Friday, June 20, 2014

God's Heavenly Eros.

It pleased our Lord that I would sometimes see this vision: very close to me, on my left, an angel appeared in human form... In his hands I saw a golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it, and he left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. […] The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God. --St. Teresa of Avila--

I have male friends who say that they prefer the nonsexual, intimate embrace (yes, cuddling!) to sexual intimacy. However, they say that while a man is sexually aroused he can't enjoy such an embrace because his strong sexual desire overpowers any other feelings. This is why some people (of whom I am not one) will say that a man needs sexual fulfillment so that his mind can be freed for other things--as if man is so controlled by his libido that it's not possible to function as a normal human being without frequent, periodic sexual release. (Say it ain't so!) 

Due to the Fallen human condition, often physical touch can cause one to experience sexual arousal regardless of his/her relationship with the other person (e.g. stranger, teenager, family member, same sex person, etc.). Often this happens on its own, without an action of the will. Sometimes such feelings can be misinterpreted and cause a person to sexualize the relationship. The disordered sexualizing of an otherwise healthy relationship (e.g. close friendship) can lead to experimentation and labeling of a person's sexuality (e.g. bisexual) or, at the very least, the loss of that relationship. But the reality may be that this person also experiences normal sexual reactions and simply needs to learn to avoid sexualizing relationships. If every fleeting instance of sexual arousal must be scrutinized as evidence in determining one's sexual identity, then no wonder people are so confused.

In addition to the physical reaction, humans experience intense emotional reactions. For women especially, an intimate relationship can lead to unhealthy levels of emotional attachment. Lovers should not meet in 'sweet slavery' to one another but rather should achieve unity of heart. This is not fulfilled by infatuation with and unhealthy dependence on the other. And just as we can sexualize any relationship, we can also develop disordered emotional attachments to any other person (spouse, sibling, coworker, even kidnapper: e.g. Stockholm Syndrome). None of this suggests that we should avoid closer personal relationships altogether, but we should be vigilant and discerning in all things.

Because Jesus said that no one is married in the Kingdom of Heaven, we know that everyone will be celibate. But we know that we won't be suffering because of it, so we must be freed from sexual urges and emotional attachments. We will be emotionally fulfilled by God and our emotional reactions to other people will be perfected and purified. So we will be able to form close relationships without disorder. In fact, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual perfection we obtain will set us free for chaste physical intimacy with others. There may be a lot more physical contact in Heaven because we will no longer battle sexual urges. We will be the disciple whom Jesus loved, reclining on a loved one's chest.

However, eternal life without sex does not mean life without passion. The truth is, we will not need marriage because we will have a nuptial relationship with God. Remember, in Heaven we are all invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Jesus is the bridegroom and each one of us belongs to him in a special way. We will have a passionate relationship with Jesus--a relationship of lovers, as described in the Song of Songs. We will experience God's jealous love that fulfills all of our desires without sexual intimacy. We will be like Teresa of Avila in spiritual ecstasy. And if our experience of God's Heavenly Eros is anything like St. Teresa described it then, indeed, who could be content with anything less?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Practice DOES make perfect!

Recently I was reminded of practicing with mom for a spelling bee. I would go off and work at memorizing the ridiculously long list of words and then mom would test me on the words I had misspelled last time. She wasn't particularly surprised when I still spelled most of them wrong, although with each new word she continued to hope that I would spell it correctly. If I had been goofing off when I was suppose to be memorizing, mom would have been upset by my lack of significant progress. But mom could see how hard I was trying and she patiently quizzed me over and over again, knowing that I really wanted to do well.

In a similar way, God helps us overcome our habitual sins. While I need to continue striving to overcome those sins: repenting when I fail, praying for extra grace to grow in this area, and resolving again to avoid future sin; I need to remember that God knows exact where I'm at spiritually. Although I have been concentrating on improving in certain areas, Jesus is not surprised when I fail and, yet again, commit the same type of sin. So long as I genuinely desire to avoid the sin and I'm doing all of the things that I know will help me achieve that (e.g. prayer and penance), then my heart is in the right place. Jesus knows that I desire to please him. And, in fact, he desires to help me overcome these sins. He is not angry, so long as I am repentant, and he patiently works with me to persevere in suffering, dying, and rising to this sin.

