Friday, June 29, 2007


N.B.The following post mentions topics that sensitive readers might find objectionable.

Ask any golfer (or at least golfers as poor at the sport as I am) what will happen if, when they are getting ready to swing at the ball, they think to themselves, “Don’t hit that tree. Don’t hit that tree.” Unable to hit the tree intentionally on their next twenty swings, that one time they will hit it square in the center.

A spiritual director of mine once said this is due to the body’s inability to hear the word, “Don’t”. In effect, what was being said to the body was, “Hit that tree. Hit that tree.”

Many people try to overcome masturbation in much the same way. Christopher West calls it, “White Knuckling It”. We, especially men, grit out teeth, tense out muscles, and say, “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.” Anybody who works my side of the confessional screen will tell you that this method does not seem to work well. First of all, the mere fact that you are repeating this line keeps the thought alive, and secondly the body is only perceiving the positive, “I’m * going to do it. I’m * going to do it.”

So let’s say that you visit this sin often and want to stop. The first step is to stop punishing yourself too harshly about it. Be clear, I am not saying that it is not sinful, ripe for regular confession or that we shouldn’t strive to stop it, but that overly punishing yourself will only dig you deeper into it. Because why do people masturbate in the first place? Usually to feel better, to escape, or to relieve tension. What happens when you punish yourself too severely? You feel guilty, shameful, and full of tension. Well, what can you do to relieve these feelings? Ah! The horrible cycle builds on itself. So, take it to confession, keep working to eradicate this cycle from your life, but don’t over react to it – don’t give it too much power over you.

Next, don’t try to quit under your own power. Start trusting God to help you. Give the problem over to Him. Be humble. Ask for His saving help. Admit your weakness and need for assistance. Learn to rely on Him.

A priest once told us boys when we were growing up to run laps or do push ups to help overcome the urge. Well, that works as far as the adage “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” but every little bit helps. And it helps to avoid being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. But sometimes all these are out of our control.

It helps to treat your body like a temple of the Holy Spirit, treating yourself with respect and adorning your body with modesty. It helps to train yourself to start looking at others as human beings worthy of respect rather than sex objects (including those found in advertisements, television, and movies). That also means being careful what you watch and read also. Don’t place yourself in a near occasion of sin. If you know your weaknesses, avoid putting yourself in a situation that will exploit them as far as possible.

Other acts of self-denial help us learn the discipline needed to be chaste. It also helps to have a regular confessor, spiritual director, as well as a trusted friend so that the two (or more) of you can keep each other challenged and accountable to chastity. Deep prayer, perhaps holy hours, and use of the Sacraments are of course essential.

Saint Augustine once said, “The worse thing about sin is that the body remembers.” Some people have indulged in this sin for many years and the solution to getting out of it does not most usually happen overnight. One has to change his perception of humanity and sexuality. New thinking patterns during idle times or times of stress need to develop. And the start of the process can be painful. It takes time for the wound to heal and to gain your strength.

Why does the Church care about this topic anyway? Because it wants you to enjoy your God given freedom. If you know someone struggling with this issue you know that it is a destroyer of freedom. Like many vices, it is not something that a person chooses freely to do or not to do but feels a compulsion. That is not freedom. And when one is not completely free, that person cannot give him or herself completely to another. Nor can they find complete happiness because as with many such vices, it ultimately fails to satisfy. Our faith wishes to restore us to true freedom, joy, and honest fulfillment. It may be a hard battle to win, but the fight is well worth the effort!


I almost did not post yesterday’s quiz but I am sure glad I did. You guys had me laughing all day! C.O. I think had the best answers but Bob got it right. (I really thought it would be easy!)

The answers to yesterday’s picture quiz: These are different kinds of tans that are traditionally named after various jobs.

Upper left: Priest tan.
Upper right: Trucker tan.
Middle: Farmer’s tan.
Lower left: Man pretending to a nun in full habit.
Lower right: Lifeguard

Thanks for the laughs one and all.


Anonymous said...

The title of this post says it all. Well, not all, but it should come as no surprise that women, even married ones, may have a problem with the very same malady.

When one thinks about it, it's pretty strange to make love to one's self. And it sure doesn't feel like love. It's satisfying like a great sneeze, but one need not feel shame after sneezing. Libido is a body thing, and it's a strong drive (it's supposed to be), but the mind (or minions) suggest if you just get this urge off your mind by doing this, you'll be a more decent person to all. Kind of a win-win thing.

Wrong. It actually deals God in on it. We are indeed Temples. St. Francis used to roll in the snow to curb his body's sexual appetite, and one day when he was sure he couldn't withstand the urge to marry and create life physically, he built a wife and children of snow.

Well, it's 90 degrees these days and there is something titillating visually or audio every second of every day, so snow won't help, and even hunkering down to weeding the garden with no media and the best of intentions won't help. As you say, time and prayer, time and prayer..and confession.

