Tag Archives: chastity

1 – Long Dark Tea Time

It’s been a long time since I was depressed, and that’s amazing. The odd thing is how not-sad is not exactly the same as happy. When I was habitually miserable, I always figured that being free from the constant oppressive darkness was all I could ever ask for. Turns out, nope, my appetite for bliss is infinite, just like CSL said (somewhere [probably]), so I am probably just getting started.

Truth be told, I am feeling a little empty. Unfortunately, it’s not the Dark Night of the Soul. That is when you are so so so wonderful that God has decided that the only way to make you MORE wonderful is to withdraw the sense of His presence for a while so that your inner wonderfulness can grow. Anyway that’s what the saints say.

I wouldn’t know, because the reason I feel empty is that I am selfish and vain and I don’t pray enough and I’d rather look at my triceps in the mirror than pour out the love of Christ on my fellow wounded immortals. So I assume.

2 – Baby’s Black Balloon

Speaking of emptiness, Zen Pencils has done a curiously affecting illustration of a C. S. Lewis quotation that I had forgotten I ever read:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.

The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

3 – The Perils Of Being Awesome

That bit about the hobbies and luxuries stung a little, because I had just been congratulating myself on having this chastity thing pretty well down — I mean, not that the old habits of solitary vice1 don’t occasionally reassert themselves, just that I’m not lonely and brokenhearted and stuck wandering the echoing hallways of solitude, wondering how to fill all that TIME; which is what, in my early days as a consciously gay Catholic, I assumed I’d be doing around now.

Because why? Because I do fill my time, with the things I always go on about: tattoos (I’ve got an appointment in two weeks) and Kung Fu (ranking coming up this December!) and motorcycles (there’s got to be one more perfect day before the snow comes) and writing (which I pretend I do a lot more of than I do) and working out (see biceps, above).

Which, ruh roh, none of those things are bad and in fact all of them are good, but they do sort of smack of a rich single guy spending his time entertaining himself. That’s not chastity. The point is not to distract yourself from the fact that you aren’t settling down with a mate. The point is to spend yourself on something, lap strength, steal joy, laugh, cheer.2

4 – Cheer Whom, Though?

Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Whatever we do, even if it’s something for ourselves, there are always opportunities to pour ourselves out.

I walked into Kung Fu on Wednesday feeling like I had somehow forgotten how to be in touch with human beings, so Oh well I better resign myself to just sort of drifting until I remember where my heart is.

Then I remembered that, during that year of now done darkness,3 when the Kwoon became the closest thing I had to an inviolably safe place, somehow the classes when I was most gregarious and most able to pour out love were those classes when I started out feeling the most depleted.

I don’t know what that means. Is it that, when I’m empty, I’m more easily filled by love, which, let’s be ontologically honest, never originates from me in the first place anyway? Regardless, it worked. Step inside the magical door with a quick prayer to my Dad to look out for me, and pretty soon I am scattering brightness.

Or that’s how it feels. Maybe I am just scattering annoyingness. I’ll never know, will I?

5 – The Achieve Of; The Mastery Of the Thing4

What makes me not terribly worried that my hobbies are somehow slowly turning me into a self-absorbed emotional miser is the knowledge that when you do things that are awesome and that you love doing, you can’t help glowing, and the glow can’t help lighting up other people. It’s like capitalism! Except it works.5

Which must be why this video makes me happy beyond all reason.

I don’t care that it’s a commercial, or that Enya is lazy music for gooey people, or that there wasn’t any real danger, or that after all he’s just an actor. Maybe it’s that JCVD has passed from goofy sincerity, through postmodern irony, and has come out on the other side as sincere again. I dunno. The video inspires me because it’s beautiful, so there you go. My heart in hiding stirred for a split.

6 – Gweenbrick

I have been waiting to tell you officially about Gweenbrick ever since I mentioned him. I wanted to make a whole post about him. But if I wait till I do that, I’ll wait a long time.

Anyway, I can’t decide which his posts are more: hilarious, symphonic, Zen, or Hambledonian.6 I wish I could write like this man, and I am proud of knowing about him before the whole entire internet descends on him with shouts of adulation. Get in on the ground floor of loving Gweenbrick. Today’s post is called Slow Yoga With Denene.

7 – Clap Your Tiny Hands For Joy

As long as we are talking about beauty, thanks to Simo7 for posting this. Oh my gosh. Go out and give thanks. Happy Friday.

