WASHINGTON — Courage’s 29th annual conference offered more than 400 attendees constructive workshops and lectures aimed at realizing their full potential as a child of God, bolstered by the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation.
Held at The Catholic University of America’s Pryzbla Center July 21-24, participants heard speakers discuss subjects such as sexual abuse, pornography, fortitude and forgiveness. Courage is the foremost Catholic apostolate that aids men and women and their families in addressing same-sex attraction.
Father Paul Scalia of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., chairman of Courage’s board of directors, celebrated the first Mass of the conference. The next day Rowena Slusser, a victim of sexual abuse, spoke on forgiveness, and CUA theology professor John Grabowski discussed the effects of pornography.
The upbeat atmosphere was a hallmark of the conference, as were the high-caliber talks delivered by such well-known Catholic intellectuals as Christendom College philosophy professor John Cuddeback, who spoke on “Fostering Chaste Friendships,” and Joseph Pearce, director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn., who delivered reflections on how celebrated author Oscar Wilde, widely viewed as a prophet of sexual liberation, actually saw himself.
“The reason we have scope and variety and depth in the talks is to help bring people to the love of Christ, and that will help them persevere,” said Father Paul Check, Courage’s executive director.
Father Check said that those in attendance were mainly “our family” — members of Courage or Encourage, an organization for family members of those experiencing same-sex attraction and priests and religious interested in working with the Courage apostolate. Courage has been endorsed by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.
Father Check told the conference that the Church “is interested in this work and values you as an example,” adding that there are now 16 relatively new Courage chapters and 10 more “under construction.”
A priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., Father Check said that the “three Courage rock stars” — identified at the conference only as Dan, Rilene and Paul, who had told their stories in Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a documentary produced by Courage International — were attending the conference.
Father J.D. Jaffe, chaplain of the Diocese of Arlington’s Courage chapter, said that working with Courage is an inspiration for him.
“We sometimes forget how much inspiration the flock can give to the shepherd,” said Father Jaffe, “but again and again, I have been strengthened on my walk with Christ by each and every one of you. I always walk away encouraged.”
The title of Father Jaffe’s talk was “The Five Goals of Courage as a Plan for Growing in Holiness.” His goals are:
- living a chaste life in accord with Church teaching;
- dedication to Christ through service to others;
- a spirit of fellowship;
- being mindful that chaste friendships are necessary and important; and
- serving as role models for others.
The priest said that chastity “is a virtue, and it should be positive. We understand chastity as a total self-giving to others and not something for our own sakes.” Regarding chaste friendships, Father Jaffe said they are important because “the devil hunts us through isolation. The devil preys upon our emotions.”
Citing an evening prayer in the Breviary that closes the day with the thought that “the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” Father Jaffe compared the devil’s hunting to that of a lion on the prowl.
“How do lions hunt?” asked the priest. “Lions hunt by first attacking the whole flock and then scattering the herd. Lions hunt through isolation.” Father Jaffe stressed that “God did not create us for ourselves, but for others,” and he proposed that volunteer work, including being an usher or a lector at Mass, can be helpful to avoid “white knuckling.”
During the question-and-answer period, an audience member thanked Father Jaffe for what he said were helpful suggestions and said he was grateful to have found Courage. “I wonder why the gay movement says to accept who we are and then lead a gay and frivolous lifestyle,” he said. The room erupted with applause.
Christendom’s Cuddeback also addressed the matter of chaste friendships.
“By God’s design, we need friends to become ourselves,” he said. He said that true friendships include “being serious about what Aristotle would say is growing in virtue and what we Christians would say is growing in holiness.”
He said that friends “rejoice together and suffer together,” adding that human beings have the capacity for only so many deep friendships. “When we are really suffering,” he joked, “we don’t send an email blast to 68 people, unless it is an email blast asking for prayers.”
Cuddeback defined chastity as “when our bodily passions and the judgments of reason speak with one voice.” Then the professor said it was time to address “the gorilla in the room.”
“What about when romantic feelings arise in same-sex friendships?” Cuddeback asked. “When marriage cannot be, there is no proper place for romantic feelings,” he said. He added that, when such feelings arise, “It doesn’t mean that I flagellate myself for having these feelings. No; often, the answer is taking these feelings in stride, while striving to minimize them.”
Perils of Pornography
CUA theologian Grabowski’s talk was entitled “Create in Me a Clean Heart — the Perils of Pornography.”
“Pornography strips people of their real sexual identity,” Grabowski said. “Instead of being disposed to love others, we find that we use others,” Grabowski said of pornography use. He then outlined dire statistics.
A group of divorce lawyers, he said, say that pornography is at the root of 60% of marital breakups. Eleven percent of visits to the Internet are for pornography, and boys and girls as young as 12 are now going to the Internet for pornography, he said, adding that an estimated 12 million teenagers reportedly view pornography on a regular basis.
“We have new words in our vocabulary, whereby we refer to people as sexual beings, that we did not have in our vocabulary 10 years ago,” Grabowski said. “Pornography causes us to abstract sexual stimuli from the human person. We turn to one another as sexual commodities. Pornography destroys human intimacy and sexual relationships.”
One of the most popular talks was given by EWTN’s Johnnette Benkovic, who discussed some of her personal travails, including disillusionment in college because of her lifestyle and the morning state troopers knocked on her door to tell her and her husband that their only son had been killed in an automobile accident. Despite these trials, her talk provided hope.
“I look out at all of you today and I see heroes,” she said. “I see men and women whom God is shaping to be in this battle we face, as our society becomes ever more secular.”
Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.