...went very well on Friday and Saturday!
We had about 40 clergy on Friday and about the same number of laity on Saturday, including a few of my friends who came for moral support. I was very glad to see them.
I learned something about myself at the conference: I enjoy public speaking! And I seem to be good at it! Up till now, the only talent I knew I had was reading, which is kind of a useless skill in that one cannot really serve other people just by reading lots of books. Now I know I can do something else that can affect other people. Giving my testimony was fun, and I still can't believe how much I enjoyed it.
The best part was my opening on clergy day because I got to thank them for all they do for us. It was good to be able to be a blessing to them.
I would first like to thank His Excellency Bishop Boyea, Catholic Charities, and particularly Rory Hoipkemeier, for giving me this opportunity to share my story with you this afternoon.
While my primary purpose here is to share with you my testimony and some of what Courage has meant for me, I cannot pass up this chance to express thanks to you for two things. I've never before been able to speak to a large group of Catholics, let alone clergy, and I must do this while I have the opportunity.
First: I thank you as fellow Catholics. I'm a convert to Catholicism, received at the Easter Vigil of 2004, and am grateful for your faithfulness to the Church, preserving the Church through the years, so that She was there for me when I was ready to join Her.
Second: I wish to thank you as clergy, for giving your lives to Christ and His Church, serving the people of God in this most special way. You probably hear more complaints from the laity than anything else, and don't hear thanks from us often enough, but we do thank you. We need you and we love you. We appreciate all you do for us.
Seminarians, thank you for taking time to discern whether or not God is calling you to Holy Orders. We're grateful for your willingness to stop and listen to what the Spirit is saying to you, and we're praying for you during your discernment.
There may be some here who are suspicious of, or who do not support the Courage Apostolate, its goals, or its message. There may be some here who don't know what Courage is, or only have vague ideas of its mission. I'm pleased to explain what Courage is and what it means to its members. As stated on the Courage website:
"Courage is an apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church that ministers to those with same-sex attractions and their loved ones. It has been endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family and our beloved John Paul II said of this ministry, 'Courage is doing the work of God!' Courage also has an outreach called Encourage which ministers to relatives and friends of persons with same-sex attractions.
"Courage has five goals which were created by the members themselves, when the apostolate was founded. Each member is called to practice them in daily life.
1) Live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality. (Chastity)
2) Dedicate one's life to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. (Prayer and Dedication)
3) Foster a spirit of fellowship in which all may share thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone. (Fellowship)
4) Be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life and in doing so provide encouragement to one another in forming and sustaining them. (Support)
5) Live lives that may serve as good examples to others. (Good Example)"
Courage member David Morrison wrote a book called Beyond Gay, in which he listed some things that Courage is not.
" Courage is not an orientation change group. Courage does not require anyone coming to its meetings or getting support to commit to diminishing [his or her] same-sex attraction or changing it to a more heterosexual focus. If individual members wish to try such a course their Courage groups will support them, but it's not a requirement.
"Courage is not an organization of perfectionists! The first men that Father Harvey helped to form Courage did not do so to create a society of the folks who had already made it. Courage members are not required to be living chastely when they arrive[,] and some may never arrive at that point. All Courage requires is that its members commits to trying to live the goals. The goals are goals, after all, things people aim toward and for. They are not grades for work already done.
" Courage is not 'rigid'. Courage is faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church, but Courage is not only about living chastely. Courage is about becoming better Christians. Courage is about growth, integration, and joy and about using the teaching of the Church to help get there.
"Courage is not anti-gay. In fact, Courage is not particularly anti-anything in the sense of feeling the need to denounce things or continually address the 'issue' of same-sex attraction. Courage remains intensely personal. Members have included former gay activists and married men for whom the support groups for whom the support groups are the only people on earth who know their struggle to live chastely. It is true that Courage is about choices, and in that sense one course of action has to win out over another. Encouraging members to choose Mass or prayer over gay bars and one-night-stands might be seen by some as 'anti-gay', but it's not as though, in an abstract sense, Courage formally goes out and denounces patrons of gay bars or people who have one night stands."
