Tuesday, 4 June 2013

On the quality of the paving slabs of the Red Light District of Amsterdam

Whenever I am thrust into new friendship groups for any length of time, the nature of my Faith is usually one of the first topics which attracts a lengthy discussion. Though I may dare to hope that this is due to the excellent character of my witness, I suspect it is more to do with the novelty of the answers I give to everyday questions and scenarios. The topic which sparks off the most interest, particularly and perhaps predictably amongst men, is sex. Having recently survived two stag parties and several interrogations, I have recently been given plenty of opportunities to express my opinions.

Sex Bomb

The nature of the discussion (at least with men), usually follows a predictable pattern. I decline to acquiesce to what has become an acceptable norm for the modern man (commenting on a particular woman in a sexual manner, looking at page three, discussing pornography or sexual exploits etc) and am then subjected to an interrogation regarding my views on sex and on my sexual experience and activity, largely from a derisive point of view. The ultimate conclusion invariably is that I must be gay.

Some commentators may understand the concept of saving sex until marriage [1] (though dismiss it as a quaint Christian practice) but few are able to contemplate a single life without compensating sexual practices such viewing pornography or masterbation. After enduring many of these these discussions, I have come to the realisation that modern man is actually a slave to what is he is told is the sexual norm - sexuality is to be expressed where and when desired, subject only to the law of "consenting adults".

Image and Likeness

Sexual identity and the sexual appetite are undeniable facets of human existence. Indeed, the Church teaches that they are good, even great things. "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity... The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out." [2] Indeed, in a mysterious way, in the division of humanity into male and female we are made in the image of God and given a unique vocation with the capacity and responsibility for love and communion which is itself a reflection of the personal loving communion which exists between the three persons of the Trinity. "The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity". [3]

Masturbation, viewing pornography and engaging in other sexual practices cannot therefore be a natural end point of this appetite because they do not promote a communion of love - they are inherently selfish acts. In reality, they are addictive, acquired behaviours which become habitual to such a degree that it seems impossible for some to live without them. Though differing wildly in degree, masterbation is akin to biting one's nails, though I suspect the former has greater spiritual consequences than the latter.

Control, control! You must learn control!

A useful angle on the topic was afforded to me as I read "Difficulties in Mental Prayer" by Fr Eugene Boyle. In discussing prayer, Fr Boyle makes a distinction between feelings which arise out of the senses (sorrow, joy, elation etc) perhaps provoked by a beautiful church or a picture of the crucified Christ and those which arise from the intellect and the will. Man possess a sense appetite which desires any good or attractive object set before the senses, either in reality or through imagination. This facility is automatic and is traditionally referred to as a passion by philosophers. This desire is outside of the will and it is only when the will recognises the object and chooses to desire it that a moral choice is made. In other words, temptation is not a sin, nor does it demand that man give into it. The intellect and the will have the final say.

Some of my closer non-Catholic friends have told me that they admire my "control" with regards to not indulging in any sexual activity. Chastity is regarded by the Church both as a moral virtue, the mastery of the senses by the intellect and will, and a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. [4] This certainly has a massive part to play in what is rightly regarded as a position of temptation but I suspect that my burden is far less than their own simply because I am not weighted by their habitual behaviours. Indeed, pastoral guidelines on offenses against chastity recognises this fact. [5]

Things to do in Amsterdam when you're Catholic

Paradoxically, it is often the most overt temptation that is easier to resist. I found it a lot easier to acquaint myself with the excellent paving slabs of the Red Light District of Amsterdam when walking between pubs than I find it to guard my thoughts on a particularly nice summer's day. I am often asked "How I do it?", namely not lust after women and the answer I give is "I try and follow the advice of a good priest - 'Whenever I see a beautiful lady, I thank God for his creation, and move on'". In essence, the sense appetite is presented by a good (an attractive lady), the will consents to the goodness of this thing in the created order but declines the opportunity to regard and internalise it in a sexual manner.

Chastity has real benefits and perhaps the most obvious is friendship. I suspect many of my friends are unable to have meaningful, non-sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex largely because they are preconditioned to regard them in a sexual manner. Again, the Church teaches that "chastity blossoms in friendships", allowing us to imitate Christ who has chosen us as his friends. [6]

A failure to communicate

This leads me onto the final fallacy of the conversation, a classic false dichotomy, that failure to express the normative sexual behaviour for a heterosexual man must necessitate what is regarded as its opposite - homosexual behaviour. Though one mighty churlishly suggest that such an attitude is indicative of a mindset which fails to understand a concept, preferring to ascribes a derisory antithesis to it in order to maintain a particular world view, it demonstrates that the notion of chastity really has lost all resonance with the society in which we live.

Of course, none of this suggests that chastity it easy. It is a life's work which must constantly be reinforced with self-renewal, dedication and prayer. Contrary to modern thinking, it is not however impossible and certainly not irrelevant.

Prayer for Chastity

O my God, teach me to love others with the purity of Your holy Mother. Give me the grace to resist firmly every temptation to impure thoughts, words or actions. Teach me always to love with generosity and goodness, to respect myself and others in the way I act and to reverence the way that You have given us for the creation of new life

[1] Reducing the Church's teaching on human sexuality to the concept of "saving sex until marriage" does it a terrible disservice. The focus should not be on abstinence but rather on living a continually chaste life. Arleen Spenceley writes very well on the topic at http://www.arleenspenceley.com and specifically at http://www.arleenspenceley.com/2012/09/i-am-not-saving-myself-for-marriage-im.html

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2333

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2335

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2345

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2352

[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2347


  1. Luke,
    Praise God! A wonderful and honest sharing. Thank you for your powerful witness. And for clarifying the beautiful virtue of chastity!!