1 I <3 euphemisms.
2 Hopkins, obvi.
3 Hopkins again. Same poem.
4 The Windhover, this time, which was clearly written about JCVD, whatever else it may have been written about.
5 It is fun to be snarky about capitalism from the comfort of my coffee shop. I do believe that it’s probably the worst possible system, except for all the others.
6 Cf. Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff, in which he defines Hambledon as “The sound of a single-engined aircraft flying by, heard whilst lying in a summer field in England, which somehow concentrates the silence and sense of space and timelessness and leaves one with a profound feeling of something or other.” That’s Gweenbrick.
7 That’s “teacher’s wife” for you nonkungfuers.

I’m working on a real post or several, but in the meantime, I am going to piggyback off of Mudblood Catholic’s 100th post. What a post. Here are the bits that made me nod and grin the hardest. [Indented bits are him, other bits are me.]

The trouble about discussing sexuality — and this is not peculiar to gay sexuality — is that it involves you in nearly everything. There’s a sense in which sexuality is the crossroads of our being: every level of our self is involved in it at once.

Yes, totally. That’s why it’s actually fortuitous that the culture at large is in such a lather about homosexuality: we’re being forced to confront all sorts of things that have never been quite this urgent before. What’s marriage? What’s sex for? Are men different from women, and if so, how?

The common Catholic tactic of implying that giving up sex shouldn’t be such a big deal to someone who isn’t selfishly hedonistic, betrays a woefully shallow outlook on sex and sexuality. Yes, there are other modes of experiencing and expressing love; yes, we don’t “need” sex the way we need food and drink; that isn’t the point. The need to love and be loved as a specifically incarnate being, the need to give of oneself, and the need to create, are real needs of the human person; and erotic love — truly or falsely — holds out the promise of all three.

I plead guilty. Not very long ago, I was all “What’s the big deal, guys, it’s just SEX”. But the thing about sex is that it’s never just sex. For me — a guy from a big Catholic family, who got somehow remarkably and providentially plugged into a big Catholic community, that’s magically full of tolerant-yet-orthodox people — for me to say “Dude, celibacy ain’t no thang” is about as fair as a silver-spooned ivy-leagued trust-fund kid telling a panhandler “Have you tried working harder?”

God is remarkably prosaic…the practice of prayer and taking part in the sacraments have a very unspectacular appearance. But they are of the essence. Prayer is our lungs; the Eucharist is our heart; Confession is our immune system.

A lot of the authors I’ve read seem to imply that, once you have some solid friendships under your belt, you stop being lonely and don’t want a partner any more. To that, I have to respectfully cry bullshit. Loneliness is a feature of all human life, and, yes, being the single one in a group of predominantly married friends can exacerbate that instead of helping. You need friends because intimate friendship is something that every person needs to be a healthy person, not because they act collectively as some kind of surrogate spouse.

True that. It’s probably unavoidable, at some stage in the journey, to use your friends as a collective, surrogate spouse, but that can’t be the end.

“Father, I wore those weird shoes with the individual toes.”
“This problem is beyond me, my child.”

Sexuality involves more than just the urge to make; it also involves the more specific urge to beget — to be a mother or a father. The fight of the LGBT movement for adoption rights is not just about making a political point about equality; I think it is linked to this far deeper desire.

Yeah, Gabriel, wow. Who woulda thought a brony could be such a mensch?

Arleen Spenceley, who to judge by her writing appears to be some sort of human Catholic firecracker, is working on a book about love, chastity, and sex. She gave me a mini-email-interview to get a few words from my particular quadrant of that universe, and has agreed to let me stick ‘em here, because that way I get an extra post practically for free, and so do you! I wrote this fast, and have done a little light editing since the email.

What does it mean to be chaste when one is attracted to the same sex?

Speaking broadly, it means the same thing for me as it does for anyone else: integrating my sexuality into the rest of myself. More specifically, it means celibacy, since there’s no way for me to be morally consistent and be in a sexual relationship with a man, and I don’t believe I’m called to marry a woman, although some in my situation may be.

The celibacy part is actually easier than is widely believed. What’s harder, for me, is what my spiritual director refers to as “emotional chastity”. There are times when I feel drawn to a man, emotionally above all, but I have to accept that the sort of emotional bond I’m looking for with him isn’t actually appropriate. It would be appropriate if he were a woman, or if I were a woman. So my heart reaches out for this kind of deep connection which either can’t or shouldn’t exist — whether “can’t” or “shouldn’t” is a more appropriate word is still an open question for me.

