March 2, 2011

Remembering Peter Gomes. ~ Audrey Mangan

Photo by Harvard News Office.

On Monday evening the world said goodbye to Rev. Peter J. Gomes, a minister, author, historian, Harvard professor, and leading spiritual voice in America against intolerance.  He was 68.  The New York Times reported that the cause was complications of a stroke.

Though Mr. Gomes is most recognized for coming out as “a Christian who happens as well to be gay” a decade ago and subsequently making it his mission to challenge the religious causes and roots of homophobia, he was dear to undergraduates at Harvard because he simply emitted an aura of grandfatherly wisdom and kindness. On more than one occasion I heard classmates liken him to Dumbledore, and his nondenominational services at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard were always packed to capacity.

Though I regrettably never attended one of Mr. Gomes’s sermons, I did have the honor of hearing him speak on a few occasions.  With his booming voice and impeccable grammar, his speeches were at once uplifting, comforting, and humorous.  Every spring Gomes delivers a speech to graduating seniors before the commencement ceremony, and I can remember his advice calming and encouraging me for a few blessed moments before all the pomp and circumstance.

The Washington Post compiled this great list of quotes from Rev. Gomes, which only begin to encapsulate who he was:

~ It’s not who you know. It’s whom.
~ The worst that can be said about optimism is that, if we are not careful, it seduces us into looking at the bright side at the risk of failing to take reality seriously.
~ The Bible… is a library, not a textbook.
~ When they think you’re crazy, it often has something to do with religion, and particularly the Christian religion.
~ One cannot undo the past, and in this particular case, one ought not to undo the past. (With regard to the Harvard Motto: Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae.)
~ Who of us would not love to have the courage to act upon our convictions as opposed to upon our fears?
~ We thirst after God because there is a thirst for God, a desire for God placed within us by God which only God can satisfy. Nothing and nobody else will do. Money won’t do — nice to have it, but it won’t do. Sex won’t do — nice to have it if you can, but it won’t do. Even love is lovely to have, but it won’t do. Our soul is athirst for God.
~ The question should not be, “What would Jesus do?” but, rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me do?” The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.

Below is Gomes giving a speech in 2010.

Reverend Gomes, you made the world a better place.  You will be missed.


Audrey Mangan is an upstate New Yorker-turned-Coloradoan trying to find new ways to enjoy the outdoors every day.

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