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DEPARTMENT: Great Escapes
For as long as he can remember, John has been attracted to men. For nearly twenty years, he lived, as he describes it, the gay lifestyle. But something was missing; something never felt quite right. Although he was sought after, considered desirable, and always invited to the "best" parties, his sexual encounters left him wanting.
I had no sense of peace or contentment. I could feel satiated but not at peace. I could act out sexually and be satisfied, but I'd always walk away feeling empty. It never completely fulfilled me. As a Catholic, I'd had my glimpses of being at peace, at times feeling contentment that I never had in the lifestyle. It's a very difficult way to live. They call it gay, but it's not.
So when he heard about an organization called Courage, a Catholic ministry for people with unwanted same-sex attraction, he was excited. He began to attend meetings, and he found a source of comfort and encouragement. It was, by his own description, a very long battle extricating himself from "the lifestyle." But for the last ten years he has been, in his words, sexually sober.
Fellowship was key for John. "There's a lot to be said for being with others who understand what you're going through," he said in an interview. He knows something about that, having also struggled with alcoholism and finding help through Alcoholics Anonymous.
The goal of Courage is to help people with unwanted same-sex attraction remain chaste. For John, chastity helps provide a sense of peace that was otherwise lacking, and he continues to attend weekly meetings.
He's also careful to nurture his spiritual life, where he seeks true intimacy—with God. "I've learned that I have to say my prayers and go to church. But I also have to make time to be intimate with our Lord. My greatest moments of peace are when I've been intimate with our Lord through prayer and meditation."
One of John's favorite books is He and I, a collection of the diary entries of Frenchwoman Gabrielle Bossis, born in 1874, chronicling her dialogues with Jesus. One passage in particular resonated with John, in which Gabrielle recounts Jesus telling her this: "Be at my feet in humility like Mary Magdalene, or on my heart, resting there like John." That struck a chord with him.
I was desperate for connection and I thought, if St. John can do it, so can I. So in my prayer I would lay my head to rest on Jesus' heart. For me it was one of the most calming experiences and made me know that he loves me. This was something I felt I so lacked in life, something I felt I was trying to get from the lifestyle. For me it's probably the most comforting thing I've ever done in my spiritual life. It was intimacy. It was Jesus.
The Work of Courage
The Courage apostolate was conceived by the late Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York, who was troubled by the lack of outreach from the church to those with same-sex attraction. He called on Fr. John Harvey to form a spiritual support system, and in 1980 Courage had its first meeting in New York City. Today, Fr. Paul Check leads Courage (www.couragerc.net), which has more than 100 chapters around the world.
Here's how Fr. Check described the work of Courage in an interview with The Catholic World Report:
It is a desire to express the Church's care and affection for a group of people who often feel isolated. I don't just say lonely, but isolated. They're uncertain about where they can find assistance, who really takes an interest in them and who has a love for them. The Church does.
Courage also has an outreach for relatives and friends of people with same-sex attraction, called EnCourage.
John thinks that before Courage, no one in the church knew how to deal with the issue of same-sex attraction beyond telling people to just say no. The biggest challenge for the church, he believes, is to extend open arms to those who are struggling. "Outside of Courage it's been very tough for me to find people who can talk about it, let alone then deal with it. People are willing to pray, but they can't hold your hand."
Gay Activists Need Prayer
When asked how Christians should deal with gay rights activists, John doesn't hesitate.
First of all, pray for them. It's very tough and I feel for them because they're trying to make their world right. They can all tell you war stories, and I can identify with them. The problem is that it's not going to be right no matter what they're given. I've found that the more they push, the angrier they are. They seem bitter even when they get what they want. There's an overall sense of anger, even rage, that's fueled by past hurt. There's a lot of bitterness within the movement, and I understand it. But what they think is the solution isn't. We're called to love them. And if we don't, nothing is going to change.
John has been through periods of feeling angry at the church for what he sees as its pastoral failings to people with same-sex attraction. He was even propositioned once by a priest during confession. "To me that's not as difficult to deal with as a priest who just turns away from you. I can deal with sexual advances. Getting the cold shoulder is much worse."
John's personal view on same-sex attraction is that some people have a predisposition for it that may be triggered by environmental factors. Growing up in a large Catholic family, his relationship with his father was strained. But he blames no one. "A lot of men go through childhood having had fathers who were unavailable and didn't end up having same-sex attraction."
What matters to John now is not the past, but the future. "My goal in life is to leave this world in a relationship with Jesus." •
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