Two years ago, I was encouraged by a former friend to write something for the small gay zine לוט on my thoughts about the synthesis of gay and Catholic identities into a Sodomite vocation. At the time, I was more distant than ever from the Church and felt I could not put the words in my own mouth, and for that reason I composed the following fictional sermon. I have since returned to it many times and many friends encouraged me to find a venue to publish it in English. Now at Moses Atticizing, I think it might finally have a home.
(This ties in with some of the themes of the previous sermon I uploaded on the feast of St. Agnes.)
A Sermon to the Sodomites by Fr. John Tauler at the Church of St. Sebastian of Brideshead on the Feast of St. Abraham, October 9th
“And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?”
“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
My children, on this feast day of Saint Abraham, our father in faith, I wish you but one thing: may the light of Sodom shine in your minds that you may feel the Love of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit! Come, it is time to reap the fruits of your repentance. I know how much you labor to remain within Christ’s Body and every day I offer up to God prayers of thanksgiving for the graces he has given you. For this very reason I wish to now teach you about the joy and great magnitude of the Sodomite vocation.
My children, Sodom was one of the most blessed cities of the Old Testament and blessed is he who truly lives according to that city’s high calling. What is Sodom’s great blessing? God himself visited it in the person of two angels. For it is written: Gen 18:20-21 “And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous: I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me”. The Lord had previously visited Abraham in the person of three angels and Abraham saw in them the divine unity made manifest, as he addressed them in the singular Gen 12:2-3 “And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord,…” From antiquity this has been taken to mean that Abraham was before an icon of the Most Holy Trinity itself. And following this tradition, St. Peter Damian, in his Book of Gomorrah, taught that the two who came to Sodom were a living image of the Father and the Son.
Oh, Blessed City of Sodom! How I long to have been on your ramparts, watching at your gates when the fair form of those two appeared on the horizon. Two angels, two men that manifested such love, that the righteous Lot addressed them as his one singular Lord: Gen 19:18 “And Lot said to them: I beseech thee my Lord…”. And such splendor, such beauty this manifest love covered them with! Such beauty as to enflame all the men in the city, both young and old, to demand the highest of all gifts: knowledge of the Lord: Gen 19:5 “bring them out unto us, that we may know them.” And what they did demand, today is fulfilled: for we receive the Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and they demanded to know God in the Flesh. How it is that in the Eucharist we take in not only Christ’s flesh, but more specifically the Seed of His Word, which is also the Seed whereby the Father generates the Son in us and the Sole Breath of the Holy Spirit, that utmost Kiss, I have spoken to you on another occasion. I speak to you in bold images, for I know that your sacrifices are even bolder.
But the mob of Sodom’s lovers prophesied unwittingly, for they demanded what was God’s gift alone, and which in human terms can only be a monstrosity. Indeed, when our Lord taught this “the Jews strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) And later Blessed Henry Suso rejoicing over the Eucharist said “how could I ever have the heart to thus visibly partake of thee? As it is, that which is lovely and delightful remains, whereas that which is inhuman falls away”. What was then the Grace of Sodom, if all it did was tempt its men to Sin? What was indeed the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which left the Jews in the hardness of their hearts? The light of Sodom seems but to be the spark of its embers. Do I not taunt you?
Children and beloved of the father, no, I do not. For where the citizens of that city failed, each of us may succeed, if the Lord looks kindly upon us. The spectacle of those two men and their most perfect, splendorous friendship puts before each of us a choice: will we drag down that friendship they propose and model for us down to the level of our bodies, or will we rise to their heights? The men of Sodom chose the former but were called to do the latter. And they have many heirs among us, Christians who scour the tradition of the Church and interpret every holy friendship between two men or two women as an instance of covert homosexuality and attempt thus to overturn the immemorial tradition of the Church. It was because of this fateful choice that Sodom was destroyed, and no other. For although already in Gen 13:13 it is said that “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly”, the Lord first went down to the city to “see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me”. Thus, although they already sinned, they had not yet sinned gravely enough to bring destruction upon them. It was when they saw the angels, and the pure love motivated by such pure beauty was stirred in their hearts, that they were put to the test: were they going to persevere in this newborn love or would they quench it, turning it into their everyday carnal desires? It is we who are everyday put to the test, we men of undying Sodom, who have in our hearts engraved the image of perfect and true friendship, of the saving loves of individual acquaintances, and who must in every new acquaintance choose whether it will be a path of the spirit or of the flesh.