I want you to know that I don't stand before you as the poster-child of Courage. I'm one of those trying to live the goals, and identify more with what Courage is not than with what it is. I have many failings with chastity and need to go to Confession often. My heart still repeats after Saint Augustine, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet." The Courage Apostolate and the teaching of the Church have helped me face both my sexual sin and my sexuality, and to face them with hope, knowing that God loves me.
My story begins with my parents who became committed Christians shortly before I was born, during the Jesus Movement in the 70s. They attended a small Fundamental, Baptist church because that's where their friends went. They sacrificed to send my sisters and me to private, Baptist schools, and until my junior year of high school, I'd never met another Christian who was not Baptist, and I was shocked at how many non-Baptist Christians there were!
My pastors and the private school and Sunday school teachers would sometimes tell us about other Christians and what they believed, but, as I learned later, they gave us a lot of misinformation, especially regarding Pentecostals and the Catholic Church.
Nevertheless, in this environment, I came to faith in Christ at a very young age. One day, when I was four years old, I was playing with my toys in my bedroom, thinking about what my parents told me about Jesus, and I decided I wanted to ask Him into my heart. So I got up, walked over to the bathroom door (because my dad was in there), knocked, and said, "Daddy, I want to ask Jesus into my heart!" My dad said, "Right now!?" I said "Yes", so he opened the door, let me in, asked me some questions to see if I understood what I was doing, then, while he was still sitting on the toilet, he led me in a prayer asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and to come live in my heart. I was baptized, in a baptismal font, a few months later.
From the beginning, I loved Jesus! And my faith in Him grew. But in my early teen years, my faith began to stagnate, until, at the age of sixteen, I went to summer camp with my church and the Lord touched me there. I saw my faith in a whole new way, and fell in love with Christ all over again.
At this point I should mention that the Fundamental Baptists taught me that those who experience homosexual attractions choose to be this way. There was no understanding of the psychological dimension or other possible causes for it. Because of this worldview of homosexuality, even though I had same-sex attractions from the beginning of my puberty, I wouldn't acknowledge these feelings and so buried them. However, we know all too well, that doesn’t work for very long! I never told my friends or family about these feelings, and when I got my own car and was able to go anywhere I wanted, all my suppressed feelings and buried sexual desires came out.
My first sexual experience with another person was at 19. I wasn't very promiscuous to begin with; I'd have anonymous sexual encounters a few times a year, picking up guys at various places gay men were known to cruise.
This pattern went on for about seven years, and I had more sexual encounters and had them more often. I felt torn in two different directions. My faith life was best described as up and down. When I spent time with my Christian friends, I would feel encouraged and loved. Other times I felt isolated, discouraged, and rejected by God.
By the end of the year 2000, my discouragement and disappointment in myself made me feel like a failure. I stopped going to church, reading the Bible, or even praying. I really didn't want anything to do with God. I thought He saw me as worthless, and I felt abandoned.
I made plans to move across the country, away from my family and Christian friends, and start a whole new life, becoming part of the gay scene, making gay friends, and openly living a lifestyle that was contrary to my faith.
From my late teens until about this point, I had wanted to be a missionary. I dreamed of taking the Gospel to tribes that had never heard it before. The only thing that stopped me from moving across the country was that I had been telling my friends since early '97 about a missions conference that I planned to attend in late December of 2000. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship holds this conference every three years. It's called Urbana. My best friend Dan, who knew nothing about my sexual issues and who had moved to Alaska a couple of years before, was flying down to Detroit to go to the conference with me.
I was pretty miserable the whole time I was there. On the one hand, I felt hopelessly abandoned by God, but on the other, I knew that what I was hearing and experiencing at Urbana was good and holy.
