Courage: Speaking the truth in love

Sep. 21, 2011-by Most Rev. James D. Conley

The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus.  They brought him a woman who had been caught in adultery, and stood her alone in front of a crowd.  They told Jesus that she was a sinner, and that she should be stoned.  They waited for him to trip up—to ignore her sinfulness, or to treat her contemptuously.  Either could be used against him.

Jesus did neither.  He offered her words of compassion and words of truth.  He sent away her persecutors and spoke to her in love.  But he also told her the truth.  He recognized her sinfulness.  As she left him, Jesus told her, “Go, and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

After she left, he spoke to the Pharisees.  His words were clear: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus united truth and love in his being and his preaching.  By example and by precept, he instructs us, his disciples, to be faithful to him in this way, for the good of our own souls and so that we might bring understanding to others.

In imitating Jesus’ commitment to telling the truth and doing so in love, we can enjoy what St. Paul called “the peace that passes understanding.”

Our Creator knitted the truth about intimacy and affection into our very being.  We are designed to love another because we are designed in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27).  But only chaste love, in keeping with our design, will produce lasting joy.  Jesus referred to this design when the Pharisees questioned him on divorce (compare Mt 19:4-6); this time he says that “hardness of heart” has blocked their embrace of the truth.

The complementarity of the sexes, the unimpeded procreative power of the sexual faculty, and fidelity and permanence in married life express the truth of spousal love.  Behavior at variance with the truth will always put us at cross-purposes with ourselves and over time can harden our hearts.  Pope Paul VI wrote that the Church is “an expert in humanity.”  As a good mother, the Church knows that our intense desire for love can make our fallen human nature vulnerable to counterfeits.  So, she reminds us of the grave moral evils of adultery, divorce, cohabitation, contraception, pornography, in vitro fertilization and homosexual activity.  We seek love, we’re designed for it, and all of these actions lead us further away from the love of God the Father.

“Speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) about homosexuality is the work of Courage, an apostolate founded in 1980 by the Servant of God, Terrence Cardinal Cooke, in the Archdiocese of New York.  Courage has been present in the Archdiocese of Denver since around 1995 and is now serving the Church in about 100 U.S. dioceses and in many countries overseas.

Courage begins by acknowledging that the truth of human sexuality can be known and lived.  It trusts that the Church, which assures us that Christ has risen from the dead, also guides us in understanding the complex and controversial question of homosexuality.

Courage does not address homosexuality as a cultural issue or a matter of political debate, but as a personal reality in the lives of many people.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly describes same-sex attraction (SSA) as a “trial” calling for “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and always to be free from any “unjust discrimination” (2358).  Courage believes that those who struggle with SSA need, more than anything, to know the love of Jesus Christ.

The mission of Courage is to help men and women with same-sex attraction to know themselves first as children of God and as beloved disciples of Jesus Christ.  The primary goal of Courage, as formulated by its first members, is to assist those with SSA to live chaste lives, in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Prayer and the sacraments, hope in the cross of Christ, friendship and service, and regular meetings that follow the Twelve Steps are all part of the apostolate.  Courage is designed to be a source of strength, of guidance, and of solidarity for men and women who struggle with a lonely, and often humiliating, temptation.

EnCourage, which began in Denver in 2008, is an affiliated ministry for family members, to guide them in loving like Christ—in generous gift of self, but in the freedom of the truth.

EnCourage helps families receive support themselves and helps them to support their loved one who is dealing with same-sex attraction.

Courage does not believe that anyone’s identity can be collapsed into his or her sexual feelings.  Hence, it avoids using the word “homosexual” as a noun or even as an adjective to describe a person. Courage believes that identity is deeper than temptation or even activity.  A person is a person, made in the image of God—not merely a “homosexual.”

Guided by the mind and heart of the Church, Courage always distinguishes three things:  1. The person, whose dignity comes from God and cannot be lost; 2. The same-sex inclination or attraction, which is “objectively disordered” (CCC 2358) because SSA cannot be brought into harmony with the complementarity of the sexes and the procreative design of the sexual faculty.  (The phrase “objectively disordered” does not apply to the person, nor can it be understood in any way to be a moral judgment of an individual.  It only refers to the desire for sexual union with a member of the same sex. Such a desire can never be fulfilled in a way consistent with nature and God’s design.) 3. Same-sex actions, which are “intrinsically disordered” (CCC 2357) and, therefore, gravely sinful.
In 1986 our current Holy Father, when he was prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a powerful reflection on homosexuality.  “Departure from the Church’s teaching,” he said, “or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.  Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.”  He added that to neglect the Church’s teaching prevents men and women with SSA from receiving the support they need and deserve.

The Courage apostolate, along with EnCourage, strives to provide truth and charity. If you are interested in these groups, call Father Daniel Norick at 720-434-2638 or email him at dnorick@gmail.com.

Bishop James D. Conley is apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese.

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