Monday, July 27, 2015

A Guy's Perspective on the Dangers of Masturbation and Runaway Imagination


Hello, friends - Grace here. I'm popping in to share a very special post about virtue and the struggle against lust. While most of our readers are female, the battle for purity is something that affects us all, male and female. After hearing this powerful testimony from a friend recently, I asked him to share his thoughts on trying to be pure as a young Catholic man in our modern society.
 Kody is a stressed-out graduate student, proud triplet, and (he hopes) world-renowned friendly guy. He recently spent a year discerning the Catholic priesthood, which involved a lot of thinking about love, lust, and the celibate life. The following piece is the fruit and meditation of that experience. 

As a young man living in a diocesan discernment house, I often find myself answering questions from well-intentioned friends.  

“Are you really called to the priesthood,” they ask anxiously.  

“What about your dreams of being a father and having a family?”  

And the ever popular, “dude, what about celibacy?”  

These questions don’t really bother me anymore: I’ve answered them for about ten months now and see it as an opportunity to share some of the beauty I’ve found in discerning religious life. 

There is one question, however, that people rarely ask and I just recently started to acknowledge: 

how is it that I can live in a discernment house, while going to Holy Hour every morning and abstaining from dating, and yet still struggle with lust and, on occasion, pornography?  

After all, I think to myself, shouldn’t I have figured this out by now?  Shouldn’t lust have gone away once I moved in here?  Isn’t this going to scandalize those who know I take my faith seriously and who know I’m currently discerning?  

These are the thoughts with which I accuse myself, every night, every time I tell someone about the beauty of Chastity.  Sometimes it just feels so hypocritical.

I could easily blame it on our culture.  It’s not easy to be a believer today.  As a man, others take your sexuality (often your over-sexuality) as a given.[1]  Only as I grew up did I learn that ogling cheerleaders and Victoria’s Secret models was not a natural state of affairs, but rather a sign of something fundamentally disordered in our society.  I see this fixation, interestingly enough, when talking with people about my religious discernment.  

Everyone my age fixates on the sacrifice of sex, not on the sacrifice of a spouse.  How could I ever give up something so good, my friends ask me, something for which there is such a deep and natural longing?

Discussions about pornography usually follow the same pattern.  Most people regard it as something “natural,” a safer and more acceptable way to scratch that sexual itch than sleeping around.  Thankfully, this opinion seems to be changing, at least judging by the sea change among Hollywood celebrities.  

Take Russell Brand’s recent online tirade or Joseph Gordon Levitt’s film Don Jon as examples.  Both acknowledge the addictive and destructive nature of pornography, with effects ranging from premature ejaculation to dysfunctional relationships; both provide strong biological and psychological arguments against the usage of pornography.

But what about the spiritual side of sexual addiction, whether to the flesh or to the laptop?  Recall Augustine of Hippo and his famous cry of “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!”  Sexual addiction can stand in the way of our spiritual growth, forging the very chains holding us back from the fulfillment of Christ.

Indeed, probably the strongest arguments I’ve heard against the use of pornography and other sexual addictions come from Jason Evert and Matt Fradd, both Catholic speakers.[2] 

Though focusing a good bit on the physical consequences of such actions, they each bring their discussion onto the spiritual plane.  When we take our sexuality into our own hands (sometimes quite literally), they remind us, we are misusing a gift from God.  In our pursuit of pleasure, we transform something so beautiful and selfless into something so dirty and self-centered.

Probably the worst part of these abuses is that they obscure the good that can come from sexual attraction.  When I have to wrestle with lust on a daily basis, when I see it as something in my life that I want to change, I have a hard time not demonizing my desires.  Attraction becomes an evil thing, something to overcome, not to celebrate.  I think I must reject it when I should instead refine it.
I know this process so well because, in all honesty, it’s the story of my life.  

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dreamed about being that knight in shining armor, that shoulder to cry on, that center of some lucky girl’s world.  These emotional fantasies felt so much grander, so much purer than any of my carnal longings.  What good was my sexual attraction, I thought to myself, when compared with making someone truly happy? 

How could I possibly pay attention to a woman’s flesh when I only wanted to care for her soul?

And so, I tried to divorce my physical desires from my romantic attractions.  Indeed, I believed (and told my friends) that I didn’t want to sleep with anyone, just to wake up next to them.  I’m sure this mindset was part of what led me into the discernment house.  What greater sacrifice can a man make for everyone, for every woman, than to give up his selfish desire for them?  In this way, my quest for purity led me to want the best for women and helped me avoid treating them as objects, but at a great cost.

