What is Encourage?
EnCourage is a confidential support group dedicated to the spiritual needs of parents, siblings, and other relatives and friends of persons who have same-sex attractions (SSA). Anchored in the spiritual and moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, EnCourage members support one another and their loved ones through discussion, prayer, and fellowship. Four times a year, a group gathers to discuss a topic that each member attending has in common – their loved one has same-sex-attraction (SSA).
In the Diocese of New Ulm, EnCourage has been meeting on a quarterly basis since April of 2016. The group facilitator is Sr. Candace Fier, director of the diocesan Office of Family Life.
“Each participant’s journey is unique, shaped by the circumstances and relationships surrounding them and their loved ones,” said Sr. Candace. “Encourage meetings are meant to provide an opportunity for family and friends to give and receive support from one another, as well as guidance in their own spiritual development,” she said.
The dignity and identity of Christian persons are not determined by their sexual attractions, but by their relation to Jesus Christ through faith, hope, and love. Therefore, the overall goals of EnCourage are:
Help members themselves to grow spiritually through prayer, meditation, spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Holy Mass, and frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist;
Enable members to gain a deeper understanding of the needs, and issues experienced by men and women with same-sex attractions;
Help members establish and maintain a healthy and wholesome relationship with the loved one who experiences same-sex attractions;
Assist other parents and families to reach out with compassion and truth to their loved one with same-sex feelings and behaviors;
Witness to their loved one by their own lives that a happy, wholesome life is to be found in union with Jesus Christ through His body, the Church.
by Most Reverend John M. LeVoir, Bishop of New Ulm - Local EnCourage Chaplain
Catholic Servant, September 2017
Our son, who is 23, just revealed to us that he is “gay.” How do we respond?
This is certainly a very challenging question. Parents in this situation want to support their son, but they puzzle over how do they do that? Parents usually know the teaching of the Church on human sexuality. The Glossary of the Catechism states that homosexuality is: “Sexual attraction or orientation toward persons of the same sex and/or sexual acts between persons of the same sex. Homosexual acts are morally wrong because they violate God’s purpose for human sexual activity.”
However, repeating the teaching of the Church to their son usually falls on deaf ears. So, parents want to know what they should say and do that will be helpful to their son? Where can they look for answers? There are many and varied responses proposed by our culture. Some are helpful and some are not, and some are even be detrimental.
Also, there are many possibilities that come with the revelation of their son. So the answer to the parents’ question “How can we respond?” can vary. What is their son’s relationship with Jesus? Is he striving to live chastely or is he in a sexually active relationship with another male? What does he think about same-sex attraction? Is he willing to sit down and talk about this very sensitive topic? Parents often ask: “What is he expecting of us?”
Having just returned from the Courage Conference at St. Mary’s Seminary and Conference Center in Mundelein, IL, I met a number of parents who expressed these kinds of questions.
No matter what the situation of their son, there are always three things that parents can do when their son reveals that he has same-sex attraction.
- The first thing is to let their son know that they love him. This means that they desire what is best for him. It means that they respect him and will treat him with respect. It means that they will listen to him and his story, without interruption.
- The second thing to do is to pray. This is something that all parents can do. Parents can pray and can encourage their son to pray. Pray for what? Pray that God’s will is done. We pray this in the Our Father each time that we recite it. Mass is the most powerful prayer and source of grace. Also, prayers of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary are particularly effective. For example, praying the Rosary.
- The third thing to do would be to seek spiritual support from joining an EnCourage group. According to the Courage Web site, “EnCourage is a Roman Catholic apostolate for parents, friends and family members of loved ones with samesex attractions. EnCourage is a faithful witness to Catholic teaching on sexual morality which meets the needs of its members with charity and compassion. EnCourage helps members to focus on their own spiritual development with the goals of achieving peace and complete trust in God’s Providence and His love for us and for the ones we love.”
Parents are often in a quandary as to what to do in certain situations. They feel the need to voice their concerns. They want to be listened to, and to receive help and advice. An EnCourage group is the safe place to do that. “EnCourage offers a supportive, confidential environment to share feelings, experiences, information, and guidance for maintaining healthy relationships with our loved ones with samesex attractions.”
I have heard from many parents, and their adult sons and daughters who experience same-sex attraction. Love, prayer, and support provide families facing challenging sexual issues with peace and trust in God. For more information, see the Courage Web site (couragerc.org) or contact your diocesan family life director.