December 1998

A Lonely Passion
It is now five years since I conducted the funeral of a Greek boy who was a friend with immense compassion and understanding, a zest for life, and always made me feel welcome. He died of AIDS on August 31st, 1993. He was gay. John Hanvey works with our organisation.

At Christmas time I have discovered from listening to many who come to our centre, that this season of the year has a built-in sadness. This is especially so if you live on the edge of life, for whatever reasons, or if you are estranged from family, and don't have purchasing power. The existential loneliness of the human condition is heightened at this time of year. The Samaritans and other help-lines, as well as the accident and emergency units are at their busiest.

Since working at St. Anne's House, I have been drawn more and more to those areas of life that , before, I only gave a passing thought to and the occasional mention in a homily. I hadn't looked awfully deeply into the eyes and hearts of those who many feel didn't really matter. I have also, through God's grace, had to look at some of the shadowlands of my own life. I am discovering that redemption, my redemption, is right at the heart of struggle and pain. It is about taking risks with other human beings and God as well.

When I trained as a telephone counsellor with those who struggle in the area of their own sexual identity, and for those with HIV and AIDS, I was faced with many difficult, moral, spiritual and very human questions, with no easy solutions. I've had to work at seeing the God of small things at work in all of this. I have discovered that feeling on the edge of both secular life and church life, for those of us for whom the church does matter, is a de-humanising, painful, and desperately lonely experience. It is no surprise to discover that excessive drinking is often very much part of the gay social scene. It kills loneliness temporarily, and it facilitates the often many casual and unfulfilling sexual contacts. There is of course, the complete antithesis of this when there are long-term and permanent relationships. This of course presents a different scenario and even more problems for both mainstream secular life and church life. The whole area of contemporary sexuality, both for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, seems almost intractable.

I wonder whether we need to be more creative rather than authoritative in this area. Maybe reclaiming the art of friendship as developed by someone like Aelred of Rievaulx. Many gay people die emotionally, out of desperate loneliness that leads to other life-threatening excesses and addictions. Aelred wrote the following about a friend who saved him from despair and maybe worse. "Terrible was the distress I felt within myself, tormenting me, corrupting my soul... And unless you had quickly stretched out your hand, not being able to tolerate myself, I might have taken the most desperate remedy of despair.

" Christ's birth into our world, is God stretching out his hand to us, all of us, so that like a child in the dark touching her father's finger and holding his hand, knows she is safe. In the face of the child born in a stable, with all the messiness and untidiness the stable suggests, is revealed, as through a window, the inner being of a God beyond all human imaginings. A God of outrageous love and inexhaustible surprise. And in this face is also revealed true human dignity, and the preciousness and sacredness of every human life. We are called to make the word flesh for our own time. The love revealed in Bethlehem asks the best of human love in reply.

That morning five years ago when I walked into the Crematorium at Kensal Green, I was surrounded by a large number of people for whom the life and death of this Greek boy meant so much. Whatever blessing I gave to his partner, family and congregation, I felt that the person who had been really blessed that day was me. It changed me. There were to be for me no more outsiders, no people to be rejected and judged, but rather people who had become centre-stage of the eternal drama of God's love.

Those who have been on the edge of family, society and church must take a chance on God. Though it can be a lonely affair sometimes, with long silences, and brief understandings. When we look at the baby in the stable at Bethlehem, and Christ on the cross, and our Saviour in the Eucharist, I feel we are just on the edge of discovering that we are not alone and that we are loved.

Fr John Michael Hanvey

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