See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Sunday, October 10, 2010

If there ever was a "gay" saint, it might as well be St. Aelred...



St. Aelred of Rievaulx.
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An English Cistercian abbot and contemporary of St. Bernard, Aelred wrote much on English history and spirituality.  The saint is especially known today for his treatises on charity and spiritual friendship.  The writings on spiritual friendship form the basis for the claim Aelred was "gay" - a novel theory postulated in the mid-20th century.  Again, those who make the claim are looking at this from our 19th-21st century perspective and contemporary understanding of same-sex sexual relations as posited by gay culture today.  The contemporary phenomenon of open, public homosexuality has been unheard of in Western culture since ancient pagan, pre-CE civilizations in Greece and further east to Persia.  That said, even in those times it remains highly doubtful that it was generally practiced, or across the board accepted, as we see and understand promotion of the practice today.
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It is not surprising that in monasteries the vice of homosexuality would present itself as a temptation to sin, which is why we read in the desert father's admonitions against admitting boys to the life, or looking long upon a boy, etc..  The vice was reported in some monasteries or hermitages, and the brothers were dismissed.  Cassian also writes about these things and even condemns such things as involuntary nocturnal emissions.  Hence St. Aelred would have been very familiar with the writings of the Fathers and first monks regarding chastity, as well as understanding the writings of St. Paul and other scriptural condemnations of homosexuality, just as orthodox Christians do today.  To suggest he lived a homosexual life, or permitted same-sex familiarity and romantic love within the monastic community is certainly a distortion of authentic monastic observance, spirituality, and Catholic teaching.  In other words - it is absurd.
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Perhaps a better patron for those struggling with homosexuality.
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Did Aelred experience homosexual temptations?  We do not know - in the lives of every saint, a great variety of temptation enters to purify and sanctify the soul - even as we get older, our concupiscence and the devil suggests unheard of horrible sins - therefore no one should be surprised if this was the case with St. Aelred.  Nevertheless he could not be a saint if he had condoned a lifestyle so clearly contrary to natural law and God's will - or plan for creation.
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What St. Aelred does offer however, is sound teaching on wholesome and holy friendship.  It is said he was strongly attracted to a monk named Simon - on account of the other's perfect observance and spiritual demeanor.  As I always say - men and women are naturally attracted by beauty and grace and goodness, but it doesn't mean that the attraction is carnal or sensual.  And this is where Aelred departs from contemporary dangerous innuendo, and praises chaste friendship - even when such friendships appear 'particular' - favoring one person above others as it were.
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"It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow... with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; ... where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one." - St. Aelred, Spiritual Friendship
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I apologize that I cannot vouch for this translation, but it seems to me to be correct.  I haven't read the saint for years, and just because I have read him doesn't mean I possess any expertise about his life or teaching.  I am basing my comments on common sense and ordinary Catholic spirituality.  Nevertheless, taking into consideration Aelred's orthodoxy and observance of chastity regarding spiritual friendship, the experience he describes here seems to me to be adaptable to chaste, celibate same-sex friendship, or as one blogger might phrase it, disinterested same-sex friendship.  Especially in situations wherein two persons have lived together for a long time, and after a deeper conversion perhaps, returned to Church teaching on sexuality and marriage.  Friendship centered upon Christ with the purpose of living in fidelity to Church teaching and mutual sanctification is certainly not forbidden by the Church.  However, living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option. - CDF
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More from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
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It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.  To chose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent..
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As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God's liberating grace.
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Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life. As they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God's personal call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance more faithfully and receive the Lord's grace so freely offered there in order to convert their lives more fully to his Way. - CDF

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Saints are sinners who keep trying.
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If we hope to bring others back to the Church, we must acknowledge that there will be amongst those persons returning some who have been in long-term relationships and partnerships or commitments.  The Church says living out of this (homosexual) orientation in homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option.  But the Church does not forbid chaste friendship and mutual support. 
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If there is anything good about gay people claiming particular saints as their patron - if indeed they have devotion to them, which also means seeking to follow their example - then the Holy Spirit may have greater access to their conscience as it were, and perhaps better able to correct it.  The saints are powerful intercessors and God always draws good out of evil.
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Disclaimer:
I declare that I have no intent to acknowledge, distribute or encourage anything contrary to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the Apostolic See. I submit myself and all the contents of this blog to the judgment of the Church.

5 comments:

  1. Interesting blog.

    http://youcanfacetodaybecausehelives.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're way behind T-man. The informal gay and lesbian group at my parish has had as it's patron St. Aelred for over 10 years now. Father says Mass for us on his feast, followed by a potluck and orgy. Whoops! Joking about the orgy part. Maybe. You know us gays, it's all about self indulgent pleasure. It's all we disordered, immoral people know.

    I'll leave you to your fun. It was nice and I wish you the best. I'll always remember Abbey-Roads fondly: All gay, all the time. Ya got one less to worry about now.
    Ace.

    PS. And stop wearing tight jeans to church. Remember, lead us not into temptation.

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  3. Ace, not that it matters, but I was familiar with this aspect of the legend of St. Aelred and the emerging cult while a novice with the Trappists in the mid 1970's. I found no basis for the 'Aelred was gay' myth then either.

    Oddly enough I thought of you for this post because of your reactions to a couple of other posts regarding same-sex friendship and ss unions, etc.. I thought it might be helpful for people in relationships to see how easy it is to live in conformity with Church teaching while retaining their friendship with one another. Much like divorced and remarried couples with children can do - stay together but without the sex - brother and sister arrangements.

    Anyway - so you are saying farewell? That makes me sad - I'll continue praying for you and yours - or better put, with you. Happens to me all the time however - I've lost more friends than you could possibly imagine... I've grown accustomed to intolerance and bigotry.

    God bless you.

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  4. Thanks Terry, you've always something profound to say... not like a lot of others which are, as they say, a mile wide and an inch deep.

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  5. Can we just call a moratorium on "orientation"..."gender"...etc.??
    Let's just be "people"...male and female...dealing with the effects of original sin; trying to make some sense out of life; quit making people into "stereotypes" and "political" agitprops??
    All of this bickering, finger-pointing and just down-right nastiness at times can really become an obsession.
    If we believe in Christ, in His Catholic Church, in His teachings, then I think St. Paul's admonition about there being no divisions, but unity in Him is apropos here.
    When it becomes "us vs. them" it gets very ugly. We're all sinners in need of Divine Mercy. We've all got some very heavy loads to bear...let's not make it heavier for one another.
    Thanks, Mr. Terry. Great wisdom here.
    This is not a criticism, at all, of what you have written...I'm just getting very weary of all this antagonism (but I'm sure this just fires others up!!)...I'll go take a nap, now!

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