Thursday, September 01, 2011

"Cruise director' for a day.


"Prayer is the trap door out of sin." - Teresa of Avila
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Yesterday an anonymous commenter asked, "Any special prayers for a man addicted to cruising?"
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I answered, "Anonymous - pray for them - pray for the virtue of chastity for the person's you cruise."
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I suppose I should have asked what he meant by cruising?  The drive-by, walk-by kind?  Sexually open-ended double-takes at attractive people jogging, laying in the sun?  Going into 'cruising areas' where 'stuff' can happen?  Catching the eye of someone - and holding it?  There are different ways to cruise - but I think I understood the general term. 
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My answer may have seemed unhelpful.  Another commenter, Clark, provided the basic direction and safeguards helpful for persons striving to live a chaste life.  Nevertheless, even the most disciplined, generous soul can sometimes relapse into old habits: souls who do all the right stuff, frequent the sacraments, even dedicate their lives to the poor or some charitable work - perhaps caring for elderly parents in addition to one's career.  Even priests can fall into such sins - one poor fellow was arrested earlier this year in a cruising area.  So how does a young man remain sinless?
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Charity.
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In addition to practicing all the right disciplines, there may be one thing lacking - charity.  Authentic love of God and neighbor as oneself.  Therefore, if one prays, especially for those we feel most attracted to, or who strike us as someone easily seduced - whatever the notion - when we pray for them rather than exploiting them as an opportunity for personal pleasure, selfish affirmation, what have you - we are in effect exercising ourselves in charity.  I know it sounds odd and somewhat like 'liberal theology of the body' advice, such as saying, "Look at them in all their beauty, and appreciate it by offering it back to God and thanking him for the beauty of his creation."  Truth be told - that isn't such bad advice - provided one doesn't dwell on the object - the key is to redirect one's attention - keeping custody of the eyes.  Prayer brings us back to a more interior recollection, it returns us to the awareness of God's presence.
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Custody of the heart.
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Maintaining custody of the heart is also key - it's what is involved in all the preparatory work Clark mentions.  It is also part of what I meant by praying for the person who may have tripped your trigger.  We usually fall so easily because we had once become habituated to it, or we can find ourselves in what I call a sort of sexually open-ended frame of mind; although sometimes we can simply be overcome by sudden, violent temptation.  Nevertheless, praying for the object of our lust, and/or affection can become the way to recover our peace and put matters back in perspective.  After all, how can you go ahead and morally harm someone and cause them to sin while you are praying for their good?  How can you use a person for sex and yet pray for their salvation?
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"Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love." - John of the Cross
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Another grave temptation one encounters in the spiritual combat with the flesh is the idea that one has already committed a mortal sin by placing oneself in the occasion of sin,  "So I may as well go all the way."  That's a trap.  Our Lord says that the man who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed sin in his heart. Impure thoughts deliberately entertained are sinful of course and may dispose one to go out looking - cruising - for an opportunity to engage in sex with another or by one's self.  But don't be tricked into forging a longer chain of sin by saying to yourself - "I already did this so I may as well go ahead and do that."  Pray instead and don't give in to such temptations - sort out the gravity of a particular sin in your examination of conscience - not in the heat of battle.  But if you do fall, get up.  Keep trying - no matter how often you fall.  Go to confession twice a day if need be - just keep trying. "Prayer is the trap door out of sin." - St. Teresa of Avila.
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 I don't know if this is helpful - I'm sorry it has become such a long explanation for what I meant by the 'pray for those you are cruising' statement.  It is important to remember that prayer is in itself an exercise in charity - so as St. John of the Cross advises, "where there is no love - put love."  I think it works.
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How can a young man remain sinless? - Ps. 119:9
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A few years ago I did another post on 'how a young man can remain sinless', that some newer readers might find helpful.  I'll reprint a couple paragraphs from that post here:
As for other types of acting out sexually, these may have a compulsive dimension as well. One has to work at it. But never focus or dwell on the temptation or the act - it takes hold that way. Let impure thoughts go in one ear and out the other, don't focus. Sometimes they stick in the mind - don't focus on them, go on as if they are not there. (Don't get all uptight and try to repress them however, it makes them worse, be calm and let them blow away like "leaves on a windy day".) And if you feel like you've sinned by entertaining the thoughts - don't let your body or the devil convince you that you have already sinned gravely so you may as well go all the way. That is so much his best trick. The other really bad trick of his is, if you do fall, he suggests doing it again, since you've already sinned anyway. Every consent to his wicked suggestions forges another link in his chain - break it immediately through an act of contrition and go to confession as soon as you can. These acts of humility and repentance are your arms in battle, with trust in the Divine Mercy of course. That reminds me, pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy, even if you are steeped in sin, Jesus promised He would not fail to grant His grace and mercy to "even the most hardened sinner, even if he were to recite the chaplet only once." It is a very powerful prayer.
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Maybe you've never heard of it, but there is a mortification referred to as custody of the eyes. It's when you keep from indulging your curiosity about things, the practice trains you to control your "wandering eyes". It can be exercized by not watching TV, or not listening to certain music at times, or not checking some one out on the street or at the beach. As you drive, ride or walk, or are just sitting there, you're going to see someone with a great body and perhaps little on it. You saw it, maybe you looked twice, it's not a sin - even though your body may have reacted. Take that reaction as a warning, divert your attention, move on, jump in the pool - do something. But do it without anxiety and without over reaction. Gradually one learns to not objectify and sexualize everybody and everything, especially if you do not make your body and other peoples body "an idol". There is a certain amount of idolotry in our culture that is directed toward the body. We live in a time wherein the most obvious sign of outward devotion may be properly called, "the cult of the body". We've got to stop our "sacrificing to idols" - a pagan custom revived in our day not unlike that which prospered in ancient Rome and Greece. - The low spark of low rise pants.
Art:  Night in Bologna, Paul Cadmus 