You see, my noble desires led to two, less glamorous side effects.  An obsession with purity drove me, ironically, to impurity.  In order to protect the women that I did care about, I found other ways to indulge my lusts.  So long as I didn’t know them…that was my only rule.  Just let me satisfy this urge over here, with someone else, I would explain quietly to myself and to God, and then the rest of my love could be pure.  

In a way, I succeeded.  I satisfied my cravings without compromising my conscience.  I also established a habit of objectification and masturbation, actions against which I’ve had to fight for years.  Yet, this wasn’t even the most frustrating part.

This sublimation of desire, both through masturbation and with the images of unknown women, allowed me to keep playing make-believe.  All of my grand ambitions, my plans to love somebody, my desire to be loved myself….they remained mere illusions, never any more real than the pornographic videos I was watching at night.  My high ideals stood in the way of flirting with, kissing, and loving actual people: everything just seemed too imperfect, too compromising, too vulnerable. 

This problem only got worse as I grew older.  I had idealized relationships almost to the point of no return; what woman could ever live up to this emotional (and physical) standard that I had built up in my head.  And so, I remained single and alone, frustrated by my inability to open myself up to love just as much as with my inability to overcome my own lust.

While a bit of a dramatization, feelings and fantasies like these plagued me throughout high school, college, and the present day.  This is the price of ignoring the unitive aspect of sexuality.  Authentic sexual love, at its best, has the power to push us outside of ourselves.  Just as hunger drives a man to eat, desire drives us to each other.  It physically encouraging us to be bold, to risk looking like a fool in front of that attractive stranger, or to reveal our love for a friend. 

Spiritually, it forces us to acknowledge that fulfillment does not lie in solitude, but in communion.  Lust is an ugly thing, a product of insecurity and pride.  By trying to satisfy my own desires, I don’t trust God will provide for me; I think I know better than Him.  Marriage, by contrast, can be seen as lust’s opposite, an act of profound humility and sacrifice.[3]  It’s a process of self-abandonment.  We acknowledge our dependence on another person; we surrender our own flesh to become one flesh.  

This is what our sexuality was made for, to prefigure and prepare us for divine union with God.  This is also the heart of the priestly sacrifice, the giving up of the creation for greater love of the Creator.  Such good can come out of this, but only for those the Lord calls to it.

These self-revelations and recriminations are, ultimately, the fruit of my time in the Borromeo Discernment House for the Diocese of Austin.  Here, through constant prayer and conversation with my housemates, I have learned not only about the priesthood, but also about my own brokenness and the ways in which I need to heal.  I’ve discovered how incredibly idealistic and anxious I am about relationships; I’ve seen how I use the ideal to run away from the real.  I’ve come to better understand how I should deal with lust and how to refine, not repress, my sexuality.  Living here, overall, has allowed me to rediscover what purity is and how I should live it out in my life.

And so, though my romanticism is what led me into the discernment house, it is the very thing leading me out.  For me, seminary would be a place to hide, not a place to grow.  It and the priesthood offer a simpler life, perhaps even a life I want, but this is not the sacrifice to which I am called.  There, I could pretty much continue my life as it is, idealizing and idolizing “women” instead of coming to know, understand, and encounter a woman.  

For this reason, I feel drawn to the married life, not just because of my dreams and desires, but from my need to give up my fantasies about women and relationships.  This is my sacrifice and my cross.  And, honestly, the world of dating, love, and marriage terrifies me.  I’ve seen it leave so many people disappointed and disillusioned.  

But maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what I need.  

Maybe it’s time to give up my illusions.

[1] Women, interestingly enough, seem to deal with the opposite problem.
[2] For a more social explanation of the evils of the industry, see the trailer for an upcoming film Hearts of Men (
[3] Although marriage does not, by itself, solve all your problems.  One can still lust in a marriage, even towards one’s spouse.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Journey In Veiling

I bought it on a whim, after seeing a stand at a conference with a particularly friendly lady selling them. I had seen some women at church wearing them, and ran across several posts on the topic across the internet. The idea of veiling intrigued me. They were pretty and feminine and special. And holy. And I wanted to be holy.

So I bought it and was so excited to wear it. It made me feel beautiful, like I was doing something special for God.

Then I looked around at Mass and realized there were far fewer women wearing them than I had thought. That sometimes moms would look at me funny. Their little daughters would find it amusing or odd or both that I was wearing a white veil on my head for no apparent reason.

