This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive criticism is welcome on my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce, Chapter 26 - Ubi Caritas
When Bryce attended his first class of the day that Monday morning, he received back the mid-term exam he had taken the previous Friday. He was delighted to find that he had earned an A in French, all the more so as he had been forced to do it entirely on his own, given the cliquish attitude of most of the other students in the class. He wondered how many others had done as well. After class, he enjoyed a feeling of satisfaction when he heard several other students complain about how difficult the exam had been.
Bryce was not worried about his grade in his Freshman Orientation class. Although his mind often wandered during that hour, and he felt he was getting nothing out of it, he had been told by the instructor that the grade would be based entirely on attendance, and he had been present (physically anyway) for each class. He was a little more concerned about his grade in Psychology, as he frequently disagreed with the professor, who seemed to resent it. Still, Bryce had been careful on his exams to approach any controversial topic with a statement like, "The textbook says ...," or "In class lecture it was said ...," even if he added some questioning comment, so Dr. Greeley knew he was doing the required work.
After lunch, Bryce and Damon attended their Biology lecture, where they were scheduled for another bi-weekly quiz. This one would cover the material on human sexual orientation, which had caused some controversy when Bryce gave his report in class. He and Damon were certain they had the material down pat, as they had studied together and quizzed each other extensively. Bryce was interested when the quiz was handed out to read the way Dr. Harris had phrased the question: "Science has shown that sexual orientation in humans is biologically determined. Discuss several possible explanations as to how this phenomenon could come about." Two students went up to the instructor's desk, evidently to complain. After a sotto voce altercation, one returned to his seat looking distressed, but the other walked out.
In Bryce's history class, Dr. Dickinson was lecturing on the group of advisors to King Charles II called the CABAL, from the first letters of the names of the five ministers: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. Bryce was fascinated with the way the professor presented the material, so that it was almost like witnessing the struggles in person. England was going through a major development involving constitutional as well as religious conflicts, while also struggling to find her place in the international arena. As the hour drew to a close, the Whig elements in Parliament forced through the so-called Test Act, which required that all holders of public office, military commissions, or licenses to practice the learned professions had to be members of the Church of England, as a test of which they had to receive the Eucharist in the Church of England at least once each year. This appalled Bryce. Not that it was anything new to him. He had read about this many times before, but it never ceased to disgust him that politicians could essentially blaspheme the presence of Christ in the Eucharist by making it a test for public office.
After class, Dr. Dickinson asked Bryce to stop by his office for advisement. As he had his appointment with Father Miller in a short time, they agreed on meeting the next day after Bryce's Milton class.
Just on three-thirty, Bryce arrived at the Newman Center. Approaching the reception desk, he encountered a student worker whom he did not recognize.
"Hi. I'm Bryce Winslow. I have an appointment with Father."
The worker glanced at the appointment book. "Yes, I see. He's just finishing up with someone else, but he should be available in a minute or two. These things often run over."
"Thanks," Bryce said, as he began to wander about the lobby.
It was only a few minutes later when the door to the chaplain's office opened, and a student emerged with the priest. The student said, "Thanks, Father. I think that helps." The priest replied, "If you're still having problems in a day or so, let me know, and we'll try a different approach." They shook hands, then the student hefted a bookbag on his shoulder, and left.
Bryce noticed the receptionist motion in his direction. Father Miller noted his presence and said, "Hello, Bryce. I'm glad to see you could make it. Won't you come into my office?" They entered, and sat.
After a couple of minutes of pleasant social exchange, Bryce got down to his reason for being there. "As I told you last week, Father, I'm gay, and I cannot be celibate. I don't want to let that come between me and the Church, but I'm having real difficulty seeing a way to reconcile who I am with what the Church seems to be demanding of me."
"First of all, Bryce, let me say that I admire your toughness," Father Miller began.
"Toughness?" Bryce questioned.
"Yes. An awful lot of people, faced with your situation, would simply take an easy way out. Either they would attempt to deny their sexuality, which would almost certainly lead to an unhappy marriage, or else they would abandon the Faith, often resulting in just as much stress and unhappiness. It takes mental toughness to struggle to work it out, as you're doing."
Bryce was embarrassed by the compliment. "Thanks," he mumbled.
"Have you had an opportunity to read the work by Salzman and Lawler that I loaned you last week?"
