The Future of Courage
St. Francis de Sales points the way to the proper approach for outreach to homosexual persons.
For Father John Harvey, apostolates were a dynamic reality, a work that the Holy Spirit inspired the Servant of God Cardinal Terence Cooke to establish and that the Holy Spirit alone could sustain.
Father Harvey saw his own service as cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit, service of God in his immeasurable and ceaseless love of his children who suffer with same-sex attraction. What direction for the future can we discover in the manner with which Father Harvey gave his life for his brothers and sisters in the Courage and EnCourage apostolates?
First of all, the future must continue to develop the profoundly spiritual nature of the Courage apostolate, not reducing it to a method for attaining sexual abstinence, but presenting it faithfully as a way of encountering Christ the Chaste One in order to live chastely in him.
While the discipline of the apostolate, based on the “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous, is irreplaceable, it fundamentally opens the space within the heart to grow spiritually, to come to know Christ more fully and to love him more ardently.
A most fruitful tool for the future development of the apostolate would be, in my judgment, a more systematic development of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, the spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as the full context in which sexual abstinence is practiced for the sake of a purer and more selfless love of God and neighbor. There is need to develop more fully the implications of the practice of Father Harvey to begin the recovery of the person affected by the homosexual condition by teaching “the art of meditation, or prayer of the heart.”
Prayer of the heart leads a person to recognize his true identity as a child of God, loved unconditionally by God, and to conform himself to the truth of his identity by loving God in return. Prayer of the heart is the way to the union of heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In a similar way, it is the spirituality of the union of heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which will bring healing and strength to the family members of EnCourage. Father Harvey wisely observed:
“The real issue in dealing with parents of homosexuals is to help them develop their own relationship with the Lord. They must turn over stewardship of their child to the Lord, allowing him to bring healing to their own hearts and to the hearts of all the family.
“Only in the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus will family members find the gift that their suffering member most needs and, in fact, desires, the gift of love which is purified of all sin and enflamed with divine Love.”
What I am suggesting here is a steadfast plumbing of the significance of the second goal of Courage, namely “to dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of penance and of the holy Eucharist.”
Through all of these spiritual practices, the deep beauty of a chaste life will be seen and embraced, and a heart will be prepared and sustained for true friendship.
The second suggestion for the future is a deepening of the doctrinal formation of members. In recounting the history of Courage, Father Harvey tells how, in the beginning, he “thought the best way to proceed was to give a systematic presentation of Catholic teaching on the truths of the faith, on the moral law, and on the sacraments.” He relates that the members desired “more informal discussions of those elements of the faith that bore more directly upon their personal lives.”
While such a desire is understandable, especially in the case of persons who are struggling with immoral behaviors which have been compulsive or addictive, it is important for the complete spiritual development of the person that he come to a deeper knowledge of the faith and its practice, a deeper knowledge of Christ alive for us in the Church, accompanying us along our pilgrim way to our lasting home in heaven.
The insistence that only topics relating to the homosexual condition be discussed at meetings of Courage would naturally reinforce the false notion that the identity of the person is the disordered condition. Regarding the matter, Father Harvey rightly concluded:
“In all this there is a danger of confining discussion at meetings only to the topic of homosexuality. I would suggest that discussions touching upon the most fundamental aspects of our life in the Church be engaged at Courage meetings without an excessive concern to relate the subject matter to the homosexual condition.”
Discussions to deepen the liturgical spirituality of members, for instance, would be most appropriate. Central to the Courage/EnCourage apostolates is also a deeper understanding of Christian anthropology, of the nature of man, male and female; of the integrity of conjugal love, and of marriage and family as a privileged participation in the being of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and as the hearth in which God, through the cooperation of man and woman, gives the gift of new human life to be safeguarded and nurtured.
The study of Christian anthropology will not only assist the members of the Courage and EnCourage apostolates to recognize and respect their own identity as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, but will assist society, in general, to overcome the massive secularization which attacks both human life at its origin and the integrity of marriage and the family as the first cell of the life of society and of the Church.
Sadly, for various reasons, including the lack of a strong institutional support, the work of Courage and EnCourage remains unknown to many in the Church and in the community at large. There is a crying need to communicate the truth which Courage and EnCourage serve with clarity and serenity.
That truth, like all truth, is attractive in itself. Its effective communication will attract many to rebuild the culture of life and chaste love in our society. The communication will not be easy. There are powerful forces which will resist it and even try to prevent it. But the love of Christ, flowing from his glorious pierced heart into our often poor and confused hearts, will give us the wisdom and strength to go forward.
May God grant to our beloved Father John Harvey of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales the reward of the just. May he bless and prosper the work of Courage and EnCourage for the sake of the salvation of many souls and the building up of the civilization of divine love.
Editor’s note: Cardinal Rymond Burke is the current prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican. These are excerpted remarks from his keynote address at the 2011 Courage/EnCourage annual conference Aug. 4-7, 2011, at University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., of the Archdiocese of Chicago.