In my eulogistic reflections on the life of Father Matthew Kelty of the Abbey of Gethsemani, I left a lot of things out. I did so partly for reasons of brevity, but mostly for reasons of care and concern. A eulogy is a celebration of a life, a life now lost to us, and even if I elected to tell his story in tandem with Thomas Merton’s, the point was to let Matthew’s words be heard as they deserve to be. I tried, as best I could, to stay out of the way.
A very dear friend and former student, Dr. Michael Bever, to whom I owe my own introduction to Father Matthew some years ago, has reminded me of some things I either failed to say about him, or else said wrongly.
Matthew’s, as I think he and I both agree, is a life worth trying to get just right. So this corrective is an important one, as well as an act of piety to the recently, and dearly, departed.
Matthew did not come out, as I suggested in my eulogy, in the ninetieth year of his age. In fact, his notes for a kind of “flute music” (his Grecophone term for monastic solitude) were written quite a bit earlier. Here is what Michael Bever reminds me:
My Song of Mercy was published in 1994 [I’m afraid that’s all I got right]. This publication included both Matthew’s longer exposition of his sexual orientation in “Flute Solo” and the renowned essay, “Celibacy and the Gift of Gay.” “Flute Solo” had been in informal circulation since 1973 when it was written.
Thus, he was 58 years old when he made public this affirmation of faith.
On closer reading, I note that you had pegged this “coming out” at ninety. One might argue that this earlier date is the more profound since, although he was a mature monk and priest, he had many years to go in service to his vocation (37, to be precise).
What I most appreciate in this correction is that Mike is right that this chronology makes Father Matthew’s story even more moving, and far more brave.
What I most admire about Mike Bever is this. He has accomplished what is to my eye the most selfless, which is to say the most un-egoed, celebration of the life that Matthew Kelty gifted us with in a short film entitled This Lone Brightness. Mike graciously sent me a copy when it was completed, and I’ve watched the thing enough so that I always half-know what’s coming, but feel both gentled and warmed by the knowing of it. It is a testament to friendship, a testament to an abiding affection and deep love. Whether that love is aimed at Matthew or at God seems not to matter so much in the end. For the force of love arcs upward, and tracing that arrow back to its source is to bathe in the light the everlasting mercy.
That was the kind of unblinking, practical, and grounded mysticism Matthew embodied. When you read a mystical poem by Rumi, you can never quite be sure if it is a wine poem, a love poem, or a God poem. Because it’s all three. It just is.
Matthew’s love was like that, apparent in every liturgical gesture, every devilish smile, every poem he ever relished and lingered over, every winsome line he ever wrote.
He grew up an Irish Catholic in Boston. The Irish know a thing or two about poetry, song and the drama of the divine. That Matthew’s spirit resides in that august light is a source of great joy, I sense, to those who knew him, and loved him, far better than I.