Jan 6, 2013

The Transcendent Flesh: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

When I was a kid, my church hated the Roman Catholic "cult."  The Pope was the Antichrist, priests and nuns were possessed by the Devil, and millions of their brainwashed followers worshipped idols and drank wine.  Our Sunday school teacher cautioned us to never speak to a Catholic, if we could help it, or we might get brainwashed, too, and never walk past a Catholic church, or a priest would "get" us.  In 9th grade

In college I dropped out of church.  When the Preacher called to check up on me, I told him I was going to another church now.
Which one?
"Roman Catholic," I said, just to shake things up a bit.
He slammed the phone down, and by the next Sunday, my family was being shunned, stared at, whispered about.  They made me call the Preacher and tell him that I was only joking.

The first real Catholic I met was Frank, the boy on the Prospect List.  I spent the night with Todd, a Maronite Catholic, at  music camp in the summer of 1976.  My first view of the real Roman Catholic Church came the next fall, when my Medieval History class  at Rocky High saw Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), about the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Like many movies and tv programs of the era -- That Cold Day in the Park, Hair, If...., even The Bugaloos -- it featured  a "wild youth" who shakes up the establishment.  Raised in luxury as the son of a wealthy Italian merchant, Francis is repelled by the materialism, avarice, and aggression of the adults.  He goes to war, but cannot bring himself to fight.  He seeks refuge in the Roman Catholic Church, but finds it antiquated and materialistic. So he "lights out for the territory" and starts a hippie commune. . .um, I mean a monastic order.

To symbolize his rejection of the material, Francis sheds his clothes, revealing a beautifully sculpted backside.  So a naked male body shows us the way to Paradise.

Some of the movie posters tried to transform the movie into a heterosexual romance, but Francis has no interest in women.  Or in men, either.  He has a best friend, Paolo (Kenneth Cranham), but his love extends to all living things and even inanimate objects, and cannot be contained in a single person.











Actor Graham Faulkner, reputedly gay in real life, also stripped down to play a Cornish farmer with rather shapely thighs, frolicking on the beach with writer D.H. Lawrence in Priest of Love (1981).








Director Franco Zeffirelli, gay in real life, often used beautiful male bodies as symbols of transcendent reality, even when they have sex with women, as with Romeo (Leonard Whiting, left) in Romeo and Juliet (1968).

Today I know much more about the Roman Catholic church.  I've read The Seven Story Mountain.  I've seen the Sistine Chapel.  I know about the histories of popes and saints, the scandals of the priests, the intense opposition to gay marriage and all things gay (but check out this blog, The Wild Reed, Thoughts and Reflections from a Progressive Gay Catholic Perspective).

But in the early days, I found there appreciation of male beauty that the fundamentalist church of my childhood denied.