by John Hazlet
In 2007, at the age of thirty, I entered a Benedictine monastery. Last month, after a painful discernment but on good terms with my monastic community, I left. I had made solemn profession of monastic vows (and was ordained to the diaconate) just the summer before.
“…[W]ho can know himself,” asks Blessed John Henry Newman, “and the multitude of subtle influences which act upon him? And who can recollect, at the distance of twenty-five years, all that he once knew about his thoughts and his deeds, and that, during a portion of his life, when, even at the time his observation, whether of himself or of the external world, was less than before or after, by very reason of the perplexity and dismay which weighed upon him,—when, in spite of the light given to him according to his need amid his darkness, yet a darkness it emphatically was?”
Who, indeed? Even without an interval of decades I can’t pretend fully to understand my motives either for entering the cloister or for leaving it. But the former are bound up with that quest for God which is a monastery’s raison d’être and which remains the central pursuit of my life. And the latter has much (though not everything) to do with the sense – more and more urgent as my monastic life went on – that I must try to say things that a monk and cleric of the Church in our time is not permitted to say. This blog is a kind of sketchbook for those things.
I write as a Catholic, and the theological outlook I espouse should on the whole be uncontroversial within my own tradition: biblical, patristic, liturgical – broadly typical of a monastic (as distinct from a scholastic) theological outlook. My emphasis on the Catholic tradition’s development-within-continuity also should meet with few raised eyebrows. But the kind of dialog that makes authentic development possible is inevitably controversial, and it’s in this kind of dialog that I’d like in some very small and peripheral way to participate.
One area of Catholic teaching that I regard as particularly ripe for further development – and in particularly urgent need of open discussion in the interests of people’s welfare – concerns human sexuality. One cannot credibly propose (though many do) that Catholic teaching has been static here. The twentieth century saw remarkable shifts that are seldom fully acknowledged at either end of the falsely polarized theological spectrum. If these reflect an expanding understanding of the Gospel’s implications for human relationships on the level of physical intimacy, they in turn carry with them implications for greater insight still. No one can predict the shape this will assume, but we must expect this shape to emerge from the interactions of different points of view within the Church’s life under the phototropic influence of the Holy Spirit.
This set of issues intersects with my own life at the point of my being gay. (And let me say at once how acutely aware I am of the lack of suitable vocabulary here: from the ugly Greek-Latin hybrid “homosexuality” to the slangy “queer,” it’s hard to find a word that indicates the experience without reducing one to it.)
In many ways it was the resources of monastic life – with its emphasis on unflinching self-knowledge in the loving presence of God – that helped me accept this dimension of myself in ways that had eluded me outside the cloister, and fostered an imperative sense of the importance of transparency in this and other areas of my life. All this drew on and stimulated theological reflection (in the atmosphere of prayer) that led me to a personal peace of conscience about the compatibility of same-sex relationships with Catholic life.
Falling in love (reciprocally, for the first time in my life) translated this cogitating and praying onto a different level of experience, and coincided with (though it by no means wholly brought about) the collapse or evaporation of my sense of priestly and then monastic vocation. The relationship I now have with my beloved will also appear in these pages, though always in such a way as to respect his privacy.