Tag Archives: sexual ethics

Catholicism is Impossible

“Baby Jesus” by Jennifer Hickey

Earlier this week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook, written by Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity on Patheos. In the blog she describes some of the challenges surrounding the use of NFP, particularly the issues that arise when the risk of an unintended pregnancy are so high as to be unacceptable, but abstaining from sexual intercourse is not conducive to mental and emotional health. A priest told her in essence to try her best, and if she failed to know that she really was trying and to leave it in God’s hands. She describes the mind games encouraged by this situation, saying:

“What it meant was that I was in a position where I couldn’t have a realistic discussion about what I actually wanted in my sex life… but provided I was responding to seduction, swept away by my passions, or just doing it because I felt pressure it wasn’t really my fault.”

I recognize this mind game in my own life. To pick one example, let’s say I have composed a particularly biting and sarcastic email, deliberately not giving myself time to think, stifling that nagging feeling that maybe I should reconsider or at least wait a few hours, and pushed the send button before I could come to my senses. Later on in the throes of regret I told myself it was “in the heat of anger.” It wasn’t. I wanted to be cruel, and I encouraged and hid behind a feeling of anger to make that cruelty possible, and now I allow myself enough regret to make me feel I am not so uncharitable after all.

She goes on to say:

“–the attitude that I generally find in Catholic chastity culture… external circumstances are always the Cross that God is calling you to bear. Internal weakness, on the other hand, is natural. Everybody stumbles. It’s a dirty little secret that almost nobody actually practices the teaching. It’s understood that you are going to succumb to passion, that “frequent recourse to the confessional” will be necessary. That if you’re actually rigid enough to follow the teaching as you profess it, well,  probably that would be harmful. But nobody actually does that.”
I do not know if the author actually believes this statement of the “dirty little secret” of NFP, i.e. that no one actually practices it strictly. The comment boxes, both on the particular Facebook thread I read, and on the article itself, contained both rebuttals and affirmations of it. In any event, I don’t want to turn this into an NFP blog. For what its worth, my wife and I practice NFP, it doesn’t seem to cause us too much stress (Deo Gratias), and I don’t think I have ever come across this “Catholic chastity culture” she references, so my two cents on the topic would likely be neither here nor there.

Rather, I want to address the unspoken assumption at the heart of some of the comments, and of much of the debate around (insert hot button topic of sexual ethics in the Church today). NFP is one such arena, but I have personally heard this argument used more frequently in regards to debates around homosexual behaviors and lifestyles, and reception of sacraments by divorced and cohabitating couples. Very few are even talking about what I consider to be the real epidemic, that of pornography within the Church. The argument goes something like this:

“Sure the Church teaches X, Y and Z. But that is not what people actually do. Lots of great Catholics do exactly the opposite and they are still good people, and it’s just a shame that they can’t be more open about it until the oppressive, backwards Church changes her teaching to reflect how people actually practice.”
The problem is that this thinking is 100% wrong-headed. It is exactly backwards.

Whenever I hear this argument used, i.e. that the Church should adjust her teaching to practice, because her ethic is just too hard for people to live up to, I can’t help but think they have understated their case. God’s commandments are not too hard.

They are impossible.

Of course NFP is hard (for a lot of people, not for everyone). Chastity in general is hard. And, as Dorothy Sayers would remind us, lust is not the only deadly sin. There are, in fact, six more, though we often tend to ignore them. Temperance is hard, industry and frugality are hard, generosity is hard, honesty and patience are hard, mercy and justice are hard, and of course, don’t even get me started about humility and charity.

Let me repeat the title of this blog: “Catholicism is impossible.” We get hung up on pelvic issues, (NFP, contraception, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, but always on the one that other people are committing) possibly because these are so noticeable, possibly because we are just obsessed with sex as a race. We talk about everyone else’s sleeping arrangements and never notice our own sins of gossip and slander. We neglect to mention the extortion, usury, greed and envy that are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We don’t bat an eye over the gluttony and sloth wreaking havoc on our health and happiness.

Have you read the Sermon on the Mount recently?
Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Or to pick another example:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:22-27
Since when has ease or convenience ever been one of the Gospel’s selling points? This is the standard we are called to live up to.

Everyone has a secret failing. For some, NFP is hard. Probably for most. Those for whom it is easy do others a disservice when they act or speak as if it should therefore be easy for everyone, or as if it was easy because of their own merits or strength. Continence, which means perfect control over the appetites, is a gift of God, given to all eventually if they struggle long enough (everyone is continent in Heaven) but very few seem to receive it right away.