I said and did all the proper Christian things at Urbana in order to blend in with the crowd, even though I didn’t feel like much of a Christian. On the last day of the conference, I attended a workshop that addressed same-sex attraction. I went with mixed feelings, unsure of what I would find there.
The main point of the seminar was that there was hope for those who had these feelings. The workshop leader told us that the answer did not lie in hiding our feelings, running off, giving up, and giving in to a lifestyle that we knew in our hearts was wrong. In fact, he said something that explicitly addressed the dilemma I was facing: "If you're experiencing these feelings, don't "out" yourself to the gay community and lead a sexually immoral life. "Out" yourself to the Christian community and let the Body of Christ love you and help you deal with these feelings."
I nearly fell out of my chair! There were over 20,000 people at Urbana, and yet, God had a message specifically for me! I felt hope again, and my heart was filled with joy!
I went home and, on January 2 of 2001, did the scariest thing I have ever done in my life: I told my parents about my homosexual inclinations. This was such a huge step of spiritual victory and emotional release for me that I'm afraid I didn't really think about the impact on them. Even though they told me right away that they loved me, at first they had a hard time dealing with this revelation. My mom cried a lot, and my dad got mad at God for quite awhile. He told God, "I know You didn't make my son gay, but You could have stopped it!" They accepted it, eventually, but no wonder people want to avoid talking about these things with their families!
I knew I needed to get back into church, and began attending an Evangelical Southern Baptist church near my home. I didn't want to hide anything any longer, so I told my pastor and Sunday School class about my orientation and sexual struggles. Everyone took it quite well, and nobody condemned me nor was anyone freaked out even though I was still struggling with chastity and failing a lot.
I also attended an Evangelical-Christian support group called ' Reconciliation Ministries', which dealt with same-sex attraction, but they held to the view that if your orientation did not change, you weren't doing something right.
I attended both the Baptist Church and the support group regularly, and kept learning more about the Christian faith. I started a new job and began speaking with a co-worker, Michael Chesley, who was in formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for the permanent deaconate. We began sharing our faith, and he gave me literature about the Church after I expressed an interest in Catholicism. I eventually decided to convert, and, as stated before, was received into the Church on the Easter Vigil of 2004.
I'd heard about Courage through a friend at the Evangelical support group, and when I joined the Church, I looked for a Courage chapter near me.
At this point, I was under the impression that the Catholic Church held to the same position that the support group did, namely that my orientation had to change. I was worried because I had been trying for several years now to become heterosexual, and it wasn't working.
When I learned the Church's teaching on homosexuality, it was a great comfort to me. The Church tells me I might not change, but that's okay; change is not a requirement. The Church realizes that the human condition is complicated. There are many reasons for one having a same-sex attraction, and the Church leaves it up to science and medicine to figure out why. I'm called to follow Christ, and, like every other single, unmarried man, live a life of chaste celibacy. The Church tells us that no matter what our sexual inclinations are, we are all made in God's image and likeness and can all grow in holiness. The Church offers me forgiveness when I sin, and hope in God's grace and mercy. She tells me I am not worthless and abandoned, but that God loves me with an everlasting love. I joined the Church because I was convinced that the doctrines of the Church are true in theological matters, but never expected to find the peace of mind and heart I now have because of what the Church teaches about human sexuality! Praised be Jesus Christ!
I want to encourage you to let people know about the Courage Apostolate. If people come to you who are same-sex attracted, especially if they feel like I did—hopeless, worthless, rejected—let them know they will find love and support at Courage. Don't be afraid to tell them what the Church teaches about sexuality: there is peace and joy and healing and life in the truth! And please let them know how much God loves them. Let them know they are dear to His heart. Let them know that God loved them so much, that He gave His only-begotten Son so that they might not perish but have everlasting life.
You do so much for the people of God already, but I do ask that you do this one thing more: support Courage in this diocese. Tell people about it. People need to hear this message. People are waiting to hear this message.
Thank you all, again, for your faithfulness as Catholics, for your ministry to the people of God, and for listening to my story. God be with you.