“And so really out of that space came this dream and this desire to give people community, in addition to formation,” Carter said.
Eden Invitation establishes community through its weekly book clubs, which meet virtually to discuss books on various aspects of the human person from the perspective of a Christian anthropology. Currently, they are reading Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici, or “The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful.”
The group also has an online community platform, as well as occasional spiritual retreats, among other more casual gatherings.
The ministry takes what Ochoa and Carter call a “whole person” approach to human formation. The tagline on the ministry’s website reads “Eden Invitation: Original personhood beyond the LGBT+ paradigm.” They want to explore not only what the Church teaches about same-sex attraction, but also, “what does it mean to be human?”
“Being a member of the body of Christ, being a temple of the Holy Spirit - that is our deepest identity,” Carter said.
“We say no to certain things, because we have a really rich and dynamic yes to what it means to be a human being,” she added. They draw inspiration from other saints who lived as single people, like Dorothy Day or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. They talk about what it means to live a robust life as a single, chaste, lay person in the Church.
Carter said she likes to use Garden of Eden imagery in some of her talks on this topic. In the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis, there is a tree that is off-limits to Adam and Eve: God commands that they do not touch it.
For people experiencing same sex attraction, Carter said, there is also a “tree”, so to speak, that is “100% off limits.”
“If we spend our life circling that tree and pining after that tree, of course we're not going to think there's any possibilities. Or if all of the teaching and all of the explanations about this experience is fixated on telling us over and over again, not to go to the tree, what are we going to look at? The tree!” Carter said.
“You know, but the truth is: we have the run of the garden, and that's where we'll find our vocation and mission.”
Carlos Martinez, a member of Eden Invitation, said he most appreciates the community he has found within the ministry.
“We all experience pain points and sufferings through this within the Church and outside of the Church, but having other people around you who understand what you've experienced...it's just been a testament of the beauty of what the ministry is and what Eden really strives for, which is a desire to grow in holiness with God through this.”
Martinez is from Texas but currently lives in New York City as a student at Columbia University. He said he was “shocked” when he moved to New York to see so many Catholic parishes be so open about their ministries for people on the LGBT spectrum.
“I don't say that in a negative tone,” Martinez said. It was an openness that he hadn’t yet encountered, and many of these ministries were engaged in “beautiful forms of apostolic charity” like visiting gay men’s health centers, or starting Bible studies. But a lot of the ministries Martinez encountered were more concerned with affirming his same-sex attraction, and did not emphasize true and clear Church teaching.
It was very different from his experience as a Catholic in Texas, where Church teaching was “beat like a dead horse...but then there's no community, there's no relationship with Christ through this experience.”
The ministries available to people who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria within the Church, and also want to follow Church teaching regarding sexuality, are few. Courage is one ministry that exists to support people with same-sex attraction who want to be faithful to the Church, but Martinez said Eden Invitation appealed to him because of its whole person approach, and because its members tended to be younger than the average Courage member he encountered.
For Martinez, it took a lot of prayer and discernment to find where he felt the Lord was calling him to be.
“I would just pray for, okay, where is the Holy Spirit in all of this noise?” Martinez said. “I really want to be open about this. I want to share my testimony. I want to utilize this.”
“Through a lot of prayer and guidance from the Lord...where I think the Holy Spirit is the most present, which for me personally, is in what is being done in Eden Invitation.”
Eden Invitation is “where I find that the ministry is holding true...with what we believe within the Church, but also (seeks an) understanding of that and unpacking that more in solidarity with other men and women who experienced this, and confronting it with clergy.” he said.
On Eden Invitation retreats, Martinez said he has been able to have frank conversations with priests, who he encourages to speak more openly about how people who experience same-sex attraction can live fully as Catholics, rather than taking a one-or-the-other approach of affirmation or apologetics.
“You don't hear it in homilies, you don't hear it in a group, conversational setting with an activity or within a Bible study. The only time I was able to talk about it was through confession and through Courage,” Martinez said. “It just sucks in a way, because while we don't know why we ….like with anything, we can utilize our sufferings, our crosses, every part of who we are, we can utilize the uniqueness of what we are and how we were made in Christ.”
“Why is this just not a conversation that we can just talk about at Mass? There's fear of the backlash from the congregation, there's fear with donors, there's fear all around,” Martinez said.
“When have we ever caved to fear as a church? Did the apostles cave to fear when they were the only one who received and knew the Word of God and had to trust in the Lord to speak to the world about his good news and his glory? No.”
Martinez said he would encourage people that minister to teenagers and young adults to also be open about this topic, since most people start recognizing same sex desires or attractions at a fairly young age. He encouraged them to have open conversations about it, to be compassionate as well as clear about what the Church teaches, and to be informed about what resources are available to them, such as Eden Invitation.
He said he hoped at one point it would be easy for Catholics who experience same sex attraction to be open about their experiences and to find authentic friendships within the Church.
For Martinez, he said that within Eden Invitation, “I feel like my full, authentic self, and it has enabled me to come out to everyone. It has really been transformative for other men and women out there who experience this when I get to share my story, and people who are close with me who don't experience this.”
“It's very freeing that I can just express myself and be myself, knowing that my expressions, and the way I am joyful, and how excited I get about things, my personality, all comes from (God’s) love. It's all loving, and nothing about me, about who I am, is a defection, or is some form of rejection from God. On the contrary, it's enabling me to be closer to him.”
Ochoa said Eden Invitation has given her a sense of hope and empowerment within the Church.
“It's a space to encounter joy and hopefulness. I think that's one of the markers we've seen in our community, is that there's a certain levity,” she said. “We’re not making light of the whole situation, but there’s a certain levity in just being able to laugh about some nuances of this experience.”
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, another marker of the community, for Ochoa and others, has been “having a sense of home. Home in the Church.”