|What chastity should feel like.|
It's the beginning of Advent, a season we as Christians should be preparing a "room in our hearts" for the coming of the Christ Child on December 25th. This Advent, we're going to be doing this by exploring how the blessings of practicing chastity can bring glory to God, serve our neighbor (especially God's precious ones), and enrich our own lives. (For more on what Advent is, see this post.)
Chastity gets a bad rap. Our culture (and the majority of Childlovers) try to convince us it's impossible, that it's self deprivation, that it's confining, and that there's no good that can come of it. It's often depicted in terms of having to wear "certain devices" or long lists of "Thou Shalt Nots" that seem arbitrary, but most of these misconceptions are fed by very incorrect ideas of what chastity is. If you're pedophile, you probably know how flimsy and false "popular misconceptions" are when it comes to the complexities of human sexuality. On the contrary to these, chastity is a virtue, one cultivated under perseverance. Far from being self-deprivation, chastity is a school for how to live an abundant life. You will not succeed or receive the graces needed to persevere in chastity without leading an abundant life, nor will you truly live an abundant life without persevering in chastity. Where do you get in on that circle? Christ is the way in. God gives the grace to be chaste. Without it, we can not be chaste, nor can we have the fullness of life.
Chastity does not mean simply "repressing" one's sexual desire or pretending it isn't there. Attempting to do such is not only contrary to God's design, it is also spiritually and psychologically damaging and doomed to failure (as the history of such false "puritanical" ideology attests!). According to the Catechism, chastity is "the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being." (Catechism par. 2337)
"Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy." Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end." (Catechism par. 2339)
If that sounds too heady, we can always go back to the scriptural source of it: the words of Christ Himself, who taught on the necessity of practicing chastity: "You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Once again, Christ didn't annul the Law, He came to fulfill the Law, and He teaches here that the meaning of the Commandment against "Adultery" actually has more to do with the lust of the heart, learning self-mastery, and ultimately, respecting the dignity of other human beings and the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of GOD. Lust takes apart what God has joined together, and that is why lust is a sin, and why Christ exhorts us all (if we are to be His followers) to abandon the lust of the eyes before it turns into a corruption of the heart.
Not a "List of Nos"... One Big Yes!
But for a pedophile, simply "giving up" one's sexuality is not so much a virtue as a necessity. It's not so hard to imagine that "giving in" for us would entail very real consequences (a literal "hell" on earth), but far more, it would constitute spiritual death, and very serious evil. Most pedophiles practice a degree of chastity if they want to stay out of jail, but simply "giving it up" (and that includes lust and masturbation!) does not confer any virtue. In fact, abstaining from one's sexuality is not at all what chastity is. Chastity is not mere abstinence or even self-denial. Chastity is a means of sexual expression. But how can that be?
So you're a pedophile who wants to follow Christ and practice chastity. That's good. The first thing you need to understand is that we will never eliminate our sexuality (unless God wills), nor will repressing our sexuality ever yield spiritual fruit. Christianity is sex-positive, but it's also sin-negative. Sin has destroyed the beauty and healthy thing that sexuality is. Much like St. Paul writes "Be angry, but don't sin" (Ephesians 4:26), God essentially is telling us the same thing in the school of chastity: "BE sexual, but don't sin!" There's a difference between attraction (appreciating the beauty of a child) and lust (desiring to use the child sexually for one's own pleasure). There are many ways of expressing one's sexuality, and only one of them involves using the genitals. Sexuality is what gives us our energy and passion. We have only spend it for the benefit of those we love rather than waste it on ourselves, and we will be following the Lord's design. It's hard, yes, but so was CALVARY. Commit to never giving up!
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:4).
But that is not the end of the struggle, that's the beginning. Remember, chastity is a "school" where you never stop learning things. After you commit to never giving up, you have to come to understand yourself and what God wants from you and for you through this perpetual struggle. You have to realize that what the Church calls "objective evil" and "mortal sin" are really also psychological problems as much as moral ones. In other words, there are psychological reasons that are keeping you in the masturbation/porn/impurity lifestyle. They are numerous and perhaps multifaceted within you, and most likely their genesis wasn't your fault (perhaps they are leftover issues from childhood that need addressing). The point is, it doesn't matter where they came from, because with God's grace, you can change them.
They can range from a kind of self-loathing/depression, loneliness/shyness, anxiety/fears, anger issues (and pedophiles have plenty to be upset about), and even an inflated super-ego that seeks to repress and eliminate one's sexuality (which is also tied to self-loathing)... all for which masturbation and impurity in general has most likely become a self-abusive coping mechanism for you in some way. It's important to recognize that while the world (and the CL communities) may want to confirm you in this self-abuse by saying "it's all good," Christ and His Church wants to heal you of these maladies (which are side effects of the fallen world) inside and out. Continuing in sin without repentance is the true path of avoiding these issues and continuing to be marred with them (resulting in spiritual death). Practicing chastity is the path of opening up and resolving the issues (resulting in the fullness of life). Don't believe the naysayers. It is not "impossible," and many Saints throughout the history of the Church can testify to this!
In order to be one of them, one has to realize that the biggest enemy against chastity is a failure to accept the reality of our situation. This can take two forms. One form is a kind of sexual "libertinism" (an "inflated id" or "anything goes" hedonism) that ignores the reality of the need for moderation in all desire, and particularly in those desires that are most essential to our nature. This form is often the result of a kind of self-loathing that seeks to destroy the dignity of oneself and others by turning children (the objects of our desire) into objects. The other form is the reverse, a kind of sexual "puritanism" (an "inflated super-ego" or sexual repression) that ignores the reality our sexual nature and tries to either impose a non-human "purity" upon it, ignore it completely, or extinguish it. This form is also a kind of self-loathing that seeks to destroy what is actually vital in our God-given nature (our sexuality). It's no wonder that Christ and His Church teach a much more middle-of-the-road understanding where we both ACCEPT that we are sexual creatures (as God made us!) and DO need to express ourselves sexually, but ALSO recognize that we need to do so with modesty and charity, respecting the dignity of ourselves and others, and within the boundaries of the natural law.
