It's been five years now since I accepted Courage into my life. This reflection is a discussion of my interactions with other men that have helped reconcile me with masculinity, with who I am. Growing up, I felt ambivalent about masculinity. It often seemed reckless, self-seeking, or insensitive. What masculine traits I did see as good, like strength and bravery, seemed unattainable to me, and so I felt inadequate. I also had different interests from most male peers. I felt I couldn't belong or connect well with them, and so I became detached from them.

In the last few years, however, God has reaffirmed for me the goodness of masculinity. My resentments have cleared enough for me to see that true masculinity is a man's form of love. It is vital for the wellbeing of humankind. My hope is that, as I connect with other men (above all, with Jesus), the man who I'm called to be will be drawn out.

I believe that, in a mysterious way, masculinity is the promise of my very nature as a male. It integrates my mind, heart, and body. As a human, though, I have a fallen nature, so I need God's grace to be a man. Other men, and most importantly, Jesus, can help draw that nature out from within me. In whatever way God intends masculinity to be manifest in my personality, I trust his plan. After all, masculine traits, like self-sacrifice, loyalty, duty, discipline, strength, courage, and brotherhood, can be integrated into any man's personality. I hope that, by God's grace, I grow in these virtues.

Becoming a man means becoming like Jesus, the perfect man. As "A Man's Prayer for Courage" goes, "Lord Jesus, thank you for making me a man. I am willing to grow in my own masculinity, so please show me how to take the next step in this journey. Give me the courage I need to relate truthfully to other men. With your help, I am willing to face my fears. Amen."

The Courage apostolate helps one accept the gift of chastity and thus respond to same-sex attractions in loving, rather than harmful, ways. Although each individual's circumstances differ, the Church's teachings give us all the necessary knowledge to pursue communion with God and one another in the most truly loving way, which is also the most personally satisfying way. Chastity is not about saying "no" to love. It's about giving and receiving the fullness of love and protecting each other from anything less than love. It's about becoming who we are, men and women made in the image of God, who is Love.

Summer Camp: A few summers ago, I helped take some grade school kids to a summer camp, which included tubing on a lake. One boy was afraid and asked me to go on the tube with him. His courage inspired me, since I've often been afraid of such things. I felt the big brother in me being drawn out. Another fond memory is from the dining hall. The boy seated next to me would blurt out, "Man, you farted!" I hardly joked like that when I was little, but it wasn't too late to take myself more lightly and respond back, "No, you farted!" He showed me the value of lightheartedness. [For another camp story, see endnote #1.] Once I went jogging with another male counselor. He jogged with his shirt off, so I did, too. I think it helped dispel my body shame. His brotherly acceptance of my body somehow felt like the acceptance of my whole being.

The Five-Month Miracle: That summer I also came to terms with the teaching that when one falls from the state of grace (by freely choosing to commit what one knows is a grave sin), one should confess the sin before receiving Holy Communion. Since I was habitually committing a grave sin, this teaching was hard to swallow at first-but, as I learned, it leads to freedom. In frequently encountering Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation, I glimpsed the endless mercy and inexhaustible compassion of God.

One time, after confessing my sins and mentioning to the priest my anxiety over my same-sex attractions, I started crying and continued through the act of contrition and absolution. I went out and sat down in a pew, leaned forward with my face in my hands, and kept crying. I felt desperate. After that confession, I didn't commit this sin for five months. When I'd feel inadequate and alone, instead of turning to sin, I would wait, accept the pain, and pray. I'd sense Jesus' constant companionship and the intimacy of union with Him. The sin had numbed me-keeping me from turning to Jesus! God taught me to rely on Him, not on sin or my own limited means of dealing with life. Through the sacrament of Reconciliation, God will always be willing to convert our divided hearts back to his love, the source of all happiness. His love is what makes our hearts choose Him over sin.

Basketball: That fall I took a basketball class. One day after class, a handsome, athletic classmate to whom I was attracted was walking across the gym. To face my sense of inferiority to him, I walked up beside him, unsure of what I would say or do. I don't recall our conversation, but when we parted, he gave me a pat on the back. The brotherly love I felt in that moment brought tears to my eyes. My heart suddenly felt warmer and bigger, as my detachment from other males was starting to melt away. It felt clear that what I really wanted from him wasn't merely his body or his confidence-it was his acceptance. I learned that to be accepted, I had to put myself out there with other men and take risks. [For the tournament results, see #2.]