"Yes. I've read the chapter on homosexuality several times, and I've struggled with some of the earlier chapters. I'm not certain I understand everything they're saying. I have ordered my own copy, but it hasn't yet arrived in the mail. When it does, I'll return yours," Bryce reported.
"Are you willing to make this a long-term project, Bryce?"
"What do you mean, Father?"
"I mean, I very much doubt that we can adequately deal with the issues involved in the next hour. Are you willing to return, either until we have a solution, or until you decide that no solution is possible?"
Bryce hesitated. "Ah, can we play this by ear? I am glad you agree that simple answers won't do, but I'm a little hesitant to make a long-term commitment."
"All right. That will have to do for now. Where shall we begin?"
"You're the expert, Father. You know my situation, as least in general. What do you suggest?" Bryce asked.
The priest hesitated a moment, then reached behind him to a bookshelf, from which he extracted a New Testament. He opened it towards the back, turned a few pages, then handed it to Bryce. "Read from verse 7 to the end of the chapter."
Bryce took the book, and noted that it was opened to the First Epistle of St. John, Chapter 4. He began to read aloud. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. And everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God; for God is love." Bryce looked up, a question in his eyes, but then continued reading. After a few more verses, he read, "God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him." Again Bryce paused and looked up, but the priest simply motioned for him to continue. "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." And so on to the end of the chapter. Bryce settled back in his chair, excited by these passages, but also confused as to the point the priest was making.
"Are you familiar with those verses?" Father Miller asked.
"I suppose I must have heard them sometime, but I can't truthfully say they're familiar. I guess in my own reading I tend to concentrate on the Gospels," Bryce said.
"That's not bad, but you shouldn't stop there. Now, I'm assuming you believe in God."
"Not just in some abstract principle of creation, or of order in the universe, or of justice, but in a personal God, a person, someone who can love, as St. John says?"
"Yes, Father. My own experience convinces me that God cares for me."
"All right. Then, will you accept St. John's statement that God is love?"
"I ... I'm not sure. I mean, it sounds great, but I'm not sure what that involves exactly," Bryce hedged.
"Do you know what love is?"
"Yes, I believe I do. Basically, I grew up in a loving home. My mother is quite loving, even to the point of embarrassing me on occasion. I also love my sister, whom you met last week. While we're not as close, I guess I can say I also love my father and my older brother. I truly believe I love God, and God loves me. I've felt the love of God, in much the same way I've felt the love of my family. And, in addition to all that, I've recently come to realize that I love Damon, my ... 'boyfriend' does not seem to do it, and 'partner' seems so ... legalistic. Anyway, the person with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life."
"You're very fortunate. It is truly depressing and disheartening to learn how many people do not have love in their lives. I've encountered that all too often in my role as advisor and counselor," Father Miller said sadly. Drawing a deep breath, he continued, "If God is love, then would you say God wants to exist all by himself?"
Bryce thought that a very unusual question. But, he had asked the priest to take the lead, so he gave it serious thought. "No. If you love, you have to love somebody, or at least some thing," he decided.
"Good. How about God loving himself?"
"I don't mean to be disrespectful, but that sounds wrong. Egotistical. I don't think of God as being egotistical. More giving, reaching out," Bryce disagreed.
"But, if, as Christian revelation has it, God consists of three persons ...."
"Yes!" Bryce interrupted. "Sorry, Father, but that explains so much!" he excitedly insisted. "If we have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in God, then God can, in a way, love himself without being egotistical. Father loves Son, Son loves Spirit, Spirit loves Father, and on and on. God is love! I see it now! And that makes the whole idea of the Trinity so much more reasonable than just saying it is so because it was revealed. It makes sense of God! God without the Trinity is God without love, just an impersonal force of nature."
"You don't have to go that far, Bryce," the priest reined him in a bit, "but I'm glad to see that you get the idea, the intimate connection between the concept of God and the concept of love that St. John was trying to convey. Now, next step, God does not stop loving with himself , does he?"
"Well, no. I mean, I said a few minutes ago that I had felt the love of God for me, so I guess I can extrapolate from that to say that God loves others, too. I'm not that special," Bryce added with a mischievous grin.
The priest returned the grin. "You're special, but, as you say, not all that special. Can we agree, then, that a loving God wants to share his love with others outside himself."