That’s not to say that I can’t or shouldn’t develop deep relationships with other men, and in fact these relationships are some of my greatest sources of joy. But I’m coming to understand that there’s a line that can’t be crossed even with my closest male friends — not a physical line (which is obvious), but an interior, emotional line. That’s emotional chastity, and that’s hard.

This segues into the next question:

Do you believe you’re missing out because you don’t date men or have sex with them?

Oh, absolutely. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing out. The fact of the matter is that celibacy is profoundly unnatural — which is to say that a human being is built, emotionally and spiritually and physically, for union with another human being. There are a lot of good reasons why that might never happen with individual people, but the fact remains that, on the natural level, there is something in our makeup that is frustrated by celibacy. It is not good for man to be alone. But there it is: this is a broken world, and good things come at a price. For me, the price for living in the truth is that I remain without a mate. It’s a price I am willing to pay.

I just finished reading Pope Francis’ big interview. I’m not planning to comment on the Pope’s liberalism or conservativism or whatever. He’s profoundly orthodox and profoundly human, and I’m very glad for both.

Since most people are not going to have time to read the whole thing, here is my collection of favorite excerpts. I tried to stay away from the bits that touch on hot-button issues and which, consequently, you’ll see all over facebook for the next few days.

I’ve divided them roughly into topics, which involved some chopping, so each paragraph comes from a different segment of the original; but mostly they are at least in the same order.

The People

…when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a “no”. The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.

This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that “thinking with the church” means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.

I see the holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomone (ὑπομονή), taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day.

The Human

Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself.

The Small and the Great

I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest — this is the divine).

This virtue of the large and small is magnanimity. Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.

Fruitfulness

You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: “Here’s an unfruitful bachelor” or “Here’s a spinster.” They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.

Another example from recent days that I saw got the attention of newspapers: the phone call I made to a young man who wrote me a letter. I called him because that letter was so beautiful, so simple. For me this was an act of generativity. I realized that he was a young man who is growing, that he saw in me a father, and that the letter tells something of his life to that father. The father cannot say, “I do not care.” This type of fruitfulness is so good for me.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

“Religious men and women are prophets,” says the pope. “They are those who have chosen a following of Jesus that imitates his life in obedience to the Father, poverty, community life and chastity. In this sense, the vows cannot end up being caricatures; otherwise, for example, community life becomes hell, and chastity becomes a way of life for unfruitful bachelors.

The One Needful Thing

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.

The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.

The Living God

God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the “concrete” God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how “barbaric” the world is — these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today.

Finding God in all things is not an “empirical eureka.” When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations. Profound peace, spiritual consolation, love of God and love of all things in God — this is the sign that you are on this right path.

In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.

God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him. You must, therefore, discern the encounter. Discernment is essential.

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.

…the need for those who work in the world of culture to be inserted into the context in which they operate and on which they reflect. There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory…Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience.

God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.

Hope

I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude. I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before.

Above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me…It is this memory that makes me his son and that makes me a father, too.

Imagine somebody trying to overcome a habit of gluttony who spends his free time watching cooking shows, and who, every time he passes a bakery, stops to breathe the smells in deeply for a full minute.

It’s not going to work. The temptation to overeat doesn’t occur in isolation: it’s a symptom of a broader mindset. We notice the overeating because it’s obvious, and because we feel bad afterwards. But we don’t always notice what led up to it, because we’ve gotten in the habit of letting ourselves get away with these things — and because, in and of themselves, they might not even be sinful.

In the same way, if you’re trying to kick a porn or masturbation habit, you’re not going to succeed unless you — sorry about this — change your life. The actual act of masturbating or viewing porn, as damaging as it is, might not be the most serious problem you face.

Going around with an eye that gobbles up little sexual details all through your day, and lingers a second too long on every bit of bare skin it sees; habitually viewing your fellow human beings, not as brothers and sisters and fellow immortals, but as mechanisms with the potential to satisfy your cravings — this is the real problem, the real disease.

The act that follows, at a weak moment, isn’t the point. That’s just the inevitable flowering of the dark plant that you’ve been watering, and tending, and singing to, all day long.

…for a post called A Conversation With My Gay Friend by the courageous & articulate Jennifer Fulwiler. Snip:

I knew I was going to have a hard time making my case; Andrew and I had such utterly different worldviews, it would be as if I were speaking through a distortion microphone that warps your voice and replaces every other word with random offensive phrases.

