Natural

Lifted from a comment that appeared recently on “Light of Hope”:

I think it is really strange to create this boundary – that the “best” a gay Catholic can get is not-masturbating…

I think Catholicism teaches us to recognise the variety of goods that exist outside of the limited range of what is the best and truest (and unattainable).

I am confused that if orgasms occur “naturally” as part of our existence that wanting them, or producing them is not-right.

I’ll respond here. That’s whatcha get for commenting in a public forum, buddy! From the rooftops, then:

Dear Henry,

Oh, I think that’s a strange idea, too. The “best” a gay Catholic can get isn’t to be masturbation-free. The best he can get is to grow in holiness and maturity until he becomes a beacon of God’s love to everyone around him. Of course, that applies to everyone, not just gays.

Re: “unattainable”: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Not all at once, true, but the Church sets high standards for us, and is patient with us while we walk (or crawl) towards them. I’m glad she doesn’t say to us: “Well, that’s all right. I know celibacy is unattainable. Just do the best you can — I know you’re not grown-up enough for the real thing.”

Re: orgasm etc. — every pleasure is good. And every pleasure is meant for a particular context. It’s possible, of course, to get the pleasure without the proper context, but it’s a kind of stealing. Wanting something, even wanting it very badly, doesn’t make it right.

Re: “natural” — but all sorts of things are “natural,” aren’t they? In a sense, it’s “natural” for me to hate my neighbor, and profoundly unnatural to love him. (Especially before I’ve had my coffee.) You are a Catholic; you’ve heard of concupiscence.

Peace,
SG



36 Comments on “Natural”

  1. Annette says:

    Wow! Right on! Preach it, Brutha!! It’s also natural to kill people, eat them, and go back for more. That certainly shouldn’t be right, though.

  2. Jack says:

    Hey there, I seem to live a similar life to you only I am at odd ends with ‘what the church teaches’, ‘what Catholics believe’ and ‘what is real’ if experience were to tell me anything it would be everyone thinks things are more complicated than they really are.. including gay men who are Catholic – including myself at times. Your blog has inspired me to write and share my story for others like you and I to hear things from a different perspective. Thanks I’ll let you know about it 🙂

  3. Peter M says:

    Amen. In the truest sense, what is “natural” to human beings is to align ourselves with the will of God. Though there may be a war within us, it was not always so, and it will not always be so. The image from Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” has always stuck with me, of a man’s body and soul in heaven being like horse and rider, perfectly attuned and in agreement.

    BTW, youngandcatholic.net quoted you and tons of my Catholic friends are linking it on facebook. You’re becoming quite the celebrity. You might need to prepare for some more traffic. 🙂

  4. You nailed it. We have to shoot for “perfect” because we’re not the best judges of what’s “good enough”. Athletes don’t train for “honorable mention”; chefs don’t aim to make their food merely palatable; Army and Marine DIs don’t tell you to be satisfied with just passing at “marksman” level when they can get you to “sharpshooter” or “expert”. Trying to be just “good enough” is a self-defeating exercise.

    1. Holy concision, Batman! Talk about “nailing it.” Well said.

    2. Babs says:

      I love your comment. As a mom it’s hard to teach your kids about aiming for perfection while understanding we can’t be perfect until we are with God. Now I’m thinking that I could teach it with a dartboard!

  5. Ron says:

    “The best a gay Catholic can get is not-masturbating”? Oh, please…That shows the bias that all people with ssa are a bunch of sex-always-on-the-brain, ready-to-jump-in-the-sack people. We are capable of so much more than that, capable even of heroism. Hearing the word of God and responding to it is indeed heroic, and not always easy. We all have our weaknesses, but are gifted too, as are all people. As Saint Leo the Great said in one of his famous Christmas homilies, “Christian, know your dignity.”

  6. marie says:

    Could you and Heather King please meet up somewhere so we can sit in on your conversation?

    We are enjoying you very much!

  7. Keith says:

    One of my seminary professors once said to me: It is a huge mistake to aim for purgatory. If you aim for purgatory and miss, there is only one option left. Aim always for heaven and trust that, if you miss, God’s mercy will show you the door to purgatory, which is the door to salvation.

    After all, if we aim for heaven, we have greater confidence in God’s mercy because we are practicing mercy and forgiveness I our own lives too!

  8. Peter J says:

    Hmph. You’re right about what’s “natural” being problematic. Even though the idea that homosexuality is wrong because it’s not “natural” shows up in some pretty respectable writings (Paul, Chrysostom, Aquinas), there’s no consistent way to decide what sort of moral force nature provides. How can what “does” happen have anything to do with what “should” happen, anyway? (Think: “gay” animals.) No, I think the Catholic tradition overall has it right – procreation really is the lynch-pin for thinking about sex. If it’s not for procreation, it’s not allowable.

