Rilene, Paul, and I went to Rome to give our testimonies at a conference and resource event titled “Living the Truth in Love.” This conference was scheduled two days prior to the start of the Synod, and was co-sponsored by Courage International, Ignatius Press, and the Napa Institute as a way to begin a dialogue on same-sex attractions.
It was an amazing experience to be a part of something so vitally important. Many in our culture think the Church hates homosexuals, and that she needs to change with the times. Groups are even pressuring the Church to change her teachings. These efforts are misguided, and so far from the truth. The three of us understand what is at stake as the synod meets, because we have experienced clarity, peace, and a true sense of being that can only be found in God, and we received this in the teachings of our beautiful Catholic Faith.
Rilene, Paul, and Dan and their stories were featured in the film, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” produced by Courage International. Because employment obligations made it impossible for Dan to attend the conference in Rome, I was asked to take his place. My own testimony is found in another film, “The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church,” produced by Blackstone Films.
The four of us represent a large number of men and women who have received hope, peace, joy, and contentment from God in the Catholic Church. At one point in our lives, many of us were angry at him, and didn’t understand the teachings of the Church. Eventually, however, many of us turned to God in our anger, confusion, or brokenness, and, as a result were nurtured by God through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. In addition, there are many other treasures in our Faith that have helped us, such as praying the rosary, adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, devotions such as the Divine Mercy, and attending Courage International meetings. Members know they don’t have to walk this journey alone.
I myself was miserable living in the gay culture. I experienced loneliness, depression, and a desperate desire to be loved. I wanted only to be loved, and hated who I had become as a person. When I found God, I found hope. I found peace, and I found true, authentic love. I learned that he truly loved me. He didn’t dislike me because of my flaws or faults. He has always loved me completely, inside and out to the point that he died for you and me.
Let me add some relevant background here for deeper insight. I never felt like a man while living in that gay culture. In fact, I didn’t know who I was; I only knew I was gay. I didn’t see myself as a woman, but I didn’t think I was a man either. Back then, I dressed in a “macho” way in hope of being rescued by a strong masculine man who would love me unconditionally. Well, it happened, but not in the way I thought it would.
Jesus is the strong, masculine man who rescued me. He has shown me through the Sacraments of our Faith, through Courage International, through healthy male friendships, and much more, that I, too, am a masculine man, and that my identity is to be found in Christ.
Our identities are not wrapped up in who we are attracted to sexually. “Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is ‘in the image of God’; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created ‘male and female’; (IV) God established him in his friendship” (CCC 355). The Catechism makes it very clear that identity is found in him; we are made in the image and likeness of God. That is our true identity.
All of this had a bearing on my ultimate decision to participate in the Courage International conference in Rome. I couldn’t help but worry about the chaos I have seen over the past year generated by the Extraordinary Synod or what may happen in the future. What will the Synod decide and how will that affect us? And how will elite voices in the culture and media respond to whatever happens?
While there in Rome, Rilene, Paul, and I had many fruitful and beautiful conversations. We were able to take strength from one another because there are risks that Rilene, Paul, Dan, others, and I take when we stand up and tell our stories, or write articles, or give presentations. People are not afraid to disagree with us; some even call us names.
When public hostility leads to breakdown, dialogue stops because people stop listening. The resulting confusion produces harmful results: Some people who accept Church teaching are accused of bigotry, and lose their jobs. Others loudly proclaim that the Church must change. Still others embrace the identity of LGBT and believe God created them this way, while still reporting to live a chaste Catholic life. This is just a small sample of the confusion that results when the Church is unable to leaven the culture with her teaching.
I said yes to Rome because of the chaos. It is extremely important to stand for the truth and as a testimony to the authentic love we find in Jesus Christ. Truth is a part of love. It can’t be stripped from it. The two exist together. And through this existence, hope, peace, and joy begin to grow.
Something absolutely beautiful and inspiring happened on my last night in Rome. One of our new friends from Europe had offered to take us to the Vatican for a prayer service being offered by Pope Francis. This special service was being held in preparation for the synod that was to start the following day.
We got to St. Peter’s Square, and it was jammed with an overflowing crowd. Our new friend led the way right up to the first post of guards and spoke to some men with headsets on. I followed him and the Swiss Guard stopped me. Our friend told us to wait for him. He came back and instructed us to follow. Paul, Rilene, and I began to feel an excitement as we went past the first Swiss Guard only to come across another guard post. Once again, our friend told us to wait as he spoke to the men next to the guards. We were amazed when we were told to once again continue going forward. This continued as we passed several more guard posts and ultimately found ourselves standing on the stage platform. We obtained seats 13 rows from the side of Pope Francis’s chair.
How could this happen? The three of us figured our new friend had some good connections. But then he told us how we actually ended up on the stage platform. Our friend had told the men at each post that the four of us are members of Courage and that it was important for us to be up there by the pope.
Wow! And they let us through! One of the men at the guard posts even said, “I’m not sure what that is but it sounds important … go ahead.” WOW!
In the midst of the excitement, as we silently prayed and waited for the pope to join us, I reflected on what had just happened. It was the word “courage” that got us up to the stage platform, and very close to Pope Francis. This was a beautiful gift from God. He gave the men at each post (especially the one who didn’t know what Courage was) graces, and motivated their hearts to let us through.
It was as if God was saying, “Do not be afraid.” “It’s chaotic right now, but it will be okay.” “Go forward in Courage.”
This message wasn’t just for the four of us in St. Peters Square. It’s for each and every one of us. We don’t have to allow our fear and worry to immobilize us. God is in control, and it will be okay, even if it appears that it’s hopeless. It is never hopeless. All of us are called to say “yes” to God. It’s not always easy, and, in fact, it seldom is. But we aren’t asked to do this alone. He will take care of us when we give our “yes” to him.
Saint John Paul II once said about Courage International, “Courage is doing the work of God.” Courage International strives to go forward, proclaiming the beauty and hope found in our Church’s teachings. It proclaims that chastity is not only possible, but can make our lives more meaningful, peaceful, and joy-filled once it is embraced and maintained. I have experienced it personally, and have seen the fruits of this in many Courage members. Now that I am back in the United States and reflecting on our beautiful grace-filled experience with Pope Francis on St. Peter’s Square, I see this as a personal confirmation that Courage International is most assuredly “doing the work of God.”