Psalm 145 states: "The Lord is faithful in all his words and loving in all his deeds. The Lord supports all who fall and raises all who are bowed down."

In a way, the Lord supports even those who repeatedly fall into sin. And the Lord raises even those who are bowed down by their own sinfulness and weakness, so long as they are humbly striving to the best of their ability to please him. The key is having contrition and a desire for continued conversion. In this case, with the help of God's grace, practice does make perfect!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Learning from Jesus: How to evangelize.

I thought I would take a break from the love and relationships posts and share a shorter post inspired by a homily I heard a few months ago about Jesus and the woman at the well from John 4:5-42. This is the story of Jesus' seemingly scandalous conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was out drawing water in the heat of the day, not wanting to be seen and knowing that no other women would be there at that time. Jesus stopped to have a private conversation with the woman of inferior breeding (such was the thinking at the time) and asked her for a drink of water. She was shocked that he would even consider drinking out of her cup. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman," she said. "How can you ask me for a drink?" (This was one weird Jew.) Jesus then proceeded to tell her everything she had ever done. He knew her already without having met her. And so he offered her a drink from the spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Learning from Jesus: How to evangelize.
March 23, 2014

In today's homily, our priest pointed out the gentle way in which Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus spoke of her sins but not in a scolding way. He could sense that she was not satisfied with the life she was living. She wearily asked how she could receive the living water so that she would not have to be burdened by returning to draw water day after day. She was living in 'survival mode' as Mother Angelica calls it. She was too busy reacting to her many problems and burdens to reflect on her life choices, and she couldn't see a way out of that life anyway. Jesus showed her another way, a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. He desired to give her the living water of faith, a fresh start in a new life that is free from the burden of sin which brings death. He wanted to free her from the prison she had made for herself. He offered her redemption.

Jesus knew that a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit would change this woman's life forever and that she would repent and cease to live a life of sin. And he saw that she was open to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there was no need for him to address her sins directly. This poor Samaritan woman knew that she was a sinner, and she was despised and rejected by the community because of her misdeeds. She needed love and hope and an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

However, there were those who committed grave sins and did not consider themselves to be sinners. The Pharisees and Sadducees were held in high esteem as models of righteousness. They presumed God's favor and took it for granted while committing a multitude of sins. There are two blasphemies against the Holy Spirit, the only unforgivable sin: 1.) to despair that one's sins are too great for God's mercy 2.) to deny one's sinfulness and persist in unrepentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees were in the latter group. While they obstinately refused to humble themselves before God, already perfectly righteous in their own minds, Jesus, who was literally free from sin, received John's Baptism of Repentance in the Jordan, in order to "fulfill all righteousness".

Unrepentant, the Pharisees and Sadducees would not benefit from the gentleness shown to the Samaritan woman. Instead they were faced with tough love, receiving frequent tongue lashings from John the Baptist and Jesus.

"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'"

Sometimes tough love is the only way to shock someone into seeing their own sinfulness. This is one reason why the church has a process of excommunication, requiring one to produce good fruit (i.e. contrition and conversion) as evidence of repentance. Short of excommunication, other disciplinary actions can be taken to encourage repentance and protect others from scandal. It may not seem nice. But love is not always nice.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Deliver Us Always from All Dangers

This is a meditation I wrote about four years ago shortly after getting dumped. Really dumped. I was totally blindsided and in something of a state of shock. However, I had done the same to someone in the past. Every sin has consequences. The story is not entirely autobiographical, but probably closer to the truth than I would care to admit.

