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10/20/10 | 1 comment |
Same-sex attractions: The Church’s pastoral response
Part III — Courage apostolate
For the past four weeks this column has set forth the Church’s teaching (which is simply the natural law) on homosexuality. We must know the doctrine and first principles in order to address this issue accurately, always keeping in mind that doctrinal and moral truth is necessary for love. We must speak the truth in love, as St. Paul the Apostle says (cf. Eph 4:15). Nevertheless, to conclude this series I would like to give a more personal reflection on the basis of my almost six years of serving as chaplain for Courage in the Arlington Diocese.
First, a little background. Courage is a support group for men and women with same-sex attractions. The members meet weekly in strict confidence to share their thoughts, experiences and struggles, and by so doing to give and receive needed support. Members of Courage dedicate themselves to the goals of chastity, spiritual growth, fellowship, support and good example.
Courage is aptly named. The world offers two extremes in response to the issue of homosexuality. One extreme is love without truth. That is, to “love” the person by approving whatever lifestyle he may choose. Thus, homosexual activities are approved in the name of love. The other extreme is truth without love — that is, to run roughshod over persons in the articulation and pursuit of the truth. Thus true doctrine is proclaimed, but the person is left without help. Men and women with same-sex attractions therefore find themselves caught between the extremes of a false love and a loveless truth. One side condemns them to a life of immoral behavior, the other to cold doctrine. It takes courage to resist both the depravity of the first and the discouragement of the second.
Courage follows the words of Pope Paul VI: “To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls” (“Humanae Vitae”). Love for the truth and love for the person are not in competition or conflict. The human heart is made for the truth, and the Church possesses the fullness of truth about the person. So it is not enough for the Church to teach against homosexual activity. She must also provide assistance to those who have same-sex attractions — so that they can live the truth and beauty of the Church’s teaching. Courage strives to affirm both the dignity of the person and the full truth of human sexuality.
Unfortunately, some see Catholic truth in conflict with the human person. So they try to help without speaking the truth — and thus out of misguided compassion they only enable destructive behavior. There have been and, unfortunately, still are other groups that claim to be Catholic and claim to “help” people with same-sex attractions. But such groups either dilute the Church’s teaching or remain silent about it. They practice what then-Cardinal Ratzinger called a “studied ambiguity” about the Church’s teaching. Dignity and New Ways were two such groups and some years ago were officially condemned by the Church. They in no way represent the Church.
So, Courage has really a very simple purpose: to help men and women with same-sex attractions live the truth of human sexuality. We call that chastity. Courage has full confidence both in the Church’s teaching and that it can be lived joyfully. Anyone with same-sex attractions who desires to live chastity and strive for holiness is welcome.
Courage has chapters in many cities (not enough, in my opinion) throughout the nation and the world. Each chapter typically has a priest chaplain and follows the same general format at its meetings: prayers (usually the rosary), the reading of the goals of Courage, a reflection, and time for discussion and sharing. Our chapter meets weekly and up until two years ago I was the priest present almost every week. Now, although I still serve as the official chaplain, several other priests from the diocese also assist. Allow me to share some of the blessings I have received in this work.
First, to witness the freeing power of the truth. Now, we know in principle that the truth sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32). But to see this in action is something entirely different. Many Courage members have experienced the freedom of knowing, first of all, that their struggles are not without reason. When they encounter the Church’s teaching on homosexual attractions as a disorder they have responded, “Yes, that is true. That is what I have felt.” As one member said to me, “I have felt this disorder for years. It was just great to hear someone speak honestly about it.” Indeed, it is freeing to hear someone else confirm that your struggle is genuine and real.
Another member wrote the following:
“I came to Courage at a time in my life when my struggles had led me to the breaking point. I found myself praying for death ... and wishing that I had never been born. I begged God with all of my being to lift this burden from me. I felt such immense shame. … In time, through prayer and support, I have come to realize that this very unique struggle has made me dependent on God's unconditional love. I am learning to truly accept myself and others who share this immense cross, which is slowly and steadily freeing me from the shackles of self-hatred and judgment. The comfort which I have derived from being not only accepted but truly understood is a gift beyond any imaginable. My prayer now is not to have this cup pass from me, but to love the way God intends, instead of the way that I wanted. I ask for the grace to unite my will with His, and to let my light shine forth in reflection of His love. I have hope again that I may indeed one day be fit for eternal glory in God.”
Members also find the freedom of knowing that their struggles are not without purpose: that there is hope. Many members thought for years that there could be no relief, no way out. Once they believed they must either live in secret shame or come out of the closet — neither of which brings peace. Now they find the freeing truth that chastity is possible. This truth brings hope: that they are able to live chastity even with the same-sex attractions. And although Courage does not require its members to pursue reparative therapy (i.e., the reduction of homosexual attractions and cultivation of heterosexual attractions through psychological or psychiatric counseling or treatment), it is certainly supportive of those who seek it.
Second, I have discovered that so little of this issue actually has to do with sex. The homosexual community would have us believe that the only difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality is sexual practice. But that is not true. Sexuality always engages more than just the body; it engages the soul as well. So, more often than not the discussions at a Courage meeting center on the deeper issues that give rise to or accompany same-sex attractions: for example, lack of masculine/feminine identity, family wounds, isolation, anger, addictions and shame. (In this context it is worth noting that the homosexual lifestyle is characterized by higher rates of alcohol and drug addiction, suicide and depression — even as our surrounding culture has grown more approving of it.)
Third, the importance of friendship and fellowship. More than once I have seen relief and peace on a newcomer’s face as he learns that he does not struggle alone, that he finally has people he can speak with about his troubles. The sharing and fellowship at a meeting produces such relief.
Finally, I have gained a great admiration for the men and women in Courage. There would be nothing easier for them than to surrender to society’s siren song and live the homosexual lifestyle. But they have the spiritual honesty to acknowledge that that would provide only a false and ephemeral peace. They have the spiritual courage to look at their sins, wounds and struggles. They also appreciate more than most the importance of the Church’s doctrines and sacraments.
Fr. Scalia, pastor of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean, is chaplain of Courage, a support group for those with same-sex attractions.
Find out more
Go to couragerc.net or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fr. Scalia and Deacon Barry Levy will speak on "The Christian Response to the Challenge of Same-Sex Attraction" Oct. 30 in the Bishop O'Connell High School Auditorium, 6600 Little Falls Rd., Arlington, from 9 a.m. to noon. The event is hosted by the Office for Family Life, the Institute for Catholic Culture and St. John the Beloved Church. For more info, call the Family Life Office at 703/841-2550, go to couragerc.net or e-mail email@example.com.