Surrendering to the Healing Power of Christ's Own Chastity | Deacon James Keating, Ph.D., Institute for Priestly Formation | Ignatius InsightSurrendering to the Healing Power of Christ's Own Chastity | Deacon James Keating, Ph.D., Institute for Priestly Formation | Ignatius Insight

The appropriation of chastity as a stable character trait is won through struggle for most men. Chastity comes at a price. There are, however, some men who appear to be protected in this area by grace, reporting little temptation to choose against chaste living. This grace can and must be prayed for by every man, but each man must accept his real relationship with the virtue of chastity here and now, and for most men that means struggle. This struggle will not mark one's entire life; because over time, as the beauty of one's sexual identity is related to the mystery of Christ, His own irenic strength assists a man to resist the temptation to choose unchaste acts. In the light of this grace a man will no longer see unchaste acts as occasions for artificial consolation. Continuous struggle is not God's will for men. Neither is resting in artificial consolation. If a man orders his affections to the mystery of Christ's love, his desires will be purified and authentic consolation will characterize his interior life.

In this essay I wish to address the chastity formation needs of seminarians. Sound chastity formation is always approached in the context of the nuptial truths of the body. It is useful, on occasion, to raise particular questions about chastity to assist seminarians in gaining self-mastery. As a further concentration in this essay, then, I will approach the question of masturbation and how the spiritual/moral life, in the context of the sacraments, can heal a man of this behavioral habit.

Purified Eros
Unchaste acts are to be rejected. [1] This rejection is not a violent act of self-will but a surrender in faith-filled prayer to the healing power of Christ's own chastity. A man is to cry out and let the mystery of Christ's own obedience to truth, His own love of the Father, and His own spousal love of the Church enter and console the desolate heart. Such consolation yields freedom and peace. By way of faith, Christ's spousal identity enters a man empowering him to live his sexual identity as gift rather than using the power of sexuality for genital self-pleasure.

In Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est we read this:
Eros, reduced to pure "sex," has become a commodity; a mere "thing" to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great "yes" to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body . . . as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Christian faith . . . has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise "in ecstasy" towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing. [2]
Purified eros leads us beyond ourselves. Masturbation is a counterfeit act, stemming from wounded affections yet to be healed or untutored minds yet to be instructed. We can arrive at an awareness of what heals such wounds and enlightens untutored or mal-tutored minds "by contemplating the pierced side of Christ" (DCE, no. 12). It is there that God's healing love can affect us and make us vulnerable to the salve our wounds need. It is in contemplating the pierced side of Christ that our definition of love is given to us. "In this contemplation [of the pierced side of Christ] the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move." (DCE, no. 12).

Unpurified sexual desires are ignoble and need to be related to this great mystery of the sacrifice of Christ, the Bridegroom (Christ) loving His Bride (the Church). When this divine spousal love is participated in by way of prayer, it has the power to purify a man's sexual desires and order them correctly. In this prayer for healing, Christ, the icon of true love, tutors the affections and conscience of the seminarian, leading him to behold the pierced side and what it encompasses: the call to choose self-forgetfulness out of love for another. Initially this prescription for healing may seem remote to the seminarian who is lamenting his weak will before temptations to chastity, but it is in fact the reservoir of all healing for the wounded eros. Christ, the Bridegroom, sacrifices Himself for the good of the Bride unto His own death. Here, in Christ, there is no taking, no fear of missing out on pleasure, no lack of trust that what one has given to God will ever be lost (Luke 17:33). In other words, the man is being formed to trust that God is providential, that He cares for legitimate needs.