Once we grapple with these concepts there's a few things we can do to try to practice chastity.
|"Clean hands and a pure heart." |
1. Do express your sexual nature... just don't sin. Like the saying in scripture: "Be angry but don't sin," expressing our sexual nature is very similar. Namely, there's a difference between sin and sexuality. Chastity does not mean the absence of something... it is not merely "abstinence." Chastity is an expression of sexuality. There is such a thing as a "chaste sexuality." Sexuality does not need to be genitally expressed in order for it to be "expressed." Everything we do as sexual creatures expresses a sexual character, from the clothes we wear to the way we walk and talk and think. When this expression is modest and controlled (not "repressed", but managed) within the boundaries of the natural law and morality, then it is chaste. Our first inclination is always to think we have to "ban" our sexuality, but that is often the result of the very self-loathing that causes us to fall into sin to begin with. Express your sexuality in how you carry yourself as a dignified man (or woman), and be a role model for children, and you'll be expressing a sexual nature that is chaste.
2. Accept that thoughts will happen, they aren't sinful, but don't sin by entertaining them. Don't fall into unrealistic expectations. You will have sexual thoughts and desires. Don't consent to them for the purpose of gaining pleasure for yourself, but don't stress out if they happen or even happen frequently. Thoughts in and of themselves are NOT sinful... but they can be made sinful when they are purposely sought out (because doing such perpetuates psychological damage). On the other hand, don't simply try to put them out of your mind constantly or you're just going to think about them more and still end up avoiding the deeper issue. Instead, try to figure out why you're having them and ask the Lord for help in doing that. That may be why you're having them to begin with. Better you just let them come and let them go... like the waves at the beach. It's only when you dwell on them for the purpose of dosing yourself with pleasure that you're falling into lust, which is sin.
3. Remember, attraction is not the same as lust. As far as I've read, it's perfectly natural and not even sinful to be attracted to beauty in others. It is only a sin when it is sought for its own sake. When you find yourself attracted to someone, offer it to God in thanksgiving and praise that He has made such beauty in the world. If you try to repress your natural human desire for beauty, you'll be missing out on opportunities to praise God, who is the author of all beauty. Just don't make "beauty" itself a god (which is what lust does).
4. Be honest with yourself and with God. Once again, don't harbor unrealistic ideals. If God didn't want you to have any sexual desire whatsoever, ever, then He would've made you an angel. You're a human, so your sexuality is part of who and what you are and can't be merely avoided or merely indulged in without restraint. When you pray, ask God to give you the strength to endure temptation... don't ask to merely stop being tempted. Nobody can stop being tempted. Even Christ Himself in His human nature was tempted. You're not an angel. Just be honest with God and say "You have made me a sexual creature God, and I find beauty in the things that your hand has made. Praise be to God. Let me appreciate what you have made without falling into sin."
5. Don't repress desires, 'sublimate' desires! Repression inhumanly buries desires that then come bouncing forth in "binges" of sin at unexpected moments, especially during times of boredom, loneliness, emotional upset or anxiety. It is not healthy because it's not what we're designed for. Our sexual desires DO need an outlet, and God in His wisdom has given us more than one outlet for these desires. Sublimation is a psychological process by which the energy of a desire is used towards another end. If we are restless bundles of sexual energy, that energy can be put to use in non-sinful ways, perhaps creatively or by doing some kind of charity, or perhaps just by having some good clean fun, and just as masturbation spends that energy toward our demise, creative projects or charity spends that energy toward our good and the good of others. Hobbies are essential.
6. Intimate friends are still needed, don't sell yourself short! Once again, don't be unrealistic. Remember, Christ was celibate, but even He held the Beloved Disciple John to his breast on the night He was to be killed (John 13:23). He did this as an example for us. All human beings need intimacy of some kind (even those with autism need it!). Once again I think a basic rule applies. It's okay to be intimate or "close" with someone, just don't sin. There's certain acts that can only morally be done within marriage, but that doesn't mean that one has to be a hermit if one isn't married (this kind of self-loathing induces rather than eliminates the masturbation/porn habit). It's very important to have close personal friends that one can be intimate in the sense of having a genuinely fruitful friendship, for support and guidance and help in the path of life. These can be of either sex or any age group. If however the "friendship" is exceeding its boundaries, you have to know when to moderate it, or else discern whether or not it's a call to Matrimony (in the case of it being someone of the opposite sex). Don't assume it is. Don't assume it isn't.
There's more that can be said about the virtue of chastity, whole books. But there's a few insights I've picked up over the past year. Remember, sexuality is powerful simply because through it God has allowed us mere creatures to share in His divine creative ability. This is something even the angels will never be able to do! Sexuality is not a shameful thing. Just don't use it purposefully as an occasion to sin, and praise God that you have this grace. Never give up. Keep confession. Keep at the Sacraments. Eventually God will bring you out of the habit.
Next week, I'll continue this little series on chastity and try to come up with some practical steps pedophiles can take to live chastely and with the "abundance of life" that Christ promises He will lead us into if we follow Him. For now, meditate on the words of our Blessed Lord. He is no thief. He robs us of nothing. He gives us everything we really need.
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).