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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

While I was at college, I had a professor (a Benedictine Monk) tell us that homosexual acts are not condemned by the Bible. Although I had only been involved with guys in the past (on a dating basis), I had also sometimes struggled with homosexual thoughts. Once I heard this from the monk, I allowed my curiosity to go further and was involved with a girl for about 7+ months. Our physical relationship never got to the point of even a kiss, although we did cuddle often. After that ended, I again opened the door to correspondence with a lesbian via e-mail, which ended after the first couple e-mails sent. There was nothing in these e-mails that wouldn’t have been written between two “normal” friends—only superficial chat. Since that time, I have confessed all this and have had a major conversion experience. (Certainly, I know the Bible does condemn homosexual acts—and I understand the Church’s teaching on it as well.) . . . Now it has been about two years since I’ve been going to daily mass, praying my daily rosary, and spending a daily holy hour with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I also pray Morning and Evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.  I feel a calling to the contemplative life, and I currently have a spiritual director. I have shared my past with him, and he thinks that it should be no deterrent for me to enter religious life. However, I wanted to ask for your input on this . . . at least for the sake of getting a professional’s opinion.
 
It has been over one year since I have had any serious temptations to have lustful thoughts about a girl (or even a guy for that matter), and it has been about 2 years since I have given in to that sort of temptation. I know I am weak, but I trust in His grace and in Our Lady’s intercession for me. Please let me know what you think—could I be a candidate for religious life or not?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• The Desire of the Other
• Unconscious Anger
• Slavery to the Desire of the Other
• Dying to the Self
• Obedience and Spiritual Direction

 
You have a spiritual director, so, assuming that person knows what he is doing (more about this in a bit), you should follow that guidance. I, then, will offer you some added psychological insight into your concerns.

 
The Desire of the Other

This whole issue really isn’t so much about sexuality as it is about desire—or, more specifically, the desire of the Other. This can be a complicated psychological concept, one that has been well-defined in the secular sense by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

  

Lacan taught that the unconscious—a side-effect, so to speak, of our use of language—is primarily governed by “the Other.” And by “the Other” he meant the social world around us.

Now, the original source of all desire is God. God, in His unfathomable love for us, gave us the ability to desire Him as the source of all our good.

But the world, in its state of Original Sin, desires sin, not God. And so all of us are always vulnerable to temptation from the self-serving desires manifested by the social world around us, for we are surrounded by the unconscious influence of a world given over to a culture of narcissism by which “feeling good” replaces the discipline of seeking all good in God. 

Therefore, to seek the way of perfection,[1] we need to detach ourselves from slavery to the world’s desire and turn back to a pure and ardent desire for God alone.

  

As a very simple example of how this desire of the Other plays out in everyday life, consider how a child might see another child eating ice cream and then declare to her parent, “I want ice cream!” Psychologically, seeing the other child’s desire for his ice cream arouses this child’s desire for ice cream. He sure looks like he feels real good about himself! Give me some of that ice cream so I can feel good about myself too!

As a more subtle example, consider the issue of fashion. We will seek out (i.e., desire) just the right types of clothing that will make us feel accepted by our peers so that we can feel good about ourselves. Notice here that other persons (usually neurotic fashion designers with their own unconscious needs to be noticed) set the standards, and we, to satisfy our need to feel socially accepted, will desire those standards. In fact, this whole concept completely fuels the success of advertising: we see an item held up to us as an object purportedly representing qualities we believe we should possess, and so we end up desiring that object with the idea that, if only we possess it, we will be socially accepted.

 
Unconscious Anger

Well, that monk who told you about homosexuality probably has considerable unconscious anger at the hypocrisy in the family in which he was raised, and thus he acts out this anger by trying to feel good about himself through his disobedience to Church authority. You saw the “image” of his disobedience, and feeling the need to be accepted by him—and by the religious life that he appeared to represent—you fell prey to the desire of the Other and set out to “possess” homosexuality for yourself.

Ultimately, though, rather than remain content with mere validation through common desire, you sought out the Truth about the necessity for chastity in a genuine Christian life, and you now recognize your mistakes.

 
Slavery to the Desire of the Other

So how, then, should you interpret those mistakes? Well, as I said before, this isn’t really an issue about your sexual feelings per se. Your real concern should be in regard to your vulnerability to falling prey to the desire of the Other. And this should be a concern for you as a Christian, regardless of whether or not you choose to enter a religious order.

Understand, then, that you are vulnerable to being manipulated by the “desire of the Other” in so far as you seek your identity—that is, your feeling of social acceptance—in other persons around you. As long as you crave the feeling of approval and belonging so as to feel good about yourself, you will be susceptible to desiring whatever the Other shows you as an image of approval and belonging. And that image can be anything: a physical object, physical or emotional pleasure, an ideology, or even “spirituality” itself.

There is only one way to inoculate yourself from this slavery to the desire of the Other: desire must be raised to the level of the divine. In fact, that’s the essence of the Catholic mystic tradition: to desire union with God as the supreme desire. As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God (Psalm 42:2). Learn, therefore, to die to yourself, as a Christian. Stop seeking to feel good about yourself and seek instead to have your entire “self” transformed in Christ.

And if You, my God, should desire to please me by fulfilling all that my desire seeks, I see that I would be lost.

Soliloquies, 17

It’s that simple.

 
Dying to the Self

Still, this can be a very hard thing to do in practice; many so-called Christians intellectually accept the concept of “dying to the self” but they fail to pursue it from the depths of their hearts as a genuine lifestyle. Why? Because dying to the self means surrendering your quest for personal pleasure and learning instead to seek only the will of God; it means to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and to dedicate your entire being to serving God through sacrifice and suffering for the sake of others; it means the end of social acceptance and the beginning of a life of social persecution for your Faith. In short, it means death to the imaginary realm—that is, death to every “image” that sustains self-identity—and the birth of a chaste, ardent desire for the glory of holiness itself.

  

In today’s world, it has become fashionable, especially among liberals, to run from the Cross and seek the Resurrection. It’s a bit like what Saint Peter did (in admiring the Glory and denying the Cross) only without his eventual confession and repentance.

  

If you are really ready to die to yourself on the Cross, though, you are ready to be a Christian. As for what sort of vocation you might have as a Christian, that is up to your spiritual director to help you decide—if he or she knows what he or she is doing. Let me explain.

 
Obedience and Spiritual Direction

If you were to enter religious life, you would take a vow of obedience to your superiors, doing whatever they tell you to do, whether you agree with it or not. No one can command you to commit a sin, of course, but even if your superiors make mistakes in your guidance you still have to follow their orders. You will not, however, be held culpable for those mistakes; your spiritual growth will depend solely on your obedience.

As a lay person, though, you do not owe obedience as such to your director—to a priest confessor, yes, but to a spiritual director, no. You should cooperate with the director, or it wouldn’t make any sense to be receiving direction in the first place, but ultimately, regardless of the guidance you receive, the progress of your life is still your personal responsibility. So it’s important that you be able to determine whether or not your spiritual director knows what he is doing. And how do you tell that? Simple. Just look very carefully at the spiritual director’s life and see for yourself what he or she desires.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes

1. From the breviary, Psalm 101:1-3a, 6.
 
My song is of mercy and justice;
I sing to you, O Lord.
I will walk in the way of perfection.
O when, Lord, will you come?
 
I will walk with blameless heart
within my house.
I do not set before my eyes
whatever is base.
 
I look to the faithful in the land;
that they may dwell with me.
He who walks in the way of perfection
shall be my friend.

 


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Where Catholic therapy (Catholic psychotherapy) is explained according to Catholic psychology in the tradition of the Catholic mystics.