    I think that might be why we Protestants are struggling over the whole “gay question” as much as we are. We defend with all our might man+woman, but don’t have much to stand on because we won’t go so far as to say “no sex without procreation,” even though that injunction goes back as far as the second century (if not earlier!). See, we’d have to give up birth control, and I can just imagine the complaints that would get! 🙂

    1. Christine says:

      There is a lot of confusion over what it means for something to be “natural,” and I think Paul, Chrysostom, and Aquinas use the term differently than Steve is using it here. For Aquinas, if something is “unnatural” it doesn’t mean that it’s not found in nature (whether the human world or the animal world). It means that it’s not in accord with human nature. So the nature of human sex is that it unites two complementary people and is aimed at procreation. Anything that goes against that would therefore be unnatural, even if it’s something that people frequently do or that animals also do. So when Aquinas says that homosexual acts are unnatural, he is actually saying that based on the Catholic view that sex and procreation are linked and should not be separated.

      An example might help here. Hyenas often kill their siblings in order to ensure more resources for themselves. In a sense, we could say that that is natural because it happens in nature, while us shaving is unnatural because no animal that we are aware of tries to remove or shorten its hair. On the other hand, if we are talking about natural the way Aquinas did, it would be unnatural for humans to kill their siblings because it goes against what it means to be human (to live with love and respect for others created in the image of God), while shaving would be neutral because it doesn’t go against any of what it means to be human.

  9. Peter J says:

    Haha, and when I say “we Protestants” I know I’m probably talking to a small minority on this blog. 🙂 Just adding another perspective, that’s all.

  10. Sarah says:

    The last time I went to confession for masturbation, I’d been agonizing over it because yes, I knew the Church said it was wrong, but I also was thinking, “Sexual drive is as real a feeling as being hungry, or thirsty, or tired. How can I just shut that off?” I thought about this as I waited at the back of the line. I was expecting him to tell me, “just pray when you’re tempted,” like I’d heard from other priests before, which might be great advice, but sounded to me like telling a starving person to pray the temptation to eat away.

    At that moment, what I was praying for was the grace to fight the urge to argue. I don’t really know why, because the reason I love my priest so much is because he has this knack for making every confession a lesson in mercy.

    The thing about masturbation is that it’s not a sin because it’s a BAD, dirty, awful thing, all by itself. It’s a a sin because it’s taking a GOOD thing and applying outside its proper context. I knew this, of course. It was just nice to hear him say it– to tell me I wasn’t abnormal or marred in some other way besides the way any sin mars a soul.

    There’s this puritan thing we Catholics (or Christians in general) seem to get caught up in, that sexual sins are particularly evil. I hear parents say, without irony, that they will let their kids watch R-rated films as long as the rating is for violence instead of sex. Am I the only one who thinks this strange? To me, murdering a fellow human being is far less “natural” than extramarital sex in any form. As my confessor said, sex in proper context can actually glorify God; He instructed Adam and Eve to procreate before the Fall. The taking of another life will always be an intrinsic evil, even when it’s necessary like in self-defense.

    So why is there this separate, special shame reserved for sexual sins that tempts us to question God’s mercy–in my experience anyway, and what I’ve observed– more than other sins? There’s never been another sin that’s felt nearly unconfessable or made me think, however briefly, “Maybe I should just forget about this whole religion thing,” the way sexual sins do.

    1. Sarah, sort of catching up here. As a mother of five children, I don’t like either the sexual scenes or the violence. I think why it’s so distasteful to us parents is that it is always in our faces — the distortions of sex our culture puts out there. We can’t get away from it. I don’t like violence either and consider myself a natural peacemaker, but find it particularly offensive when I’m invited into someone’s bedroom through a movie and I don’t want to be there. It’s a particularly offensive thing for a mother who is trying to help her kids learn the gift that God gave us through sexual intimacy when so many contrary messages and visuals are flying at us all the time. Whereas, if they’re seeing a war scene, war isn’t nice or pretty either, but it happens. It’s reality. We don’t see movies depicting people having abortions, but we probably should, because that isn’t pretty either, but it’s a reality. And yet, who would stand for that? There’s a lot here to consider.

      1. Sarah says:

        “Whereas, if they’re seeing a war scene, war isn’t nice or pretty either, but it happens. It’s reality.”

        Yeah, and sex is reality, too. And one that in at least some context, is a beautiful thing. War and killing is never beautiful or glorifying, but a result of The Fall.