I became a little more self-conscious putting it on. I wouldn't wear it outside my parish, where I felt safe and convinced that it's OK because at least a few women were veiling. The feelings crept in doubting my reasons for wanting to wear a veil in the first place. Maybe I did want it to appear holier than others and to show off my piety. After all, veiling is not required by the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

I kept at it, maybe going a few Sundays here and there without it, just to make sure I wasn't getting too self-righteous. I would pop into the adoration chapel without it and be perfectly OK.

Over the past nine months of having this veil, I've slowly gained confidence in wearing it, and understanding in why I wanted it in the first place.

You see, I am definitely not better than any other woman. In fact, I'm probably a lot worse than the unveiled mothers I see at Mass. They know more about sacrifice and loyalty and love than I do, due to raising children in the faith. But my veil is not about me, it's about Jesus.

I veil because it's a physical reminder and an outward sign of my submission to Him. He has authority over His Church and over my life. And He is someone who I don't mind being in submission to -- in fact, I want to.

I veil because I want to reverence with my heart and with my body the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle, and on the altar during Mass.

I veil because it helps me focus less on myself and more on Jesus. In fact, the self-consciousness is probably a good thing, as it will train me to think less of myself and to stop acting for others' good opinion.

It's taken me a while to come to these conclusions. I definitely didn't start wearing the veil having everything figured out! And I definitely don't think my veil makes me a better Catholic than someone who doesn't wear one! In fact, my family doesn't veil -- but I still respect the other women for their great faith and perpetual example to me. I've been to Mass and to Adoration without my veil, and don't feel sinful.

So why do I keep wearing it then, if even I don't think it's necessary for piety and salvation? Because I can tell Jesus is using it to teach me something. He's using it at this point in my life so I realize how close to Him I want to be. He's using it to make me feel beautiful under the guidance of His plan. To slowly learn to let go and fall into His arms completely. And so that I can remind myself of His Awesome power and control over every facet of my life.

I hesitated to share my story out of fear of what people would think, or because I'm sure people question why I feel the need to go to these great lengths just to attend Mass. (To which I'd respond that a minor humiliation or inconvenience to me in remembering to put a veil on my head is hardly anything compared to the inconvenience and suffering Jesus endured on Calvary for us.) So I guess I'll keep it and wear it to show Jesus that I love Him, as long as He wants me to!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What's your favorite Bible verse?


Last weekend my husband and I were on a road trip and I was playing my favorite road-trip game of "ask the husband a bunch of random, personal questions." It's like "Truth or Dare" without the "Dare." ;) I really enjoy coming up with silly, random things to ask him like "If you could be any character from a book or movie, who would you be?" or "If you could live at any time in history, what era would you choose?" or "Walk me through a verbal tour of your dream home" or "If you could live in any other country but only for a summer, where would you go?" I think he thinks I'm a little crazy (accurate!), but he's a good sport and plays along.

This time, however, I wanted to talk about something a little deeper, so I asked him, "Have I ever asked you if you have a favorite Bible verse?"

We were both kind of surprised to find that I hadn't. My husband was an Evangelical Protestant when I met him and he converted to Catholicism while we were dating, so talking about the Bible—its history, content and meaning—has always been a pretty big part of our relationship.

So we talked about it and he shared that his favorite verse has always been Isaiah 40:31, which reads, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." What a beautiful image of relying on the Lord to be your strength.

Mine, meanwhile, is from Job 1:21: "The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." I find it to be such a helpful reminder of spiritual detachment and our call to praise God always and everywhere.

Some of our other favorites are Luke 1:37, "Nothing is impossible with God," and 2 Corinthians 4:17, "For this momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all measure."

I've heard of people describing their favorite verse as a "life verse" what they carry with them through the various ups and downs of their lives. I like the idea of maybe getting our favorite verses framed in our house someday.

Talking about our favorite verses got me thinking about what your favorite verses might be. Care to share? :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Viewing Emotional Chastity through Fictional Characters

Quick apology about the lack of posts and activity here lately. More about that later... For now, I spontaneously felt like sharing some feelings and thoughts milling about my head today. 


OK, I mean, come on: how cute are they?
If you know me in real life, then you probably know I have a small place in my heart for science fiction. Maybe it’s the fact I’m a scientist, or that I have a big imagination. But while I love my British historical fiction, my current “mini-obsession” for the entrance into summer is the ABC show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a spin-off from the Marvel “Avengers” franchise. While the series is overly violent and frequently makes me mad because the evil forces are just so powerful and cunning, one of the best parts to me is the science dynamic-duo consisting of characters Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, or “FitzSimmons.” 