Likewise, those for whom patience comes naturally should no go around telling everyone else that patience is easy. The same for every other virtue/vice.
But those who think that the Church should change her teaching to reflect practice have mistaken what the Church’s teaching is. It is not an arbitrary decision that some actions are okay and others are not. When the CDC tells us not to smoke tobacco it is not because a bunch of old white men in D.C. decided that they hate tobacco and are choosing to punish those who like it with cancer. The Church makes statements about what she believes to be fact: e.g. homosexual activity is not in keeping with the best nature of man; usury is not in keeping with love of neighbor; contraception is harmful to marriages and societies; gossip is harmful to communities and souls, and so on and so forth. We may agree or disagree, but let us not have any muddled thinking that these teachings ought to be based upon what people actually do. If people actually were chaste, just, temperate, merciful, humble and charitable, we would not need teachings. We need these teaching because we are, in fact, unchaste, unjust, intemperate, vengeful, proud and selfish. We need to teachings to tell us when we have fallen short, and to warn us to try harder.
I will share with you my own discovery from that process of trying harder, that if you try to battle a besetting sin long enough you will find that two things are true:
  1. You are not really trying as hard as you think you are. You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood, you have not quit your job, moved towns, smashed your computer, engaged an accountability partner, changed your route to and from work, sold your car, cut off your hand or gouged out your eye. Until you have done those things, you aren’t really trying.
  2. Even when you do really try with every fiber of your being (that in itself is a gift) you will find it is impossible. Sure, you may rope yourself off from the sinful act itself but the desire is still there. Part of you still wants it. It is not a sin in itself, but it is not perfect continence either.
We must strive for perfection, not in the hopes that our striving will accomplish it, but so that our striving and failing may reveal our weakness and frailty to ourselves. Then we will pray as we ought, “Lord, I can do nothing on my own. Have Mercy on me, a Sinner, and save me by your power.”
When the humility, weakness and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus enters our souls and shapes them into His helpless image, (swaddled in a feeding trough, or nailed spread-eagled to a wooden beam, both show the same vulnerability) then His power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Merry Christmas! God Bless us All!

What Should We Do?

We are soaked in blood. I am soaked in blood. There is so much blood everywhere we look, that we”ve stopped recognizing it. I”ve stopped recognizing it. I have not noticed its slow drip, drip, drip into my soul, choking out the love of God and neighbor that should be growing. Sowing instead seeds of violence and anger. So much anger.

Despite having material possessions that three generations before us could have scarcely been imagined, and grand license disguised as freedom, this is a people steeped in anger and soaked in blood. The blood is boiling over.

On Friday, a great demostration of just how saturated with blood and violence we are. On Sunday, the eyes of my soul shot open with these words from the prophet:

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Everyone, from the pundits to the politicans, from the parents to the children themselves, are asking how this could happen. They are also asking the same question that the people asked John:

What should we do?

What should I do?

In the midst of so much horror, what should we do to stem the tide?

There is nothing new under the sun.

John”s answer to the people is our answer too:

Repent. Change the way we live. Turn back to God.

Root out the seeds of violence that have taken hold of our hearts and the blinders that refuse to let us see the blood around us.

No matter what problem is befalling the modern American, and his government, there hangs a violent solution at the ready.

Someone cut me off on the highway?
Give him the finger. Or at least honk my horn while gesturing wildly.

Someone says something that makes me feel angry or offended and I mutter under my breath, “I could strangle him (or her).”

My child does something naughty and my first response to boil over with anger and say, “You are making me crazy!”

Or worse.

Bored? Why not play a video game where you score more points for running over innocent people with a car, killing prostitutes, or blowing up a building with people inside. It”s just pretend, right?

For six hours a day?

Or even worse.

“Mother”s Boyfriend Beats 5 year old to Death. More at 11.”

A headline from any city in this blood-stained land.

When I lived in Chicago, hundreds of people, most of them young and poor, were killed by violent actions each year.

We tell scared and vulnerable women that the violence of having their child dismsmbered inside the womb will solve their problems and online casino set them free.

Our government tells us that having a bloated military-industrial complex will solve our problems overseas.

Deep down inside, the violent impulse is in each of us. It”s alive and well in me.

We have to root out the seeds of violence that begin in a sneer and end in bullets and bombs.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you want world peace, go home and love your family.”

The last of the prophets told us on Sunday what we should do, how we can begin to stem the tide and uproot the violence that has permeated our culture and our lives.

Live justly.

Acts of justice turn me outward. I am no longer thinking only of me, me, me but of the least, the last, and the lost.

How does the way I live affect the poor and disadvantaged? After I have met my family”s needs, do I give the excess to those with less or none? Have I tried to see the humanity in others, no matter how broken? Do I react with anger, exasperation, or rage to my own flesh and blood?

Why then, am I surprised that we live in a violent world?

While politicans can (and will) argue about gun control, mental health care, and other issues that surround this tragedy, the rest of us are left wondering what we can do.

We can honestly search our hearts and once we”ve done that, we can change. I can change. I can root out the seeds of violence by doing acts of justice. Living justly will bring about peace, the peace that only God can give. It will start the revolution of the heart, one which Dorothy Day once said, “has to start with each one of us”.

Stand By Your Man

Ladies, what would you say if

…your boyfriend told you he masturbates?

…your husband confessed his struggles with pornography?

…your brother is actively unchaste?

I have come to the understanding that many females are blissfully unaware of the sexual (and, thus, spiritual) struggles men encounter in daily life.

If you think your special male is different, you may be right, and you may be wrong. A quick glance over the culture and conversations with male friends, however, give me the confidence to say that majority of men folk would side with me.

Ladies, for many of you, the first response to any of the above may be disgust. We may take it personally. We might see all three as a defilement of the men we love. We might turn away, and reject the person.

