Do you know how to relate to someone with same-sex attraction?
Even today, homosexuality or same-sex attraction (SSA) is a difficult subject for many in the Church. Some incorrectly equate a person having SSA to someone who lives out the homosexual lifestyle and reacts with disgust or antagonism. Others feel confused about how to reconcile having SSA with the Church’s teachings on chastity. Such reactions may cause persons with SSA to live behind a mask, pretending to be heterosexual so others may accept them, in some cases by marrying. Others may leave the church because they do not feel accepted and loved as they are.
The Church teaches that a person with SSA, like every other person, is a precious child of God, to be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2358). This person is indeed God’s own and beloved. Also like every other person, persons with SSA are called to live chaste and holy lives because they can.
How do we accept and support persons with SSA to live out their calling?
Being Gay and Catholic
The following is an account of a Catholic with SSA who wishes to remain anonymous.
People have asked me, what it is like to be gay and Catholic, two groups of people that are so diametrically opposed to each other, and yet I embody both identities. Identity. Do I struggle with it? Yes.
Primarily, I struggle with identity and loneliness. But I’m very sure this isn’t an issue faced by the LGBTQ community only. It is true I can find that listening ear amongst my gay friends and also within the Church community/ministry I have been in for many years. The difficulty is being able to just say it as it is without filters. I filter what I say among gay friends who aren’t exactly able to see the Church’s side, and I filter when I’m among Christian friends who try to understand and be there for me, but don’t know about the fear I have just talking about my sexuality.
What scares me too is when the parish priest or spiritual director or even the coordinator for the community in Church changes. Every time this happens, I grapple with the question of whether I need to come out to that person. Coming out isn’t easy, no matter how many times I’ve done it. I fear I would wither away should I lose my place in the community and an opportunity to work in the ministry.
How Courage Has Helped
Courage has been a godsend. But what’s really been a miracle for me is the acceptance by the guys in Courage. Now I try to live out the core principles of Christian chastity fully. I know I am a work of God that is in progress with God’s grace. It’s been over a year now. To say I’m at home is an understatement. I am welcomed, accepted and supported by God and others to live the Christian faith better.
In Courage, I’ve shared my struggles without filters. I’ve shared moments of joy without fear of being judged. So despite me not being able to commit every week to attending Courage meetings, I’ve found a place in a community that sees me as a part of it and that shares God’s goodness with me.
Courage changed my perspective of life. Courage has shown me that I just have to be me, in the fullness of the reality that I live my life in, and where my holy desire to aspire, strive and seek to be that son of God I truly and rightfully am can be realised.
However, it has not changed my perspective of the Church. I have always believed and lived in a Church that cares for and loves her sheep, however black, or pink. There are many times I’ve found myself rejected, uneasy with the words of the priest, Bishop or Pope, and at odds with the words, actions and deeds of those in my sheepfold. But I have found in equal and perhaps greater measure that I am entirely cared for, sought after and loved by this one very imperfect Church.
The Future of the LGBT Community in the Church
My Christian compatriots have asked me what hopes I have for Catholics with SSA and who seek a closer relationship within the Church. Honestly, I feel the question need never be asked. Jesus reached out to everyone: tax collectors, the Samaritan woman and the adulterous woman. I wish for a more pastoral church, to be that shepherd who leaves the 99 behind to find the lonely lost sheep and not be that priest who hurried past the Jew who was mugged because he would be ritually unclean and unable to perform his “duties”.
What I specifically wish for us with SSA is that the Church drops this term “SSA”. I am me. I don’t like to hear a “diagnosis of my condition”. And the same is echoed by all who look in the mirror and don’t see being gay as a lifestyle choice, but a reality of being who they are.
I believe Courage can be the space for us who celebrate the gift of ourselves as we are, like every other Catholic striving to live chastely and be holy. I believe in a Church where we can go to Mass, sit in the pews comfortably and be at ease that we are not going to be judged. I would like that Church to welcome us and assure us that we are still loved by God. I would like Christians to encourage me to call God “Father” because our God wouldn’t deny my reality but would call me to greater heights, to a deeper relationship with Him – like He calls all persons.
Our God is the same God who asks us all, heterosexual and homosexual, to call Him “Father”. I believe the Church and Christians who are the Church can be the same face of God. They can reach out and put their arms around the Catechist who can’t figure out why his son struggles to believe in God as much as they can reach out to welcome lesbian friends who want to come for Mass but feel judged.
My hope is that we can engage all homosexuals with that same love Jesus had when he switched from saying agape to phileo just for Peter. We need to be there not just for people like me who have been bought in the faith. We need more to call in from the streets and embrace those who feel excluded, they who want so much to come home to God and be part of a Christian community. It is my conviction that many out there want God to find them, but perhaps they do not all have the guts of the Centurion to run up to Jesus and say, “I am not worthy to have you under my roof”.
Editor’s Note: Many meanings can be attributed to the word ‘homosexual’. The Church differentiates between having a homosexual inclination or same-sex attraction (which is not in itself a sin) and engaging in homosexual acts (which is contrary to the virtue of chastity). The Church teaches that every person is a child of God. This truth defines the identity and dignity of all people, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
About Courage Singapore
Courage is a confidential, spiritual and pastoral support ministry that assists men and women with SSA in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth, and love. Members of Courage meet regularly to be edified through prayer, reflection and personal sharing, to grow deeper together in their faith and discipleship, and to support each other on their spiritual journey.
The Spiritual Director (SD) of the Courage, Singapore chapter, is Father Adrian Danker, of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Appointed SD in March 2017, Father Adrian takes time from his busy schedule to work with a group of people to build this ministry. He desires that each heart be touched deeply by the Lord and that their lives be transformed.
“To be able to truly share the love of God with another, we have to really accept the other, including people with SSA, as he or she is – God’s own, in spite of any imperfection and regardless of sexual orientation. We should aim to support one another in our struggles and accompany each other to live as Jesus did – loving God and loving neighbour. If we believe and profess that we are made in the image and likeness of God and that God is love – truly selfless love – there is then no other way to be Christian but to love as Jesus loves,” Father Adrian explains.
Fr Adrian has accompanied Catholics with SSA to live chaste lives and help them follow Christ more closely through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
“In my ministry in Courage I accompany people with SSA who come from different walks of life, and have different struggles with SSA, but who share one holy desire: to seek a closer relationship with God. Like many of us, they are good and prayerful Catholics striving to live the Christian faith. They seek a listening ear to hear them out, an understanding heart to know them, and a caring spirit to accompany and support them. This is why they reach to those they feel they can trust and be supported by like priests, religious and devout lay in church ministries.”
“I also hear, and it saddens me greatly, how instead of loving and accepting them as brothers and sisters in Christ, many Catholics with SSA have had negative experiences in the Church. Some have experienced judgements hastily and wrongly made by others about their sexual orientation, accusing them of participating in homosexual or paedophilic acts when they have done nothing of the kind. Many of them also share how they have been condemned for their interior spiritual lives, which truly none of us but God knows,” Father Adrian adds.
“However, I believe that if you are able to have an open heart and mind to truly listen to a person with SSA, you will begin to realise that they’re just ordinary persons and faithful Catholics with struggles to live chastely, just like anyone else who wants holiness” he adds.
Father Adrian sends Courage members weekly notes for reflection. Courage members have created a WhatsApp group chat where they share biblical teachings as well as words of encouragement for one another. Over the past year, the group has evolved to become a community of loving and supportive Catholics. On some Sundays, they attend Mass together.