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Showing the Courage to battle homosexual impulses

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 31, 2014

For an apostolate dedicated to helping people live out the Christian virtue of chastity despite a same-sex attraction, “Courage” is a particularly apt name, for two reasons.

  1. In our sex-saturated society, it takes some courage to say that one might have sexual urges that should never be satisfied, and even greater courage to live on the basis of such a conviction.
  2. As homosexual activists become ever more aggressive in their efforts to silence their opponents, it takes courage to suggest that a sexual relationship with a member of the same sex is an offense against human dignity.

So Courage swims against an increasingly powerful stream, and asks its members to do the same. Father Paul Check, the director of this unique and necessary apostolate, says that the group’s greatest asset is its own membership: the loyal Catholics who, flawed like all of us, struggle to live with a weakness that our popular culture insists on portraying as a strength.

In the current climate, Courage cannot help these people by engaging in polemics. Instead the group concentrates on counseling, speaking quietly to those who are willing to listen. Still the challenge remains: How can such a group break through barriers, and reach out to attract new members?

Courage has now addressed that question in an innovative and appealing way. Recognizing that stories are often more powerful than arguments, the group has presented the stories of three members in a film, Desire of the Everlasting Hills. Artfully shot and professionally edited, the one-hour film is a fascinating attempt to reach beyond the heated arguments and begin a serious conversation. The subtitle of the movie tells the viewer what to expect: “Hope in Isolation. Courage in Turmoil. Grace in the Last Place You Expect.”

Desire of the Everlasting Hills tells the stories of three people—two men and a woman: Dan, Paul, and Rilene—who were engaged in same-sex relationships, but eventually made the choice for chastity. These are three quite different people, from different backgrounds, with different careers. But the stories are woven together with a common thread: each eventually realized a desire for something more, something deeper, something more lasting than sexual pleasure. Each discovered an inner restlessness that could only be satisfied by a relationship with God.

Desire is at times shocking, at times sad, even at times comical—as when Paul, an international playboy who had hundreds of lovers, tells how he developed the habit of watching Mother Angelica on EWTN, hiding that habit from his partner in an upside-down parody of the way a respectable married man might secretly indulge a weakness for pornography. But the most striking characteristic of the film is the honesty of these three people, who have laid their own lives bare in order to help others.

Talk about courage! Dan, Paul, and Rilene are at times brutally candid about their own weaknesses, and that requires real fortitude. More to the point, they entered into this project knowing that their lives would change as a result of this film. They will encounter some ferocious hostility from people who were once their friends. They have made a dual sacrifice, surrendering privacy and popularity, for the sake of a message.

But then, they had already made a sacrifice when they accepted the demands of Christian living—demands that would require them to battle constantly against their own inclinations. Their message, in Desire, is that perseverance in such a battle is possible, and infinitely rewarding.

All three of the film’s heroes speak, at some point, about an emptiness that they felt at times when, by the standards of their peers, they should have felt perfectly content. This, I suspect, could be the greatest strength of the film. Someone watching it, battling with his own homosexual impulses, might recognize the same feeling in himself. Two of the three, Paul and Rilene, speak of the immense relief they felt after going to Confession for the first time in years. That, too, could prompt viewers—and not only homosexuals—to seek the same blessed relief.

There is no overt preaching in Desire. The three main characters do not condemn homosexuals. On the contrary they speak positively about their old relationships, making no attempt to deny the emotional benefits they received. Even after embracing chastity, they remained friendly with their former partners, and in fact Rilene cared for her old lover during her final illness. In one respect this is laudable; one wouldn’t want them to betray old friends and lovers. But I wonder if in this regard their honesty could cause a problem. Might some young people, watching Desire, conclude that these three people enjoyed the best of all possible worlds, having their youthful flings and then settling down to a life of virtue in middle age, when the flames of passion burn a bit less intensely?

Still Desire does not fall into the trap that has caught some other faithful Catholics, who seek to present homosexuality in a positive light while remaining faithful to Church teachings. Dan, Paul, and Rilene do not try to convince themselves, or the film’s viewers, that their homosexuality is somehow a special gift. They recognize their impulse as a source of conflict, with which they will struggle throughout the rest of their lives. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Dan explains that he realizes his life will involve some suffering, and he has chosen to accept that suffering rather than retreat. Once again, courage.

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  • Posted by: shrink - Aug. 01, 2014 9:27 AM ET USA

    Thanks Phil: A great review about an excellent documentary. Hopefully there will be many more like "Desire" to come.

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