In the coming week, our church celebrates two special days: Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) and Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (November 2). Today’s blog post reflects on these two days from a Catholic LGBTQ+ perspective. At the end of the post, you will find links to two spiritual reflection exercises that are new installments to New Ways Ministry’s “Journeys” series.
Part of the novena to Saints Sergius and Bacchus reads:
“Our God was so proud of your love and courage that on the death of Bacchus, when Sergius was at his lowest and loneliest, and began to lose heart, God sent the spirit of Bacchus to Sergius to console Sergius with the promise that the two would again be together in Heaven.”
In anticipation of the feast days of the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, the narrative of the paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus, is a love story worth recalling as it ties in elements from both memorials.
According to John Boswell’s Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, both Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking Roman soldiers who enjoyed a privileged friendship with the emperor. On one occasion, though, they provoked the wrath of the emperor for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods. When they held onto their Christian faith, the emperor ordered that they be stripped of their military garb and paraded through the streets dressed in women’s clothing.
This edict, in a society obsessed with warrior masculinity, however, failed to humiliate Sergius and Bacchus. As Christians, familiar with scripture, they chanted with daring:
“We rejoice in you, God, because you have clothed us with the garment of salvation, and have covered us with the robe of righteousness; as brides, you have decked us with women’s gowns and joined us together for you through our confession.”
Bacchus was flogged to death and Sergius imprisoned. That night, Sergius, depressed and heartbroken over the loss of Bacchus, wept and cried out, “No longer, brother and fellow soldier, will we chant together, ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to abide in oneness!’ You have been unyoked from me and gone up to heaven, leaving me alone on earth, now single, without comfort.”
That same night, after Sergius had uttered these words, the spirit of Bacchus appeared to him and said:
“Why do you grieve and mourn, brother? If I have been taken from you in body, I am still with you in the bond of union… Hurry then, yourself, brother, through beautiful and perfect confession to pursue and obtain me, when you have finished the course. For the crown of justice for me is to be with you.”
In observing the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1st, we can celebrate all saints – both known and unknown – who served as disciples and martyrs for Christ and who now rejoice before the throne of God. We can call upon these saints in prayer; be inspired by their boldness or humility, and feel represented by this immense cloud of witnesses from every nation, race, people, and tongue (Revelation 7).
In imitating these saints, we can also reflect on our own call to LGBTQ/ally discipleship for many of these saints present us with a human precedent of what it means to live, love, and follow Christ. Saints Perpetua and Felicity, mothers and patron saints of same-gender couples, loved their children, but were willing to die rather than renounce their Christian faith. St Monica, through her faith, dedication, and concern for her children, shaped one of the most brilliant philosophers and saints of all time: her son, St. Augustine of Hippo.
In honoring the Faithful Departed on November 2nd, we acknowledge the “bond of union” that encompasses both us and our (departed) loved ones who make up the living Body of Christ. We abide in hope knowing that what awaits us in the end is not only being in the presence of God (the theme of the readings from both these days) but also being in “oneness” with those who we loved dearly, but lost in death (God’s promise to Sergius was that “the two would again be together in heaven.”)
When Sergius was ultimately beheaded – and as he gave up his spirit to the angels – a voice from heaven said:
“Come, also, Sergus, soldier and victor, to the Reign prepared for you. The hosts of angels, the ranks of matriarchs and patriarchs, the choirs of apostles and prophets, the souls of the just all await your coming to share with them the wondrous things in store for you there.”
On these feasts of All Saints and All Souls, may the enduring oneness of Sergius and Bacchus, Perpetua and Felicity, be a tender reminder of some of the wondrous things also in store for you.
– Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2022
For further reflection, journaling, or group conversations visit our JOURNEYS series: