by Chris Beneteau
It is fair to say that I believe that the Holy Roman Catholic Church contains the full deposit of faith. My attitude was different just a few short years ago. Although I was baptized and raised as a Catholic, various social, cultural and spiritual forces have attempted to pull me away from the faith throughout my life. These forces are so pervasive and all encompassing that I am amazed I have survived with my faith and sanity in tact. My experiences really reflect just how broken the world is, but they also reflect a sense of hope - a hope that despite what seems like insurmountable odds, God will give us the grace to defeat the forces of evil.
My first exposure to the secret world of disordered sexuality occurred when I was 7 years old as I walked with a friend into the woods that surrounded my home. The woods are traditionally the domains of young boys. They are places where they get to run, jump, explore and pretend to be the men that they will hopefully one day become. In the eyes of a boy, the woods truly reflect the vision of the creator. On this day, however, there was an evil in the woods and it appeared as a familiar neighborhood teenager. After striking up a conversation, something happened that would remove any of the innocence that remained in my heart. Suddenly without warning, the teen lowered his pants, exposed his genitals and asked us to perform oral sex on him. Horrified, I remember saying no, and then running home as fast as I could. My young friend remained behind and I often wonder what happened to him that day. I never spoke a word of the incident to my parents.
Pornography seemed to be easily available to me as a young boy. I didnt have to walk into a store and purchase a pornographic magazine. A friends father had a stack of playboy magazines hidden in his closet. As most parents know, things placed in a closet are never hidden for long with young boys around. After school, we would go to my friends house, remove the magazines from the closet and drool over the naked bodies displayed on the pages. We would then discuss what we felt were the most appealing body parts. Unfortunately, my friends parents were at work at a time when we really needed supervision.
Over time, some of the pornographic collections would become so big that certain adults would purge their homes of the excess. The magazines were never disposed of discreetly. It was almost as if Satans legions wanted these magazines to be found. We found them in dumpsters, we found them near train tracks, we found them in culverts, and we found them in sewers. They were found everywhere and anywhere that young boys hung-out.
I remember hiding my first pornographic magazine under the wading pool in my backyard. Deep down I knew that my parents would find the magazine, but it was a risk I was willing to take. My father found the magazine about an hour later while he was cleaning out the pool. In some ways I felt relieved. Maybe I was hoping that my parents would take me aside and explain to me why God would not approve of such magazines. This never happened. I walked in the back door and saw a corner of the magazine sticking out of the trash bin. Mom and dad sat quietly at the table and acted as if nothing had happened.
Despite these early experiences, the sin of lust had not yet made a permanent home in my heart and mind. This occurred after my family moved to a new subdivision, which was home to young working class families. Most were made up of a mother, a father and two children. Many of these families had moved to the outskirts of the city in order to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Unfortunately for the children, dads pornographic magazines went with them and this was not all. I often visited a friend in his home where we engaged in typical childhood activities. On one day in particular I was exposed to something that would burn a hole in my heart. It appeared in the form of a twelve-inch vinyl record. This was not just any record. As the needle met the groove, I was inundated with the sounds of panting and moaning adults who were engaged in a variety of depraved sex acts, which were described by the participants in vivid detail. I would never be the same.
From that point on my brain chemistry was permanently altered as new visual images were burned into my memory. The parents of one friend in particular had a collection that stood head and shoulders above all of the other collections in the neighborhood. Not only were their videos the most explicit, they had something unique. They took pictures of themselves in various sexual acts and displayed them in photo albums. Sadly, it wasnt long before their children came across the material while snooping around in their parents room.
Thankfully, my father never showed any interest in pornography at least while he was healthy. My father suffered from manic depression and, unfortunately, I was witness to a lot of bizarre behaviour. There were bouts of depression that on the extreme side included catatonic episodes. There were also manic episodes characterized by risk taking and delusions of grandeur. I spent many a sleepless night trying to convince my father that we all loved him and that he had a lot to live for.
During one of his manic episodes, I walked into his room and found him looking at a pornographic calendar. This was quite a shock because I never would have suspected that my father would be attracted to anyone other than my mother. Later in the day I remember that my dad left the house on an errand, so I spent a little time trying to find the hidden calendar. My searches were fruitless, however, and this would be the last time that I saw pornographic material in my fathers hands.