[...]

“Anyway,” I continued, “in this view you are constantly having to make sacrifices out of respect for what this act is all about: If you’re totally open to having kids, then there are the sacrifices that come with birth and raising children; if you’re abstaining during fertile times, you’re sacrificing. Infertile couples sacrifice by not using artificial methods like in vitro to force new life into existence. Gay men and women sacrifice by living chaste lives, as do people separated from their spouses, and people who are not yet married, or whose spouse has died. Notice that we’re all sacrificing, and that all of the sacrifices are about the same thing: love and respect for new human life, and specifically the act that creates new human life.”

Highly recommended!

Eww: immediate family, read on at your own risk. I mean, I don’t mind, but consider yourself warned is all.

It’s been — let me check my little Chaste-o-Meter app — a little over 100 days since the last Porn Incident, and a little over 40 since the last Other Thing. Again, not to toot my own horn;1 just to say, hey, look what is possible! And to give some reasons why.

I’ve mentioned Clean of Heart a lot and I’m going to mention it again. I don’t follow every suggestion of the book to the letter, but here’s the basic program.

Morning: Three Hail Marys, each one followed by this aspiration: “O Mary, by your holy and immaculate conception, purify my body and sanctify my soul.”2

Next, this prayer — really, as far as I can tell (and as I’ll explain below), the key to the whole thing:

My queen, my mother, I give myself entirely to you, and to show my devotion to you, I consecrate to you this day my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my hands, my whole body without reserve. Wherefore, good mother, as I am your own, keep me and guard me as your property and possession.3

Then the same Hail Marys and same prayer in the evening. Some time during the day, you read/pray the daily meditation, a page or two of good spiritual food.

I think of that as the groundwork, and it’s a good solid foundation. But inbetween, what happens when some dude pops up in your browser without no shirt on, or when your fingers magically all by themselves start typing “dudes without no pants on” in the search bar, or when suddenly for no reason a mid-day (or mid-morning, or mid-afternoon) w★nk just sounds like the best idea evar?

Here’s St. Francis de Sales (quoted in one of the meditations) on the subject:

Whenever you feel the approach of temptation, imitate a little child who sees a wolf or bear in the plain. He instantly flies into his father’s or mother’s arms, or at all events calls on them for help. Do you in like manner fly to God, seeking His mercy and help.

Note the “instantly.” The kid doesn’t say:

  • “I’ll just stick around till he shows his teeth,” or
  • “I’ll see if he can be reasoned with,” or even
  • “I’ll run when he starts chomping on my leg” or ESPECIALLY
  • “I’ll just sit here considering whether being chomped on by a wolf is a good idea right now.”

What does he do? He runs to his mother, who knows about wolves.

More specifically, I say something like this — remembering the morning & evening prayer mentioned above:

Mama. Remember this morning when I asked you to make me your property? Okay, so please take care of this, because you don’t want your property to get stained or broken.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has never, ever failed me. What usually happens is that the temptation hangs around for a minute or two, and then evaporates like steam. Nothing left behind. And it happens every. Single. Time.

Almost as if Mary actually exists, actually takes your words seriously, and actually is the terror of demons, just like they say.

Notice that she is gracious enough to take your words seriously even if you feel a little squicky saying them. Like if you’re a little hesitant to actually say I give myself entirely to you or maybe even that property and possession bit or maybe if you’re not so sure about Marian devotion in the first place. All of the above apply to me. She doesn’t seem to mind.

Okay, I’m done. Now please pray for me that I don’t start to think that I’m super awesome and wonderful and can handle this on my own after all, because boy oh boy will that turn into a binge faster than you can say Google.

1 At least that’s all of my own that I’ve been tooting. In the last 40-odd days. Sorry, sorry.
2 And here’s the part where all you people who, like me, are a little ooky about Marian devotion need to suck it up and keep reading anyway.
3 Italics mine, because this is kind of the money part.

One of the dangers of a life like mine — being single, living alone, working a job that mainly involves staring at glowing rectangles all day — is that your faults tend to get hidden from you.

When I was a teacher, It was impossible to avoid my faults: how little it takes to make me lose patience, how I have it in me to be casually cruel even to a sixth-grader if I’m short on sleep, how prone I am to sulking when my free time gets hijacked.