Deliver Us Always from All Dangers
July 25, 2010

She laid on the dirty carpet of the hotel room rocking back and forth with a pillow held tightly to her face to muffle the noise of her uncontrollable sobbing and screaming. Her freshly ex boyfriend anxiously watched, begging her to stop, but she was not particularly aware of him. She got up off of the floor and frantically paced the hotel room like a caged animal mumbling confused and panicked dialog between her and herself. She asked herself how she could have been so sure that she had found her soulmate. "Oh God! How could I have been so stupid! How will I ever trust myself again?" She pulled hard at her long brown hair, using both hands to inflict pain that would distract her from the emotional torment she was currently experiencing. In a moment, she desperately snatched the pillow off of the floor to muffle several more screams, she could feel them coming on and felt powerless to stop them. In her brief, lucid moments she hoped that none of the other guests could hear her carrying on. It was long after midnight.

As she screamed her ex boyfriend tried to embrace her and she shoved him away. "Don't touch me! I have to learn to live without you," she hissed at him. "Don't try to comfort me after telling me that you don't want me anymore." More sobs tore out of her and the pressure in her head felt excruciating. The pain was almost a comfort. Overcome, she lay down again on the floor with her fists balled up against her eyes as the tears came pouring out. She rocked back and forth and pleaded, "God, kill me, please kill me, please kill me, please kill me..." This was the low point when she really thought she might die, unable to endure the pain. One part of her mind thought she might welcome the relief of death while some smaller part looked on in disgust, accusing her of being a drama queen and putting on such a show in hopes of causing him the same pain she was feeling. She never could have imagined that it was possible to feel such grief over someone still living. But then maybe that was the gist of it. The man she had called her soulmate, whom she may have loved more than life itself, was gone. Some change had occurred. This man who was with her now in the hotel room was some other man she had never met before. Her soulmate was dead.

She had just started developing a Catholic faith, partially inspired by this now ex boyfriend, and was currently embarrassed at her behavior and mortified to imagine God and the Virgin Mary along with the entire Communion of Saints watching this thoroughly unacceptable performance. She was also feeling humiliated to remember how just last week, in calm and comfort, she was marveling at the progress she had made toward behaving like a proper Christian. Here in a time of hardship, everything she had learned seemed to have been thrown out the window. She had taken two steps forward and about two hundred backward. She had recently been reading that during times of trial Jesus makes the most significant changes within us. This is when we grow the most. She had a feeling that would be true for those who suffer admirably, but worried that it might not be the case for the horrible brat she had become when her world crumbled around her.

Unfortunately, this awful moment between her and her ex boyfriend was the start of a long weekend together. He was working a summer internship which allowed almost no free time. All the interns were living in a house with strict rules including no overnight guests. And so even though she was currently unemployed she had booked a hotel room so that she could visit and attend his friend's wedding. In the end, his internship schedule made it such that she would hardly see him at all in exchange for $200 in hotel fees. So many of the details of this weekend visit and the summer in general had caused her bitter disappointment and stress and it was starting to take a toll on the relationship. But she had never imagined that her "soulmate" would give up on her. Give up on them.

.     .     .

She was quite surprised to see the Blessed Mother, although not as surprised as she maybe should have been. She was not particularly surprised that the Blessed Mother lives and that she decided to make a visit to the mortal realm, but she was very surprised to be the recipient of such a visit. "But I'm not even baptized..." Of course she was beautiful and serene beyond imagination, such that it's worthless to describe her. But she looked very concerned, like an earthly mother preparing to tell her child that the dog just died.

.     .     .

She sat with me and began speaking, since no introduction was necessary. I felt no urge to speak but sat listening. She told me that my life was proceeding down a particular path. A wide path. And she revealed that path. I had applied for a job and would get that job but not soon enough for my job to overlap in time with my boyfriend's internship. And neither would I be able to afford to visit him often. When I did visit, he would have no more than an hour or two to spend with me each day. I would make some visits and we would spend our time both angry and sorrowful about the situation. Our long distance relationship would be strained but the visits would make the tension even worse. I would become constantly angry and jealous and demanding of his attention. I would develop insecurities which would cause me to make outrageous accusations and to misjudge his intentions on a fairly regular basis. In this way I would hurt him beyond healing with a simple apology. On his end he would become depressed and withdrawn emotionally. He would lack compassion and his actions and words would hurt me without his realizing. The pain of his depression would cause him to withdraw into himself to the point where I could not reach him. Our relationship would be ruined beyond repair. Even if God's miracle restored our broken relationship the hurts we had inflicted upon each other would cast shadows which would dwarf the rewarding aspects of our relationship for many years to come. It was a path of darkness and destruction.