Exposure to this material soon led me to believe that its use and consumption was a normal part of human development. It seemed as if everyone I knew had some sort of interest in sexually explicit images and words. The material was obviously meant to be pleasurable, but the feelings it invoked were guilt and shame. There was no escape from the law of God written in my heart. The societal messages were in conflict with what I knew to be the truth. Pornography was repulsive to God and its consumption promoted moral degeneracy and depravity.
It was during this time that I felt the first stirrings of a call to the priesthood. Others sensed this as well and the priesthood was listed as my probable destination on a poster listing my personal characteristics at school. Unfortunately, this vocation was never nurtured. Some priests hinted that I might have a calling, yet not a single one offered to take me under his wing. My calling thus faded as I entered the jungle of the high school hallways. It is interesting to note that many of my married friends who now have large families, have reported circumstances eerily similar to mine.
During my years at the local Catholic grade school, I was shocked at the rude and vulgar behaviour of many of my classmates boys and girls. After a few months, the shock wore off partially out of a desire to fit in and partially because it seemed to be so common. Filthy and disgusting remarks and comments surrounded graphic descriptions of various sexual behaviours. In hindsight, I shouldnt have been surprised; after all, most of these kids had probably lost their innocence many years earlier.
Many of these behaviours were amplified in the amateur sports leagues. I can say categorically that organized hockey was a morally corrupting force in my life. Once again, filthy and gratuitous conversations flowed with ease. In fact, it was in a minor hockey locker room that I heard about masturbation for the first time. My peers would discuss the various ways in which they would manipulate their genitals. This was the beginning of a habit that would take many years to overcome. A thirty seven year old friend of mine once admitted that he would take a crucifix into the shower to help him overcome the temptation.
Sex became a huge part of my daily life as a high school student. It was if my thoughts were held hostage to my primal instincts. Along with the steady diet of pornography, it certainly didnt help that those in positions of authority did everything to normalize the perverse. It wasnt so much what they did, but rather what they didnt do. They didnt discuss Gods plan for human sexuality in the context of marriage and children. But they did discuss the various forms of contraception. All this occurred in a Catholic high school where the natural law and the doctrinal teachings of the Church were all but abandoned and replaced with social justice issues. My parents just assumed that their children would receive a Catholic education. There was no reason for them to think otherwise.
It was at this point in history when pornography seemed to seep into the mainstream. Sexual images became more graphic and the popular culture was more than content to cash in on the new sexual revolution. Movies and music broached topics that were once considered taboo. In the mid 1980s I remember a number of songs that praised and promoted masturbation. ZZ top released a music video called Legs and boy did they ever zoom in on the female form. This was nothing but eye candy for red-blooded teenage boys. Madonna also made her debut on the scene, thus enflaming the passion and lust of young boys throughout North America.
By my fifteenth year, I started to date. Thankfully most of the young women I dated were good girls. By good girls, I mean that they resisted my attempts to satisfy my teenage lust. They were very careful and they made it clear that things could only progress so far. Fortunately, I was not a very assertive young person. I often wonder what happened to the young woman who dated some of my more aggressive friends.
As I wrestled with my sexuality, I often prayed that God would help me to overcome my desires. This was contrary to the popular psychological theories of that time. We were told over and over that these feelings and behaviours were normal and widespread. Maybe they were, but just because something is normal do not make it acceptable in the eyes of God. Dr. James Dobson, a popular Christian family therapist and author, has written about masturbation. He says that it does not affect our relationship with God but that it can become unhealthy if it leads to an abuse of pornography or a substitute for sexual relations between spouses. Dobson has also argued that parents should not discuss the issue with their children. He believes that this would only humiliate and embarrass the children. While there is some truth to what he says, his arguments do present some serious flaws. I believe fathers should take their teenage boys aside and say something like this:
"Son, I know that this behaviour is normal for your age group but it also reflects a lack of maturity. You need to work to control this behaviour so that it does not control you. As you move into adulthood, you should see a decline in this practice and by the time you marry it should no longer be a part of your life. If it is you have not matured sexually and are certainly not ready for marriage."
I believe this approach strikes a balance in that it is not condemning of the young person, but at the same time it communicates loud and clear the need to abandon childish behaviour.
