“The Gift of Gay” – The Priest Who Came Out, aged 90!

Father Matthew Kelty, OCSO, was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he was the last confessor to Thomas Merton. He also came out as gay at the age of 90.

The full obituary is worth reading at Religion Dispatches – I want to reflect only on the coming out story, and Fr Matthew’s assertion that gay is a gift – especially in the pursuit of monastic celibacy.

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St John of the Cross: 14th December

John of the Cross is important for queer Catholics, especially gay men, for two reasons. First, because he is a great teacher of spirituality, and the cultivation of spiritual practice, by enabling a more direct experience of the divine, is an excellent way to immunize ourselves from toxic and misguided teaching on human sexuality. Second, and more interestingly, because his language at times uses imagery which is plainly homoerotic, and so easily usable by gay men in their own prayer.

From the Calendar of LGBT Saints:

1542-1591

St. John of the Cross was one of the great Spanish mystics, whose outstanding Dark Night of the Soul is still read by all interested in Catholic mysticism. He also wrote a series of intense religious canticles. St. John, like other mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila, used the language of courtly love to describe his relationship with Christ. He also discussed, with rare candor, the sexual stimulation of prayer, the fact that mystics experience sexual arousal during prayer. With the male Christ of course, this amounts to a homoeroticism of prayer. It must be said that St. John was not entirely happy with this aspect of prayer. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675, canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726, and declared a Doctor of Church Universal by Pius XI in 1926

Quoted at The Wild Reed:

(from ) On a Dark Night

……..

……..
“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

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Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 5): The Trouble With “Do Your Best”

Continuing his reflection on lgbt inclusion, Fr Owen O’Sullivan asks (and answers) an important question:

“What’s wrong with saying “Do your best”? What’s wrong with saying to the homosexual, ‘Being a homosexual is not sinful; performing homosexual acts is. So do your best. If you fail, go to confession, ask for forgiveness, and try again. God will help you’?”.

The problem, of course, is that the statement rests on the same mistaken and offensive assumption that homosexual activities are in themselves necessarily sinful. This is the basis of orthodox Catholic teaching, and is often assumed to be true (but bear in mind that most ordinary Catholics in fact disagree). O’Sullivan addresses this by showing that the assumption is not supported by anything in the Gospels.

Jesus – who is not recorded as having said anything about homosexuality – went about including those the religious authorities of the day excluded on the grounds that they did not fit the established pattern of behaviour. Should we not consider the possibility that we might be wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Hiding our sexuality by not acting on it, he reminds us, is to live in half-truths. Worse, it is a rejection of a gift from God. The parable of the ten talents shows us how negatively Jesus viewed the man who wrapped and buried his talents, fearful of using them. As a gift from God, our sexuality which must not be wasted, but must be exercised, as a gift.

Parable of ten talents

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Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 2): Why Can’t They Just Keep Quiet About It?

At Boundless Salvation,  Jason Davies-Kildea, took as his second extract from Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s paper on Gay Inclusion a section headed “Why Can’t they Just Keep Quiet?”.

This is a short passage, and an apparently reasonable question – which hides some big and important questions. Fr O’Sullivan’s brief response is summarised even more  briefly in his first two sentences of the passage:

Homosexuality is not a problem; the denial of it is, especially if one denies it to oneself. Good human relationships (or good health) can never be founded on the basis of suppression or denial of the truth.

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“The Last Judgement”, and the Homoerotic Spirituality of Michaelangelo.

One of the great paradox’s of queer church history is that a period of extreme persecution of “sodomites” by the Inquisition, directly at their own hands or indirectly by secular authorities at their instigation, largely coincided with a remarkable series of popes who had sex with men, who protected family and friends who did so, or spent vast sums commissioning major works of homoerotic art. Of these, the most obvious and best known of these is Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes for then Sistine Chapel, which remains one of the must see attractions for any tourist visiting Rome. (Pope Paul III who commissioned these works for the chapel, also commissioned an obviously homoerotic theme, the Rape of Ganymede, for his bedroom.)