I can’t tell you how often I go for the science-nerds in TV shows or movies. This instance is no different. The two characters enter the series with a deep friendship, like brother-sister bond, and serve as comic relief with their adventures helping the team escape from dangerous missions. Throughout the first season, we see how much they really care for each other – and they’re close enough that in one scene they’re bickering or arguing, and in the other they’re saving each other’s lives and saying sweet things to each other.

Fitz and Simmons both proclaim each other to be best friends in the whole world. That is evident in the way they interact and work for the better of the other person.

As the season progresses it begins to be clear that Fitz cares a little more for Jemma Simmons, triggered by the emergence of a new operations officer who Simmons takes a small fancy too. Fitz is definitely jealous of the interest Agent Triplett holds and wonders why he’s so special. We don’t get any professions of love from Fitz though – just more caring looks and jealousy on his part.

That is, until the Season finale. I don’t want to spoil it too much – since if you’re into this sort of genre, I recommend the series – but Fitz ends up showing Simmons – with his life – how he really feels.

OK. Cue tears and all the emotional feels. I definitely like to live vicariously through other people’s relationships. Even fictional ones. I want them to get together! They’re both so innocent, and don’t really even understand their feelings or what to do with them. Yet my mind will be satisfied with nothing less than a reunion and a romantic love story between the two.

But this got me thinking. Before realizing there was something more romantic on the part of Fitz for his best friend in the world, I was happy to see them love each other platonically. It was refreshing to see a male-female duo live and work beside each other just as friends. But I think that culture has trained us to hope for nothing short of romance between two compatible characters. And the carry those hopes to real life too.

How many times have you seen friends tease a girl about how good she’d be with her best guy friend? “You’re both so great together and so compatible! You have to get together!”

And then the girl begins to wonder if maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. We want to see other people get together and be perfect, happy couples. We “ship” characters on TV. I’ll be honest: I’m shipping FitzSimmons very much right now, and eagerly await season 2. I have a sinking feeling we won’t get the happy ending that’s expected, and I’m bracing myself for the frustration that brings me as I watch through the next season.

But let me go back to uncover the problem here. We’re almost not OK with having a platonic male-female duo. We want any possibility of character chemistry to resolve into romance.

I don’t really think that’s real life though. Real life is hard, and yes, we frequently have feelings for other people that we don’t quite understand. But that doesn’t mean every girl-guy friendship should turn romantic. What is that saying regarding our thoughts about “emotional chastity?” I’m pretty sure projecting our desires for romance onto other character pairings isn’t entirely healthy when those desires become more serious than playful.

And so I’m writing about this. Writing helps me process things, step back from emotions, evaluate the situation. Because isn’t self-sacrifice more important than romantic feelings?

How can we expect to live out chastity in our own lives when we don’t expect characters in TV or movies to act the same? Yes, we’ve come to anticipate risqué relationships in television. From a distance they almost seem romantic. You want the two characters to get together…say the romantic things…do the “romantic” things….

Um. Yeah. Not so good though.

I think that may be why I was so easily attracted to the FitzSimmons relationship – they were platonic throughout nearly the entire first season. They truly cared about each other, and sacrificed for each other. But that doesn’t mean they need to end up together! As much as it would make my heart so much happier in my chest. Real life isn’t like that, and we can’t project our desires for romance onto other couples, especially not fictional couples. It may seem like a safe outlet, but I think ultimately it’s messing with our minds and emotions a little more than is healthy.

I’m curious to hear what you think about fictional couples and their relationships, or lack thereof. Why can’t we all just rest easy, and enjoy a platonic couple – demonstrating real service and love through their actions – without also desiring a romantic conclusion?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Shine Through Me

There's no reason why I should have seen it.  I was driving through wooded backroads -- my very familiar commute to work -- and my eyes darted up and to the left at just the right moment to see a bit ahead of me and atop a steep hill.  The likelihood of the other drivers noticing is very small because, without warning, you'd have missed it.  But I saw.  In that one glance at just the right moment, I was prepared to see the deer.  Standing perfectly still, like a statue.  Hoping my eyes hadn't deceived me, I glanced again a few yards later.  There she stood, in a small clearing just big enough for the entire creature to be seen.  No antlers, no companions.  It was just she: still, silent, and observant.  Watching the traffic go by, unaware of her presence.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs me soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my good day and night, while men say to my continually, "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:1-3)

Oh, send me your light and your truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!  Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:3-4)

Lord, you know the longings of my heart, my deepest desires, my hopes, and my dreams.  But my plans are not enough; not even my dreams alone will fulfill me.  You alone satisfy the hungry heart.  Come, O Lord, and fill me with your love so that it is not me that others see, but you shining through me.