Be not ashamed of loving each friend to the utmost. Do not neglect the stranger and the acquaintance, but do not be ashamed of knowing some men best. For scripture gives us abundant examples of close, particular friendship such as David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, the chaste marriage of Mary and Joseph and most of all Jesus and John, not to speak of the Christian tradition. But more than that, Scripture tells us of a twofold love of God. For on the one hand, it is said that he desires to save all men and lead all to the truth and that he sends rain to the just and the wicked alike; but on the other hand, it tells us of his special loves: of His love for Israel, that is Jacob, as a bride. Of his love for Christ, his dearly beloved Son. And especially of his love for his saints, chosen before the foundation of the world. How can there be error in having some men dear, if God has chosen to hold some men dear before the creation of the world? And as Paul reminds us, even before their birth, God preferred Jacob to Esau.
But what is more: it is only this particular love that will save us in the end. Christ shed his blood for all, but saved will be those unto whom that river flows. The Church calls all men to repentance but he will be saved who by the accidents of his circumstance and will actually repents. The universal government of the world has left some to damn themselves and others to be saved by grace, and in doing so has manifested that God has higher purposes than the salvation of all men. It is an awful and sublime spectacle, which we see repeated in the terrible mystery of the mass, as we perform the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and repent of our sins that pinned him to the Cross. In the face of divine majesty, we realize that nothing in the world can save us, but the concrete saving actions of our God in our own lives.
As the beloved disciple teaches us (1 John 4:10, 19) “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us… We love him, because he first loved us” Think of your baptism. Remember the family and the friends that lead you to there. Think back to the moments when God led you to repentance, to the joy you had in fulfilling his will, to those moments of strength when you fulfilled his will against every inclination of your own. It is these particular and concrete graces that will grow into good deeds to your neighbor and blossom into your salvation.
Now, this is a great teaching that we as Sodomites are especially called to accept. For so many, when they hear about the superhuman scope of God’s plan, such that salvation is but a part and not the whole sum of his designs, despair: how can God be all Good, and be able to do all good, and yet forego this good, the salvation of every human being? We know in our hearts, they say, that every human being, no matter how deeply in sin, is still a human being and deserving of love: how can God neglect even the most rotten? They are outraged at the transcendence of God, and would sooner do away with his omnipotence, with his very divinity, than see him disagree with the intuitions of goodness they hold “in their hearts”.
Ah, but we, men of Sodom, we have long believed that it is perfectly within God’s rights to ask that we give up our happiness and with it our most basic intuitions about what is good. We know him first not as good, but as God. What may appear to us as our highest flourishing, he may count as apostasy and the road to perdition. He, Reason, does so, and we rational beings, acknowledge the sovereignty of Reason, even when we do not understand it. We may attempt to find arguments for this demand, we may even find some that satisfy us, but this only confirms the fact that Reason may overrule the most basic moral belief. This is our repeated pain, especially in a world that shouts every day that family and childrearing are the summit of human existence. When others laugh, we cry. And yet, in our great pain, we have prepared ourselves to understand God’s election of his beloved, and thus to see the heavenly model of our own choice of beloveds. And it is part of our vocation, to help the rest of the Church to understand this great teaching.
Indeed, remember always that our salvation lies not in ourselves, but in God. Do not worry about yourselves, obsessing over “who am I?”. Do not fret, thinking “I sin and I believe, what is it that I really want?”. Being a Sodomite is not something that you discovered within you, but a call out into the world, a vocation to love in a particular way. Know that you are, as Sodomites, part of the body of Christ, part of the community of the Church and that you have each of a specific place within Christ’s body. We often fail in that vocation and betray Christ: but know that the Church awaits you with open arms, and that your shame and guilt are already the first stirrings of grace pulling you back. Do not dwell on these steps, but climb them. Climb them to reconciliation with the Church and true knowledge of God.
That the grace of God shining through the angels of Sodom may give us strength to ever return and cleave to our heavenly bridegroom, let us pray.
(Thanks to Ofri Ilany, Yotam Feldman, Eve Tushnet, Jon Grieg and many others for comments and encouragement)
(See here for the Hebrew translation by Ofri Ilany)
Header image credit: fol. 165 from the Rothschild Miscellany