Loving Celibacy until Life’s Twilight — Fr. Matthew Kelty

Everyone has role models when it comes to living their vocations. As we’ve stated before, we want to share stories of people whose lives and celibate vocations have inspired us. We draw on historic examples as well as people we know currently living celibate vocations. Every celibate person provides insight into the unique textures of this type of vocation. Today, we would like to introduce our readers to Fr. Matthew Kelty.

Fr. Matthew (1915-2011) is best known as Fr. Thomas Merton’s confessor. Born Charles Richard Kelty Junior, he was ordained in 1946. He served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea from 1947 to 1951 and eventually made his way to the monastery at Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky in 1960. He wrote an autobiographical spiritual reflection called Flute Song, where he described the processes of discernment being analogous to finding the song that lives in a flute. Readers can get a further glimpse into his spiritual wisdom by reading his homilies delivered at the monastery. After Fr. Matthew had reposed, news outlets took note of his essay entitled “Celibacy and the Gift of Gay” that appeared as an epilogue to My Song is of Mercy.

Lindsey first encountered Fr. Matthew’s story shortly after reading Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting. Lindsey felt that it did not deliver on it’s promise to discuss how gay Christians could experience God’s favor and blessing, and experienced a sense of sadness after reading it. But not two weeks later, Lindsey learned about Fr. Matthew and jumped to read more because “Celibacy and the Gift of Gay” seemed an entirely intriguing concept.

We find Fr. Matthew inspiring because he provided thoughtful spiritual guidance to his congregation while being openly gay. His homilies included organic references to issues within the gay community far before efforts to create inclusive churches. Many of his writings drip with wisdom. Consider, for example:

There are many kinds of men, there are many kinds of gay. There are many ways of explaining the genesis of what it is to be gay, just as there are many ways of living out that gift (pg. 256).

He describes how a celibate gay person can work on integrating his or her sexuality when he says:

For the gay must become comfortable with his being a human, two dimensional, tough and tender, strong and gentle. His search for wholeness is not a search for personality, but for Christ, who cannot be met by anything less than a person, let alone be loved. The love of God is possible in depth only to the whole person, at least the beginnings of one. From there on the limit is no limit (pg. 258).

His writings are challenging and include exhortations that would cause many people to question their received understanding of sexuality. His discussion of communal love is thought-provoking:

Communal love is a Godsend, be it formal or unstructured, yet only when men are free of the shackles that inhibit. And since those who tend to worry will worry here about sex, the answer is simple: sex is no problem. Love is. Where there is no love you can expect sex to emerge. All men want love, celibates too. Sex can be one way of loving, but it is absurd to say: no sex is no love, as absurd as saying sex is love (pg. 259).

It’s rather incredible to us that Fr. Matthew was writing these quotes in 1994.

Fr. Matthew had lived the majority of his life before he wrote “Celibacy and the Gift of Gay.” When Lindsey first read his essay, in addition to his autobiography and homilies, it became abundantly clear that Fr. Matthew saw himself integrating his sexuality rather than oppressing it. His tone was never in-your-face, but he wrote as a person fundamentally connected with himself through contemplative prayer. He reminded us of the importance of looking for people who have discovered how celibate vocations give life, even into our twilight years.

Trying to make sense of your celibate vocation can be hard when you are in your twenties. You have the bulk of your life still to live. It’s great to meet people old enough to be your grandparents or great-grandparents who are relishing in their celibate vocations. They’ve lived their lives and discerned their ways by asking difficult questions. Fr. Matthew lived through some pretty incredible times, but he came out at the end still singing about the celibate vocation. His song gives us a lot of hope.

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5 thoughts on “Loving Celibacy until Life’s Twilight — Fr. Matthew Kelty

  1. How did you find Kelty ‘ s writings? Are they online or in book format? I’m interested in reading. 🙂
    And I only read parts of washed and waiting because it didn’t read well for me…

    • Lindsey saw “Celibacy and the Gift of Gay” making news after Fr. Kelty reposed in 2012, then ordered his book. In the post there are links to his book on Amazon.com and his homilies if you’re interested in reading more.

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