I recently had the opportunity to attend the 25th annual Courage Conference at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, accompanied by several priests from the Diocese of Winona. A few years ago, Bishop Quinn desired to establish a Courage chapter in our diocese, as has been done in over 100 other dioceses in the United States and throughout the world. I was asked to become involved in this diocesan ministry both as clergy and as a clinical therapist.
You may be asking, “What is Courage?” Courage is spiritual support for Catholic men and women with same-sex attractions who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is also an expression of the Church’s maternal concern for same-sex attracted individuals who often have this unique and difficult struggle and who desire to experience the grace of Jesus Christ and his Cross. Courage extends the Church’s care for men and women with same-sex attraction, many of whom feel isolated and misunderstood within the Church, uncertain how to find people who will take a real interest in them and show them the love of Christ and the Church’s affection for them.
It is the aim of each Courage chapter to help men and women live chaste lives and to learn what the Church teaches about human sexuality and the nature of the human person. Courage offers the opportunity for those with same-sex attractions to come together, under the guidance of a chaplain, to develop chaste friendships, pray together, support each other, and experience God’s forgiveness and love especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Just like our Lord Jesus, the Church and the Courage apostolate treat each person as a unique individual. It offers fraternal support and encouragement to persevere in virtue, and break through the isolation that is often felt in the Church. Courage members give each other the encouragement that is needed to grow in virtue, especially the virtue of chastity.
Chastity is often thought of nowadays as burdensome, but in fact it is directed toward freedom, true freedom coming from peaceful minds and hearts. It is not a worldly freedom that gives in to self-indulgence, but rather a freedom oriented toward generosity and self-forgetfulness. It is a freedom to love purely, generously, and selflessly. It is a virtue necessary for true friendship. Indeed, one of the goals of Courage is development of chaste and enduring friendships that serve as sources of encouragement and hope for those struggling with same-sex attractions. In the context of chaste friendship, people with same-sex attraction need never lose hope or be locked into shame; rather, they can rejoice in the love God has for them as men and women made in the image of God himself.
It is important to know that Courage is a spiritual support apostolate. It is not a therapy group. It does not focus on changing one’s sexual orientation. It does encourage everyone to embrace their masculinity (in the case of a man) or their femininity (in the case of a woman). Thus, we avoid the labels of “gay” or “lesbian.”
Along with Courage there is EnCourage. Whereas Courage is for same-sex attracted men and women, EnCourage is aimed at the parents, siblings, relatives and friends of same-sex attracted individuals. Many times parents will express confusion and uncertainty how to respond to and love as child who is involved in same-sex relationships. EnCourage provides them the support then need to maintain loving relationships. It helps them come to a greater peace of mind and heart and relief from disquieting feelings of confusion and shame. It helps them understand that they are not responsible for adult childrens’ decisions to pursue homosexual activity but they can encourage them to live chaste lives. EnCourage offers faithful witness to Catholic teaching on sexual morality while meeting the needs of its members with charity and compassion.
In short, Courage and EnCourage are reminders that the Church does not reject persons with same-sex attractions; all persons with same-sex attraction have a right to be welcomed in the Church community. We come to the Church as we are, with the intention and desire to do God’s will.
To quote soon-to-be St. John Paul II: “Courage is the work of God.”
For more information, log on to: www.couragerc.org