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Surrendering to the Healing Power of Christ's Own Chastity | Deacon James Keating, Ph.D. | Part Two | Part One

The Mercy of God in the Face of Human Weakness
"God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our sins made us alive together with Christ" (Eph 4:2-5a). "Mercy does not pertain only to the notion of God, but it is something that characterizes the life of the whole people of Israel and each of its sons and daughters: mercy is the content of one's intimacy with their Lord, the content of their dialogue with Him." [16] The content of intimacy between the seminarian and the Lord is the acceptance of divine mercy. This reception of mercy, of relating all our sins to God's compassion, is the way into a sustained life of grace. Here, too, is the beginning of contemplation as a man relates the truth of his own weaknesses to the strength of divine love. The call to holiness bids us to live in this mystery—to hold nothing back from the heart of Christ and to resist turning from Him no matter how shameful or embarrassing our actions are.
When we see ourselves to be so weak, always falling into the same sins, we are tempted to say to ourselves, "Can it be possible that Jesus does not grow weary of this?" We have all had this temptation at one time or another. "I have promised Him so much, I have made so many resolutions, and I always fall again; it is impossible that He does not get tired of it." It is a kind of blasphemy to say that, because it is to limit a mercy which has no limit. It is to doubt the patience, the indulgence, the untiring clemency of Jesus. It is not He who grows weary of us; it is we who grow weary of looking at our ugliness. [17]
To become weary of sin is good, but to become weary of choosing to relate our sin to the mercy of God is to be adrift in the moral/spiritual life. It is not in forgetting our sins, or ignoring them or calling them by other names, such as liberation or adulthood, that gifts us with happiness. Only the regular reception of the truth about our affective and spiritual wounds in relationship to the mercy of God can keep us happy. The goal of being aware of one's own sinfulness in relation to God's own mercy is not simply a life of "more of the same" until we die, but the reality of a healed imagination, will, and affect. Our faith bids us to invite Jesus into our wounds, asking Jesus for his own affections. Healing comes from receiving truth: "Tell me who I am, Jesus."

There is a need to renounce the lies that the seminarian believes about himself so that Jesus can come into the wounds and heal them. There's no "room" for Him if the lies continue to "live" in the man's heart. "Watch and pray" (Mt.26:41). This virtue of chastity is won in struggle and vigilance: Watch for the enemy to come, and stay in prayer to battle against his arrival. The seminarian endeavors to entrust himself to the teachers of chastity: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Practical Points for Healing
1. Unchaste acts are to be rejected in faith. This rejection is not a violent act of self-will but a surrender in prayer to the healing power of Christ's own chastity. When temptation arrives, begin the process of surrender by strongly renouncing the whispers of Satan ("Here in this sin is where you find consolation; here in this sin is where you will be loved."). No, we find true consolation and receive love from the absolute truth that Christ will never abandon us.

2. It is in contemplating the pierced side of Christ that our definition of love is given to us. "In this contemplation [of the pierce side of Christ] the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move." [18] Place your sexual desires into the wounds of Christ; whatever these images are, however embarrassing or explicit, place them in the wounds. In His wounds, in His self-offering love, is your healing. Press the images in your mind into the wounds. If you need to, if the temptation is very strong, hold a crucifix and place it against your heart until the tenacious emotions pass and you stand in peace with Christ's love. Christ's love is received by sharing your truthful emotions, ideas, and images with Him. If you retain the temptations to yourself and do not share them with Christ in prayer, satanic lies can continue to hide within them, to visit you again at a later time of vulnerability.

3. Unhealed erotic movements [19] of the will become enslaved to immediate and artificial consolation. It is a false consolation that looks to physical pleasure to relieve a multitude of emotions that remain unrelated to the Paschal Mystery. As we become aware of our interior life, we also become aware of common habits of thought that are accompanied by affections and emotions. Find the root emotions ("I feel rejected") for the thoughts that lead you to seek relief in unchaste acts, and instead relate these emotions to Christ in prayer. This is an ongoing movement, not an isolated act simply to be used at the time of temptation. This ongoing relating of sexual desire and temptation is crucial, because the healing of the roots of unchaste behavior is a developmental reality. Be patient with yourself, gentle. Violent self-hate or disappointment will only fuel stress and lead you to seek relief in artificial consolation again.

4. The man who masturbates faces no one. He gazes upon emptiness, or if the act is stimulated by pornography, he enters fantasy and thus conjures up a false "bride" who leads him only to depression. The reception of the beloved's gaze ("This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," Luke 3:22) begins the healing process of the sin of masturbation. To build the virtue of chastity, regularly enter a prayer that focuses upon the image of the Beloved Son. You are that son. Receive the love. Face your Father and let Him love you. You can do this by lectio divina, gazing upon an icon, imagining a conversation between you and the Father wherein He displays His love for you in words or an embrace, a kind look, a smile. [20] Preeminently Eucharistic Adoration is a way to let the face of God's love behold and heal the seminarian, while he beholds such love in return. The goal is to receive the truth that you are beheld in love by God. Mary, the woman, should also be received as one who looks upon you in love and smiles upon you. Let the Father have all of your explicit memories of loneliness and sexual desire. Relate them to Him, hold nothing back. Let Him heal your wounds of isolation upon the cross of Christ.