Living with the community in Peru, even for just a few months, was the same. I remember doing chores with Brother Pedro one day, sweeping the floors but avoiding his eyes because just looking at him made me furious; muttering Hail Marys under my breath like they were curses, because it was either pray for his wretched, pedantic soul or beat him to death with the broom. All this because — I honestly can’t remember; probably something about the tone of voice he kept using, or this way he had of sniffing and lifting an eyebrow.1

It’s lucky I come from a big family, and that nearly everyone in my family has a big family. I’m surrounded by role models.

Caleb works overtime every week, sometimes six or seven days in a row, just to make ends meet, and all he wants to do with his time off is give that time away to his family. Caleb comes particularly to mind because I’m housesitting for him this weekend, and noticing how all I can think of is how far of a drive it is from my place to his, and how his stupid dog won’t quit licking me.

But it’s not just Caleb. I could say the same about my other married brothers and sisters. Sacrifice isn’t just something they do from time to time, when they quit watching TV and get around to it. It’s how they live.

People keep telling me how wonderful I am for, well, just not having sex with anybody. And believe me, I snap up those compliments like my brother’s stupid dog snaps up doggie treats.2 And frankly, yes, it’s hard work remaining chaste and celibate.3 It’s difficult, and it causes me pain.

But I have less and less patience with this question: “How can the Church require homosexuals to be celibate? How can she impose such a heavy cross?”

Why do people think that living a good life is supposed to be easy? Readers, whoever you are — gay, straight, married, single, relatively healthy or inflicted with any one of a billion possible debilitating pathologies — you will be asked to carry a cross. It’s going to be hard, and it’s not going to be fair.

This is a world where evil is real, and where the only real antidote is love — not medicine, not political change, not advanced anti-suffering technology, but love. And love always costs.

Suffering and self-denial aren’t extraordinary; they’re par for the course. What did you expect?

1 Yep, I was an expert on the shades of emotional inflection in a language I could barely even speak and a culture I knew nothing about.
2 And rawhide strips, and shoes, and newspapers, and toys, and the cat’s food (but not her own), and bugs, and cigarette butts…I think I’ve lost sight of my original simile.
3 Not a redundancy. Celibacy means refraining from sexual activity. Chastity means integrating your sexuality with the rest of your personality, in a way that’s appropriate to your station in life. The former is required of some people; the latter is required of everybody.

It’s not pretty, folks, but you knew it was going to show up here sooner or later, right? I’m talking about — I really don’t like the word — the big M, solitary vice, M-A-S-T-U-R-B-A-T-I-O-N.

Whew, that wasn’t so hard! Back when I was a wee lad, I glommed onto the fact that you didn’t have to say the word itself in confession. You just say “an impure act” and he says “with someone else or by yourself?” and you say “by myself” and you take your Hail Marys and you go and you swear never ever to do it again, not even if you really want to.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

I don’t even remember where I got the phrase “an impure act,” but he knew what I meant. A friend in seminary tells me they specifically train you in common Confessional Euphemisms, as in: “Bless me father for I have sinned, I gave my boyfriend a birthday present.” (“But that’s not a sin! You’re a very thoughtful young woman.”)

Sort of strange that it should be so embarrassing to say, because I doubt I know a man who hasn’t done it. It might be because sexual matters lie very close to our hearts. Or maybe because it’s such an obvious failure: for Christians, a failure of chastity; for secularists, a failure of getting an actual woman (or man) to do the job.

I notice that lately, the Powers That Be are trying to deweirdify the phenomenon. Not an entirely wrongheaded goal, though their reasons for it certainly are. The idea abroad, just watch any sitcom, is that masturbation is healthy, masturbation is fine, nice people masturbate all the time. Here’s Planned Parenthood on the topic:

There are a lot of myths out there that masturbation is dirty, dangerous, or something to be embarrassed about doing. But the truth is, masturbation is a safe and healthy way to have sex, and it’s here to stay.1

Pardon me while I guffaw. Someone is very confused about what “having sex” means. They’d like to call everything “having sex.” I’d reverse it — what they call having sex, viz. wrapping yourself up in plastic to keep from making actual contact with your beloved, I call masturbation.

Tom Wolfe, reporting from the inside the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is a college frat house, relates2 this scene, in a similar vein, in I Am Charlotte Simmons:

Ivy Peters…appeared in the doorway and said, ‘Anybody got porn?’…This was not an unusual request. Many boys spoke openly about how they masturbated at least once every day, as if this were some sort of prudent maintenance of the psychosexual system.