Priests: I'd once contacted a priest about my same-sex attraction, concerned about its implications on my life path. The next time he was in town, he met me at a restaurant; he wanted to listen to me and understand my struggle. The following day he sent me a text: "Good to be with you last evening! Thanks for your honesty and for trusting . . . . Many blessings in Holy Week, my brother!" Getting to know this priest was a turning point for me. In him, I saw that masculinity is good. He barely knew me at the time, yet he wanted the best for me and was willing to help me get there. I wanted to be like him; I wanted to be a man. During the spring of senior year, he helped me get a job, invited me to move into a Catholic men's community he was helping to establish, and took me on a mission trip with a group of other young adults. God has used the tender care and generosity of not only this priest but also several others as well, to show me what being a man means, to reconcile me with masculinity.

Ballroom dance: This class unexpectedly exposed resentments I held against women. I felt overburdened by their emotional needs, perhaps since I felt needy myself. As I grew more comfortable with masculinity, however, I felt more delighted by femininity. God has placed many women in my life, including classmates, professors, co-workers, nuns, and Courage members, who have helped me reconcile with femininity and grow in admiration for women's awesome dignity, which is equal to men's and yet mysteriously unique. These women have helped me believe in masculinity. They genuinely love men, seeing us not as oppressors but as their beloved human counterparts and friends. They trust in God's power to redeem us all from sin, and they count on men to make our particular contributions to society.

Brotherly affection: On a spring break trip to the inner city, I played in a basketball game, and a teammate punched me in the chest as a type of celebratory affection. I felt respected and built up as a fellow man. One time at college, I was sitting on the floor with a friend with whom I'd shared my struggles, and he asked if I'd ever been attracted to girls. I realized I had been, and as I described one such person to him, we realized she was his older sister. He lunged at me and about punched me in the face, as a joke. I felt affirmed by his roughhousing: he treated me like a male peer, which I am! We'd occasionally go jogging together, and sometimes he would call me "Dawg." Once I called him "Dawg," and it felt good. I realized that, for my sake and theirs, I needed to give other men affection, not only receive it.

The cafeteria worker: At the dining hall there was a jovial, boisterous student worker to whom I was attracted. One day he struck up a conversation with me, and I felt accepted and valued by him. Another day, however, I saw him on the lawn throwing a football with a friend, and I felt sadness and shame. I thought, "I'm not really worthy of his acceptance; as soon as I try to throw a football with him, he'll reject me." Sports insecurities are an obstacle for me in bonding with other men. I hope to play sports more, because, regardless of how well I eventually play or how much I enjoy playing, they help put me in touch with who I am. They teach me self-respect, to see myself as a peer to other men.

Courage: The chapter I joined now has over fifteen members, men and women from 20 to 70 years old. Each meeting includes reading the Five Goals of Courage (see #3) and the Serenity Prayer (see #4). The Christ-centered fellowship of Courage has been one of my life's greatest joys. I've attended two Courage conferences, where, through fellowship with members, family and friends of people with same-sex attraction, and supportive clergy and religious, I glimpsed the intensely joyful, loving communion that God is accomplishing through the Church and the Courage Apostolate. During college I enjoyed a friendship with a fellow Courage member on campus whose burning faith and sense of humor really picked me up. He loved being Catholic and radiated God's love, including to his friends who identified themselves as "gay." He accepted and respected them, and by living out a joyful example of Christian discipleship, he invited them to a truer, more complete identity.

Mission trip: One man on this trip loved to call out my name in the local language. Whenever I saw his smile and the sincere brotherly affection in his eyes, I felt so loved-and by a male peer who barely knew me! There was nothing I did to deserve it. He showed me how God sees each of us, with love, amazement, pride, and expectation. The last day of the trip, we were crammed into the back of a pick-up truck, and I was partly hanging off the edge. He instinctively laid his upper arm over my chest to keep me from bouncing out. I felt valued and protected by him. God keeps reminding me, "True masculinity is good."

Work: At my job, I was around male clients much of the day. They were respectful, patient, hard-working, and generous to others. I particularly admired my officemate, who loved being a daddy to his two little kids. He'd greet me each day by saying, "How's my buddy?" His daily acceptance and affection were graces planted by God right in my little office!

The men's house: More than before, I felt male peers knew me and I knew them. Praying together especially helped me connect with the other guys in this community. At times, I'd feel insecure and become disengaged, especially when they'd joke around, compete, or roughhouse, but overall I felt at ease. One of the guys taught me to throw a football and played me one-on-one in basketball. Recently we had a reunion. At one point, when we were playing a variation of soccer in a drained swimming pool on the roof of a high-rise apartment building at 2 a.m., a feeling of sameness struck me. I felt that I was essentially the same as them, and that I belonged. It seemed to be the antidote to my whole problem. Sports are a great means of accomplishing this, and roughhousing and joking around might be, too. I'm often uncomfortable with these things, partly because I fear rejection. God, though, wants me to trust in Him, take courage, and have life in abundance. He wants my joy to be not partial but complete.

