I have been involved with Courage for more than a decade, more than half of my priesthood, yet I never went looking for it or thought it would become my ministry.   Sometime in 2009, a Courage member in Philadelphia (my home archdiocese), who was a parishioner of mine, asked if I would be willing to help lead the local chapter, which had just lost their chaplain.  I got involved a bit tentatively at first, not exactly knowing what to say or how I could help.  (I’ve since learned that many chaplains have had a similar experience.)  But over the five years that I served as local chaplain before coming to the Courage Office, my life and my ministry were enriched and transformed in many ways.  Most of all, the people I have encountered in the apostolate have taught me how to be a real spiritual father. 

 Many incidents could illustrate this, but one that stands out very clearly in my memory happened about a year after I became the local chaplain.  The archdiocese invited me to have a display table at the “Parish Life Congress” that happened at the cathedral yearly, to share brochures and talk to people about Courage and EnCourageI had been a priest for eleven years by this time, and had been assigned to various parishes and other tasks in the archdiocese, so I knew quite a few people attending.  Some were surprised to see me at the Courage table; many more shared encouraging and supportive words about the apostolate.   This was the first time  Courage had been invited to such an event, so many people stopped to see what it was all about. 

About an hour into the event, I became completely distracted by an anxious feeling in my heart and mind.  It started to dawn on me just how many people I knew, who were seeing me for the first time in this role with Courage.  Questions started flying around in my head: What do they think about this ministry?  What do they think about me for being involved in this ministry?  Are they looking at me differently?  Are they wondering whether I’m experiencing same-sex attractions?  Are they questioning whether I believe what the Church teaches?  Just what is everybody thinking? 

I’m not particularly proud of myself in that moment.  But I will always be grateful for what God did with it.  After letting me worry in this way for what seemed like hours (but was probably only a minute or two), He drew my attention to a truth that changed my whole perspective:  This is what many of the people whom I’m calling you to serve go through every day.  They wonder where they fit, in the Church and in the world.  They worry about what people are thinking about them, whether there is a place for them in their parishes, in their families.  They question whether they can share their experience with loved ones, and how they will be received.  Look out for them, and give them one less reason to worry. 

That day at the display table was a turning point in my life as a priest – not only as a Courage chaplain, but in everything that I do.  In that moment God clarified for me what He wants my spiritual fatherhood to look like.  He wants me to identify and sympathize with the people He entrusts to my care.  He wants me to represent them well, and speak on their behalf when it’s difficult for them to speak for themselves.  He wants me to be willing to lay down my life to protect them from disrespect, criticism, or anything else people throw at them to discourage them from living virtuously.  Most of all, he wants me to love them, and to give them just a small glimpse of what His fatherly love for them is like.  I’m never happier as a priest than when I am striving to live and love in this way. 

It is a great privilege for me to serve and represent the members of Courage and EnCourage, and I know that our local chaplains feel the same.  What really brings me joy is to see how many of our members are responding to the invitation, in ways big and small, to share their personal witness to the transforming power of God’s grace in their lives and in their relationships.  Our dear Father Harvey used to say that “our best ambassadors are our members,” and so I am very happy to launch this new blog, The Upper Room.  Every two weeks, we will share personal testimonies from Courage and EnCourage members and chaplains, asking them to focus on moments in their lives where they encountered God’s love and mercy.  Like the disciples gathered in the Upper Room on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, we’re inviting them to share the story of “what happened on the road, and how He was made known to them” (Lk 24:35).  

Be sure to check back often and follow us on social media, so that you never miss a new posting here in The Upper Room 

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Fr. Philip G. Bochanski has served as Executive Director of Courage International, Inc. since January 1, 2017. Father Bochanski is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and an award-winning author. In 2019, Pope Francis awarded him the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, given in recognition of “sustained and exceptional service” to the Church.