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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I have been struggling with the problem of compulsive masturbation since I was about 13. I started fueling this with pornography when I was about 18 after I obtained use of the internet at home. This is something I still struggle with. . . .

. . . I see [my current confessor] . . . maybe twice a week (he said to call him anytime I need to) to confess my failing in relation to the issue of impurity and he gives me absolution after a decent chat. I am a little bit confused about the theological nature of his advice, though. He has advised that I should still frequent Communion if I should masturbate how ever many times and do not have time to see him beforehand, the rationale being that it is a compulsive habit. Something about this just doesn’t sit right with me (I used to get this advice a lot elsewhere). . . .

Now, we have been getting fairly close recently, such as by visiting one another at our homes. He tells me that he loves me very much which I feel is pretty genuine. Sometimes, we may hug each other after an emotionally-charged confession on my part. Now, this priest has a bit of a drinking issue. I feel hypocritical in saying this, but it’s a fact. I don’t have a lot of close friends at the moment, and I don’t think this particular priest has either. When it comes to sexuality, he also seems a little immature and ignorant which can be a little frustrating for someone in my position.

In short, I think we are becoming a little too close, and that we may be using confession as a way of making up for a lack of close friendships. I also question the theological integrity of his advice about impurity. I mean, my soul is at stake!

Sometimes I want to back out of this “relationship,” but I then think it would affect this priest in a big way if I stopped going to him for confession and spending time with him. I sometimes feel this might be judgmental—after all, the priest is a sinner, just like me. He seems to be a very holy man, but sometimes what he says it out of kilter with what he does.

QUESTION: Do you think this priest’s advice is theologically sound, and do you think my current relationship with this priest is getting unhealthy? I feel somewhat guilty in asking you this question, but I feel as though I am caught in some kind of a bind. Am I being unreasonable?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• Warning Signs
• Taking Communion Unworthily
• Guilt
• Tolerating Real Love

 
It’s plain common sense, not judgmental, to see warning signs in a priest and decide that you do not want to entrust the welfare of your soul to his advice.

So, to answer your questions, I find the priest’s advice theologically incorrect, and yes, the relationship is in danger of becoming unhealthy. In what follows, I will explain.

 
Warning Signs

Now, as for those warning signs, you describe four. The problem with alcohol, the hugging after confession, the willingness to be available “anytime,” and the personal meetings in a private home all point to the priest’s unresolved conflicts about his childhood emotional needs. Just on the surface level, these signs warn of the danger of a personal attachment that can obscure sound theological guidance, but they are also warning signs of the possibility of his sexually abusing you. 

 
Taking Communion Unworthily

The advice about not abstaining from Communion after masturbating most likely derives from the priest’s psychological attempts to minimize the guilt of his own addiction. But taking Communion while in a state of mortal sin [1] is like throwing the Blessed Sacrament into a sewer.[2] It’s just one more insult for Christ to bear—and from one of His own anointed, no less—on top of the insults of the Passion.

 
Guilt

As for your own psychology, the best clue can be found when you say, “Sometimes I want to back out of this ‘relationship’, but I then think it would affect this priest in a big way if I stopped going to him for confession and spending time with him.” This points to your psychological issues about guilt.

 
 The Origin of Guilt in Childhood

You fail to mention your childhood history, but I can guess that you experienced many failures of your parents to meet your emotional needs. Your childhood pain could have been some form of abuse—most likely emotional rather than physical or sexual—or it could have been the result of the “normal” lack in most parenting today.

However the emotional lack in your childhood occurred, it would have developed in a three-step process by which you progressively

1.

Felt injured by it

2.

Then felt angry about it

3.

Then felt nervous about feeling angry about it

In other words, children feel shame because of the injury of feeling unloved, but, even worse, children feel guilt because of the inevitable thoughts and fantasies that signify the anger (“I hate you!” “I wish you were dead!”).

 
 Warding off Guilt-inducing Thoughts

These guilt-inducing thoughts and fantasies are commonly warded off in one of two ways:

1.

Turning them inward.  You say self-negating things to yourself (“I don’t deserve to be loved,” or “I don’t deserve to be here,” or “I don’t deserve to be alive”), which results in depression;

2.

Trying to neutralize them.  You attempt to keep your guilt secret and to resolve it through your own superstitious efforts, which results in obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

 
 Assuming False Responsibility

And then, on top of all this self-punishing behavior, as a further way to absolve themselves from guilt, children take on the false belief that they are responsible for the feelings of those who injured them in the first place! Thus they end up trying to protect the very persons who are (or have been) injuring them. Eventually, they will hear themselves saying irrational things such as, “But I can’t leave him! He needs me!”

 
 Healing the Guilt

Once you understand how psychologically complicated the guilt-producing process can be, you can then realize that healing the guilt takes some deliberate effort and hard work. Endeavor, therefore, to focus on an examination of your childhood emotional wounds so that you can understand the guilt that prevents you from acknowledging your emotional needs.

 
Tolerating Real Love

As long as you cling to the self-created belief that you are unlovable (as a psychological defense against admitting that your parents failed you in love) you won’t be able to tolerate real love. You will crave it, and yet, at the same time, you will push it away in the belief that you are unworthy of it—and believing yourself unworthy of the real thing, you will unconsciously seek out imitations of love. Separated from true love, you will seek out “relationships,” even if the relationship is with nothing more than a bottle of alcohol, your own body, or the fantasy of another person’s acceptance of you.

This is a serious psychological and spiritual mess, because if you can’t tolerate real love, how can you accept God’s love for you?

And if you can’t accept God’s love for you, how can you heed His call to repent and change your behavior?

You see? That priest is stuck in the same mess himself.

 

  

I ASKED the LORD, “O LORD, why is it that we are so troubled with genital arousal and erotic desires? Why does our sexuality have to be this difficult?”

  

     He replied, “No one enters My Kingdom who has not resolutely chosen the Spirit over the Flesh. Let your genitals be a constant reminder of this, in every moment, with every breath you take.”

 

How to stop masturbating:
Order a copy of this booklet for yourself
or to give to your family and friends

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes

1. To be culpable for a grave (i.e., mortal) sin, you must commit the sin willfully. Masturbation, by definition, is willful. By the same reasoning, an alcoholic who drinks is drinking willfully; even if his bodily biochemistry makes it difficult to stop drinking once started, the drink that starts the process is willful. And the same for any addiction. That’s why Christ said, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna” (Matthew 5:30). By this metaphor He meant to do anything it takes—even “cutting off” an addiction with total abstinence—to avoid sin.

2. Some persons, however, avoid Communion because of scruples about their venial sins, and that is a mistake.

 


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Copyright © 1997-2016 Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
 

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