“Before you say anything, they see your eyes,” Dr. Edward Hogan said to a group of about 100 people, including two bishops.
“What your eyes need to say to them is, ‘I’m listening. I want to know. In the midst of all of this messiness, Jesus loves you. And I’m here to help you figure out what that means and help you follow Jesus,’” he said.
Dr. Hogan, academic dean and associate professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, led a break-out session titled “LGBTQ: What’s a Catholic to Say?” at this year’s Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly on Oct. 6 Jefferson City.
“What do you say? No one is entirely sure how to answer that,” said Dr. Hogan. “But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for someone else to figure it out. We don’t have the luxury of waiting to make sure we have it exactly right. We need to wade into where it’s messy and start sorting it out.”
Initiating a loving dialogue with people who experience same-sex attraction or confusion about their gender was one of several variations on the theme for this year’s assembly: “Five Years of Pope Francis: The Church at the Peripheries.”
Drawing extensively on the Old and New Testaments and the teachings of Pope Francis and Pope St. John Paul II, Dr. Hogan outlined a helpful path for evangelization and accompaniment to anyone who feels marginalized, especially people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex or asexual.
“First off, we need to understand that no matter how difficult a situation is, Christ in the middle of it, at work with His grace,” said Dr. Hogan. “The first thing you have to do is see how He is already at work here.”
“Then, you ask, ‘What more does He want from you?’”
“Tell me about it”
Dr. Hogan read excerpts from of “Amoris Laetitia” (“Joy of Love”), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family, and Pope St. John Paul II’s 1981 document on the same subject, “Familiaris Consortio” (“Fellowship of the Family”).
Throughout these, the Popes emphasize the importance of upholding the fullness of God’s plan for marriage and sexuality in all of its grandeur.
They insist that the Church does not diminish the fullness of what Jesus offers by attempting to meet people in the midst of their complex situations.
Rather, the Church upholds those ideals splendidly by meeting people in the messiness of their circumstances, greeting them with mercy, proposing God’s plan to them and walking with them toward it.
Dr. Hogan said the two most powerful words in pastoral ministry are “tell me.”
“Someone who comes to confide in you about this subject may feel alone,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for you to minister to them, whether they’re telling you about themselves or a friend.”
It’s important to realize and acknowledge up front that people who are dealing with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are often suffering.
“Ask about their thoughts, their feelings, their struggle,” he said. “Sympathize with them and thank them for confiding. But also offer clear guidance about what Jesus teaches, what the Bible teaches, what the Church teaches.
“Show confidence in the Gospel,” he said. “Show confidence in Jesus. Show confidence that what He said is meant for this person, and that His words can transform them.”
Then ask them: “What does Jesus want for you? Is He asking more from you?”
Then, commit to walking with them.
“You are loved”
Dr. Hogan talked about the increasing rates of depression and suicide among young people in this country — including people who are struggling with their sexuality or their gender identity.
“We’re not doing a very good job of helping our young people with their struggles,” he asserted. “Not on sex and gender issues and not on a lot of other issues.”
He noted that children learn by watching how their parents deal with people whose lives are messy.
“They draw conclusions about how we will treat their mess and whether or not they want to share it with us,” he said.
He emphasized that whatever might be messy in their lives, “these are our children, God’s children. They need our care, our support. We need to reach out to them.”
He said to find out first when a friend or loved one chooses to open up about questions about their sexual orientation: Do they know God loves them? Do they feel alone? Are they committed to chastity? Do they understand that your deepest identity is a beloved son or daughter or God, precious brother or sister of Jesus Christ?
“That’s what our children really need to hear: ‘You are loved in all your mess,’” said Dr. Hogan. “Let them know that in the midst of the mess, we’re going to keep our eyes on the Gospel. ‘Because in the midst of the mess, Jesus is calling you. Jesus has a tremendous desire in His heart for you.’”
Dr. Hogan emphasized that it’s not enough simply to state God’s ideal for human sexuality as the ultimate goal, and then leave it there.
“We must also meet people where they are — in their messy situations,” he said. “And when you meet them there, don’t just tell them the goal; you provide them a path to the goal.”
That’s where authentic accompaniment begins.
“Because we must walk with them — every step of the way!” said Dr. Hogan. “You have to commit to working with them toward experiencing the fullness of the Gospel, toward all that God wants for them.”
In short: “Meet them where they are, but don’t leave them where they are.”
To learn more
Dr. Hogan recommended two short booklets for people who want to learn more on this subject:
•Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those with Same-Sex Attraction, (Archdiocese of St. Louis, 2016): archstl.org/marriage-family-life/ resources/sexuality
•Scripture, Mercy and Homosexuality, by Mary Healey (Catholic Answers Press, 2018): shop.catholic.com/scripture-mercy-and-homo sexuality.