As I reflect upon my life, many things were always certain. My love of dogs, I love the Autumn, I enjoy the beach, Christmas is my favorite time of year, and my mother was the best mother in the world! I knew I would end up a policeman, though my 1974 high school yearbook betrayed my “secret desire to be a priest”. God does indeed have His plan and works his mysteries- I retired from 29 years in law enforcement and now I work to serve God as a priest with The Reformed Catholic Church.
There are other aspects in my life of which I have always been certain too. I am a gay man. I knew this all my life as far back as I could remember thinking of such things. I also knew I was intensely spiritual, and how to reconcile the two would ultimately become the formation of who I am.
I know that my being gay is not a decision I made. It is not a “sexual preference” I chose, but rather who God created me to be. I knoew this because God blessed me with an understanding family and compassionate and caring friends.
I also came to learn that there were those who would try to use the very scriptures I loved to read, against me. I came to know that this belief grew in ignorance and darkness. I read a book by The Most Reverend John Shelby Sprong retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church Diocese of Newark NJ (who I have had the occasional pleasure to meet) entitled “Lving in Sin” where he explains that fundamentalists misinterpretations of scripture conclude that that “which is abnormal is an abomination”. The learned person knows homosexuals are born homosexual. Bishop Spong concludes that ipso facto– that there is no sin for the homosexual person because my homosexuality is for me normal. Created by God as his glorious gift to me, to reflect his love back to his creation.
This was very liberating to me as a gay Christian. I found myself accepted and blessed as I opened my heart and soul to God in prayer and came to understand his love for me!
It was with this knowledge that I came to find St. Aelred of Rievaulx (pronounced: ree-VOH) (b.1109-d.1167) and so appreciate his impact that I have named my ministry after him. Born to a Catholic priest, Aelred at first grew to become a squire to King David I of Scotland and then ‘Head of Household’. But moved by the Holy Spirit, he left the service of the king to enter the service of God being ordained in 1134. He became a monk at the Abbey of Rievaulx. His reputation as a great teacher understanding of God and his works, and his embrace of his fellow monks in friendship, led to his election as Abbot of the monestary. So known was his regard that the numbers of monks at Reievaulx rose to over 750. His popularity prompted King Edward the Confessor of England to invite him to preach at Westminster Abbey in his later years. He was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church after his death.
St. Aelred was known to write many works. First known as a historian, writing the biographies of kings of England, he is most remembered for his writings on his relationships and friendships among the monks in his Abbey. He cited these frienships as proof of God’s love for us- by living that love through our friends. He would tell his monks; “be friends to each other and that will earn the friendship of God.”
Even in those times, there were those who accused St. Aelred of being homosexual, a charge he did not dispute. In his most famous work, Speculum Caritatis (The Mirror of Charity c.1142), Aelred responds: “Some emotions are not ours to command. Others will pass judgement, even with my tears that my love is to real. Let them think as they will. But you Lord, with your divine mercy, see not only what is outward but what is within. I love those that God calls for me to love. I reach out to hold the hand that God reaches out for me to take. To cherish those that God calls upon me to cherish. Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ.”
The words have been an inspiration and a comfort to me, for those that would seek to use God against me. “Whoever claims to love God, yet hates a brother or sister in Christ is a liar. For whoever hates a brother or sister, whom they have seen; cannot love Christ who they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) “For no one has ever seen God, but if you love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)
So then this is how God lives today among us- by living his love for us, through us. We must come to understand that we must embrace and love those that, as St. Aelred reminds us- “love those that God calls for [us] to love.” We must wrap ourselves in that love- so God can love- God can live!
“Therefore, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and patience. Forgive one another, as Christ forgave you. For of all the virtues- put on love. It is love that binds us together. Let the peace of Christ be in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
That really says it all. “Let the peace of Christ be in your hearts.” Amen.