"A reasonable deduction. In fact, I can see this as an explanation for why the entire universe came about. Not how, but why. I've read about the big bang and all that. That's one solution to the how, but that does not really interest me. But to know why we are here interests me quite a lot."
"Love is expansive," Father Miller continued. "It can't be contained or static. It can never be satisfied just being. Love always wants to share itself. That's the nature of love. So, if God is love, as St. John said, then God also wants to share himself, to share his love. God created the universe out of love."
"I don't know where you're going, and I'm not sure how any of this fits into my personal problem, but I like what I hear, so what comes next?" Bryce asked.
"If we love someone, we want that love to be returned, don't we?"
"Oh sure," Bryce immediately agreed, thinking of his love for Damon. Then he wandered a bit, and thought of the love he and his mother had for each other, and then how he wished he had that same kind of love for and from his father. "Sometimes," he hazarded, "we kind of want to love and be loved, but it never quite comes off. I mean, it's not as complete as we would like it."
"That is certainly true. Applying that to God, I think it's fair to assume that God never quite gets back the wholehearted love he would like from us, don't you?"
"Yeah, I suppose. I mean, I can't deny that there are times when I'm too busy with other things to pay attention to the love of God, and times when I just want my own way instead of listening to God," Bryce admitted. He hesitated for a moment. "Are you telling me that, in my relations with Damon, I'm wanting my own way instead of God's way?" Bryce said in a hostile voice.
"No. No," the priest hastened to assure him. "I'm nowhere near touching on your relationship with Damon. Not yet. Don't get impatient. I told you this would not be a quick lesson. Let's jump back a step or two. We agreed that, when we love someone, we want that love to be returned, right?"
"Can inanimate objects, like rocks and rivers and hills, love?"
"No. I mean, they can in a sense glorify God by their very existence, but I don't see any way we can say they love God," Bryce said.
"What about plants and simple forms of animal life, like amoebas?"
"Still no. There's got to be more to someone - I mean to a creature - than merely existing, or merely living, to be able to love. You've got to be able to feel something about the beloved one," Bryce answered.
"How about the higher animals? Pets, for example. Dogs, cats, horses, monkeys?" Father Miller persisted.
"Um, I'm not sure. I guess they can feel something towards each other, and towards us."
"Is that enough to constitute love?"
"Like I said, I'm not sure. I never really thought about this before. Not in this way, anyway."
"Well, consider this. In order to be able to love, the lover has to have the ability, to some degree, to appreciate the beloved. We can appreciate some benefit we get from the beloved, but that's not the same as appreciating the beloved. To do that, we have to be able, to some extent, to put ourselves in the place of the beloved. To see in the beloved something which is able to respond to the lover. Are you with me?" the priest asked.
"Um, I think I get the general idea. Can you give me an example?" Bryce requested.
"Okay. Let's say an alien space creature appeared and presented you with the ability to learn something merely by wishing for it. Let's say - what language are you studying?"
It took Bryce a moment to realize that the last question was not part of the syllogism. "Uh, French."
"Okay, let's say this creature gave you the ability to become instantly fluent in French, merely by wishing for it. But the creature has no recognizable shape, but is some kind of amorphous gas. There is nothing you can touch. It does not communicate in any way you can understand, so there is no back and forth between you. It just is, but it has bestowed this gift on you. Now, do you think you could love such a creature?"
Bryce thought about that for some time. In a way, he owed the creature. He could appreciate that. But ... "No. If there were no way to communicate, no back and forth, no exchange, absolutely nothing in common, then I don't think there could be love. It seems to me love has to involve some understanding, come communication."
"All right. Then, can we say the higher animals truly love us, as distinct from appreciating the benefits they get from being around humans?"
"By analogy, I guess not. If that is love, it is a very low grade love, not the sort of thing we were talking about between me and my mom, for example," Bryce said.
"What we feel for animals, pets, is what we call affection, and I suppose that is a kind of love, but not the same kind we have for each other, or for God. So, back to my point, if we give love, we want love in return. And if God created the universe out of love - out of that inherent need of love to expand itself - and wanted love in return, he had to create something which could, to some degree, understand him and communicate with him."
"Oh, I see where you're going. What's the phrase? We're created in the image and likeness of God." Bryce exulted.