To be sure, I asked her if that was truly what would happen to us. She said yes. I began silently weeping and covered my face with my hands. I wondered why she would bring me this cruel news and hoped she couldn't tell what I was thinking. She came closer and put an arm around me and said, "My child, stop crying. There is another way. Another path."

I pulled my hands away from my tear streaked face and looked at her with wet eyes. I was afraid to speak.

"There is another way which will spare you most of the hurts inflicted along the first path. You will be subjected to a complete separation, and the initial suffering will be even greater. But you will find the True Love that your heart was made for, a precious pearl without price. The path is narrow and contains much suffering within a short period of time; the pain will be very acute. Because of your unhealthy attachment to this man, you will suffer emotional, physical, and spiritual agony such that you will wonder whether or not you can endure it. You will lose faith in yourself and in your ability to discern the will of God. Your trust in God will be brought into question among terrible doubts. Whichever path you choose, you will not remember this conversation and therefore you will live with the great uncertainty of not knowing whether or not your relationship could have been salvaged.

"The pain experienced along the narrow path will continue for much longer than you originally expect it to. But the Holy Spirit will be your guide and God knows exactly how much suffering a soul can endure. He will provide you with just enough signs, intuitions and encouragement to see you through to the end. Know that you will not be able to find a way to heal yourself or distract yourself from the pain. Only God can do that. At certain points you will be thinking that you want to give up but you will persevere to suffer another day. Endure you will, until the day when your prayer is answered and you are set free from unhealthy attachments and unbound to love freely and truly. You will be blessed with Chaste and Pure Love and your joy will be resurrected. Be consoled that many graces and favors will accompany the suffering and once your inner peace returns the memory of your suffering will quickly diminish. You will share in the Divine Life, for though your sins be like scarlet, they will become as white as snow."

And that's when I decided once and for all to give my heart to Jesus.

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot behold him; on the left hand I seek him, but I cannot behold him; I turn to the right hand, but I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. [Job 23:8-10]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Action of Grace in Territory Held Largely by the Devil

I have been dusting off old writings that were never posted and have come across many on the topic of love and relationships. I expect the reader's impression to vary anywhere from a wholehearted agreement with my views to a visceral reaction against them. But please know that I share my thoughts out of good will, recognizing that most of us struggle in this area at some point (for better or for worse) and that hopefully my writing can provide food for thought or at least a sense of solidarity. After all, misery loves company. This first post is quite long, so kudos to anyone who soldiers through to the very end! :o)

Today, my friend Becky and I are attending a pilgrimage day at the Shrine of St. Anthony so it seems fitting to share this post which contains a reference to one of the talks from the same event two years ago. It uses the first person plural to refer to myself, my previous boyfriends, and others from among my various peer groups. It is up to the reader to decide whether he/she belongs to this collective we.

The following borrows its title from Flannery O'Connor, who once described the topic of her writing as "the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil". It was prayerfully composed and presented in oral form to the Baltimore Lay Missionaries of Charity as part of a series of presentations on the four LMC vows: poverty, chastity, obedience, and free and wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor. This particular talk focused on the vow of chastity, including both celibacy and marital chastity.

The Action of Grace in Territory Held Largely by the Devil
March 2, 2013 Lay Missionaries of Charity meeting, Gift of Hope, Baltimore

In the Divine Comedy, the foundation of Dante’s seven story mountain, Mount Purgatory, is Pride. For Dante, Lust is the icing on the cake. But perhaps because it’s the least heavy of the 7 deadly sins it serves as a sort of gateway sin to lead us further away from God. The Devil is waiting for the branches to grow on the vine and as soon as they reach full maturity he plucks them off through lust. How many young people have been lost to Lust?

