A common desire for God

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church (27)

In the wake of several interviews with Pope Francis which have wreaked media havoc over the recent months, I encountered several posts which initially startled me.

Thank you Pope Francis Pro-Choice Women Everywhere

Thank You Pope Francis, LGBT People Everwhere

I found many fallen-away Catholics, protestants and pagans alike, celebrating the Pope’s comments on gay marriage and abortion. And along with many faithful Catholics, I was frustrated; frustrated with Pope Francis for causing such scandal, frustrated with the liberal media for telling an incomplete story, frustrated not knowing exactly what to say in response to all the confusion.

And while my disappointment hasn’t subsided, I’ve found some reassurance in reflection.

I wondered, “Why does anybody care what the Pope says anyway?” Most secular references to the pontiff, whoever he has been in recent decades, have labeled him just another old man, disconnected from the modern world, not doing much to upset the apple cart of our atheistic culture. So why do they care?

Perhaps it’s simply because they believe he is finally saying something that affirms their agenda. Perhaps they have mistakenly sensed a conversion of their opposition and find victory in a battle won. Although they don’t obey it, perhaps they recognize his authority over a flock of millions and have a new-found hope in a leader who will reverse the bigotry and misogyny that’s been fostered among the faithful for too long, finally to be corrected.

But! If we consider the power of Christ, perhaps it is because they seek to know God. Perhaps they have even a very slight understanding that Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. Perhaps it is because their hearts are drawn toward the Truth, a Truth contained, in its fullness, in the Holy Catholic Church. Perhaps Christ has drawn their face, their eyes, their ears toward Him… and beckoned His children return to him. Perhaps the flame inside them which lights the path to God… is flickering.

So we must remain hopeful. Yes, we must correct the misunderstandings, we must boldly proclaim the doctrines of our faith, we must not cease to recognize the war we are in, but we must also trust in the Lord, that He has created every one of us – pro-choice and pro-life, pro-gay and pro-traditional marriage, Catholic and non-Catholic alike – to seek Him, to find Him and to know Him.

The prison of masturbation

I was in the seventh grade when a friend first asked me about masturbation. We were having a sleepover and she asked me if I liked to do it. Like any girl stumbling her way through junior high, she was understandably seeking affirmation.

Later that week at school, I wrote her a note about it… a note that my mom ended up finding in my laundry. I was mortified to overhear her bringing it up to my grandmother, whispering as to avoid catching my attention, “…In the seventh grade? Can you believe it?! Seventh grade!”

As the oldest of my siblings, it was just one of many awkward firsts for my parents, I’m sure. Unfortunately, looking back almost 15 years later, I don’t believe many of us would be so surprised as my mom was then to encounter such casual conversation on the topic… even between young teens.

Masturbation, though once taboo, is no longer.

If “the nation’s largest provider of sex education” has anything to teach us about it, it’s that, “Masturbation is a natural and common activity for both women and men…It’s also common for children and teens.”

Are their benefits? Absolutely. “Masturbation can be good for mental and physical health…[It's] one of the best ways we can learn about our sexuality.” Want more? How about “increased self-esteem and body image” and “improved relationships”?

Any risks? “There are no health risks with masturbation… negative feelings about masturbation can threaten our health and well-being.”

So what’s stopping anyone from doing it?

Simply put, a failure to see the truth: that masturbation doesn’t offer the gratification, improved self-esteem and sexual health that everyone promises. It perpetuates loneliness, destroys relationships, spurs addiction and worse.

Like many, I was just as much once blinded and deceived to reject this truth, among classmates in college who unabashedly treasured their personal sex toys and pornography collections, to coworkers who shamelessly divulged about such private habits.

Just recently, I was the only female with a group of about eight men, most over 40, laughing it up over their dependency on the habit, one of them joking that 90% of men admit to masturbating and the other 10% are liars.

If we trust the propaganda to tell us what’s healthy & natural, and the behavior of our peers to justify the normalcy, it’s unlikely that many find their way to the truth… even where it ought to be proclaimed; I recall many Q&A sessions with our pastor on junior high and high school retreats. When the subject of masturbation inevitably arose, with unfortunate lack of compassion, our priest would instruct on Church teaching, then go on to say how “some theologians” argue otherwise… hardly encouragement to trust and obey our Holy Mother Church.

But where there is darkness, light shines all the brighter. And as C.S. Lewis puts it, the truth is bright & clear.

“…The real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another… and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.

And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.

For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival.

Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.

In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself… After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.” (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3)

Masturbation: Prison of Sin

We have come to love the prison and we have refused to believe masturbation to be what it truly is, “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action,” as the Catechism explains.

“The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose,” (that being for babies and bonding). “For here, sexual pleasure is sought outside of the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved,” (CCC 2252).

