In Catholic spiritual tradition, there is an important and honoured place for the idea of “The Bride of Christ”. At one level, we are taught to think of the Church as a whole as such a bride of Christ, and the wedding at Cana as a metaphor for the marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church. At another level, religious women think of themselves as forgoing human marriage, to become brides of Christ. The image is a powerful and valuable one, in developing that personal relationship with the Lord that we seek – but where does it leave men, who may find it difficult to imagine themselves as brides?
Surprisingly perhaps, Catholic tradition provides an equivalent route for men – at least, for gay men, and others who are not threatened by thoughts of homoerotic attraction. Gerald Loughlin has described a medieval German tradition in which the wedding at Cana was seen as celebrating the wedding of Christ and his “beloved disciple” (assumed to be John the Evangelist). St John of the Cross used extensive homoerotic imagery in his mystical writing. Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos combined both of these ideas, taking them to their logical conclusion. As Kittredge Cherry noted at Jesus in Love blog, in a valuable post for his feast day (yesterday, November 29th), Blessed Bernardo saw himself, in a mystical vision, as marrying Christ – as a man, becoming not a bride, but a “Groom of Christ”.
Always holding my right hand, the Lord had me occupy the empty throne; then He fitted on my finger a gold ring…. “May this ring be an earnest of our love. You are Mine, and I am yours. You may call yourself and sign Bernardo de Jesus, thus, as I said to my spouse, Santa Teresa, you are Bernardo de Jesus and I am Jesus de Bernardo. My honor is yours; your honor is Mine. Consider My glory that of your Spouse; I will consider yours, that of My spouse. All Mine is yours, and all yours is Mine. What I am by nature you share by grace. You and I are one!”
(quoted at Jesus in Love from “The Visions of Bernard Francis De Hoyos, S.J.[Image]” by Henri Bechard, S.J.)
Kittredge observes, quite correctly,
While the Catholic church refuses to bless same-sex marriages, the lives and visions of its own saints tell a far different story — in which Christ the Bridegroom gladly joins himself in marriage with a man.
Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed, who drew my attention to Kittredge’s post, thinks that we should declare Bernardo the patron saint of Catholic for Marriage Equality, MN. Why not the patron saint of marriage equality – period?
For more on the details of Bernardo’s story, cross to Jesus in Love. What I want to do instead, is share a personal experience, and to reflect briefly on the lessons for modern gay Catholics, and other Christians.
This resonates with me, as I have had a similar experience myself. I was on a six-day silent, directed retreat in 2002, when, quite early on, my reflection turned to the familiar idea of “the bride of Christ”. I asked myself to picture instead “the groom of Christ”, and was led, for the rest of the retreat, into the most extraordinarily intense spiritual experience of my life. It was as if I was on honeymoon with my new husband. By day, every moment was spent deeply focussed on his presence, whether out of doors, in my room, or in the chapel, where I sat for hours at a time gazing at the tabernacle. By night, I was alone in bed with my lover, and new husband.
Remarkably, the day after I began this journey, I was browsing through some spiritual journals in the lounge of the retreat centre, and came across an article with exactly the same idea: that men could profit from adopting the same image for themselves, as the groom of Christ (but imagining Christ as female). Given the ubiquity of the visual representations of Christ the man that we meet from childhood and throughout our lives, in art and in explicitly religious pictures, statues, books and films, picturing Christ as female may be difficult. As gay men, we have no need to do so: we may retain our traditional view of Christ as male (fully male, with a fully male body) and adapt instead the traditional image of ourselves as the brides of Christ, to the grooms.
Try it. After all, just like John the Evangelist, we are all Beloved Disciples.