The idea, I know, is that now that we’re all finally free of the rigid, puritanical, body-hating3 Catholic Church, we can do what we like and not make a big deal about it.

Now, there is actually something to this idea — at least the “not making a big deal about it” part. I remember reading in Healing the Unaffirmed4 about a man who was only able to stop his compulsive masturbation after being told by his therapist that it wasn’t that bad. And a friend has told me that, in order to deal with his problem with masturbation, he had to recognize that his usual cycle of (1) jerk off (2) descend into emotional self-flagellation (3) go to confession, was a kind of addiction in itself, sort of a binge-and-purge. The cycle can be broken by not giving in to temptation, but it can also be broken by not giving into self-hatred.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a big deal, because all sin is a big deal; because our sexuality isn’t to be treated lightly; and because, even if you can’t get your head around it, you have to at least admit that the Catechism very clearly calls it “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”

Be mindful that the enemy always tempts us twice: first to sin, and afterwards to despair. If we could see clearly, we’d know how shameful every sin is, not just the obviously icky ones. But if we could see that clearly, we’d also know how much God loves us, and how ready He is to leave our sins, big and small, behind in the confessional, 100% forgotten.

1 For more Planned Parenthood goodies in their own words, see here.
2 A work of fiction, yes, but the scene has a ring of truth. I can’t recommend the book, by the way: I love Tom Wolfe, but I found this one unconvincing, pornographic, and depressing.
3 Pardon me while I guffaw again. If Catholics hated sex, we’d treat it like the secularists do: as a commodity, or just another need: like eating, scratching yourself, or farting.
4 I don’t remember much else about this book, so possibly it wasn’t that great. It’s a case study of various people with what the authors refer to as Emotional Deprivation Disorder.

I remember what it was like, being terrifyingly, nightmarishly depressed. I remember one morning in college in particular. I was 19, and had just fallen for someone, call him M., harder than I’ve ever fallen for anyone before or since. I remember waking up, and feeling the freedom of that split second before you remember everything, before the heaviness settles down. I remember thinking: This can’t go on. And then feeling it go on.

It sounds melodramatic now. Certainly, it was. A little unrequited love, and here I’m walking around like the firing squad is arriving at dawn. A well-meaning friend, playing the comforter, told me I needed to just “get over this pseudo-obsession with M.” and move on.1

Score 10 for common sense and 0 for compassion. I couldn’t get over it. I knew M. didn’t have SSA, and I knew he would never be my boyfriend. But we could be friends! Not just any friends: epic friends, Biblical friends, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, David and Jonathan. You who’ve been there, you know what I mean. It was the dream of the Best Friend, my soul’s twin, who would understand everything, fill every hole in my heart.

It’s not that he wasn’t interested in me; it’s that he wasn’t obsessed with me. There was no reason we should have been friends, we were nothing alike, but I was ready to remake my whole personality, like what he liked and laugh at what he laughed at. Seeing him talking and laughing with other guys hurt me almost physically. Not knowing where he was for a night put me in a panic, because he might be secretly be becoming Best Friends with somebody else.

That was hell. Melodramatic or not, it’s the truth. I’ve never hurt worse, or for longer.

I wish I could tell you exactly how I got out. Every time I pray Psalm 86 in Compline, I think of that time:

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify your name for ever;
for your love to me has been great:
you have saved me from the depths of the grave.

At the time it felt like I was carrying the heaviest of it. I was the one who had to decide to let go of my David-and-Jonathan ideal, to acknowledge that no man (or woman!) could ever fit that God-shaped hole.2 I was the one who had to decide not to see him every chance I got; not to avoid him, but not to seek him out either. I had to let the friendship die. It never was one anyway.

But there was Father T alongside me, on the phone or in person, helping me not to give up, and there was Jesus in the chapel, with words of healing if I could stop my clamoring long enough to hear them.

So the hurt died down, day by day, until it was gone, and peace came. It didn’t come easy and it didn’t come quick, but it came. The year after that I met Sal. The only reason I knew how to be friends with him, without trying to make him my everything, without destroying myself, was what I had learned from M.

Will you believe me if I say I’m grateful for every second of it? The Lord heals, and sometimes only fire will do the trick.

1 Holy crap, folks, if that was pseudo-obsession I hope I never meet the real thing.
2 q.v. “Mofo“, from when U2 still made music that anybody cared about. Still a freaking great song, even if (Thank God) it isn’t me anymore.