Recently I’ve been feeling attraction for some other guys at my high school. I have not told anyone yet because I don’t even understand what’s going on in me. I love God, but I’m scared and I don’t know what to do. Any advice?

Do not be afraid. God loves you, too, and your attractions will never cause Him to love you any less. During the teenage years, the body develops rapidly, spurred on by profound hormonal changes. Because of this, teens are sometimes puzzled by all the feelings they experience. As a young man matures, he will often seek to identify with what is masculine. Sometimes this desire to identify with a guy who is particularly masculine may be misinterpreted as the beginning of homosexual attractions.

This admiration for a member of the same sex is not uncommon during adolescence, for girls or for boys. During this time, young people are trying to discover who they are. They often go through a process that moves them from a strong interest in same-sex friendships to a primary interest in opposite-sex relationships. It is not unusual for adolescents to feel confusion in the midst of their rapid sexual development, identity search, and maturing of interests. Sometimes feelings of same-sex attraction will come and go, and other times they will last quite a while. Some guys experience same-sex attractions, then the feelings dissipate and they eventually fall in love with a woman and get married.

Let us assume, though, that the attractions and even temptations do not subside. The world will tell you that you shouldn’t be ashamed of those desires, but should ‘‘come out’’ and embrace the homosexual lifestyle, because that’s your identity. To do otherwise, in the eyes of the world, would be disingenuous, unhealthy, and repressive. What does the Church say about this? Indeed, there’s no need to be ashamed of something you never chose. You didn’t ask for these feelings, so there’s no need to live in shame because of them. But it’s a mistake to think that this is your identity. We are much more than our sexual attractions, and the Church invites us to recognize that truth.

I have friends who experience same-sex attractions, but some of them do not prefer to be called ‘‘gay’’ or even ‘‘homosexual.’’ They feel that such labels would define them by their sexual desires, and that would minimize them. After all, we should not define ourselves by our struggles or sexual attractions. A ‘‘homosexual’’ is not who you are. You are a guy with many talents, desires, gifts, and other characteristics, but most important of all, you are a beloved son of God, and that is your identity. As one friend explained to me, ‘‘The Church calls us to be honest with ourselves about the existence of our sexual attractions (whatever they may be), but also to be honest with ourselves about what identity we choose to embrace. We can choose to place God above our sexuality, or sexuality above God. Our sexuality (though a very important gift) does not belong at the center of our embraced identities.’’

During an interview, someone once asked Mother Teresa for her views on homosexuality. She announced that she did not like the word ‘‘homosexual.’’ She paused the interview and told the reporters that if they had any more questions about ‘‘homosexuals,’’ they would refer to them from now on as ‘‘friends of Jesus.’’ This is how the Church invites us to view all people; especially those who might feel misunderstood, unloved, or unwanted.

You are not alone in what you are experiencing. Within the Church, there is an organization known as ‘‘Courage’’ that exists to provide support for those who experience same-sex attractions and want to glorify God with their lives. (See www.couragerc.org.) Some people who experience same-sex attractions also pursue counseling to find encouragement and to help them make sense of their attractions. If you feel that would be helpful, you can find a good list of counselors at www.catholictherapists.com.

If desired, counseling can be a great blessing because it helps you to understand yourself, and self-knowledge is always a good thing. I remember listening to one man who had lived a homosexual lifestyle say that after years of being immersed in that culture, it finally dawned on him that he wasn’t ‘‘homosexual.’’ In his words, he was ‘‘homo-emotional.’’ Because he never had a loving father, he longed for the approval, attention, and affection of a man, and the world taught him to sexualize his problems. After looking for fulfillment in a sexual way, he discovered that none of those relationships brought him what he desired.

What many people who experience same-sex attractions have discovered is that the Church does not condemn or hate them, but calls them to a life of heroic virtue. As one man said on his blog:

“Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family [of my same-sex attractions] a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true ofevery one ofthe Catholic friends that I’ve told. They love me for who I am. Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. [Chastity]?! You must be some kind of freak. . . . Would I trade in my Catholicism for a worldview where I get to marry a man? Would I trade in the Eucharist and the Mass and the rest of it? Being a Catholic means believing in a God who literally waits in the chapel for me, hoping I’ll stop by just for ten minutes so He can pour out love and healing on my heart.’’[1]

Despite the positive experiences of the gentleman above, your fears might still make you feel alone. You are not. A large fellowship of men and women is growing closer to God while carrying this same cross and persevering with joy in the virtue of chastity. Even those who do not experience same-sex attractions are walking alongside you in the struggle to place God’s will before our own desires. Because of original sin, all of us experience the effects of the Fall. Theologians explain that we all have weakened wills, darkened intellects, and disordered desires—all of us. Same-sex attraction is only one manifestation of the universal human condition. Therefore, if we accept the fact that our sexual desires are part of our fallen nature, we can also accept the fact that Christ has promised to redeem them. This does not always mean that our attractions will change, but that He’ll give us the grace to put Him first in our lives and then follow Him. The Church does not expect or require people to change their attractions, as if such feelings can be controlled by a simple act of the will. Therefore, don’t assume that your holiness is measured by how much you ‘‘reverse’’ your desires. Although you might fear that your temptations will pull you away from God, if you invite Him into your life, this trial might be the means by which you most intimately encounter His healing presence. The key, though, is listening to His voice instead of the voices of the world. Do not be afraid or lose hope. Come to God in prayer to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest.

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[1]. ‘‘Gay, Catholic, and Doing Fine,’’ by Steve Gershom (pseudonym), Little Catholic Bubble.

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