I want to paint a picture of romantic relationships outside of God’s grace and how the world is turned upside down:

The concept of soulmate was so ingrained in our thinking. In a pagan sense, we really felt that fate had a particular person set aside for each of us and that, if we were persistent in our seeking and perhaps a little lucky, a miracle of chance would bring us together. And so every committed long term relationship resulted in assuring ourselves that we had found The One, while fearing that we had not. We felt that soulmates were meant to complete each other. 

I put him on a pedestal and was dismayed whenever he failed to live up to my expectations. If he forgot to call me then I was upset because clearly he was not making me the top priority in his life. I started to think that maybe he would be perfect for me some day but just needed to grow up a bit. And so I tried to fix him. We had a partial understanding of the truth that romantic partners should inspire each other to grow. But our corrupted thinking caused us to pursue this by demanding conformity to unreasonably strict, and often unhealthy, standards.

We understood, in some crude way, that in a healthy marriage the two become one flesh. But we were not married, and our concept of becoming one flesh did not respect the dignity of the individual person. We felt that we had to give up our own identities, in a sort of misguided self-sacrifice. We were to spend as much time together as possible, socialize with the same friends, participate in the same activities, all while constantly thinking about each other. Because if I can’t stop thinking about him then I must really love him, right? (Funny, that’s not true of my relationship with my mother.) We were willfully becoming attached, both physically and emotionally, in a worldly way, without any covenant agreement to protect us.

We saw allowing ourselves to be used as a form of charity. The world’s logic told me that I was not, in fact, being used if I consented to it. Having that final say as to whether or not I will allow myself to be used became a means of manipulating and controlling the other person. It was a way to feel powerful while submitting to the whim of another person. And so, the reality is that we were mutually using each other. But the world was turned upside down. We saw ourselves as mutually submitting to each other and thought of this as love.

The Truth was in us. We had an innate sense that perfect love is a complete giving of self. But we did not have the fidelity to the First Commandment to protect us. (Jesus' wording being "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.") If I had loved the Lord above all things, I would not have been willing to commit sin in order to please another human being. I would not have encouraged another human being to sin, nor would I have knowingly done anything that might cause another human being to sin. I was doing the opposite of St. Maria Goretti, but calling it virtue.

I did not know God so I was left to rely on my own poorly developed conscience, and the advice of The World. My conscience started out healthy, but over time it was corrupted by the world. Although my thinking was selfish in so many areas, I understood the truth that love involves sacrifice, but I didn’t know what that should look like. And without moral absolutes, the Devil and The World had turned everything upside down. Evil looked like good.

You hold on to chastity as long as possible but eventually you feel like the only person in the world who thinks it’s worth waiting until marriage and, without God, you start to wonder what’s the point? This moral code I militantly cling to isn’t helping me any. It’s just keeping me alone and lonely. But most of us want to be a “good” person—whatever that means—and so we start to rationalize. The typical rationalization for a committed long term relationship is that we love each other enough to be married and plan to get married when fill-in-the-blank circumstances permit, so we’re as good as married. (Note the complete lack of understanding of the sanctity of marriage; it’s seen as a mere contract.) We’re soulmates, after all, it would be wrong to deny ourselves the full expression of love!

At the back of one’s mind, however, is the fear that this person may not actually be my soulmate. What if my soulmate is still out there searching for me and I mistakenly marry this person? And so if someone comes along to whom I feel more attracted and more compatible then I feel obligated by fate to leave my current relationship and pursue this new possibility. And I see my growing doubt as a sign that my current partner is not The One. The soulmate mentality leads to fear of commitment, infidelity, and sometimes the worst tragedy as in the case of Romeo and Juliet (who could not endure life apart) and Anna Karenina (who destroyed herself in pursuit of the perfect romance).

When such a relationships ends, it becomes clear that the love we had was not eternal. It was a counterfeit of the lasting love of the Sacrament of Marriage. It was not agape, but a mix of erotic and filial love, neither or which were rooted in a relationship with God. It was obvious that we had been fooling ourselves thinking that sort of relationship would last. 