I was very undisciplined as a teen and ill equipped to deal with temptation, lust and sexual impurity. In fact, not a single male in my life ever offered me any coping strategies. The term custody of the eyes was never brought up. I just assumed that I was supposed to stare and fantasize about the opposite sex. My lack of discipline and sexual immaturity found its way into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Imagine for a moment a teenage boy sitting in the front pew and ogling the young woman who, were on the way to consume the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I was that teenage boy.
I remember the first time that I walked into a convenience store in order to buy a pornographic magazine. The feelings of guilt and shame were overwhelming despite the numerous societal messages espousing the merits of pornography. I did everything that I could to rationalize my behaviour. Once, I actually told the clerk that I was buying the magazine to read an article about Jim Baker, the fallen evangelist and Jessica Hahn, the woman with whom he was having an adulterous affair.
Over the next few years, I studied graphic design at my local college. I made a number of new friends and one of them happened to be homosexual. I went out of my way to be nice to this person because after all, tolerance was now one of the cardinal virtues. We spent a lot of time in groups so I was never afraid that this guy would try anything. Besides homosexuals were only attracted to other homosexuals right? Wrong! One evening after a night of heavy drinking, the four of us, including my homosexual friend decided to rent a hotel room and sleep off our drunkenness. The next morning I awoke to find my homosexual friend in bed with my heterosexual friend who was passed out at the time. I later found out that my homosexual friend was attracted to him for quite some time. This all seemed very strange to me because logically it made no sense whatsoever. It would be like a heterosexual man being attracted to a lesbian. Obviously sexual orientation was not a barrier for this homosexual.
At the age of 21, I started to date the woman who I would eventually marry. As we grew closer, we engaged in a variety of sexual behaviours but stopped just short of "going all the way." In some ways I am amazed that we were able to do this despite the fact that the culture was essentially egging us on. The two of us were under the illusion that as long as we didnt have sex, everything else was permissible. The Church and our parents were not speaking out so why would we think otherwise. Here we both were in our early 20s, living at home and spending numerous hours unsupervised in our rooms together. What were our parents thinking? Did they forget that it was their house? We also took numerous trips with one another and spent many nights in hotels during our travels. During these times we did everything within the sexual realm except have intercourse.
Despite these impediments to our relationship we somehow grew in our love for one another. Marriage seemed like the next logical step. After getting engaged, we were required to complete a marriage preparation course in order to be married in the Catholic Church. While we met many nice couples at the course we also learned that the couples were almost unanimous in their dissent from Catholic teaching. My fiancé and I listened to the NFP couples and then whispered to each other, "Yeah as if that would work." The rest of the couples had looks of contempt on their faces for the NFP teachers, who despite their dedication didnt exactly display a mountain of enthusiasm. In fact, despite their good intentions, they were quite boring. It didnt help that my fiancé and I had not received proper catechesis. To us the Church was just a democracy in which the majority rules. We thought we could opt out of whatever Church teaching we did not like.
Despite our dissent from Church teaching, there was one thing that my wife and I always believed was wrong abortion. For some reason, God infused within us a sense that abortion was murder. At this point in our journey, we hadnt made the connection between the use of contraceptives and abortion. It was through the pro-life movement that our lives would change. The movement would ultimately expose us to something unheard of; people who actually practiced all that the church taught and did not use contraception.
I will never forget the day. My wife and I had just participated in a pro-life rally and were headed back to our car. A young couple waved us down, quickly introduced themselves and struck up a conversation. After talking for a few minutes the couple invited us over for dinner. We accepted the invitation and looked forward to spending time with others who shared our anti-abortion beliefs.
Over the next few months we spent considerable time with this couple. We discovered that they practiced NFP in contrast to our contraceptive marriage. Actually, I should say that the contraception decision was really my idea. I truly believe that my wife would have used NFP at the beginning of our marriage if I had just demonstrated a little headship, but thats another story.
As we got to know the couple better, I was going through my own personal crisis of faith. I asked myself, what was the point of practicing a religion I really didnt believe in. I was therefore left with two choices. I would conform my will to the teaching of the Catholic Church in both belief and practice, or I would leave the Church and look to find spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. It really boiled down to personal integrity. I started to feel very hypocritical and I would either go all the way in my belief or leave the faith outright.
