Monday, August 25, 2008

Pastoral Treatment of Persons with SSA

A question frequently put to priests and other spiritual counselors is: Can SSA or the homosexual inclination itself be changed? This is a difficult problem that is best addressed by a professional therapist, since it is not the function of the spiritual counselor to evaluate the counselee's chances of change in sexual orientation. As already mentioned, teenagers may be uncertain concerning their sexual inclinations, and this condition often demands more guidance than the spiritual director can give. In the event, however, that the spiritual counselor refers a young person to a therapist, the counselor should do so in such a way that the person continues to receive spiritual help. Older persons with SSA may desire primarily to lead a life of chastity without therapy; younger persons may desire therapy as well as interior chastity. Generally, one is always encouraged to seek therapy, because there may be trauma in one's past that needs healing. However, one is not obliged to seek therapy to recover one's natural heterosexual inclinations, because there is no certitude that reparative therapy will lead to such a recovery. Moreover, people cannot always afford the cost of such therapy. Nevertheless, one should be encouraged to move toward heterosexual inclinations by chaste friendships with heterosexual persons. Paradoxically, by concentrating on the person who happens to deal with SSA and helping him or her to cope with life, the counselor will tend to focus less on the homosexual tendency, and the person will more readily respond to the counselor.

In the first stages of guidance it will be necessary to discuss various aspects of homosexuality so that the person may understand the phenomena. Very often the person may try to believe that he or she is not a "homosexual" by recounting past experiences which, on the surface, give evidence of heterosexual attraction. These, however, may really be attempts to repress homosexual leanings. It is good for the spiritual director to be aware of this phenomenon lest he or she be deceived by the counselee's illusions. There is good reason for this process of self-deception. The counselee tends to resist the admission of being "homosexual." He hates the thought of it, and thus to some extent hates himself. In facing the fact of SSA, people thus need complete personal acceptance fromt the counselor -- that is, affirmation of their worth as persons, regardless of past homosexual acts and regardless of their readiness to try changing their way of life. In this, the counselor should not approve of any homosexual conduct. Rather, the point is to let the counselee know that the counselor cares despite the conduct which cannot be condoned. Once the counselor realizes he has the trust of the person with SSA, a plan of life should be proposed.

A Plan of Life

The reason people with SSA need a deliberate "plan of life" is that, without following a definite and ascetical plan, chastity is practically impossible. There are various elements in a plan of life that must be considered as anyone tries to extricate himself from a life of promiscuity or from some kind of steady relationship with another person of the same sex.
The first element is the need to rethink one's philosophy of life in order to redirect one's self to the pursuit of spiritual values. The second element is to begin to practice the virtues of one's state in life systematically, as described (for example) by St. Francis de Sales in The Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, or as encouraged by self-help programs. This plan of life must be specific enough to include some spiritual exercises every day, but flexible enough to allow for daily contingencies. It will include daily meditation, the actual performance of charitable works, regular spiritual direction, and insightful reading as preparation for prayer.
The actual performance of apostolic and charitable works is an element of proven worth. In view of the frustration of homosexual liaisons, some means of serving God must be found which will prove to the person with same-sex attractions that he or she is making a contribution to life. Everyone needs that sense of achievement. Heterosexual couples usually find it in their families; religious and priests find it in their special calling and work; single persons of either sex often find it in determined dedication to altruistic and charitable endeavors, like the service of the sick, people with physical or intellectual disabilities, etc. The person with SSA can find similar ways of serving God and humanity.
It is by regular spiritual direction, moreover, that the person with SSA can formulate and begin to live this plan of life. Very often, people with SSA have already experienced the loneliness and incompleteness of either of the two patters of homosexual activity, namely promiscuity or a steady same-sex relationship. Dissatisfied with these experiences, they are ready to listen to the sympathetic proposal of a new approach, difficult though that new way may seem on the surface. The spiritual director's task is to show the man or woman with SSA that it is possible to live a chaste and happy life without being isolated from society. This demands a thorough accounting of the meaning of chastity and of the diverse forms of human love and friendship.
(Source: Same Sex Attraction: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice by Fr. John F. Harvey, OSFS)

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