24 comments:

  1. I like this a lot. Thank you.

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  2. I have discovered that a true act of friendship (this goes along with the Charity thing) is the greatest weapon against unchastity. Unchaste sexual thrills are truly nothing in comparison to the joy that comes from an encounter between good friends.

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  3. Great post Terry. I just came from the barber shop, where I realized I couldn't let my eyes wander to the magazine table ...

    Your advice is great - and it brings up something. It seems like a lot of the advice to "never look at women at all" seems to indicate a certain flipside of looking lustfully - the assumption that all beauty, all attraction, is necessarily prurient in nature, and that a man cannot possibly appreciate the beauty of a woman (or another man for that matter) without having lustful ulterior motives.

    I'm not saying we should do the Christopher West "chastely ogling" crap, but I am suggesting that it's possible to look at a woman and think she's physically beautiful without succumbing to lust, that she has a cute face or an elegant figure - though such attraction is at its root "sexual" in nature, it's not "venereal", to use a word the older moralists like to use. And though there may be a temptation to use that person for gratification, a healthy sense of appreciation of the other for their own sake, prayer, and a good dose of "do unto others" is the trick I think (mutatis mutandis for women dealing with men in everything I am saying).

    I can remember that when I was a teenager and had a crush on a girl, I'd look at her any chance I could get, or if I had a picture from a dance or yearbook, I'd look at that - I don't think this was sinful - I was mesmerized, but there was nothing venereal about it, and I would have been horrified at the thought of thinking about her in impure ways. I think one can look at classy photos of famous women, or one's friends, or even be impressed by the beauty if one's mother or sister (in a different way than one sees the handsomeness of one's father - though there is of course nothing incestuous in this). I personally think St. Therese was an absolutely gorgeous girl, she's beautiful in photos - but there's nothing perverse in that, I don;t believe.

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  4. Of course, as you know, I run into problems when I start reading what the Saints had to say.

    I've talked about St. Aloysius before, but even John XXIII made a vow never to look women in the eyes, and Padre Pio apparently said he didn't even recognize the females in his congregation towards the end of his life.

    The last straw on CAF for me was one poster who said he learned from the "holy priests" he apparently hangs out with a "trick", that if one trains oneself to feel disgust at the thought of a woman's body, one can overcome lust, even "the demons in one's dreams" (this is the same idiot who said married people should only see one another naked immediately before and after the marital act). This attitude was supported by scores of quotes from Saints (this guy loves prooftexting), indicating that one should always mortify even the initial attraction to the opposite sex - never look at them, have limited contact, etc.

    While we think it is normal and healthy for young people to meet, become friends, be attracted to one another, date (albeit chastely) and get to know one another before getting married, St. Alphonsus for one believed that couples should meet just once or twice before marriage, and that anything else was a danger to chastity.

    And the Church Fathers had the same attitudes towards women's modesty as Muhammad - cover up everything (some said even the face) at all times.

    So even though I know I am not sinning at all, especially not gravely, if I am attracted to women or even look at them, even marvel at their beauty, (and I know when to look away - believe me, I know when to lower my gaze - or raise it, haha), I feel liek the advice of the Saints was to avoid any and all attraction between the sexes whatsoever. Which sounds crazy, and it's certainly not what moralists teach. I feel like I must be sinning in some way every time I look at a beautiful woman, though I know what's in my own heart. If the saints were so worried about even the slightest sexual attraction, why shouldn't we be? (and this is not a rhetorical question - I KNOW we shouldn't be, but I don't understand tradition)

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  5. Anonymous3:59 PM

    Mercury, Can you get an annulment and remarry?

