(This is a draft Introduction for my new book, Father Rick, Roamin' Catholic, that I am writing. On a Good Friday in 2020, I sit in pandemic times with a niece and her son to tell my 50-year faith journey. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, encouragement, and stories that you can post below. It'll help shape the book's journey and content. Please keep those remarks civil and respectful. If you wanted to send me a message rather than post here, my author email is email@example.com.
The questions started soon after the release of Soar, Adam, Soar, my memoir on my late son and its heart-stopping, roller-coaster love story as a Dad.
“You were a priest?”
“You’re proud of your trans son?”
“Are you still Catholic?”
A few journalists startled me with that last question. I particularly remember the first time, when Erika Engels of the Bay Today news chain asked. I paused, a long pause, heading towards a 60,000-word answer when, instead, I said. “That’s another book I’m writing”.
Cue those 60,000 words.
On February 8, 2019, a week after Adam’s book was released, I was a guest on Rita Celli’s Ontario Today, a CBC Radio open-line show. I was anxious. First, even though I had been a public figure preaching for those 11 years as a priest, the more recent 11 years as political staff to three Members of Parliament had me accustomed to hanging more in the background than in front of the microphones.
More unnerving though, I was worried what some callers in the hinterlands might have to say to a former Catholic priest who loved this boy identified as a girl named Rebecca at birth. In Celli’s introduction, perfectly framed, she set the table for her listeners. “Father Rick Prashaw becomes proud father of Adam, his transgender son.” Well, the fourth caller, a man who said he was “Ken from Orillia”, catapulted me past my anxiety straight to his hell. His “In the Bible” damnation of Adam and I actually ended up being “a Godsend” --- for me, the show, and the book tour. I’ll tell that “Ken from Orillia” story later, how I answered and how other callers afterwards doused those hell fires.
Are you still Catholic?
One of the surprising places that my son, Adam, has led me to since his untimely death is being an organ donor advocate. Adam saved four lives because he had registered as a donor at 16 and, equally important, made sure to tell his family his wishes. I was interrupted writing this faith memoir one day to do a survey from a researcher for an organ transplant network keen to improve ways they might contact and communicate with a prospective donor family
during the most difficult circumstances, i.e., the day(s) their loved one is to be pronounced medically or brain dead. While it is sheer impossible to make those days good, or generalize a response that is such a personal family decision, the researcher did do a credible job navigating me through the revisit of that awful weekend at The Ottawa Hospital. When she was done, there were final, demographic questions to answer.
“What religious denomination are you?”
“Do they have Roamin’ Catholic as a choice?”
“No, not that one. I’m Roamin' Catholic. R-o-a-m-i-n.”
“No, we don’t have that one” she chuckled.
She checked off “other”.
Roamin' Catholic. I suspect we are many, even before we count others who have outright quit on the Roman Catholic Church.
On the personal side of writing a memoir, I winced when a young niece once introduced me to her friends as “the uncle who had been a priest, married and divorced”. Is that what goes on my tombstone? Ouch! It became clear. I better be the one to tell my story, in my words. Ego and legacy first sat me down at the computer.
But why tell it to the whole wide world?
On the surface, it’s an intriguing story --- Father Rick, a Catholic priest, marriage, a new vocation as father to Adam, an unspeakable tragedy, permanent grief that has discovered an astonishing, life-saving gratitude in the choices I could still make.
Dig deeper, and in the many changing chapters of my life there is a constant that endures, a faith in “my God”, the gods and myself. This is the tale of my crooked, straight journey to heaven’s gate,of a faith remarkably intact yet so radically changed, of a Roamin' more than Roman Catholic, a God and the heavens bigger than any Catholic catechism taught me. A believer still standing who finds amazement in all of that.
For more than half a century, I journeyed through turbulent times in our country, our world and, yes, my and many people’s Roman Catholic Church. I did so as a man, as a believer, as a priest, and as a parent. Initially, I had thrived on the promising renewal many experienced in the first few decades after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) radically changed the Catholic Church to thrust it into the modern world. There was much to embrace. Social justice. Praying Scripture. Living fresh this ancient love story between God and humanity.
Like some others, I became disappointed with the conservative retrenchment that invalidated and obscured too much of this miracle. The injustices. I would discover the experiences of Indigenous children scooped from families, their hair cut, their languages expelled at Catholic institutions. I would discover that, as a boy, I was play-wrestling with good priests innocently on a sacristy floor, while other children were being abused. I would discover that my male-ness led to privilege in my Church. And I would discover that my Adam and many others were not welcome there. Meanwhile, other good friends continued to worship and find their blessings in this same Catholic Church. Are my arms and heart big enough to embrace all of this?
Most authors writing a book will wrestle at some point with one’s motives --- why write this story and why write this story now. And many will find that, in their writing their story, the story itself surprises them, taking them to unsuspecting places. Father Rick, Roamin’ Catholic, has done that for me. I knew that I did not want back in the pulpit to preach or proselytize, bless or damn. That was never me in the first place, even when I wore that black shirt with the white collar.
It’s not easy staying out of this pulpit though, to leave final judgment to “the gods” or others. I wanted to tell my story because I knew that it touches questions of meaning and self-worth for so many other people’s spiritual journeys, as well as my own. That is the power of storytelling. In my journey, I rediscovered the River of Life beyond, but somehow for me till inclusive of my Catholic roots. There is plenty of good news in still tragic times.
Listeners and readers will figure out its meaning for them, their stories, their memories brushing alongside mine. As in my ministry and other lives as journalist, non-government organization staff, author and Dad to Adam, the story has its share of humour, irreverence and “I can’t believe that happened” moments, inane and eternal. And in faithfulness to other pilgrims and myself, there will be sobering commentary on troubling issues that these 50 years have uncovered, the matter of clergy sex abuse, women’s place or lack of place in this church, the Roman Catholic Church failings in truth and reconciliation with Indigenous People and, yes, finally, covering Adam’s universe, the stories of those gay, lesbian and transgender people reeling from a Church trying to erase who they are. I do not side with the Church in any of those matters.
I have friends who dismiss religion as a spiritual crutch, opium for the masses. There are others I know who do their “annual insurance run” attending an Easter service. Still others who practice their faith in an honest and searching manner I keep them all in mind telling my story.
Freedom is what we do to what happens to us, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote. There were moments after my one son died that I wanted to be with him. I didn’t want to live. I discovered my freedom then.
Am I still a Catholic? I savour that question.
In our Facebook-generation of staying in touch, many from my priesthood days in Northern Ontario friend me with the question.
“Were you Father Rick?”
“It depends. Would it be good or bad to confess that?”
“Ha! You haven’t changed”
“Oh, but I have!”
Inevitably, I came back as a storyteller to tell these stories that had mattered to me, to family and friends, to one-time, long-ago parishioners or others touched by the sacred or profane encounters that hinted at so much more. I find it all worthy to ponder, perhaps more than ever as we reel and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, shaken, quarantined, figuring out a “new normal” that might bring us nearer salvation, home to ourselves.
To see the face of the Creator. To meet the face of God in the poorest and most marginalized on the edges of our communities. This has mattered to me from the beginning.
“The light crying out to be rediscovered is that every human being born into the world has the seed or the spark of the Divine within; it’s what we do with that reality that matters.” (Tom Harpur, Born Again)