        I’m not saying kids should be allowed to watch gratuitous or graphic sex scenes; I just don’t like the weird double standard, nor do I understand it. I think making sexual feelings, or nudity in even the most chaste of settings, (eg, Michaelangelo’s David) can be really damaging to kids as they grow up.

        1. Sarah says:

          Re: my last paragraph, I meant to say I think making those things seem taboo and inherently dirty is damaging. I think it’s important for kids to realize that while what they’re feeling can be managed in a sinful way, it’s also normal and good if applied correctly (within marriage, obviously). Like I said, even I have a hard time not falling into despair when I fall sexually and consider myself especially awful. And I’m in my 20s. It shouldn’t be like that. I should feel worse about the times I’ve been uncharitable, or prideful, or hateful, or have done things that could never be offered to God no matter what. But instead I have this twisted compulsion to question God’s mercy over something that is inherently GOOD, but which I am misapplying.

          1. Sarah, I never said sex isn’t reality. What I’m trying to get at is that we are bombarded by distorted sexual images and messages all.the.time. We should not be okay with violent scenes, either. I’m not advocating that, either. I’m having a hard time expressing myself. I think it’s because true sexual intimacy, the way God designed it, is truly sacred and also, a private thing between a husband and a wife. That is why it is so offensive, not because sex is wrong, because it’s clearly not. But it is sacred and should not be depicted on film. There’s no need for that. We don’t need to be shown into someone’s bedroom. We just don’t. Ever. And I feel damaged by some of the sexual images I saw in my younger years, and it wasn’t anything near what young and even younger kids see easily nowadays. Internet pornography is epidemic. It’s just way, way too much. And again, though I don’t like the violence, if it’s a movie like, say, Schindler’s List, there can be some value to it even though part of it may also be offensive to the eyes. I’d rather all of it be gone, but the sexual distortions are particularly offensive because of the sacred aspect and because they give our children wrong ideas about something that should be a beautiful gift. And it’s very, very hard to reverse that.

      2. Sarah says:

        Roxane, I think you’re still missing my point, which is understandable because I may not be clear.

        I’m not saying being bombarded with sexuality is good, especially when the sexuality portrayed today is so cheapened and commercialized. The comparison of movie genres was a vehicle of example, so let’s refocus.

        I’m saying we need to stop acting as if sexual sins are the worst sins. In confession, the sins against charity I can read off like a grocery list, but if I have to confess that I masturbated, I have to take all these deep breaths and suppress all these voices that ask if confessing is even worth the trouble. I know a lot of people feel this way, and they shouldn’t. I think it’s messed up.

        When Our Lord said to the Pharisees, “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone,” and rescued Magdalen, he didn’t say, “Oh, you’re executing her for prostitution? My mistake; carry on.”

        1. Sarah, I do think I got your point. I think we’re just simply focusing on different aspects of this, and both are important. I agree that sexual sin is not the only kind of sin that should be highlighted. I get the double standard thing that you’ve pointed out and are arguing against. But on some level, I’m that mom who makes a slight distinction. Why? I’m not sure. It’s something that is maybe a little deeper than I can articulate right now, in part because I haven’t thought about it before. Maybe in time I can come back with something more illuminating. I’m simply trying to present to you why I think that double-standard exists, not whether it’s right that it does. And I’m also admitting that I see it and also that I take part to some degree; not intentionally, it’s just a response that I admit to having had. I also think that there’s a reason; that sexual sin is in a category all its own. That doesn’t mean that other sins are not as important, but there’s a certain aspect to it that brings a certain shame that is not true of all sins, perhaps (see your earlier example). So, I’m trying to get at why…and I think it has something to do with it being a sin against the body, which is meant to be a temple of the soul. We’re all in this together. It’s just difficult to sort through. I appreciate the attempts though. No hard feelings whatsoever. I both agree with you to some degree, and also stand accused of your charge of really being bothered by sexual distortions in media, even above other distortions to some degree.

          1. Marie says:

            Perhaps what bothers us moms is this: the chance of one of my kids going out and killing someone is far less likely then one of my childrengetting caught up in sexual promiscuity…both are harmful…one is far more accepted and even promoted in our media

  11. Victor says:

    I once confessed to a close friend of mine; I still remember his answer: “The sixth commandment is number Six instead of number One for a reason; it is the devil that tells us it is the most important of them all.”

    BTW incredible blog, Steve – you are telling my life!

    1. Sarah says:

      Wow, Victor, that’s a great reply. I am going to remember that one.

  12. Erik says:

    “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you get neither.”
    -CS Lewis

    Not much left to say after Mr. Lewis says it.

    Also, thank you for this website! It is a bright, warm fire in the dark and damp wilderness that is the Internet.