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“Very Insightful Blogposts on LGBTQ Spirituality” – Theology Degrees On-Line.

Theology Degrees On-line has an intriguing list of “50 Very Insightful Blog Posts on GLBTQ Spirituality“. Introducing the list, there is this important statement on the proliferation of sites available that write on matters of faith and queer sexuality:

At first glance, one would assume that religion and spirituality gels little with the GLBTQ community and their associated quest for Civil Rights. Considering the very vocal opposition by many prominent religious figures and marginalization of ANY members who do not conform to very regimented expectations, that mindset is certainly understandable. However, polls have shown a growing acceptance of GLBTQ individuals in different houses of worship – and the numbers only continue to climb. The more one researches the subject of the relationship between homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, transgender and religion, the more one unearths a diverse number of opinions, meditations, hardships and practices…no difference from heterosexuals, really. The following blog posts provide some excellent insight on how these men and women have approached their religious beliefs in order to find solace, peace of mind and acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, it can be done.

Top of the list is a post on Black lesbian prayers and art from Jesus in Love Blog, about which the writer says “Almost the entirety of the Jesus in Love Blog could fill up this list“. Congratulations to Kitt Cherry, who runs this useful site.

Personally, I was flattered to be included with two entries – one from “Queering the Church” at number two (on coming out as a Catechism command), and at number eight, a post on James Alison’s thoughts on growing up gay and Catholic.

The full list includes a fascinating array of reflections from a diverse range of faith backgrounds, both traditional and modern. Some sites are familiar to me, many others are new – and some of I welcome as worth following regularly. I recommend exploring the list for the specific posts selected, and also for the full sites from which they are drawn.

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"Coming Out" as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibilty and coming out. (Now the 41st anniversary – this is a re-post)

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

 

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix

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“Coming Out”: A Gospel Command.

When I wrote yesterday about Fr Donal Godfrey’s homily to Most Holy Redeemer parish on “Finding God in the Erotic”, I referred in passing to another of his sermons, in which he compared coming out to Jesus’ command to Lazarus, to come out of the tomb. In doing so, I completely and stupidly overlooked a golden opportunity – yesterday in the US was “national coming out day”.

091011 OLYMPUS LGBT Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans...

091011 OLYMPUS LGBT Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Straight allies NCOD National Coming Out Day March across GGB 2009! (Image by niiicedave via Flickr)

As rather poor excuse, I remind you that I am not American. In compensation, now that I do not need to synchronise with the calendar, I have the opportunity to bring you instead a series of the best I have seen elsewhere on the religious importance of coming out.

The coalition of gay Catholic organizations “Equally Blessed” follows Fr Godfrey in reflecting on the Lord’s command to Lazarus, but as a more recent offering, with specific reference to coming out day, this is my first choice. (For Fr Godfrey’s take on the same theme, see the Gay Catholic Forum.)

The Spiritual Side of Coming Out

By Francis DeBernardo, Marianne Duddy-Burke,
Casey Lopata and Nicole Sotelo

Today is National Coming Out Day, a day set aside as a special time of reflection and celebration by gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) advocacy groups to highlight the unique perspective of GLBT people in “coming out of the closet” to acknowledge, embrace, and communicate their sexual orientation and gender identity. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rosary for October: Subversive, Queer. (Repost, Updated)

May is Mary’s month and I
Muse at that and wonder why?
Her feasts follow reason
Dated due to season:
Candlemas, Lady Day
But the Lady Month, May
Why fasten that upon her
With a feasting in her honour?

-GM Hopkins, the May Magnificat

virgin-mary-statue

Why, indeed?  For reasons I have never clearly understood, this is one of my favourite poems by the gay English Jesuit GM Hopkins,  which has stuck firmly in my memory since my school days.  ( It was note even one that I studied in school, but one I found in my own exploration of Hopkins’ work, inspired by those poems we did study. Apologies to GMH if my memory has failed me and I have misquoted him).