Unhealed erotic movements of the will become enslaved to immediate and artificial consolation. It is a consolation that looks to relieve, through physical pleasure, a host of painful emotions (self-hate, loneliness, anger, fear, grief, boredom) that remain unrelated to the Paschal Mystery. The relief sought in masturbation only returns compounded sadness, and a horrifying habit of choosing more and more of what satisfies less and less. If this habit of entering misguided pleasure is not healed, then the man enters a cycle of shame that increases in force. Thus the seminarian becomes vulnerable to a deadening despair born in self-made aloneness. This despair increases cynicism toward life, goodness, and "the woman" (Gen 3:12, 20; Jn 19:26; Jn 2:3-5). The "healing" occurs as the wound is acknowledged, the lies are unveiled, and the light of Jesus's love reveals the Truth. This Divine love has to be received into a man's wounds so that it can alter the external behavior from within. Defining the struggle for chastity is often a deep pain that is at the root of inappropriate behavior, a pain that needs healing, not numbing.

In the man who masturbates lies a distressing contradiction: he is attempting to reach the other by being closed in upon the self. In the authentic sexual act a husband beholds his wife in love, faces her in self-giving, and is received by her in love. 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. Such a man never faces the one whom he is called to give his life to in love. Since he faces no one, he has no opportunity to receive the joy of being beheld by another in love. The reception of the beloved's gaze ("This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," Luke 3:22) begins to heal the desire to masturbate. This desire most likely began in youthful innocence but soon became entangled in satanic lies. In accepting these lies the affections of the man were twisted and he began to choose the act for itself, an act that can give only false consolation.

Concurrent with seeking false consolation, all young men still encounter a desire in the heart "to be known" and "to know" a woman in sexual communion. This desire is his experience of the "nuptial meaning of the body" and is, of itself, holy and to be reverenced. The seminarian, however, may not know what to do with this desire and may fear acknowledging it since his vocation calls him to celibacy. He may feel shame for having this desire at all, thinking it is a sign of vocational conflict. Seminary formators hasten to assist a man to attend to this desire in prayer and in prayerful conversation with his spiritual director. The presence of affective desolation can be the result of a man choosing to attend to the unreal in his fantasy life rather than 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. [3] The spiritual life and the knowledge of reality that is its core assigns emotions their proper and helpful place. The mature seminarian is led by the nuptial meaning of his body and the spiritual truths that reside in his heart.

Many men report a pattern of life that leads them to being vulnerable to masturbation. In this pattern a man may find that a certain time of day and the emotion that accompanies this time tempts him to unchaste acts (e.g., viewing pornography). Certain ordinary activities may tempt him, such as completing a work day or project, or reaching a deadline, after which he finds his affect is low ("Now what do I do?"). It is not always the obvious erotic seductions that enter the consciousness and lead a man to seek consolation in sexual experiences. Vigilance is crucial. As Ignatius of Loyola taught, the time to let grace heal temptation is at the very beginning of its emergence into consciousness, not after a man has entertained the thought for awhile. If one waits, the will is weakened.

To heal the habit of masturbation a man needs to be awake to his own interior thoughts and feelings so that he can follow the advice of Ignatius and stave off sin before its interior promptings overwhelm the will. It is good to take the counsel of Christ here, as He struggled against the temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane to avoid the cross. He 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). [4] 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, as difficult as it is to maintain as a commitment, is crucial for the healing of unchaste habits. Prayer is a life's commitment and not an ad hoc reality to be entered only in the face of temptation. Temptation dissipates in a man of prayer; it can heighten in a man who confuses periodic emotional quietude for anything other than that.

Nuptial Truth
Since Christ only chooses truth, He can be a bearer of "perfect joy" in his spousal love of the Church, while a man who acts out of unhealed eros can never reach this joy of the husband. Such a man is destined to a prison of habitual and fleeting pleasure, a pleasure that can never satisfy or give peace since it is disconnected from the truth of sex. In such a case the man continually returns to masturbation in a vain attempt to console himself of wounds that have come to define him. These defining wounds remain if such are not related to the Bridegroom's mysterious self-giving upon the cross. To become liberated from this prison the seminarian contemplates in the Bridegroom the opposite image of such stark loneliness. Christ, in perfect chastity, faces his bride from the cross and offers all to her as symbolized by the pierced side. "Stoic thought regards the heart as . . . that which holds things together, aims at self preservation. . . . The pierced heart of Jesus has . . . overturned this definition. This heart is not concerned with self-preservation but with self-surrender. It saves the world by opening itself. . . . The heart saves . . . by giving itself away." [5]