5. The presence of affective desolation can be the result of a man choosing to attend to what is unreal by way of his fantasy life rather than attending to what is real by way of the truth of the nuptial meaning of his body. By attending to the nuptial meaning of the body, the affectively mature man experiences a strengthening of his spiritual life and the cessation of the dominance of passing emotions. Meditate and prayerfully read about the vocation of being a priest. This reading, however, should be focused upon the nuptial identity of the priest, his deep sharing in Christ's way of being embodied: available for self-giving but also available to receive the love of the Bride and the intimate and surpassing love of the Father. Give the literature that reduces priesthood to acquired competencies or professional skills the low level of attention that it is owed and no more. [21]

6. Christ said to his disciples, who were prone to sleep, "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt 26:41). All too often men will mistake a calm period of emotions within them as a sign of mastery over sexual sins, only to be caught off guard when their defenses are down, no longer awake and watching. They have become "sleepers" (Eph 5:14). Prayer keeps us awake. Commit yourself to daily contemplative prayer. In this prayer, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Surrender to God your entire sexual identity. Ask Mary to assist you in receiving women as equal in dignity and as superior intercessors for your own commitment to chaste celibacy. Share your erotic affections and needs with the Trinity ("I am lonely, I wish I could enjoy a life with a wife, I wish I could hold a woman") and also with Mary and Joseph. Joseph knows just how you feel. He wants to heal you and comfort you. Mary knows, too, because she understands the legitimate desire of a husband to embrace his wife, and yet she knows too the call from God for some men to refrain from that embrace for the sake of the gospel. These saints are there for you. Receiving their love in prayer changes your affections, your desires, your mind. Let them love you in prayer.

7. Our faith bids us to invite Jesus into our wounds, asking Jesus for his own affections. Healing comes from receiving truth: "Tell me who I am, Jesus." "You are the Beloved One. Allow Me to infuse this identity into you through the healing power of My Spirit."


[1] In this essay I am concerned with healing habitual or periodic masturbation. Moral theology has the guidance we need to determine the level of sin involved in these actions. I will not be directly analyzing this. My focus is more on the healing of the habit than assisting persons to understand its gravity as a sin. Of course the major reason to heal this habit is to become free from its sinful elements when full knowledge and consent have come into play. For a good source on the sinful aspects of masturbation see Ronald Lawler et al., Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Summary, Explanation, & Defense (Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998).

[2] Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (DCE) (2005), no. 5.

[3] The nuptial meaning of the body places the man before the truth of his identity as husband. All men, even celibates, are called in Christ to surrender to the good of the Bride, and not to follow passion for pleasure alone. Relating his need for pleasure to his nuptial call directs the man to satisfy this desire within other appropriate venues (i.e. not masturbation) where temperance directs his will.

[4] David Fleming, SJ, Draw Me Into Your Friendship: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius,(St. Louis: Institute for Jesuit Sources, 1996) nos. 333-335.

[5] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 69.

[6] I would distinguish between sinful acts—freely chosen acts that destroy or undermine a man's relationship to truth and to God—and sinfulness—the roots of sin that flow from wrong attitudes and beliefs (intellect) that one consciously or unconsciously holds. These feelings and thoughts work together, making it easier for someone to be bound to the lies that wrongfully define his consciousness.Some of the lies that might be at the roots of a man's sin include: "I am ugly"; "I am not lovable"; "I will never get over the hurt of rejection by my old girlfriend"; "I am not manly enough"; "I am incompetent"; "I must change this habit in order to experience God's love"; "I am all alone."

[7] "If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant . . .? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return." (Pope Benedict XVI Homily, Inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI, April 24, 2005). See also: Benedict XVI, "Lectio Divina on Galatians: Address to Roman Seminarians," February 20, 2009.

[8] Joseph Langford, Mother Teresa's Secret Fire (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008), 99.

[9] For more on healing the roots of sin see James Keating, "Mystical Metanoia:The Sacrament of Reconciliation," Assembly, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy 35, no. 2 (March 2009): 21-28.

[10] See James Keating, "The Eucharist and the Healing of Affection for Sin," Emmanuel (March/April 2007):107-115.

[11] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics: 1. Seeing the Lord (San Francisco: Ignatius, 198) 342, 364, 422, 538, 565

[12] Benedict XVI, Homily, Lourdes, France, September 15, 2008.