Sports Camp: This weekend encourages men with same-sex attraction to face commonly held sports fears and resentments. I left the experience feeling joyful and assertive. When members of our chapter met us back in our home city, I uninhibitedly started jabbering and dancing around. I was so happy! [To read more about Sports Camp XII, see the
reflection on the Sports Camp Page.]

Through experiences such as these, God has helped reconcile me with masculinity and other men. He's shown me that I don't have to remain in isolation from male peers. Experiencing a sense of sameness as male peers has been a very satisfying development in my life.

Often it's difficult for me to accept another man's goodness and handsomeness without wanting to possess him. Perhaps this is because I'm out of touch with my own nature, my own masculinity: thus, when I see masculinity in another man, I'm drawn to it and want to possess it as my own. Chastity reminds me that I have no right to use another man, regardless of my inadequacies or needs. While I must accept the feeling of attraction, I must refrain from any selfish act.

For me, same-sex lust has been a futile attempt to be who I am (my own man) by trying to possess another man. But instead of becoming whole, I'd simply be left as I was, and I would have abused the other man. In reality, I don't need to possess another man. Rather, by fixating on and uniting with Jesus and growing in friendship and virtue with other men, I can let God give me my own man, that is, myself (see #5). God wants each of us to confidently be the gifts-the men and women-He made us to be. He wants us to give ourselves away. Love is self-giving, not other-taking. We find our fulfillment in becoming like Christ, who gave us His all.

I believe the Church's teachings on same-sex attractions (see #6) are the most compassionate teachings there are. They contain the fullness of truth and thus make way for the fullness of love. The Church wants my sadness and shame to be overcome, not merely numbed. She wants me to enjoy the true acceptance, affirmation, and chaste affection of other men. She wants us all to share in God's glory in Heaven. Ultimately, She wants us to be happy. As the catechism states, Heaven is "the state of supreme, definitive happiness" (CCC#1024), "the ever-flowing well-spring of…mutual communion" (CCC #1045), "the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings" (CCC #1024).


ENDNOTES
1.) At the campfire, the camp staff involved me in one of their skits. A counselor pretended to have a crush on me, and her friends asked me if, since she was shy, I'd just say "yes" to whatever she asked of me. She asked me, "Can I show you something with my hands?" I said, "yes," and she took my hands and started holding them romantically. The kids expected something was coming and smirked with excitement. Then she asked, "Can I show you something with my feet?" I looked toward the kids to see if they thought it would be okay and replied, "yes." She then tiptoed her feet up against mine to get closer. The kids squealed. Then she said, "Can I show you something with my lips?" I looked again at the kids, showing I was getting nervous about it all, and then gulped and reluctantly said, "yes," one last time. She leaned toward me and puckered up her lips, and then, as our lips were about to touch, she suddenly brought her finger up and started strumming her lips, making that "blblbl" sound! The kids all burst out laughing. That experience made me see myself differently. I didn't disqualify myself as quickly from possibly loving a woman romantically some day. Though it was just a silly skit, it did intrigue me and open my mind and heart to whatever possibilities may lie ahead.

2.) My team was defeated 25-14 in the first round. I scored 4 points, though, to the surprise and delight of both teams and the instructor!

3.) The Five Goals of Courage:
a. Chastity: live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.
b. Prayer and Dedication: dedicate one's life to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
c. Fellowship: foster a spirit of fellowship in which all may share thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.
d. Support: be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life and in doing so provide encouragement to one another in forming and sustaining them.
e. Good Example: live lives that may serve as good examples to others.

4.) "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen" (Reinhold Niebuhr).

5.) As Leanne Payne writes in Broken Image, a man with same-sex attractions is attracted to a part of himself he isn't in touch with but perceives in another man [for me, this could be assertiveness, confidence, a vivacious spirit, handsomeness, strength, or a sense of masculine identity]. The attraction is painful, because the man with same-sex attraction knows he is disconnected from something and fears he can never reconnect. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he can form an image of his real self, and he can choose to fixate his desires on becoming that man, rather than on merging with another man. Fixating on other men is futile, for it is truly impossible to achieve union with them. The only way for a man's same-sex attraction to be satisfied is to pursue union with his true self. In that union he will no longer be attracted to other men in the same way, since that part of himself is no longer fragmented off and projected onto other men. [Ultimately, I must fixate not merely on my image of my real self but on Jesus, for my real self comes from Him. We are made in God's image and are destined to become like Him. In the Holy Eucharist, we commune with Jesus in a special way and are
gradually transformed into Him.]

6.) CCC #2359: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection." [In other words, the Church calls such persons to become saints! The struggle itself can be a path to holiness. For the complete teaching, see CCC #2357-2359.]

Testimony of Louis

"Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a pure heart" (1 Pt 1:22).

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