I have asked my guardian angel numerous times to help me. Help drive it away, help me fall asleep, help help help. My angel helps so much, I am bothered by the urge only very infrequently, now. But the body does indeed remember, and I will always be in danger of sinning with it.. I'm not free of it.. but I avoid occasions of dragging the Lord into this sin, and have indeed brought it to the confessional. I won't conquer it.. but He will.

Odysseus said...

First of all, thank you Father because I believe this is one of the things destroying our culture.

I know that sounds like a cheesy, 1950's morality film (Bobby couldn't stop touching himself, so he became...A COMMUNIST!), but it is essentially true, in that men's minds are weakened by this vice, for a number of reasons.

A priest once told me in confession, "The women in these fantasies never say no, do they? They never feel ill, have a headache. burp, fart etc. They are these perfect, robot-like constructs that have no possibility of existing in reality." It was after this confession that I relaized that the real sin involved is not the sexual release, but rather the fantasy involved. (not that I am trying to justify masturbation without fantasy, since that isn't really possible).

I think the fantasy aspect ties this issue to many other sins, which mostly are fantasies of power. In sexual issues, it is power over women (or men). Indulging in violent fantasies is the same, becuase you are "getting off" on the feeling of controlling other people, of making them carry out your will. In this fashion, we pretend to be God. Worse, we are an evil version of the True God, who gives each of us free will. In our fantasies, no one has free will. They are our obedient servants. If they do rebel, it is because we want them to.

One might say, "Well, it is just fantasy, it's release, it's healthy." I ask you, how can it be healthy to imagine forcing others to do your will? How can it be healthy for me to imagine sexual relations with various women who exist only to serve me and apparently never want to do anything else (women in fantasies never want to go shopping, or make me watch boring Meg Ryan movies...).

This really ties in to your post from Monday. Watching fantasies, whether it is in your head or on the screen, is equivalent ot carrying these things out, as the Lord says, "Whoever looks lustfully at a woman has already commmitted adultery." This is not just "being hardline", it is the truth.

In fact, one might say that the thought is worse than the deed, because the deed would involve real human beings and the conflict of wills that God meant for us in our relations with one another. The fantasy is a warped version of God's creation.

Anonymous said...

I heard about a study where mice were made to run a maze and their reward at the end was to press a button that stimulated the pleasure sensing portion of their brains. The mice found this reward just as motivating as food. The final part of the experiment gave the mice unfetterd access to the pleasure button to see what would happen. The mice would continue pressing the button until they died.

I don't know about you, but I've been that mouse. I was addicted to just two things, sexual thoughts, and sexually graphic movies that they played on HBO only at 3 or 4AM. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? I read in some catholic book that these things were serious sins and I almost passed out. I said to myself, I can't believe these are serious, but I guess I can believe that they are wrong. Very gently, over time, I broke both habits. It was like coming back from another planet. I really don't know I functioned before with my mind always, ALWAYS, on sex. It was slavery!

I remember reading Padre Pio saying that certain temptations shouldn't be resisted too violently or they would only get worse. This seemed to work for me, to be gentle on myself, give myself time, and not wallow in anxiety.

Anonymous said...

Sparky, that's excellent! A good admonition to remember.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that Rob should be a stand-up comedian at Catholic colleges. :-)

Fr. V said...

anon. - Actually it did suprise me how much it effects women. When we "practiced" confession in the seminary, we talked a lot about men but never women dong this. I was shocked as a young priest to know how common it was. (I doubt anything can shock me now. If it did I would be doubly shocked by being shocked that I was shocked.)

Nice points Rob (per usual.) "This really ties in to your post from Monday. Watching fantasies, whether it is in your head or on the screen, is equivalent ot carrying these things out, as the Lord says, "Whoever looks lustfully at a woman has already commmitted adultery." This is not just "being hardline", it is the truth." You never fail to bring either more humor or, as in this case, greater insight to what is brought up here.

Sparky - nice connection too. "It was like coming back from another planet. I really don't know I functioned before with my mind always, ALWAYS, on sex. It was slavery!" If only we could let young people know before they have to become slaves to learn how unsatisfying it is! Yet all of culture seems to be against it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other anonymous blogger. I am also a woman and it's tough living in the world & culture that we do now. It's all about getting the quick fix or rememdy or satisfaction. It's posted and seen everywhere. I'm over 40, still single, and chaste. In my past, I had sinned through masturbation.

I was so lonely, hurt, and depressed... Looking back, I thought this was only my sin. If I masturbate, it's not hurting anyone else. However, the sin was powerful because it affected all aspects of my life - even those I just met. My sin affected how I thought of myself & how I projected myself to others.

I now belong to a Catholic Spiritual program called Light Weigh. Susan Fowler, the author, stated the truth: "the Devil is the king of immediacy," and "Jesus is the God of second chances, and third chances, etc." By focusing on the St. Ignatian reviews and offering my sacrifices to God, I have been able to overcome many vices!

I look back on my life and how far I have come...I am so much more at peace because I choose to have God on my side. I choose God's way, not the easy way or satisfying way.