"That's it. The phrase comes from Genesis but the idea permeates the entire Bible, and the entirety of Christian theology. In art, we express this in reverse order. We make God look like a human. And often people think that way, too. The Bible frequently uses phrases which make the actions of God equivalent to human actions. God is angry, or jealous, for example, especially in the Old Testament. But I certainly do not think it is mere anthropomorphism when St. John write's that God is love. We are not like God in physical shape, as God is not physical and has no shape. We are not like God in our limitations, as God has no limitations. But one way we are like God is that we can love. And we can understand. Our intellectual capacities are sufficiently developed that we can at least glimpse what God is like, so we can love God. We are made in the image and likeness of God."
"When you lay it out like that, it makes sense. I think I knew all that. At least, I had heard everything you've said before at least once. But putting it together like this has been a real revelation. This is exciting. Where do we go from here?"
"Just one more important point for today, Bryce. Can we force someone to love us?"
"Hmm. Well, we can encourage someone. We can create circumstances which might lead to that. But, really, I guess love has to be given. It cannot be taken. It cannot be forced."
"Good. In fact, if we try to force someone to love us, it most often has the opposite effect. The doting aunt who demands love often finds her nephew avoiding her. An extreme example might be someone who rapes another. That never leads to love, does it?"
"I wouldn't think so?" Bryce answered.
"So, do you think God will rape us?"
"That's what it would amount to, if we had no choice but to love him. God wants adoration, true, but he also wants love. Love, to be real, has to be freely given. This leads me to two important conclusions, which tie in with what we talked about when your sister was here last week. In order for God to obtain from us humans the love he desires, he had to make us in such a way that we could give love to him freely. That means we also have the ability not to give that love. In other words, we have the ability to sin. Second, God does not reveal himself to us in all his glory. If he did, we would be so totally overwhelmed that we would have no choice but to adore him. He wants that adoration, as I said, but that is not love. Because God, who is love, wants to be loved in return, he hides himself from us to some extent, in order to give us the freedom to love him."
"Geez, yeah! You said that when Nan was here, but I didn't see the implications, the context." Bryce hit himself on the forehead with the palm of his hand. "Just the other day, I was bragging to a friend that, as an historian, I saw things in terms of their context, but I missed this all together."
"Don't blame yourself too much. It has taken some of the best minds of Christendom some two thousand years to come up with what I just went through in forty-five minutes, and it's by no means fully appreciated, even by some great theologians. It is the mystics who seem to come closest to appreciating God's love. I'm just repeating what far better minds than I have said," Father Miller insisted.
"Still, wow!" Bryce said in awe, as though he were examining a precious jewel, or witnessing a baby's first step.
"We have not even mentioned you, or Damon, or homosexuality, or the Church, or the bishops, but our hour has fled, Bryce. Will you return, say next week at the same time?"
"As they say, Father, same time, same station. Maybe if I think about this, I can see an application. Maybe I'll even remember some of it," Bryce joked.
"Just read St. John's First Epistle, and take off from there," the priest advised. "And here's another help to remembrance. You might be familiar with the hymn, Where Charity and Love Prevail. That's a pretty rough translation of the ancient Latin hymn which begins, Ubi caritas et amor, ibi Deus est - literally, 'Where charity and love are, there God is.' You said you're an historian. You might be interested to know that most authorities date that hymn to the fourth century, and some put it even earlier. The Church employs it every year in the Maundy Thursday liturgy. Nice to know we never quite forgot what St. John has to teach us."
Bryce left the chaplain's office. Like the student before him, he shook Father Miller's hand, and said, "Thanks. That helps." And, just as an hour previously, there was another student waiting to see the priest.
Bryce walked back to Clay Hall. He was trying to remember all the points they had covered, and how they had moved from St. John to the doctrine of free will. And, how was it that the Trinity got involved back there? He decided he had better jot down some notes when he got back to his room, while it was relatively fresh, or he'd never be able to remember it all. As he entered his room, however, he heard Damon running water in their joint bathroom. Suddenly it hit him that experiencing love in another person was even more important than understanding love intellectually. He opened the door to the bathroom, walked up behind Damon, who was standing in front of the washbasin and mirror, put his arms around him, kissed the back of his neck, and said, "I love you."