October too is a Marian month, and a time to be thinking particularly of the rosary.

The extract above, and that which follows, are taken from a post I wrote for October last year. The original post drew some encouraging comment, October is still the rosary month, and it is still useful to consider how we pray the rosary.  That alone makes it worth re-posting. However there is another reason to consider this afresh. Read the rest of this entry »

Wrestling With God: The Sacrament of Irony

Last week I re-posted an earlier piece on Richard Cleaver’s conception of coming out as wrestling with the divine.  Kevin J Calegan, writing in one of several pieces that made up an NCR cover story on gay and lesbian Catholics for Sep 2 1994, says it’s not just coming out that is wrestling with God, but the full gay experience “wrestles with God in an embrace that calls me to a new identity“.  Here are some extracts:

Recently I had the opportunity to see a performance of Tony Kushner‘s, “Perestroika,” Part 2 of his tour de force, “Angels in America.” In his play, Prior Walter, a 31-year-old man living with AIDS, is visited by an angel who declares him a prophet and tempts him to forgo the suffering ahead and find peace in heaven.


Borrowing the story line from Genesis 32, Prior wrestles with the angel, saying, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me!” The angel refuses, incredulous that Prior still wants to live. “Who demands: More life?/When Death like a Protector/Blinds our eyes, shielding from some tender nerve/More horror than can be borne.”

“Bless me anyway,” Prior replies. “I want more life. I can’t help myself. I’ve lived through such terrible times, and there are people who have lived through much worse, but …. You see them living anyway.”

The metaphor of angel-wrestling has helped me make some sense of my relationship to God, to myself and the world. In the dark of night, I, like both Jacob and Prior, find myself in mortal combat with mysterious figures: angels, demons, viruses.

I just can’t seem to let go.

Finally, after an all-night battle, the combatants release me — not just with a blessing but with a whole new name and identity, a new Israel, “one who strives with God.” I have been in many a wrestling match — political, theological, medical. I have wrestled with God, with God’s ostensible representatives, with sisters and brothers — often in a sweaty, straining, forceful embrace that calls me and those with whom I contend to new identities and new relationships. The fight becomes an act of love.

……..

We who “strive with God” prove those well-meaning but frightened folks wrong every time we jump onto the mat to fight for our rights — our civil rights and the rights of our baptism.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our church when the courage and willingness to go to the floor on the issues that count, to speak the truth when it hurts, is cause for oppression and contempt (see the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith‘s two recent documents on homosexuality, 1986 and 1992). What continues to amaze me is that God’s powerful grace is so palpable precisely where the hierarchy denies it can be. I call it the “sacrament of irony.”

The Church constantly reminds us of the fundamental importance of truth. Even the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger concluded “Homosexualitatis Problema” with a reminder to “Speak the Truth in Love”. So indeed there is profound irony that those who control the Church condemn and even penalize gay and lesbian Catholics in their moments of greatest honesty (as with the Canadian altar server, or by withholding communion from Catholics who wear a rainbow sash to declare publicly their orientation, or by driving out priests and religious women who speak honestly about sexuality). Yet, in the same document which preaches the importance of speaking the truth, their own case is based on falsehoods, half-truths, and rhetorical sleight of hand. To counter the lies, it is essential that we take the injunction seriously, “Speaking the Truth in Love”, telling and disseminating our stories as they are, not as the Vatican would like them to be: just as Kevin Calegan has done.

In all those times of wrestling with the tough issues, with church leaders, with each other, with disease, I have been pinned down and squeezed, touched, massaged, embraced, cuddled and, yes, pleasured by a challenging and everloving God. I have been transformed and reconciled. No longer frightened or ashamed, I am learning to confide in God’s love and the love of my fellow wrestlers. And after the match is over, I look forward to walking humbly with my God, even if it is with a limp.

(Read the full reflection)

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