One of the best kept secrets of the modern day Catholic Church is the care and support that she gives to persons and families touched by the homosexual condition. You wouldn't think so from the hostile media coverage the Church gets both here and overseas.
I have just returned from attending my third International Courage and EnCourage Conference, this year in Chicago. It was a wonderful experience with some of the best speakers on this subject in the US.
Through the two apostolates of Courage and EnCourage, people can join a group of others who wish to live a pure life of chastity and holiness within the great tradition of the Catholic Church, form chaste friendships and share their struggles and triumphs with priestly guidance and the regular offer of the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist.
My husband and I have three grown-up children, one of whom has lived with this condition for over twenty years with the same friend. They have swallowed whole the gay agenda and given up their "old-fashioned" Catholic faith, say "there is no God", and want us to affirm them in this lifestyle.
We managed to agree to disagree for the first 17 years, all the time researching this topic through the internet, books and articles, psychologists, psychiatrists, scientific research and clinical practice. We even, at their request, looked into various groups such as PFLAG, Dignity and Acceptance, but none of them has chastity as their bottom line. We have also researched Catholic-friendly Protestant groups such as Exodus, Living Waters and Mosaic Ministries and find them aligned with the Church on this subject and with some useful programs for those who wish for reparative therapy.
At about this time, I started going to the United States to attend the International Courage and En-Courage Conferences. I went in 2009, 2010 and now 2011. This year the Conference was held at Our Lady of the Lake University Seminary at Mundelein, Chicago.
The conference attracted over 300 people from the US, Canada, Mexico, and two Australians, myself from Melbourne and Monica Lane from Brisbane. It's not just a conference but also a spiritual retreat, away from the world with no TV, no newspapers or radio, no alcohol and a solid program of talks and workshops, Masses, Eucharistic adoration and penance, and I loved every minute of it.
Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, concelebrated the opening Mass with thirty priests. He also gave the opening keynote address in which he spoke with reverence of Fr John Harvey's tremendous 30-year contribution to the Courage and EnCourage apostolates, working right up to his death at age 92 last December.
Other bishops who participated over the course of the four days were: Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (Pheonix, Arizona), Bishop John Levoir (New Ulm, Minnesota) and Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Springfield, Illinois).
New to the Conference schedule this year were joint meetings with Courage men with EnCourage parents, and Courage women with EnCourage parents. I found this group very helpful as we were free to ask the Courage women, a lovely strong bunch mainly from New York, anything at all. We asked them how to have a better relationship with our same-sex attracted (SSA) daughters or sons as the case may be. In particular, we asked for suggestions about how to approach difficult situations we are presently experiencing and making a terrible mess of!
While the psychologists and psychiatrists present talked about key aspects of SSA, emphasis was always on the dignity of the human person, wholeness and holiness - refusal to reduce a person to their same-sex attracted orientation, as if that dominates their whole being. The focus was on the truth and beauty of Catholic teaching in the area of sexuality and morality and the uniqueness and preciousness of every human person.
All the aspects came together in the two inspired testimonies, one by a man and the other by a woman, who had both come out of the lifestyle and formed, through their involvement with the Courage apostolate, a close relationship with Jesus, and a way of living chastely by yielding to the Holy Spirit when faced with an attack of lust.
Their testimonies have helped me to also practise both chastity and charity better, through this habit of yielding to the Holy Spirit. You ask Him what to do and He will give an immediate answer in your head. Sometimes the message is, "Defer gratification", or "Go for a walk", or "Ring a friend for help", or "Count your blessings", and "Pray, pray pray". I have found the Holy Spirit to be always practical and spot-on. The warmth and friendship generated by talking to Him so often is a marvellous feeling of closeness to a faithful, holy Friend.
Monica Lane, the friend who came with me to the Conference said, "I really appreciated the opportunity to meet my Courage sisters from America. There aren't many Courage women in my area, and it was great to experience the chaste friendship and mutual support of the other same-sex attracted women who love the Catholic Church and Catholic Faith as much as I do."
The Catholic Church is full to overflowing with treasures for all souls. The apostolates of Courage and EnCourage are but two of the 20th and 21st century "Precious Pearls" for those who give up everything to obtain Christ through them.
Marie Mason, B.Ed, along with her husband Alan, is a co-ordinator of Courage and EnCourage Melbourne, Australia. Email address: encouragemelbourne_at_yahoo. com