Martin wrote:

Dear Friends,

Bless you for the work you do. I need your help badly.

My wife and I joined the Church together shortly after we were married. We've now been married 51 years.

I think I've been a good Catholic up to now.

  • I pray daily
  • attend Mass regularly, and
  • love the Lord and His people very sincerely.

On a more external level:

  • I've taught Catholicism
  • am an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion serving at a hospital; and
  • on a single occasion, we donated one fourth of our net worth to the Church not counting other donations.

Nevertheless, I'm desperately fearful I am now on track to forfeit God's incredible love.

I am in my early 70's and have been blessed with extraordinarily good health. My physique is muscular and trim due to exercise, I still have a full head of hair with a little gray, and my mind remains sharp (I have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics with special interests in quantum gravity), but my libido also remains healthy.

My wife defeated breast cancer over 20 years ago and cannot take estrogen. She loves me dearly, but she's far happier when I put no pressure on her to fulfill my sexual desires.

I have succumbed to masturbation. I have tried to dismiss the urge and offer that up to God but have failed. I even use pornography to make the act quick, seeking relief versus any prolonged pleasure.

I have consulted priests on this and they have indicated my situation it probably isn't a serious sin and that I could make a good act of contrition without going to Confession. I cannot tolerate such vagueness about the most important thing in my life — continuing to be in the fullness of God's grace, especially when I say I will amend my life, with the help of His grace then completely fail to do so. That said, I go to Reconciliation repeatedly, back and forth, with the same sin, hoping that God will accept my sincere intention.

I am requesting your help to assist me in defining my alternatives:

  1. to defeat this behavior whatever it takes, as in Matthew 18:

      "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you;
      it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire."
    or

  2. to adopt some middle-ground behavior wherein I can obtain physical relief but yet be assured I have not offended Him.

    Priests must confront this matter frequently and choose alternative 1. As one with only a layman's vocation, I find myself in a dreadful conundrum.

Thank you.

Martin

  { Can you suggest some alternatives for dealing with this sin without offended Him? }

Eric replied:

Martin,

Thanks for your question. I empathize with your difficult situation and I commend you for not imposing yourself on your wife — that is a meritorious act of love.

The priests who said:
"my situation it probably isn't a serious sin and that I could make a good act of contrition without going to confession."

have done you a grave disservice and have betrayed Catholic teaching. Masturbation is a grave sin, and when committed deliberately — with full consent of the will — it is a mortal sin that causes you to lose the grace of salvation. It may be, in your case, there are elements that make it less than full consent, but it should always be treated as something to avoid with all your strength and which merits Confession when committed. The Catechism is worth reading on this point
<II. The Vocation to Chastity> — read the whole page, but especially the sections on chastity, self-mastery, and masturbation. And heavens, find a priest who is faithful to the Catholic faith.

I'm not entirely clear on what you mean by solution 1.) but to be clear, self-mutilation, in a literal sense, would be contrary to Church teaching. Nevertheless, I know this sin seems impossible to conquer right now. I know you feel desperate and helpless and feel enormous pressure to satisfy your desires but I assure you, that given time and not a little bit of valor, living a life of abstinence is well within the grasp of any man. You are not the only one in a situation like this and it is possible to be chaste. Not easy, to be sure, not simple, with its share of ups and downs, but it gets easier over time. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It seems insurmountable now but it won't seem so bad later.

This is a challenge that the Lord has given you to draw you closer to Him. The struggle with chastity is a great proving ground for faith. It allows you to learn dependence on God and reliance on His grace. It allows you to strengthen your will and train yourself in the way of righteousness. As St. Paul says, athletes deny themselves all sorts of things to win the prize. Run as though to win. Look at yourself as a martyr for chastity — you die to yourself, to your own will and desires, for the sake of the Gospel. Also remember this is a spiritual battle — Satan wants your soul and you have to be more determined to be saved, than he is determined to get you damned. It is a battle and you must be man enough to fight it. Take courage and don't be afraid — God is with you. Ask for the Holy Spirit's help. Seek the Blessed Mother's intercession. Do not give up! Remember it is not the soldier who never falls who is honored, but the one who gets up and fights again.

This will help you love God more and more deeply and be strengthened in your faith. Like gold being refined seven times, you are being refined in the fire. Submit to the refinement, surrender yourself totally to God and rely on him with every fiber of your being.

Eric

Martin replied:

Eric,

Thank you very much for your response.

I've read the Catechism and, as on many issues, it's pretty black and white, not much elaboration on things that might be gray. That's why I consulted several priests. I don't think they could all “...have done you [me] a grave disservice and have betrayed Catholic teaching”.

Apart from my own hang-up, the medical profession widely acclaims masturbation to be an important aid to preventing prostate cancer. And all surveys since Kinsey have shown, essentially, that 99% of men masturbate and 1 % are liars.