But how does God see it? Man’s steady struggle for grace and holiness; a want and need for authentic love; an aching to be fulfilled.

Society’s consensus on all of the above is that these men are exhibiting a healthy sexuality and should not be deterred from their efforts. Catholicism responds that these men are participating in faux love, which may hinder their very ability to truly love in the future. Even if the right person comes along, she may not be their desired fantasy. This is a difficult pill to swallow for girls who grow up dreaming of a strong man to guide them, only to realize that he too is human, and in need of strength to guide him.

I’m not going to rely on statistics for this piece, and I’m going to put the Church’s teachings aside for now. These struggles are real and are happening to real people, most likely very close to you. This is a lesson in how to love. This is not a theoretical argument for chastity, this a battle cry. It is uncharitable not to talk about it, letting the subjects fester, allowing people to suffer from lack of fellowship in a time of need.

First: The Action.

To begin, there must be an understanding of what the man is struggling with, and how to charitably support him. Supporting him does not mean approving of what he has done. Rather, show that there is a concern, out of love. Love is what drives the desire to help sanctify behaviors and beliefs which are detrimental to the inherent dignity of his personhood and the personhoods of those around him. These individual acts may be personal decisions, but they will and do affect the people around him.

Second: The Attitude.

"The Gossip" by Norman Rockwell

I like to think people inherently know pornography, masturbation and fornication are wrong. The bigger question is then, Is there a willingness to turn from these actions? As we so clearly saw in Prohibition times, nothing will be solved through denying people of what they desire. In fact, they will want it more, simply because you said “NO!” Men have to have a reason to turn away from evil, want not to desire it, and actively seek God’s grace and help in the process. In the very sorrow of Jesus in the Garden, so many men will feel the truth of their own humanity: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Women, witness virtue and kindness, and do not be passive in the sight of sin. Reject only the action, not the person. The time for disappointment is over; it is time to heal. Especially in times of trial, all people want to know they are still loved and accepted, even with their faults.

My approach these three topics is similar to how I approach gossiping: the action does not initially seem wrong when you’re doing it. You might even think you’re doing a good thing by talking about the other person!

Then, you start talking about that person all the time.

Next, you start thinking poorly of that person because of the conversations you’re having.

Finally, the rationalizations begins: Everyone does it! What’s so wrong about it? I can’t help it, it just comes up in conversation.

This attitude detracts from free will. We humans were given the awesome powers of free will and reason—what a powerful duo! Why would we let anything take that away and control us?

Third: The Aspirations toward Greatness

Self-control is not an easy road, but neither is following Christ and keeping his commandments. St. Francis of Assisi was known to throw himself down hills, even into snow banks, whenever an unclean thought crossed his mind. I do not recommend that type of violent behavior,but I do applaud his physical willingness to rid his mind of such mental temptations. Even if one does not act on the thought, dwelling on it can be just as poisonous.

Matthew Fradd: former addict, Catholic and founder of The Porn Effect

If you are a woman talking to a man, you have to approach the subject empirically. The point of any conversation should be to plant a seed, not win an argument. Stick to facts and do not emotionally-center your appeal. A true change of heart must come from within the man, and resentments will form from forcefulness.

A good website available is The Porn Effect. Matthew Fradd, the founder of The Porn Effect, had a “profound conversion” at WYD in Rome and created the website to “expose the reality of porn for what it is; a weak and whimpering counterfeit of love which is emasculating men, degrading women and destroying marriages. We are an online community which offers support and encouragement to those affected by sexual sin.”

If the person you are talking to still does not see what is wrong with their behavior, put a face to it. That’s what Shelley Lubben is doing. Lubben is a former porn star who started a non-profit to vocally and publicly decry pornography and the incredible horrors of the industry, as well as help get other porn stars out of the industry. Visually using people to arouse one’s self is parallel to using a person physically.

This is not going to be an easy conversation. This may be a continuous cross to bear, as overcoming these desires will be an on-going battle to “stay clean.” A priest is also a good person to seek counseling with too, as well as frequent use of the sacraments. In a worst case scenario, where facts or consequences mean little and his actions are becoming an addiction, an intervention may be necessary. If this is the case, an ameatur is not prepared to handle this. This has no reflection on you or the other person’s relationship to you, and should be handled by a professional (preferably Christian, so as to avoid any secular conflicts).

In our world, sexual deviancy is rampant and even encouraged, sexual images are easily accessible, and men pressure each other. If a Christian man struggles with this, do not condemn him. Help him. Love him. Inspire and encourage him. Pray for him. We as women must support men in their struggles, while not enabling.

Blessed John Paul II said the problem with pornography isn’t that it shows too much- it’s that it shows too little. Love between two people does not only happen in sexual situations. The desire for sex points to the reality of true love, which is most beautifully seen in the sacrament of marriage (two people chastely faithful to only each other) and the sacrament of holy orders (one person offering up their chastity to God alone). Sexual sins confuse authentic love and the desire for love.

There are so many ways to show a man real love, and how to genuinely love. Women, eternity is worth having the awkward conversation or two. Step up. Be a woman.