When we look to the saints as role models for our behavior and our attitude towards life, we should stop and reflect on this pious saint whose love of the Lord allowed him to overcome many great obstacles and burdens early in his life.
He was born into a noble, but poor family. Due to their lack of necessities, at his birth his eldest brother convinced his mother that he should not be fed, that this baby was a burden to their overtaxed family and that none of the families limited resources be wasted on this tiny lad! And he almost died of starvation because his mother refused to nurse him. Then having made it out of infancy, his parents died leaving him under the charge of his eldest brother who treated him more as a servant than family. (Think of St. Damian next time you are throwing yourself a pity party because your family doesn’t love you...) But thankfully, another more caring brother, who was an archpriest in Ravenna, recognized Peter’s innate intellectual talents and remarkable piety and took pity on Peter and took him away to be educated. This brother was called Damian and it was generally accepted that St. Peter added this name to his own in grateful recognition of his brother’s kindness.
Peter was a great student and made rapid progress with his studies. First at Ravenna and then at Faenza and finally at the University of Parma. By the time he was twenty-five, he was already a famous teacher as Parma and Ravenna. It is said that he loved to learn, not so that he could claim to be smarter than everyone, but because he wanted to perfect himself for God. This perfection included daily mortifications such as fasting and wearing a hair shirt under his clothing, to help arm himself against the allurements of pleasure and the wiles of the devil. Peter gave away much of his alms and was seldom without the poor at his table, whom he loved to serve with his own hands.
Though he was focused on the Lord, he could not withstand the daily scandals and the commotions of university life and in the year 1035, decided to retire from the world and all of her distractions. While meditating on his resolution he encountered two hermits of Fonte-Avellana. He was charmed with their spirituality and their detachment of earthly pleasures, and desired to join them. After a forty day retreat in a small cell, Peter was encouraged by them and left his friends secretly and made his way to the hermitage of Fonte-Avellana. To his surprise, he was received at once, and clothed with the monastic habit. And due to his wisdom and sanctity he rose to be Superior, even though Peter at first resisted this position, he was obliged to obey the order of his abbot. During this time Peter founded five other hermitages in which he placed priors under his own general direction. His chief care being to foster in his disciples a spirit of solitude, charity and humility.
Monastery of Fonte – Avellena
For years Saint Peter was called upon for the most delicate and difficult missions, among others, he was called to aide in the reform of ecclesiastical communities, which his zeal accomplished. Seven Popes in succession made him their constant adviser, and he was finally created Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. He withstood Henry IV of Germany, and labored in defense of Pope Alexander II against an anti-pope, whom he forced to yield and seek pardon. He was charged, as papal legate, with the repression of simony and correction of scandals; again, was commissioned to settle discords among the various bishops.
Throughout all the years though, Saint Peter longed to return to his monastic life and write, which he did. He labored in his writings to enforce morality and discipline. Among one of his most famous writings is his lengthy treatise ‘Letter 31, the Book of Gomorrah’. it contains the most extensive treatment and condemnation by any Church father of clerical pederasty and homosexual practices. His main discourse which focused on the sin of sodomy in general and clerical homosexuality practices, was written in a plain and forthright style, which made it easy to read and easy to understand.
In keeping with traditional Church teachings handed down from the time of the Apostles, he holds that all homosexual acts are crimes against Nature and therefore crimes against God who is the author of Nature. (emphasis added)
It is also refreshing to find an ecclesiastic whose first and primary concern in the matter of clerical sexual immorality is for God’s interests, not man’s, especially with regard to homosexuality in clerical ranks. Also, his special condemnation of sexual crimes by clergy against young boys and men (including those preparing for holy orders) made over nine hundred years ago, certainly tends to undermine the excuse of many American bishops and Cardinals who claim that they initially lacked specific knowledge and psychological insights by which to assess the seriousness of clerical sexual crimes against boys.
Considering that the Book of Gomorrah was written in 1049 A.D. it borders on the miraculous to note how many of Damian’s insights can be applied to the current homosexual debacle here in the United States and abroad, including the Vatican. His treatise certainly stands as a masterful refutation of contemporary homosexual apologists who claim that the early Fathers of the Church did not understand the nature or dynamics of homosexuality. Rather, as Damian’s work demonstrates, the degradation of human nature as exemplified by acts of sodomy is a universal phenomenon that transcends time, place and culture.
One of the main points of the Book of Gomorrah, is the author’s insistence on ‘the responsibility of the bishop or superior of a religious order to curb and eradicate the vice from their ranks.’ He minces no words in his condemnation of those prelates who refuse or fail to take a strong hand in dealing with clerical homosexual practices either because of moral indifference or the inability to face up to a distasteful and potentially scandalous situation.
According to Damian, the vice of sodomy “surpasses the enormity of all others,” because:
“Without fail, it brings death to the body and destruction to the soul. It pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the mind, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, and gives entrance to the devil, the stimulator of lust. It leads to error, totally removes truth from the deluded mind … It opens up hell and closes the gates of paradise … It is this vice that violates temperance, slays modesty, strangles chastity, and slaughters virginity … It defiles all things, sullies all things, pollutes all things …
“This vice excludes a man from the assembled choir of the Church … it separates the soul from God to associate it with demons. This utterly diseased queen of Sodom renders him who obeys the laws of her tyranny infamous to men and odious to God. She strips her knights of the armor of virtue, exposing them to be pierced by the spears of every vice … She humiliates her slave in the church and condemns him in court; she defiles him in secret and dishonors him in public; she gnaws at his conscience like a worm and consumes his flesh like fire. … this unfortunate man (he) is deprived of all moral sense, his memory fails, and the mind’s vision is darkened. Unmindful of God, he also forgets his own identity. This disease erodes the foundation of faith, saps the vitality of hope, dissolves the bond of love. It makes way with justice, demolishes fortitude, removes temperance, and blunts the edge of prudence.”
By 1072, Saint Peter Damain, who had never paid much attention to his own health,and often would rise from his bed to hear confessions even though he was sick, was suffering from fever and quite weak. As he was returning towards Rome he was arrested by an acute attack of fever in a monastery outside Faenza, and died on the eighth day of this illness, while the monks were reciting Matins round about him, on February 22, 1072. St. Peter was one of the chief forerunners of the Hildebrandine reform in the Church. His preaching was most eloquent and he was a prolific writer. He was declared a doctor of the Church in 1828.
As we read about Saint Peter Damian it is easy for us to see how sexual perversion has long been a tool used by the devil to create havoc in people’s lives. In our current age it seems to be an all out assault on our young people…the bar is being lowered and the lies are made more brazen in regards to what is True and what is False. We must always be on guard…protect our children…ourselves from the lies that seem to have replaced the Truth. It is matters such as these that we need to pray for the intercession of this holy saint, who had the courage to call it as it was… to promote the Truth in a time of deceit. St. Peter Damian, Pray for us.
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we may so follow the teaching and example
of the Bishop Saint Peter Damian,
that,by putting nothing before Christ
and being always ardent in the service of your Church,
we may be led to the joys of eternal light. We ask this through Christ our Lord.