[13] Joseph, through a combination of infused virtue, a graced love of God and his knowledge and love of Mary, freely embraced a life of loving her without the intimacy of sexual intercourse. Here, of course, is a great mystery. In some manner both God (traces of Joseph's mystical life are seen in Mt.1:20ff) and Mary tutored him in how to be a spouse without such physical intimacy. Such a vocation still lives in the celibate priesthood. Joseph, as living and interceding for priests in heaven, now "awaits" their devotion to him. Specifically in prayer the seminarian wants to tap into Joseph's freedom as man. This freedom is the result of his knowledge and love, a knowledge and love that defined his choics. The seminarian should ask Joseph for the grace to have his own affections shape his way of thinking about the bodily self-gift he wishes to present to the Church. These affections have to be purified, of course. The need for that grace, too, can be placed before Joseph. Joseph was simply a man with all the temptations and unpurified desires known to any seminarian. Joseph, like all men, grew in his reception of his deepest identity: spouse of Mary, the New Eve, the Church. Friendship with him, in deep contemplative prayer, will result in similar growth in the seminarian. Joseph consented to a life lived in virtuous continence but he "had to do so in dependence upon Mary." [(Marc Ouellet, Divine Likeness (Eerdmans, 2006, pg118]. In contemplative prayer the seminarian will learn from Joseph to depend upon "the woman" to teach him how to embrace her (Mary, the Church) in loving service rather than physical intercourse. This is analogous to a husband learning from his wife how best to love her within the patterns of a marriage defined by natural family planning.

[14] Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008).

[15] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Divine Likeness: Toward a Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 159.

[16] John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, (1980), no. 4.

[17] Father Jean C. J. d'Elbee, I Believe in Love (Manchester: Sophia, 2001), 62.

[18] Benedict XVI, DCE, no. 12.

[19] Benedict XVI, DCE no. 4 "An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in "ecstasy" towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns."

[20] The psalmist, seeing from afar this maternal bond which unites the Mother of Christ with the people of faith, prophesies regarding the Virgin Mary that 'the richest of the people will seek your smile' (Ps 45:13). This smile of Mary is for all; but it is directed quite particularly to those who suffer, so that they can find comfort and solace therein. To seek Mary's smile is not an act of devotional or outmoded sentimentality, but rather the proper expression of the living and profoundly human relationship which binds us to her whom Christ gave us as our Mother. . . . Mary's smile is a spring of living water." Homily, Benedict XVI, Eucharistic Celebration of the Sick, Esplanade of the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Rosaire, Lourdes, Monday, 15 September, 2008.

[21] For an excellent source on the essence and character of the priesthood see, Father David Toups, Reclaiming our Priestly Character (Omaha: IPF Publications, 2008).

[22] "In the words of the "annunciation" by night, Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife's indescribable vocation; he also heard once again the truth about his own vocation. This "just" man, who, in the spirit of the noblest traditions of the Chosen People, loved the Virgin of Nazareth and was bound to her by a husband's love.... Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his "wife" into his home (Matt 1:24); what was conceived in Mary was "of the Holy Spirit." From expressions such as these, are we not to suppose that his love as a man was also given new birth by the Holy Spirit? "Joseph . . . took his wife; but he knew her not, until she had borne a son" (Matt 1:24-25). These words indicate another kind of closeness in marriage. The deep spiritual closeness arising from marital union and the interpersonal contact between man and woman have their definitive origin in the Spirit, the Giver of Life (cf. John 6:63). Joseph, in obedience to the Spirit, found in the Spirit the source of love, the conjugal love that he experienced as a man. And this love proved to be greater than this "just man" could ever have expected within the limits of his human heart." John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos (1989) no. 19 (emphasis added).

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

• Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI Proclaiming a Year for Priests on the 150th Anniversary of the "Dies Natalis" of the Curé of Ars
The Blessed Virgin Mary's Role in the Celibate Priest's Spousal and Paternal Love | Fr. John Cihak
The Priest as Man, Husband, and Father | Fr. John Cihak
Satan and the Saint | The Feast Day of St. John Vianney | Carl E. Olson
• Liturgical Roles In the Eucharistic Celebration | Francis Cardinal Arinze
• The Ingredient for Priestly Vocations | Rev. Jacek Stefanski
• Why Preaching | Peter John Cameron, O.P.
• The Mass is Serious Business | Rev. Bryce A. Sibley
Who Is A Priest? | Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.
Women and the Priesthood: A Theological Reflection | Jean Galot, S.J. | From Theology of the Priesthood
The Real Reason for the Vocation Crisis | Rev. Michael P. Orsi
Pray the Harvest Master Sends Laborors | Rev. Anthony Zimmerman
Priestly Vocations in America: A Look At the Numbers | Jeff Ziegler
Clerical Celibacy: Concept and Method | Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler | From The Case for Clerical Celibacy
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest

Rev. Mr. James Keating, Ph.D., is Director of Theological Formation at the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Omaha. Before joining the staff of the IPF Deacon Keating taught moral and spiritual theology for 13 years in the School of Theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. He has given over 400 workshops, retreats and days of reflection on the Catholic spiritual/moral life. In the field of his professional research, the interpenetration of the spiritual and moral life, Deacon Keating has authored or edited ten books and dozens of essays for theological journals.

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