In the humiliating aftermath of a broken relationship, we no longer trust our ability to judge and recognize a healthy relationship—still failing to realize that we will never find that healthy, lasting relationship outside of God’s grace. But time dulls the pain of such failures, and eventually we work up the courage to search again. With na├»ve optimism we move on to the next Godless relationship, hoping that eventually we will find The One.

Now, of course, I realize that this was a search for God and that I truly did have a God-shaped hole in my heart. But I was so blind to the spiritual that it never even occurred to me to seek fulfillment in God. It made no more sense to me than seeking to have a living, personal relationship with a bowl of ice cream. If God was a living person, then he certainly didn’t seem to want anything to do with me.

However, in my most recent relationship, that pagan understanding of soulmate opened my mind ever so slightly to the concept of Divine Providence. And my unhealthy emotional attachment to a lapsed Catholic opened my heart ever so slightly to Jesus. With the objective of convincing him that Catholicism is obviously wrong and, yet, desperately hoping to find Truth in the “Christian” churches, I started reading the Bible and searching for answers to the usual questions (e.g. why does God allow suffering?). But I was surprised to find that Catholicism provided the most complete and reasonable answers and soon I was spending every spare moment reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and seeking answers to the typical accusations against the Church.

I expected this boyfriend to be excited and, at first, he was. I think he was relieved to no longer have to defend the religious practices of his devout mother. I was excited to find that faith and reason are not mutually exclusive and wanted to share my discoveries. He would humor me for a while but then was irritable that I had become so single minded. Sometimes I would ask him to help me understand a difficult concept such as transubstantiation. That particular topic led to our biggest argument that resulted in his feeling ashamed of his poor understanding of the faith and my feeling appalled that someone could profess to believe something so strange with no more than a superficial understanding of the concept.

Soon my mind was open enough to consider giving prayer a chance. The rosary seemed to be a good place to start because, even from a secular point of view, I could appreciate the benefit of meditation and becoming more familiar with the mysteries. Soon I was willing to admit definitively that I believed in God. It was not faith (i.e. trust) at this point, but I was identifying myself as a theist. Over time I convinced this boyfriend to come to Mass with me on Sundays but, having firsthand knowledge that he was not in God’s grace according to the teachings of the Church, I was upset when he insisted on receiving communion.

I came to love Catholicism on an intellectual level and decided that some day (probably in the distant future) I would receive the Sacraments of Initiation. But I still had a very poorly developed conscience. My immature understanding of sin led me to view all actions in one of two categories: gravely sinful such that they must never be committed, and not gravely sinful and therefore permissible. When I saw the conditions for mortal sin, I understood that if one committed a gravely sinful act without realizing that it was a sin, then the sin committed by this particular person was actually venial. It was demoted to the second list of acts that are permissible and, therefore, don’t warrant any further thought.

Unwilling to change my life at this point, I put immense amounts of time and effort into convincing myself that all of my mortal sins could be considered venial. And I found a seemingly limitless supply of heretics posing as faithful Catholics to supply arguments which, filtered by my broken conscience, seemed quite logical. I was still blind to the fact that this process was a blatant violation of the first, most important, Commandment.

For example, I found an article written by a so-called Catholic priest arguing that cohabitation before marriage should be allowed because, historically, betrothed couples lived together before marriage was finalized. His main conclusion was that committed, monogamous couples that plan to pursue marriage should be permitted to live as though married because, basically, they would be married except that they had not gotten around to receiving the Sacrament yet. So receiving the Sacrament was considered more of a technicality. (A gross misunderstanding of Sacrament!)

Also, I found that it is allowable to use hormone treatments for medical reasons and, assuming those reasons are grave, the woman commits no sin due to the fact that this treatment also renders her sterile. And so I neatly rationalized that if my primary reason for taking birth control pills was to maintain a regular menstrual cycle, then this was not sin. My conscience nagged at me a bit as to whether or not this was a grave reason for receiving medical treatment but since ‘regularity’ and ‘gravity’ seemed subjective I thought nobody would judge too harshly.