Here the heart of Christ speaks to the heart of the wounded seminarian. The seminarian's wounds are addressed, attended to, and healed by the Heart of Christ. It is this Christ who leads the seminarian with bands of love, whose heart grows warm and tender (Hosea 11:4, 8). This is the God who calls the man out of slavery to lust (Hosea 11:1). This call from Christ is deeper than prohibiting acts of sin, however. [6] This call from the heart of Christ endeavors to reach the depth of pain and aimless wandering that besets the seminarian. An unchaste man may be enslaved to lust, but often it is not lust that owns him.More often than not unchaste behavior originates in the wounds mentioned above: felt isolation and the paralysis of a fear that prevents a man from surrendering in prayer to a new level of spiritual vulnerability. This fear of surrender to God is often fueled by lies nesting in his heart that portray God as One who wants to take and not share. [7]

In truth God wants to call to the seminarian from within His own sinfulness, his own hiding from love, so that He can minister to the needs of the seminarian from within. It is a seminarian's darkness within his heart that cries to God, invites God, summons God to be who He is for such a man: compassion. "Far from diminishing God's yearning for us, our brokenness unleashes in him yet deeper wellsprings of tenderness and mercy." [8] One is not determined to remain on a conveyor belt of sin. There is in Christ the end of sin, its healing. Here we can begin to see the power of spiritual direction and its necessary role in healing.If a man can relate his thoughts, feelings, and images to his spiritual director, he can learn to abide with these in prayer as well. After a while the prayer and the spiritual direction interpenetrate so that in a very real way spiritual direction becomes prayer, and prayer readies a man to name the intimacy he has with God to his own spiritual director. In fact the man becomes eager for direction because he knows that He will find God's love for him there.

Spiritual direction, while separate in its own right, goes hand in hand with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so it's important to encourage seminarians to confess not only sinful acts but also sinfulness, the specific lies that he has believed, the (false) attitudes he has lived. It's important to confess his resistance to relating certain affections that he experiences to the love of Christ upon the cross ("I'd rather hold on to anger than give it up"). [9] It's vital for a man to confess his choice to avoid affectively-deep prayer, instead choosing to manage his pain through escapist behaviors or compensate for the pain by masturbation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the promised place of forgiveness for all mortal and venial sin. Along with this sacrament, the Eucharist is the promised place of healing for our sinfulness, for the roots of our particular sins.

Eucharistic Power
Primarily, healing takes place at the Eucharist where the great mystery of divine mercy offers us freedom in a regular and substantial colloquy of love. [10] Here, as we place our sinful desires into the wounds and heart of Christ, we receive one of His greatest moral gifts to us: a growing disinterest in sin.

Unless a man is relating his pain to Christ's love for him in deep prayer, however, and inviting Jesus into his wounds outside of Mass, healing is not very likely to happen in the celebration of the Eucharist. To pray for healing a man has to stare at the truth of his interior life—his fantasies, images, feelings, unhealed erotic desires—and name them before the love that Christ is offering. In this naming and acknowledging of disordered desires, Christ comes with healing and mercy not condemnation. This work is complex and needs to be accomplished both within contemplative prayer outside of the Eucharist and also in personal prayer at the Eucharist. One or the other is usually not sufficient.

The power of the resurrection is always at work in the Eucharist, inviting us to relate our sins to the spousal self-donation of Christ even as this obedient self-donation breaks Him free from suffering and death. It is into this obedience that the seminarian is invited. If he trails after Christ to the cross, then the fruit of such love will wash over him and heal him, leading the seminarian to no longer hide from the light (John 3:14-21), for his desires now will be Christ's, and he will receive from Christ what he had been looking for and trying to behold in unchaste acts: a gaze from a face of love.