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  6. To that end, there's more to the spiritual life than what you do with your penis.

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  7. Anon 3:59, no need to be anonymous for that. Yes, I am about to start the annulment process - the civil divorce will be going through perhaps next week. Back in Germany the canonist we talked to said an annulment would be very difficult in our case, but he recommended I do it in the US since they may interpret canon law differently and since that's where I'm now living anyway.

    The tribunal of the Diocese of Baton Rouge says I need to call my local parish (which is the church at LSU), so it's just a matter of making the phone call to get started now. I'm just putting it off now.

    Whatever is decided I will view as the verdict given to me by God. If I've got to live a chaste life without the benefit of marriage, then so be it - it wouldn't be the heaviest cross anyone's ever borne. It's kind of pathetic that many people would think of it as the worst thing in the world, when so many people struggle for food and water and a roof over their heads, the death of children, etc.

    On the other hand, I sure would like to have a wife - for all of the blessings that come with a loving spouse and family. Maybe I'm just selfish.

    Thom: wait - there's more?

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  8. Indeed, Mercury, contrary to popular belief. :-)

    Kidding aside, I wish you good luck and peace for the process you're about to endure.

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  9. Thanks. "Thy Will be done" is about as comforting a phrase as there is. He knows what's best for me even if I don't.

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  10. Anonymous5:18 PM

    Perhaps Mercury has a religious vocation.

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  11. Anon - please do not say that. I have nothing against religious vocation, but I am terrified of the idea that if I have one and don't follow it, I'll go to Hell. So many saints believed that, and I can't shake the idea. And if I took vows, I'd always be obsessing over them. My God, I can't even imagine what my scruples would be like if I took a vow of poverty (of course, my spiritual director is a Benedictine, and they do not take radical vows of poverty). Or I'd be obsessed with the idea that St. Theresa of Avila would have gone to Hell had she not stopped having visitors and making small talk.

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  12. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Terence, I read about this type of behavior, but thought it was mostly something that went on right after WWII when the men were returning home and spent some time in port cities.

    I am glad to hear that there are steps a man can take to pull himself out of it. Is this a result of what you called fantasy fiction?

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  13. Sure, there are a lot of ways to keep yourself in the right track, that is if you really want to. Chastity has always been possible with the constant reminder of how lust and greed can lead to abuse, exploitation, and disrespect. If we learn to love purely, without any self-satisfying motive, then we can act with more integrity towars others.

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  14. Our Lord was friends with a woman, actually more than one and remained chaste. I don't understand the talk of cutting yourself off from the opposite sex or same sex of your attraction. Chaste friendships can be had and they can be a wonderful love in your life. I don't think God wants us deliberately cut off from one another. I am single and can't imagine not having my male chaste friends slong with my girlfriends. They give my life balance; it must be what He wants for us in a perfect world.

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  15. Good post, Terry.

    Yes, but anne2j, we're talking about people who are trying to get out of very serious sin. When one is trying to break a dangerous habit, it is best to go overboard, at first, in going the opposite direction and then as the habit breaks there is usually a period of coming to a happy center.

    The goal for most people is to live in the golden mean, but a certain austerity for a time might be required while one works on conversion.

    You are most likely not sexually addicted and can handle such friendships. For others, who have spent years trying to get sex, wherever, whenever, the temptations can be very grave.

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  16. I work around drop-dead gorgeous fighter pilots on a daily basis...it never gets old..one thing about the US military..they don't recruit ugly fighter pilots..

    I say numerous prayers of appreciation to our Heavenly Father thanking Him for the beauty of His creation :) And try not to step on my tongue... :) Too much...

    But yeah I don't DARE have more than a couple of beers around them, as my defenses are easily eroded..
    Sara

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  17. Anonymous12:02 AM

    Hi Terry. Hi.

    Wave

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  18. +JMJ+

    The last Anonymous commenter was I.

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  19. I wondered if it was - but then I thought it was an old friend named Kelly - because he said hi to me like that too.

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  20. Anonymous10:46 AM

    Enbrethiliel is a little story teller

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  21. Seriously, Anon 10:46? How pathetic and petty can you get?

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  22. Anonymous1:17 PM

    "Anonymous comments will no longer be accepted."

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  23. Anonymous2:58 AM

    +JMJ+

    This is Enbrethiliel, too! ;-)

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  24. Enbrethiliel is also a fan fiction writer!!!

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