I remember an episode of Seinfeld in which the main character, Jerry, was going to take a lie detector test because he had lied to a girlfriend, the daughter of a cop. But he didn’t want her to know. So he and his friends were trying to figure out how to beat the lie detector. His friend George said something like, “If you can convince yourself that it’s true, then it’s not a lie.” George thought that if Jerry could just manipulate his mind to the point where he believed that what he had said was true, the test would not be able to detect the lie.

You see, I was not thinking of God’s judgment, but rather the judgment of whatever priest I might one day meet in the confessional and whether or not he would insist that I change my behavior. In the end, my reasoning seemed so convincing that I felt no obligation to ever mention these sins to a priest. “If I can convince myself that it’s good, then it’s not a sin.” But I was forgetting that I would be judged by God, and not by my reason but by my heart.

I was confused because I was still thinking the way man thinks rather than how God thinks. In today’s world, man primarily seeks to maximize pleasure and minimize suffering. This is why I have so many friends who argue that prostitution and pornography serve a necessary function and are, in many ways, good. They say that the suffering caused by sexual temptation is bad, and the relief of that suffering by giving in to the temptation is good. The suffering caused by the degrading nature of the job of prostitute or porn star is bad, but the financial compensation is good. And it is up to the individual to decide if the good outweighs the bad. There is little sense that the bad harms more than those who are directly involved. There is no sense of communion, as the Catechism explains:

Communion in charity. In the sanctorum communio, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." "Charity does not insist on its own way." In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.

Without a personal relationship with God, we are not protected by the First Commandment which so often saves us from sin and rationalization. This is why conversion of the heart is necessary for the protection of chastity and purity. Without a living faith, we lose the sense of communion and the understanding that our sins poison all of creation. We seek eternal love in counterfeit, worldly things.

Gradually, God converted my heart through prayer so that I could no longer bear to live in mortal sin. I informed this boyfriend that our relationship would have to be chaste from now on. A few days later he broke up with me. I was shocked and emotionally devastated and upset with myself for being wrong again about finding The One. But this time my suffering was not wasted; it brought me closer to God.

My heart did not understand the teachings of the Church until I read Theology of the Body. The words of Pope St. John Paul 2 painted such a beautiful picture of sacramental marriage that I could no longer find comfort in any substitute. Coincidentally, a couple of my devout Catholic friends were engaged-to-be-married and their chaste relationships glowed with a joy mine had never had. I noticed a beautiful young couple at Mass each morning and as the husband helped his very pregnant wife into the pew I thought, that’s how relationships are suppose to be. At the same time I encountered many beautiful nuns who seemed so joyful that I wanted that same chastity and purity and I saw the dysfunction of the unhealthy emotional attachment that had characterized my past relationships.

It was important for me to see that it’s possible to live chastity joyfully both inside and outside of marriage. We need defenders of the truth to make us uncomfortable in our lies. We need to see true, Sacramental love to make us unsatisfied with our counterfeit relationships. We need people to help us understand the truth, so that we can see how perfect it is. People need to know that it’s possible to live chastity. People need to know that there is something better. People need signs of contradiction. Until my conversion, I had never known anything but unhealthy relationships and the ways of the world.

At a talk last year, a Franciscan friar pointed out that Purity, symbolized by the lily, is not just physical but also of the heart and mind. He said that the lily represents an undivided heart. The root word for chaste means morally pure. So we can think of a vow of chastity as a quest for ever increasing moral purity by obedience to Christ through the moral teachings of the Church. In addition, through surrendering to God’s will and being freed from worldly attachments, we can achieve an undivided heart. So poverty, chastity, and obedience are inextricably linked.

The Church is alive, she grows and she awakens in souls, which   - as the Virgin Mary – welcome the Word of God and conceive it through the work of the Holy Spirit; they offer to God their own flesh, indeed in their own poverty and humbleness, becoming capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. –Pope Benedict XVI, final address

Love is indeed ecstasy, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self toward its liberation... and the discovery of God. –His Holiness Benedict XVI