the man who the night before drove away with his mistress from the motel!
"Now tell me Lazarus, what is wrong with this vision?" St Augustine asked.
I was too shocked to say anything.
"What is the consequence of this vision?" St Augustine pressed on. "Look at what happens next."
The man in drag appeared again, this time he was carrying a banner marked with symbols ACT-UP. With anger in his eyes he shouted. "We are queer, get used to us!"
On the side of the road, the preacher was holding a banner. On it were printed the Biblical passage Romans 1,26. He reacted to the shouts of the gay marchers: "Sinners you'll burn in Sodom and Gomorrah!"
St. Augustine stopped the vision. "Tell me Lazarus, who has the right to condemn the other?"
I was quick in my conclusion. No one Father, I said, both are sinners.
He raised his head toward the sky: "Let the man without sin cast the first stone. My child do not condemn yourself, for God lets the sun and rain fall on both the sinner and the good, the just and the unjust."
He stared into my eyes, full of gentleness and kindness. He said, "As for the falls and declines of empires, contrary to your beliefs, the cause was neither gender nor sex orientation. Look closely at the faces of the two men and you will see the real cause - the three faces of the Devil himself."
I looked and looked and looked at the faces. But I saw nothing.
St. Augustine quoted another passage from the Book. It was Matthew 5:22: "But now I tell you: Whoever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial; whoever calls his brother 'You good for nothing' will be brought before the Council; and whoever calls his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of going to the fires of hell."
Hearing this, the three faces of the Devil on the two men were slowly revealed. Hatred, Intolerance and Deceit.
The Saint spoke once more. "Yes, these are the true faces of moral decline. But... Lazaro there is another evil face that I haven't shown you yet. It was the face that toppled the Greek empire. Before Greece fell, the people took upon themselves to live in pleasure and selfishness. Sometime after the death of Socrates and the Philosophers, they descended into the place of this evil face and in doing so, fell."
I want to see the fourth evil face my Saint, I pleaded.
"Before I reveal that, are you willing to come out of your hole to take the Cause of AIDS victims, those poor souls who are crying out in the heavens?"
I am afraid. I am a foreigner, gay, poor - what can a lowly man like me do?
"If you won't heed me Lazaro, this final vision will happen."
The vision came to me, it was short and brutal, it was insensible. The man in drag was singing in the bar and four masked men barged into the door. One of them was the preacher. He shouted: "In the name of God, I'm going to kill all you faggots!" He raised his rifle and began shooting.
I broke down and shook. No. No. No. I knelt in front of the Saint. Don' t let this happen Father, I begged.
From his hand, the Saint brought out a mirror and placed it before my face. I looked at my reflection.
He spoke again. "That is the fourth face of the Devil. It is called fear."
I finally realized what he wanted. I asked him what I should do. He gave me this instructions: "Lazaro, Lazaro, rise up from the dead. Awaken your spirit and heart. There are many souls crying before the Council of Angels and Saints. Justice they ask. Reason, they call. Come out of your tomb Lazaro, roll the rock away from the door. Go to Miami and there your mission will begin."
So there! The first visions of my friend Lazaro which hastened his departure to South Florida. One rainy day, he unfolded his umbrella and drove to Coral Gables, knocked on the door of a building named Dade Rest and spoke with solemnity: "My name is Lazaro Sembrano. I am here to offer services to People With AIDS.
Thus began his crusade which I am about to foretell. He waged a holy war that led to healing and reconciliation in Miami.
And I thought all the while he was insane. And I hope he'd forgive me for calling him a Rat one time.