“IN HIS NAME”
by Michael B Kelly
“The Age”, Melbourne
One rainy Spring day in New York City, my friend
Brendan married his sweetheart.
On that cool Saturday morning I caught the subway from
the Upper West Side, and arrived at the lovely old church in Brooklyn in
good time for a strong coffee at a nearby diner. If I knew Brendan, I
reasoned, this ceremony would be prayerful, beautiful, moving – and long.
Inside the church all was candlelight, dusty grandeur, flowers and smiles. Musicians were tuning up, and the soprano was polishing her pronunciation of “A Thiarna dean trocaire. A Chriost dean trocaire” – which is Gaelic for “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy”. This wedding was to be both very Catholic and very Irish – not just because Brendan is Irish, but because love blossomed between himself and his partner, Tom, as they organised events for the Gay Irish Alliance, “Lavender and Green”. Today the couple looked stunning in their deep green, navy and lavender kilts.
The wedding was to be Catholic because both men are deeply committed to their faith, which forms the basis of their shared life. They come from different worlds – Brendan from County Louth, north of Dublin, with a background in theology, education and activism, and Tom from rural Illinois, with a career in paediatric haematology and oncology. They first met one evening in St John’s Church in Greenwich Village. Brendan had rushed in, late as always, for Mass with the Gay Catholic group, “Dignity” and the only seat available was next to tall, handsome Dr Tom Moulton. Eight years later they are a committed couple – committed not just to one another, but to supporting the homeless, working for social justice and caring for sick children and their families. Today they had come to church to seal their commitment and their love during another celebration of the Mass.
Gradually the bustle of preparation died down. The priest, a Franciscan named Fr Raymond, took his place in front of the altar. The organist began “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, and some five hundred people turned to smile as Tom - escorted by his frail, 80 year old mother, then Brendan - with a teary Irish sister on each arm, walked down the aisle. Together we sang, “Let us build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live; a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace. Here the love of God shall end divisions – all are welcome, all are welcome in this place!”
After the readings, the hymns and the Gospel proclamation, Fr Raymond called Brendan and Tom forward. As they stood before the altar he bound their joined hands with his priest’s stole and solemnly questioned them. Did they believe God had called them together in love? Would they give themselves to each other wholeheartedly and without reserve? Would they do all in their power to make their life together a witness to the love of God in the world? Would they share their wholeness and brokenness, their joys and sorrows, their health and sickness, their riches and poverty, their successes and failures? They said they would.
Tom and Brendan faced one another and, in clear, gentle tones, pronounced their vows: “In the Mystery of Divine Love, you have been given to me. And, in my own free will and destiny I embrace you, choosing and being chosen. And with and in that Love, I promise to be for you, and for your well-being forever, to honour you as a dwelling place of God, and to be loyal to you, and full of faith in you, our life-day long.”
As everyone smiled and dried their eyes, Tom’s little nephew and niece came forward with the rings, which were blessed with Lourdes water and exchanged “in the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier”. Then the whole congregation crowded round these loving men as they stood silently in the sanctuary, and we laid hands on them and blessed them as Fr Raymond prayed over them the Solemn Blessing of the Rite of Christian Marriage.
He prayed that God, the giver of all grace, would look with favour upon Tom and Brendan, giving them “wisdom and devotion in their common life together, that each may be the other’s strength in need, comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy. Grant that they may grow in love and peace with you and with each other all the days of their life. Give them grace when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their faults, and to seek forgiveness from each other. May their life together be a sign – a sacrament - of Christ’s love to this broken and sinful world. May their home be a place of blessing and peace. Bless them in their work and in their companionship, in their waking and in their sleeping, in their life and in their death. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”
We pronounced a soft, hearty “Amen”, then all the solemnity melted into hugs, tears and gentle laughter.
Later in the Mass, I remember sitting in my pew and watching the streams of family members, friends and supporters lining up to share Holy Communion with these men they loved. I noticed Ernie, an elderly homeless man who was all scrubbed and dressed up for the occasion, colleagues and co-workers from Tom’s hospital in the Bronx, folks from the “Catholic Worker” who serve the destitute in Manhattan, gay priests and radical nuns, people with AIDS and refugees from Latin America, politicians, journalists and activists – people young and old and rich and poor, and I knew that Tom and Brendan were already a living sign of God’s love in our broken and lonely world.
These two men had lived through intense personal struggles, through society’s prejudice and the Church’s condemnation, through scorn and shame and oppression, and together they were building a house where love could dwell. This was as much a miracle, as real a marriage, as true a sacrament, as anything I have ever witnessed.
As the Mass ended and married life began for Brendan and Tom, we sang, “Come! Live in the Light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord! We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God!”
Brendan and Tom are answering that call, and their love, in gentle and courageous ways, is changing the world.
Brendan Fay and Thomas Moulton celebrated the sacrament of marriage in St Anne and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn Heights, New York, on May 24, 2003. On July 27, 2003, they were legally married in Toronto, Canada.
Michael B Kelly writes about sexuality, spirituality and justice.