In the midst of the darkness, confusion & lies, it must be shared boldly that masturbation is evil.

It nullifies and rejects the self-giving nature of sex.

It threatens, weakens and destroys intimate relationships.

It promotes vanity & selfishness.

It corrupts the natural sexual expectations of one’s spouse or future beloved.

It distorts our understanding of Christ and His desires for us as His children.

And it opens doors for demons seeking to ruin our souls.

So we must turn to God. We must ask for His grace that the scales may fall from our eyes to see the real sin of masturbation. We must seek courage to stand against sexual sin and the fortitude to lead others to the truth. And we must be reminded how deeply He loves us and desires that we live truly fulfilling, chaste lives in following His Holy Will.

St. Michael, the Archangel, pray for us. 

Motherhood: a call to all women

A friend of mine recently shared an article from Relevant Magazine, called Why I Decided Not to Have Kids, written by a young, single Christian woman. Immediately startled, I hung my head over another sad indication of our contraceptive culture and I thought, ‘All women are called to motherhood… it’s in our creation as female. How could you reject that?’

So I clicked and read on to find her answer. “Simply put, motherhood is a gift. Some women have it, and some do not. As Paul writes, ‘There are varieties of gifts … but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).”

In a certain sense, she’s very much right. Fertility and conception are gifts which God does not grant to all women, which points to their precious nature. But motherhood itself – just a “variety” gift that God either gives or withholds from us as women? Thankfully, not the case!

Motherhood is bound with our feminine nature. As women, we are designed as maternal creatures, created to suffer in self-sacrifice for the care of others and the greater glory of God.

It seems that women today have an internal struggle with this concept. Whether or not we plan to, or even have the physical ability to conceive children, we are called to motherhood. But our culture tells mothers and non-mothers alike that the selflessness of maternity isn’t so glorious, and that whatever vocation we choose for ourselves, we have the power to make that choice, to accept or reject motherhood.

However, as women, it is in our creation as female that we are destined for surrender – much like all creation, but uniquely as women – to give up our power, our choice.

In a book I read recently, The Eternal Woman, Gertrud von le Fort wrote, “Wheresoever woman is most profoundly herself, she is not as herself but as surrendered, and wherever she is surrendered, there she is also bride and mother… If the sign of the woman is ‘Be it done unto me’, which means the readiness to conceive or, when expressed religiously, the will to be blessed, then there is always misery when the woman no longer wills to conceive, no longer desires to be blessed.”

On the other hand, being single in the meantime is no curse or sin. She refers to the mislabeling of the “old maid” or  “bachelor girl,” who is often seen as having some sort of tragic, single condition to be cured. Instead, the single woman should recognize herself and be honored as the virgin, holding a position of dignity. “Obviously she is not the only aspect of the unmarried woman, but she is her most natural expression.” In this, von le Fort iterates the dignity of virginity, established by the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God, holding in itself the dignity of motherhood.

So can one forsake their call to motherhood for the cause of perpetual virginity, to be “freer to work missions abroad, have more time to volunteer in the community [or] serve as stable, supportive figures to other children”? It would be like untwisting our DNA: impossible. Our maternity is bound with us as women, even as virgins.

As Catholics, we have the blessed opportunity to discern Consecrated Virginity or the religious life for the sake of Christ, promising lifelong abstinence as a gift to the Lord, as His spouse. In this promise, women still fulfill their natural maternal calling in selfless surrender. This is not a promise to be made that will last only as long as a woman remains single, until Mr. Right comes along. It is complete and final surrender.

As for the woman who is waiting to fulfill her maternal vocation in marriage, it is in that sacrament that she will promise lifelong openness to the gift of life. In the vows of matrimony lies the promise to welcome children as God wills, never refusing the possibility of children with the use of contraception.

And thanks be to God we have modern women who have modeled these timeless virtues of motherhood challenged by today’s culture.

Philosopher, Nun and martyr, St. Edith Stein, promoted motherhood as a universal calling to women. She believed every woman to be ‘both a companion (her spousal vocation) and a mother’. “To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is [woman’s] natural, maternal yearning.”

Author and philosopher, Alice Von Hildebrand said, “[Woman] knows intuitively to give, to nurture, to care for others, to suffer with and for them, for maternity implies suffering…”

Universal call to motherhood

We must not reject what God destined for us by creating us female – that is, motherhood. For we are all called, single and married alike! It is no esteemed power to reject this calling in the name of choice, but greater to discern our vocation and find our destined path to maternity. And all the while, we must look to the one who has provided the most perfect example of femininity & motherhood we could ever encounter: our Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary.

“By turning to her, praying to her and contemplating her virtues… women will find their way back to the beauty and dignity of their mission.” Alice Von Hildebrand