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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I am getting overly upset about society’s portrayal of women as sex objects. . . . I would just like to be able to not have an emotional reaction every time Howard Stern comes on, or I find the Maxim magazine my boyfriend hid under the couch. I just want to not care. . . . This is, obviously, having a negative effect on my current relationship. I am interested in self-help. . . . I don’t want the “easy way,” I want the cold hard truth.

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• Images of Service
• The Real Problem
• Three Sins
• Changing How You See Yourself
• Beyond Lack and Limitation

 
Well, if you want the cold hard truth, you shall have it. Sit down.

 
Images of Service

To begin with, imagine one group of women who do not concern themselves with make-up, or fashion, or mindless chatting on social media and texting on their cell phones. They aren’t troubled by how society “sees” women. They’re nuns, and they have dedicated their lives to serving their God in devout prayer and selfless service.

Now, maybe this image, as perfectly Christian as it is, is too difficult for you. So imagine another group of women who also live in calm certainty about their lives: married women who through Holy Matrimony have bonded with their husbands—as their husbands have bonded with them—in devout service to their God. To them, marriage is not a way to fill their emotional emptiness with self-satisfaction, but it is an act of lifetime service to God through family with undoubted fidelity and no escape clause but death.

Most likely, that’s still an image that makes you nervous. In fact, it makes almost everyone nervous when they fear the loneliness of being rejected by their friends and relatives if they live the true faith. For example, most persons in this world today cannot sit in a car without turning on the radio to drown out their emotional loneliness.

 
The Real Problem

So let’s look at your real problem. You say you have a boyfriend, and most likely you are not living in chaste anticipation of Holy Matrimony. You’re involved in a sexual relationship, and that in itself causes the very problem that troubles you.

Once you strip the concept of “relationship” of its chaste and holy dignity and reduce it essentially to a self-satisfying sport—a game designed to drown out your emotional loneliness—then you place yourself on the playing field as a blatant sex object in full competition with all the other players. Any woman who has a more pretty face or larger breasts or more shapely legs, or who is taller or thinner or more rich or more socially connected or more glamorous or more fashionably dressed is, by definition, a rival and a threat to your security. And even if in anger you try to assault the gaze of the world with body fat, tattoos, body piercings, and purple hair, you don’t really leave the playing field, you just take up new, sometimes covert, tactics in the competitive game.

 
Three Sins

Moreover, when you step into the competitive game of making yourself into a sex toy, you commit three sins.

1.
  

First, you defile Christian charity, because competition is a rejection of the Christian call to be mutually cooperative (Philippians 2:3-4).

2.

Second, you evince a lack of trust in God; instead of praying for God’s will to be done, you take matters into your own hands to get the social acceptance that you believe you need in order to survive in the world—a world that actually hates Christians.

3.

Third, you incite lust, because, to be competitive with other women, you have to dress sexy to get attention, and sexy is, well, a vice, not a Christian virtue.

 
When a woman dresses like a sex toy, acts like a sex toy, and speaks like a sex toy, she is a sex toy. It should be no surprise that she is not treated like a lady. No matter how intelligent or talented she might perceive herself to be, she is inviting everyone who sees her to rape her visually. She has forsaken her feminine dignity and is nothing more than a sex toy in the eyes of others.

 
Changing How You See Yourself

So, in the end, realize that you can’t be a Christian by doing what “everyone else” does in an anti-Christian society. Realize also that it’s futile to try to battle society itself. It’s useless to try to use politics to change the spiritual blindness of human society. All you can do is change how you “see” yourself. And when you learn to see yourself from the perspective of true love and self-giving, not from the perspective of a mere sex toy, you shall have found the cold, hard truth about genuine, meaningful life.

 
Beyond Lack and Limitation: The Mystical Experience

Jacques Lacan, in his writing (see the book Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne and the chapters “God and the Jouissance of The Woman” and “A Love Letter”) speaks of the psychoanalytic concept of “lack.” Although he uses some complicated mathematical imagery and abstruse psychoanalytic language to describe the matter, this concept of “lack” could be summed up theologically by saying that we cope psychologically with our human brokenness—that is, our separation from God—by using illusions to create for ourselves experiences of comfort in the midst of our misery. The illusions are varied, such as food, drugs, romance fantasies, sexual activity, sports, militarism, and politics, and the comfort can take the form of pleasure, pain relief, social acceptance, and personal valuation.

Lacan points out that one “side” of life is characterized by the use of this dynamic of illusions/comfort as an unconscious compensation for our brokenness. Moreover, Lacan demonstrates that there is another “side” of life that isn’t trapped in lack but that experiences something very real, albeit “unknown.” Lacan speaks of this experience as something that some women have encountered; it’s an ecstasy they experience without knowing what it is, and so Lacan refers to it as something “beyond sex” and thus as something mystical. Furthermore, Lacan states that even though most men are trapped on the “lack” side of life, some of them also encounter the mystical experience.

Note carefully that Lacan spoke as a psychoanalyst who was concerned with issues of neuroticism and sexuality, and so he didn’t elaborate on his ideas as theological concepts. Nevertheless, to speak theologically, it can be said that the side of life not trapped in lack is the place of mystical religious experience, and that it is characterized not by futile efforts of compensation for what is lacking but by a real experience of a fulfillment of a yearning for God.

Hence we can define mystical ecstasy as a prescient experience of a complete union with God.

Because the mystical experience is beyond sex, both men and women can be mystics; nevertheless, more women than men tend to have mystical experiences. This can be explained by the fact that anyone who preoccupies himself or herself with illusions of compensation is obstructing the mystical experience. In the past this was true of most men, and it is still true of most men today. And, in the past, many women were not drawn to these illusions. But today, sadly, because of feminixt efforts in regard to “women’s liberation,” more and more women are being “liberated” into sin and are crossing over into the use of illusions typically used by men.

Nevertheless, women who value the supernatural—rather than shake it off as a burden—can have a special role in their spiritual influence on men. In the book of Genesis we are told that the desires of man’s heart are evil from his youth (see Genesis 8:21). In other words, both men and women are prone to all illusions as a fact of (fallen) life, just as much today, in the modern world, as in the past. Women, however, can be the glory of man (see 1 Corinthians 11:7). “Woman is the glory of man” means that when women seek the mystic way of life—that is, a way of life governed not by an attempt to compensate for lack and limitation but by a profound embrace of the fullness of God’s love—they renounce illusions for the sake of an experience that is beyond sex, and so they take up a God-given spiritual authority to relate to men with a real love that puts men in their proper spiritual place of loving God rather than loving illusions.

Thus when both women and men seek the supernatural side of life they participate in an equality that the trite illusions of sexuality can never attain.

 


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