I am weak, though my spirit is willing.  Again and again, I try to respond to His call.  I lie awake in bed, night after night, wondering.  How do I live tomorrow?  How do I greet the day in thanksgiving for a new start, a second chance, another opportunity to be fully alive in Him?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also and they will heed my voice.  So there shall be one flock, on shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:10-18)

You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It is you that I seek when I dream of happiness; you are waiting when nothing else satisfies me; you are the beauty to which I am attracted; you provoked my thirst; you urge me to let go of my past; you read my heart and know my most genuine choices.  There is nothing more beautiful than a grace-filled soul.  Sweet Jesus, I want to be a Saint!  Help me to want what you want for me.

Trust. Faith. Strength. And the chance to put it all into action: courage.

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loves, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."  Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.  They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes. (John 20: 1-10)

I am Peter.  Though my spirit may be willing, my flesh is weak.  It would be so easy to tell them that I don't know you.  I would look at the items in the tomb and wonder where you were.  In my heart, it would be worse than Good Friday; we've not only lost you, but now also your body.  I am Peter; I am a coward, I talk too much, I say the wrong things.  You knew all these things about Peter, yet still you chose him for greatness.  You called him a 'rock' even when he did not stay with you.  You built your Church on him.  I am Peter, though I want to be John: young, open, and willing.  He entered the tomb, saw and believed.  He was the beloved disciple, the one closest to your Blessed Mother, the one who knew you.  Through John, you entrusted us to your Mother and gave her to us.  Increase my trust and Faith and help me to always run to her Immaculate Heart.

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet inspired me to pray like this.  I highly recommend this book for reading and studying to delve deeper into your relationship with Christ through Scripture.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's on your spiritual reading list?

I've always loved this quotation from St. Josemaria Escriva: "Spiritual reading has made many saints."

It's certainly true that, if you look at the lives of the saints, many of them came to know God through reading. Some examples include St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Edith Stein... can you think of others?

Keeping this in mind, I try to keep a regular habit of spiritual reading. I find that I'm more fervent and dedicated to my faith when I'm reading good spiritual works that encourage and cultivate my interior life.

Here's what I'm reading right now:

I discovered "Searching for and Maintaining Peace" by Father Jacques Phillipe thanks to a blog post by the lovely Martha Reilly (whose blog is no longer public, sadly). Even though I'm only a short way into it, this book is already one of my favorites. I find that it inspires me to seek interior peace while giving me the spiritual tools to maintain it throughout all the little trials that come my way.

Meanwhile, I was inspired to read "The Seven Storey Mountain" by Thomas Merton after seeing a plaque dedicated to him on a recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky. I'm not very far into that one either, but so far it's very interesting and beautifully written.

Here's one of my favorite passages so far:

In case you can't read that, it says: "It is a law of man's nature, written into his very essence, and just as much a part of him as the desire to build houses and cultivate the land and marry and have children and read books and sing songs, that he should want to stand together with other men in order to acknowledge their common dependence on God, their Father and Creator. In fact, this desire is much more fundamental than any purely physical necessity."

Isn't that beautiful?

What spiritual books are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite spiritual work?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Join us for a 54-day Rosary Novena?

Hi ladies! Sarah and I discussed last week via a Skype date about the fact that I have never finished a 54-day rosary novena before. So then we the agreed to pray one of them together -- so as to be accountability partners, and wanted to extend the invitation to all of you lovely ladies as well!

We'll be starting on April 20th, so as to end on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, on June 12th. For the first 3 novenas, or 27 days, we'll be praying in petition for our intention (April 20th -- May 16th), and then the following 27 days are prayed in thanksgiving, regardless of whether or not you've seen any fruit from your petition (May 17th -- June 12th).

Our intention for this novena is for our vocations.

Feel free to join in if you wish, and please leave a comment or otherwise contact us so we can pray for you during the 54-day novena! We can also utilize the CYW Facebook page for encouragement and other prayer intentions as we go through the novena - so check back there for updates!