Saturday, September 22, 2007

St. Francis of Assisi and Human Sexuality

In part of his book, The Lessons of St. Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality into Your Daily Life, John Michael Talbot reflects on what we can learn about human sexuality from St. Francis of Assisi.

An avowed celibate, Francis, writes Talbot, nevertheless “displayed an amazing balance when it came to sexuality. On the one hand, he respected its beauty and power. On the other hand, he wasn’t naive about his own - or anybody else’s - ability to let his spiritual values guide sexual behavior.”

Following are some of the insights on sexuality that Talbot discerns from the life and spirituality of St. Francis. Note how these “lessons,” as understood and expressed by Talbot, are readily applicable to both straight and gay people.

– Cherish your sexuality, and be aware of how important it is in your personality and your life.

– Receive your sexuality as a God-given gift. Don’t overvalue or undervalue it. Don’t be afraid of it or addicted to it.

– Allow sex to help you in your relationship with God and others, building love and intimacy rather than causing tension and jealousy.

– Use sex in an appropriate way, in a holy way, and in a way that respects God and others.

– Don’t be too conceited about your ability to resist whatever temptations come your way. Set sane limits for yourself and live within them. And define limits for you and your partner that you can both agree on and that increase your level of trust and intimacy with each other.

– Finally, think of sex as a means of communication, not primarily as a means of pleasure. Look at it as a way of giving pleasure to your partner instead of taking pleasure for yourself. This is how sex begins to be more like divine love. As we grow in sexual wholeness, our sexuality can be united with our spirituality, giving us a hint of what ultimate spiritual union is like.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
St. Francis of Assisi: Dancer, Rebel, Archetype
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
The Sexuality of Jesus
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part I)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part II)
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
The Many Forms of Courage

Image: “Surrender” by Kevin Raye Larson (St. Francis of Assisi surrendering the material world, from Larson's “Saint” Series).


Anonymous said...

Ah, the holy Francis, the Seraphic Father, the one who bore Christ's own Stigmata.. You're aware of that Fact, right? And you are aware that it appears you're quoting Francis in the title of this post, but actually are quoting a man.. a good man, but one as faulty as all others who wants the best of all possible worlds? Monk/married..hmm.. what is it lately? I can't keep up.

Do you understand what you're doing?

Michael J. Bayly said...


Do you understanding what you're saying?

Talbot isn't implying that Francis was married. He's simply sharing the insights on sexuality discerned in the life and spirituality of St. Francis and making them applicable for all - celibate and married, and (to my mind) gay and straight.

Am I saying that Francis himself would have thought to apply his understanding on sexuality to gay people? Of course not. He was a man of his time and as such restricted in his understanding of realities such as sexual orientation by his era's limited and flawed understanding of human sexuality.

But the core message - the "lessons" - of Francis' life transcend time and culture. Talbot obviously recognizes this and does a great service to us all by lifting these lessons out of their original and limited historical context and presenting them afresh in the context of today - with all of its new insights and challenges.



Anonymous said...

Talbot asks us to make our sexual love "holy." Nature does not. Saint Paul insists it cannot. Saint Abrose, a Church Father, require confession of coitus between marrieds.

Sexuality is wonderfully pleasurable, but never as much as when it expresses love of a Beloved, Then it it is no longer called "sex," but "making love" with our sexuality. I would not know how to make making love any more transcendent, much less "holy."

Is there a certain way to eat that is "holy?" A certain way to take a crap that is "holy?" When questions like that makes sense, maybe Talbot's making love as "holy" will make sense too. Or, is love itself divine? If so, I have that divine kind of love without any god coming to the party.

Terry Nelson said...

Severely tempted against chastity, St. Francis rolled in thorn bushes until his body was lacerated and bleeding and the temptation subsided.

Anonymous said...


And thus S&M was born!

Anonymous said...

Francis seemed to have increasingly lived out his life in harmony with the world of matter and the world of the spirit. His life was not compartmentalized in any way or form. He included the human experience with its rainbow of expressions into his spirituality. He made peace with the creatures as well as his body. He revolutionized the way religious life was lived at that time; he was innovative and brought to life a new way in understanding and loving GOD. Is it too far to think that Francis had a deeper insight and understanding of sexuality than those of his peer in the thirteen century? He chose to love humanity in his own way as a celibate man. Nevertheless, his sexuality poured out in all ways; from the way he caressed the wolf to the way he brushed the dirt with his naked feet. Perhaps history does not give us a clear picture about his view on human sexuality, but I am sure if Francis had decided to make love to someone he would have been creative and wonderful in that as well.
Happy Feast Day Francis (Oct 4)