Notwithstanding, I certainly take your point that, “This is a challenge that the Lord has given you to draw you closer to Him”.

As I'm sure you are aware, the Church has active theological studies currently underway on this matter, reexamining forbiddance for instances not involving procreation.

Bless you,

Martin

Eric replied:

You said:
I've read the catechism and, as on many issues, it's pretty black and white, not much elaboration on things that might be gray. That's why I consulted several priests. I don't think they could all “...have done you [me] a grave disservice and have betrayed Catholic teaching”.

I rechecked what you said those priests said:
"my situation it probably isn't a serious sin and that I could make a good act of contrition without going to confession."

I should have been nuanced in my response, so let me clarify. It is possible to interpret this in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching, if by "my situation" is meant some sort of habit or compulsion, and if by "serious sin" is meant "a commission of an objectively grave sin which is subjectively venial". In this case, it is generally good practice to go to Confession anyway, since it is hard sometimes to discern when full consent of the will happens, and since there is grace in the sacrament for avoiding it in the future.

If by "my situation" is meant being deprived of an outlet for sexual release, I do not agree that this makes this sin "not a serious sin". This sin is always and objectively gravely sinful but, while masturbation is always of its nature gravely sinful, as I've noted, depending on your state of mind at the time, a particular commission of it may not meet the condition for a mortal sin.

You said:
Apart from my own hang-up, the medical profession widely acclaims masturbation to be an important aid to preventing prostate cancer. And all surveys since Kinsey have shown, essentially, that 99% of men masturbate and 1 % are liars.

That may be so (or it could be one of these scientific "findings" that like many turn out to be proven wrong in ten years), but it is never permissible to do evil that good may result. Look at it this way: If you succeed at abstaining from levels of masturbation that would prevent prostate cancer, and get cancer, you will receive much more eternal glory that lasts much longer and is worth much more than your remaining days on earth.

You said:
Notwithstanding, I certainly take your point that “This is a challenge that the Lord has given you to draw you closer to Him”.

As I'm sure you are aware, the Church has active theological studies currently underway on this matter, reexamining forbiddance for instances not involving procreation.

This is an urban myth. If someone claims there is such a study — and I mean a study that could actually influence Magisterial teaching, not some disaffected group of dissident academics —
I challenge them to identify it and produce the evidence. The Church's teaching on human sexuality is infallible and irreformable, so it would not be possible to reverse it.

Eric

John replied:

Martin,

Let's look at the logic of the two claims here:

  • One the claim that masturbation is an important aid in preventing prostate cancer.
  • The second is that 99% of men masturbate and 1% lie (actually I think Kinsey had the numbers at 97% and 3%, but no matter).

Logic dictates that if both these claims are true, prostate cancer should be extremely rare!
Since that's not case, one of these claims — probably the former — isn't true.

That leaves us with masturbation being very common. Well, that may be true, but it doesn't make it morally correct, similar to a sterile act which is purely selfish. It involves fantasy and objectification of (an)other person(s). While it could be called the common cold of sins, it remains a moral disorder because of it's intrinsically selfish nature.

John

Martin replied:

Eric said:
The Church's teaching on human sexuality is infallible and irreformable, so it would not be possible to reverse it.

Magisterial teaching, while to be taken very seriously, is not infallible and is reversible when,
later on, new interpretation comes to bear on a matter.

Even the Pope's encyclicals are not infallible. However, I don't wish to expound upon Cannon Law — you can clarify this for yourself.

Thank you.

Martin

Paul replied:

Hi, Martin —

Just my quick two cents on this. The dogma of infallibility is not simply canon law, but the official teaching of the Church authoritatively extrapolated from the Word of God.

You are correct in asserting that not everything a pope writes in an encyclical is infallible, but, more narrowly, when the Magisterium (the pope [and/or] a bishop in union with him) teaches on a matter of faith or morals, that is, a universal teaching of the Church, not just a local discipline or custom, he is speaking infallible truths.

These infallible truths summarized in Catechism, which include all the Church's teachings on sexuality, can grow through time, but never change.

For example, in-vitro fertilization did not exist before the 1970's, but the Church may apply her principle that sexual love can never separate its unitive and procreative dimensions without it being a sin of selfishness. Hence in-vitro fertilization is wrong.

Peace,

Paul

Martin replied:

Gentlemen (and Gentlewoman):

I wish to thank all of you for your strong encouragement to me in tackling my problem.
Your thorough responses are far more than I had expected.  You have meritoriously evidenced your knowledge of Catholicism and fitted it to my needs.

I might quibble further with Paul on the conditions for infallibility, but that's not my aim.  My aim, at this point, is to thank you sincerely for your time and effort in responding to me. I very much appreciate Eric's advice to “Take courage and don't be afraid — God is with you”.

Well, that's just what I've decided to do, thanks again to all of you.

Bless you!

Yours in Christ,

Martin

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