  13. “…every pleasure is good. And every pleasure is meant for a particular context. It’s possible, of course, to get the pleasure without the proper context, but it’s a kind of stealing. Wanting something, even wanting it very badly, doesn’t make it right.”

    Wow. This is some clear thinking here. You’re sorting out fact from fiction nicely. I can tell your relationship to the Lord is dear. Thanks for attempting so valiantly to help so many understand.

  14. poetcomic1 says:

    We SSA people often have a LOT of other issues. Know your problems, your issues, your weaknesses. Masturbation, as my priest states is always a ‘grave matter’ to be confessed – boldly, clearly and without trepidation. Totally clear for three years of a pornography addiction and daily masturbation, now it is a ‘ten second sudden onslaught sort of thing’ every week or two. I always really dream of being chaste and for a long time this falling off devastated me. Not anymore. Awareness of one’s weakness is a source of real humility. REAL humility.

  15. Gregory says:

    God bless you poeticomic!

  16. Mark from PA says:

    Yes, I am with Greg, God bless you poeticomic. I am with Sarah here. I think violence is worse than sex in movies. I don’t get why our society glorifies violence. You speak of orgasm, Steve. Do you see this as an evil for gay people? Do you see striving for perfection as striving to never have orgasms? I wonder how many healthy men are totally chaste in that they never have orgasms? I remember as a young person I saw this as a sign of imperfection. But it is just part of being a male, I think.

  17. Claire says:

    Wow, great post and great comments.

    I think Sarah’s point is well taken. The distortions that happen when we consider human life so cheap that we no longer flinch at a scene where someone gets shot and killed should be more disturbing to each of us than they might sometimes be. Human life also is sacred–all of it, and all of them (each human life). Not just the sexual intimacy of a married couple, but the entirety of their lives, right?
    I think Victor’s comment speaks directly to why.

  18. poetcomic1 says:

    Mark-
    NEVER lose your sense of humor. I am a Latin Mass traditionalist as is John Zmirak but John laughs about being a hormonal teen confessing week after week a fearsome number of sexual ‘lapses’ till finally he says his old priest was so exasperated at young John’s failure to show any improvement in ‘frequency’ that one week he refused to absolve the boy!

  19. Mark from PA says:

    Poetcomic, when I was a teen I didn’t know what that stuff was. I thought I had an incontinence problem and something was wrong with me. I didn’t think it was a sin, just an infection or disorder, but I was too embarrassed to talk about it. It is interesting now because I guess the Church considers wet dreams and masturbation to be disorders of a sort. I didn’t have impure thoughts so I didn’t connect things. When I was 18, though, the priest that I went to confession to just offhandedly said that most guys masturbated and it seemed like it was no big deal. So after that I felt better about myself.

    1. Sarah says:

      Mark, wet dreams have never been considered “by the Church” to be disordered. From what I understand in my, albeit limited, experience, it’s something that young men can’t control especially as you are, ya know, *sleeping.*

      And on one hand, your priest was right to tell you that masturbation is something many people do, and nothing to be over-scrupulous about (especially after you’ve gone to confession), but it is a sin, and I hope he made that equally clear.

      The trick is to see the situation for what it is. Acknowledge you’ve sinned, resolve not to do it again, confess to the priest, say your penance, and then MOVE ON. I think seven of the most blessed words in the Catholic Faith are, “Go in peace; your sins are forgiven.” It means you’ve put it behind you and are free to do better.

  20. Mark from PA says:

    Sarah, I felt defective because I had them. I felt unclean. It was just something I felt bad about. I had a desire to be pure and I wasn’t. I suppose I was pure of heart in a way. What the priest said made me feel more normal and better about being a guy.

    1. It’s good that you feel more normal and better about being a guy. It’s not good that the priest made you think masturbation wasn’t a sin. The church is very clear about that.

  21. Bridget says:

    Thank you for this! I personally like to tell people that, “God didn’t say, ‘Do you best and your Heavenly Father does His best’, for a reason! We are supposed to be striving for perfection, and therefore the ultimate closeness to God in heaven”

  22. Theresa Zoe says:

    I know this is days late but to Sarah, I have to thank you. I wrote this blog post (http://fetaltheologian.blogspot.com/2011/12/for-first-time-in-technicolor.html) because of your comments. I’ve been where you are, I continue to be where you are but I have found much healing. And it seems I have found even more healing….because of you I have found courage. That post will be the first of many. I have been thinking about doing this for so long and finally I have found the courage to do so. Many thanks to you, Sarah, and as always, to Steve.

  23. Sarah says:

    Wow. I am deeply humbled. A little misty-eyed, in fact, because when I wrote that stuff, it was more to get my own feelings out in the open; I didn’t think for a second that they might help someone else.

    I’ll comment further on your blog post.

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