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FORUM: The Courage of Jesus Christ

A community of support for those with same-sex attraction brings courage to carry the cross

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Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.

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The novelist William Faulkner understood the virtue of courage. He understood that to be courageous implies taking a risk; stepping foot into the unknown; pursuing a good even when it might place us in danger. 

“You cannot swim for new horizons,” he wrote, “until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Jesus Christ called his disciples to the same kind of courage. He told them to lose sight of the shore’s safety—to “cast out into the deep,” where they would find the abundance of his grace. In him, and because of him, they had the courage to follow Jesus to an abundant life—an extraordinary life—but only because they were willing to risk the unknown.

When Pope St. John Paul II was inaugurated, in 1978, he echoed Jesus’ call for courage. “Do not be afraid to follow Jesus,” he told the world. “Take courage—Corragio!”

It can take courage to follow Christ to the world with the Gospel. But it can take even more courage to open ourselves to Christ—to allow the Gospel to transform our own hearts, to loosen what binds us, to set us free for the abundant life we’re made for. “Do not be afraid to open yourselves to Jesus,” Pope St. John Paul said, have “courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves,” in the grace of God.

Nothing can be more daunting than revealing the brokenness and challenges of our lives to the Lord, and asking him to bring us healing and wholeness. Seeking grace is always an act of courage. But acts of courage—losing sight of the shore—lead us to new horizons.

In 1980, the late Cardinal Terrence Cooke served as a spiritual advisor to men and women with homosexual attractions, seeking to live the fullness of God’s plan for their lives—seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Cooke and Father John Harvey began forming groups—which they called “Courage”—of men and women with homosexual attractions, dedicated to chastity, prayer, friendship, and mutual support. Courage groups now meet across the globe, helping to form and support those Catholics with the courage to seek God’s grace, and to follow after the Gospel. We’re blessed, in the Diocese of Lincoln, by the ministry of Courage.

Dan, Rilene, and Paul are three Catholics who’ve experienced healing and mercy through Jesus Christ—and through the ministry of Courage. And last year, they had the courage to share the story of their extraordinary lives in Jesus Christ in “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” a documentary in which they share their hope in Jesus Christ, and the challenges they’ve faced in the experience of same-sex attraction.

The candid discussion of their lives reveals their humanity, their crosses, and the profundity of their own courage. It also reveals how damaging the homosexual lifestyle can be to men and women with same-sex attraction. And it reveals the need for the Church—and for Catholics—to welcome those with same-sex attraction as human beings, in true friendship, calling to conversion, but also expressing true compassion for the challenges of their lives. Following Jesus takes courage for each one of us—and appreciating the courage of those who follow Jesus despite cultural and emotional pressure to reject the Gospel, is instructive and inspirational.

The Church should always be a place of welcome for those in need of healing, mercy, and courage. God’s plan—setting out into the deep—is the best possible plan for each one of us. And inviting men and women with same-sex attraction to know the meaning of the Gospel—and to experience supportive and prayerful chaste communities—is a part of our Christian mission.

I pray that those with same-sex attraction will have the courage to follow the Gospel, and to contact the community of Courage. And I pray that each of us will have the courage to welcome, invite, and respect those who carry heavy burdens, and who are in need of the healing presence of Jesus Christ.

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