ORLANDO | The Courage/EnCourage ministry is now a pastoral option for adult Catholics in the Diocese of Orlando who experience same-sex attractions in themselves, and for family members and friends who support them. The ministries will begin April 1.
In a letter to all diocesan priests, Bishop John Noonan stated, “After the tragedy that shook our city and nation in the Pulse nightclub, just blocks from the Cathedral, there was a growing awareness of the need to care for those with same-sex attractions. Amid the many voices and organizations that have arisen in the past three years, we too acknowledge our role in caring for all of the souls entrusted to us by the Father, recognizing that there is but one Way that leads to Truth and Life — the fullness of life.”
He added, “Oftentimes, shame and fear are prisons preventing someone who is struggling from reaching out, but true love casts out all fear and shame need not hold them captive.” These ministries desire to enable true freedom and identity.
In a workshop for catechists, Courage executive director, Father Philip G. Bochanski, said, “The first thing the Church wants us to know is that our identity comes from our being created in the image and likeness of God. And that the Church is certainly aware that sexual attraction and same sex attraction is a very powerful experience, but we don’t believe it defines a person.”
Living a chaste life is a call for all Catholics. The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him/her. Chastity is a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. Courage and EnCourage help those who are voluntarily committed to helping themselves and others to live chaste lives according to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. Members are guided by priests who offer the Sacraments, spiritual guidance and pastoral counseling in support of an individual’s or group’s goals.
The five goals that guide Courage, which was established in New York City in 1980, are: chastity; prayer and dedication to the service of Christ to others; fellowship that ensures no one will have to face the challenges of living with the attraction to the same sex alone; support in being mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible, but necessary in a chaste, Christian life; encouragement in forming and sustaining those friendships; and living lives that serve as good examples to others.
Understanding the difficulty in this tremendous commitment, Father John Patrick Riley, CSC, of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Viera, will guide and support participants as chaplain. Missionary of Mercy Father Anthony Aarons and Father Matthew Hawkins of St. James Cathedral will serve as co-chaplains. Father Riley was instrumental in the launching of Courage/EnCourage in his previous diocese.
“My involvement with Courage began as a priest confessor at the parish on the University of Notre Dame (campus), when regular penitents battling temptation would ask for additional help in living chaste lives according to their state in life and the natural law and moral teaching of the Church,” explained Father Riley. “I responded to a pastoral need. My hope for the program here is the same as that of the Courage Apostolate, ‘to ensure that no one will have to face the challenges of homosexuality alone.’”
Tina N. is a member of Courage and shares how it transformed her life. “Over the years, fellow members of Courage have become my spiritual family and include some of my closest friends. We help each other through prayer, encouragement, and our shared spiritual goals. We also help each other to get back on track when someone stumbles. Most importantly, Courage has helped me personally to move from “white-knuckled” chastity to a more peaceful interior chastity in union with Christ – what Father John Harvey, OSFS (founder of the apostolate) called “chastity of the heart.” It’s always a process and we may have falls along the way, but Courage gently and persistently reminds us of the Truth and helps us to stay the course and keep pressing forward with the help of a loving community of faithful, understanding friends.”
Hand in hand is the EnCourage apostolate, which began in 1992, providing spiritual support for parents, spouses and other loved ones of people involved in homosexual relationships. In many cases, EnCourage members feel torn between accepting their loved one who experiences same-sex attraction, and remaining true to the teaching of the Church. EnCourage offers support along with five goals of their own: to grow spiritually; to gain a deeper understanding of the needs, difficulties, and challenges experienced by men and women with same-sex attraction; to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with their loved ones with same-sex attraction; to assist other family members and friends to reach out with compassion and truth, and not reject their loved ones with same-sex attraction; and to witness to their loved ones by their own lives, that fulfillment is to be found in Jesus Christ through his body, the Church.
Bishop Noonan noted, “Courage and EnCourage are not condemnatory or reparative to persons with same-sex attractions; neither are they polemical or a means to enter public debate. They simply offer a confidential refuge for our brothers and sisters to experience the hope and freedom Christ won for them so that their joy may be complete.”
Members form and participate in their groups voluntarily, and often use a 12-step format for their meetings, while respecting and providing for the privacy and confidentiality of their members.
Co-chaplain, Father Anthony Aarons affirmed, “This is indeed a ministry of accompaniment and encouragement through dialogue, prayer, fellowship and recourse to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist and spiritual direction. As a priest and especially as a Missionary of Mercy, I feel called to assure our sisters and brothers with same-sex attraction, that they are not outside the mercy of God and I will do whatever is in my power to help them live chaste lives as we provide a space in which they meet without being judged. ‘The Mercy of the Lord is everlasting and we are called upon to be merciful like the Father’ (Luke 6:36).”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – March 25, 2019