Courage and EnCourage - Safe and peaceful havens for same sex attracted persons and their families and friends

By the grace of God and the financial help of a good friend, I was recently able to attend the US National and International Courage and EnCourage Conference held in Philadelphia 9 – 12 July 2009.

Courage and EnCourage are movements of the Spirit within the Catholic Church to support, and inspire to holiness, persons experiencing same-sex attraction, and their families. Absolute confidentiality is assured and both groups have priestly guidance.

Courage comprises both men and women with same-sex attraction, but who seek to live out their lives in fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church. It usually meets once a week.

EnCourage is a wonderful support group for families and friends giving each other a chance to share experiences and receive guidance on a very controversial, and often confusing, issue in the family.

The Melbourne EnCourage group has grown from the initial five people to a monthly meeting of 14 or 15 drawn from about 22 active members. We produce a newsletter of anonymous experiences shared at the monthly meeting. This newsletter is gaining in popularity, with a mail-out of 50. Keeping a record of these heartfelt stories helps us remember them, and the guidance given from our chaplain and to one another.

At the US Courage and EnCourage Conference, there were many inspiring talks and homilies given by priests, psychologists, counsellors and other experts in the field of the homosexually orientated and their families. Of the 300 present, about 3/4 were people who struggle with this condition and the other 1/4 were families.

Each day there was a Mass concelebrated by at least a dozen priests. The main celebrant for the opening Mass was Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia.

I expected the emphasis of the conference to be on homosexuality, and it was to a great extent, but the over-riding theme was the determined struggle by men and women to follow Jesus, suffering and crucified, risen from the dead and present in the Holy Eucharist and in each person on earth. I was so conscious of the treasures of Jesus the Light, the Truth and the Way passed on safely by the Holy Catholic Church lived out by the people at this gathering, whether laity or priests, that I was convinced once again that Courage and EnCourage are a mighty work of the Holy Spirit.

One priest spoke on the anguished cry of “Why did God let me be homosexual?” The speaker drew our attention to Jesus curing the man born blind and the apostles asking if he was blind because of a sin of his parents. Jesus’ answer was, “No. He was born blind so the work of God could be shown in his life” Jn 9:3. I understood from this the meaning of that quote from St Irenaeus, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The more we carry our particular cross with sacrificial love for God and our brothers, the more we feel God’s love and manifest it to the world.

We two Aussie women were the only Australians at the conference and were given special opportunities to spend time with Fr Harvey, 94, the founder of Courage, and his recent successor Fr Paul Check. This was to prepare for Fr Check’s forthcoming visit to Australia starting with the National Courage and EnCourage Conference in Brisbane 16 – 18 October 2009, and continuing to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. He especially wants to share his knowledge and experience with his brother priests, same-sex attraction individuals and families. Flyers will be going out to the parishes as soon as the dates for each city are finalised. Although no more than three percent of the population, men and women, is homosexually orientated, the issue affects the whole of society by its spiritual and political ramifications.

Fr Paul Check is a clear, measured, well-prepared, inspiring preacher. In his homily at the closing Mass, entitled “Freedom and Slavery”, he addressed the universal struggle we all have between good and evil, freedom and slavery. His love of Christ crucified and present in the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of all his teaching. We forged a firm bond of friendship with both Fr Check and Fr Harvey and realised how important this will be for Australia.

We met other Catholic parents and talked with them about our shared struggle to “Let go, and let Jesus” bring our same-sex attraction children back to Him. We also met many chaste same-sex attraction men and women from the many Courage groups in USA and others from Canada, Wales, Italy and Mexico to name a few.

Two persons, a man and a woman, gave their testimonies of finding God, chastity, freedom and peace after long struggles with the temptation of same-sex relationships. I shed a few tears when the woman spoke, as her story made me think of our lovely daughter who also has this orientation.

Neither Courage nor EnCourage expects any same-sex attracted person to change his or her orientation, and neither does the Church. The call to chastity is one addressed to us all. Married, not married, heterosexual or same-sex attracted.

Courage and EnCourage members try to support the efforts of those who do wish to undertake reparative, and/or psychological therapy.

During our many years as Catholic parents of a same-sex attracted child living what appears to be a gay lifestyle, our advice to parents is this: affirm your child’s gender early and often. For example, “You are a lovely girl,” or for boys, “You are a strong and dependable boy”. Sensitive to the age and maturity of each child, give your children a sound Christian education in sexuality.

Don’t keep on hammering at your child if they choose another way, for this interferes with their free will, but love them and always leave the door open for them to come home even bringing their “partner” for a visit but not to sleep together. Don’t let your child’s choice of lifestyle consume yours with worry. Give all to Jesus crucified and get a joyful life for yourself in God. Your love, and the Truth could set your child free.

Marie Mason, B. Ed., spent 40 years as a teacher. She is now retired and, with her husband of 46 years, Alan, is a coordinator of Courage and EnCourage Melbourne.