This gaze, however, is not Christ's alone. It is also Mary's and the Church's. Christ wants the seminarian to take seriously the bestowal of relationships that happened under the cross. John, the priest, is to receive Mary into everything that is his own (John 19:27), especially his identity as chaste spouse, spiritual father, beloved son, and good shepherd. Mary is the particular face of the Church. [11] This church is the priest's "Bride" to whom he dedicates himself while prostrate on the cathedral floor. In this spousal self-giving, a man does not give himself to an indeterminate Bride but to an "other," served now in a moral mystical way through the real needs of parishioners. Mary, the one who received the gift of chastity with eager availability, tutors the seminarian to know that his own chastity for the sake of self-giving is the ongoing identification of his priesthood with the priesthood of Christ. What awaits the man who seeks liberation from unchaste acts is the strength of all of Nazareth, as Mary and Joseph intercede for his priesthood and instruct him in the ways of healing that serve the mystery of a chaste union with the Bride.

"There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving presence: We seek closeness not only with those who share the same blood or are linked to us by friendship, but also the closeness of those who are intimately bound to us by faith." [12] The Holy Family is a presence that is real to those who believe. In their own love for one another they influence our capacity to love and be loved. Here Joseph, especially, leads the seminarian to the threshold of true surrender. Joseph—man, sinner, true husband of the Immaculate Conception—longs to show the seminarian the way of joy found in an embodied freedom after the Spirit of Christ. [13] The seminarian ought to grow close to this mystery of Nazareth as the living inhabitants of its family love his priesthood more than the seminarian does. As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote, "The New Covenant began . . . in the simple dwelling of the Virgin. . . . The Church can always begin anew from that place and recover her health from that place." [14]

Finally, the Eucharist is a source of healing for disordered sexual desire because it is in fact the wedding of the Lamb (Rev 21). It is a marriage between heaven and earth, God and humanity, and so any sexual disorders are taken up into the truth of what a seminarian's masculinity is for. If the seminarian is vulnerable, if he enters the bridal chamber of the cross with a willingness to expose the truth of his own heart, then the Bridegroom will heal him to such a point that he will be able to love the Bride like Christ, unto death. Here the desolate one, the orphan seminarian (Hosea 14:3), the one bereft and alone, is taken up into the Paschal Mystery and the community of love, the Church, where all his ills are set right.

Here at the Eucharist we are at the birth of the new Eve, the Church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:28: "Husbands love your wife as you do your own body"). Participating in the Eucharistic mystery of Christ's resurrected body, the seminarian is enabled by the Spirit to offer his own body as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). No longer is he interested in the selfish pleasure of disordered desire, for he no longer hides from the nuptial mystery; he is, rather, defined by it. Even in singleness, in celibacy all men are defined, marked by the nuptial mystery of Christ. One cannot escape the demands of being husband, the demand of contemplating the Bride and her needs over the temptations to wallow in the fleeting abnormal consolation of unchaste acts. In the Eucharist the new creation is being worked out; there is no stronger, more immediate contact with salvation than in the Eucharistic Liturgy. "While Christ lies in total passivity and availability [the contemplative sleep of Adam (Gen 2:21)], . . . the Heavenly Father together with the Creator Spirit who rejoices over [the dying Christ] works out the new creation, making flow from His open side, and His body drained of all its blood, the body of the Bride of Christ." [15] In this ultimate sacrament, Christ is continually rendering Himself available to the Bride under sacramental signs. He is giving everything out of the power of His resurrection and through the ministry of the priest. In so giving, the Bride receives the depths of His love. In this plentiful assembly of mystery (Eph 5:32), surely the roots of unchastity are to be healed. Christ wills that it is so (Matt 8:5ff). The Eucharist is the fountain of mercy—a mercy that raises one to new living. "See I make all things new" (Rev 21:5).

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 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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