I thus began to question our new friends and I did everything in my power to convince them that there was really no difference between some forms of contraception and NFP. I pulled every old and clichéd argument out of my hat, but to no avail. For every question and concern, they had a better response. For every argument in support of contraception, they had a better argument in support of NFP. This was the first time in my life that anyone presented cogent arguments in support of the Churchs teaching. My arguments in contrast, were built like a house of cards, full of holes and flimsy. I cannot begin to say just how influential this couple was, and it is no exaggeration that they may have saved our souls. After much discernment and prayer, I began to believe that maybe my wife and I could conform our will to Church teaching.
A few weeks later my wife and I found ourselves in the local NFP office. The NFP teacher helped us to understand the science behind the Billings ovulation method of fertility regulation. Despite our use of contraceptives, my wife really wanted children shortly after our marriage. I, on the other hand, was the one who made every excuse to put off child bearing at least for the time being. My selfishness manifested itself in a desire to be financially secure and this was the excuse I often used. My main concern after being taught the method was would it would be effective in postponing pregnancy. In other words, I didnt have the best of intentions. Selfishness was still the motivating factor.
It was at about this time that my wife and I were introduced to another young Catholic couple. They had been married for a while and were expecting their first child. A few months later, we got together with a bunch of couples to have a new years party. It was at this party that I had a revelation. The young couple presented their newborn child at the party and asked that I hold the child in my hands. It was if I was holding an angel. I knew at that moment that everything I thought I knew about sex was wrong. All of the perverse images and secular teachings were nothing but a lie, a distortion, and a perversion of Gods original plan for marriage and family life. A truth was awakened in me, one that I learned through a series of providential events. Our lives would never be the same.
About one year later, our first child Peter was born, followed quickly by his brother Andrew 17 months later. At this point, I was starting to become politically active. A new provincial party called the family coalition party was starting to make a name for itself on the political scene. I met the candidate for my riding and the two of us hit it off quickly. We were both close in age, Catholic, and tended to lean a bit to the right of the political spectrum. We managed to get together as a couple because he was engaged to be married. My wife and his fiancé hit it off immediately and we ended up spending a lot of time together sharing our new understanding of the Catholic faith. I really admired my friends intellect along with his strong grasp of Catholic teaching. He was also a very generous person with both his time and resources. It soon became clear that we were on the same page with regards to contraception and the proper order of sex within marriage. Little did I realize the effect our conversations would have on the future of his marriage. It was seven years later when during a phone conversation he said to me, "you and your wife were the ones that convinced us not to use contraception in our marriage." This was the best compliment ever given to us.
I believe that if we have sincere intentions to change, God gives most of us the grace to overcome vice in small increments. There are some people who resolve to change and then seem to immediately cast their old ways into the abyss, but for most of us the purging takes time. My early exposure to disordered sex affects me to this day. It is a daily struggle to stay pure of heart and to have custody of my eyes. It also takes a great effort to avoid the near occasions of sin and to not act on my temptations. I would also argue that it has affected the relationship between my wife and I. Although our love is unconditional, without Gods super abundant grace, it would be impossible to fully attain the level of intimacy of the heart that God intends for all married couples.
Over time, I do believe that I can learn to be more intimate with my wife through the practice of chastity within our marriage. As men, we must learn how to be intimate without genital contact. In this way our wives will be healed of the wounds of past inappropriate expressions of sexuality.
Thanks to the grace of God and a lot of prayer and perseverance, my life has been transformed. My sexual impulses have been harnessed and redirected to conform to Gods plan for marriage and family. I am now a happily married (to one woman) father of six. Dont get me wrong, I still struggle with temptation, it is just that now I have the tools (faith and prayer) to fight back against the spiritual forces that continue to wage war on my soul.
To our Bishops and Church leaders I would say a number of things. First of all, you must reassert the importance of sexual purity, beginning in the younger years. Secondly, you must with unwavering forcefulness reassert the Churchs prohibition against all forms of contraception. The retraction of the Winnipeg Statement would be a good place to start. Thirdly, you must regain control of your schools and ensure that they are filled with educators who live the faith by practicing what the Church actually teaches. In this way they will be models of purity and chastity to their students. Fourthly, you must speak out against all of the forces that make up the culture of death especially pornography. Finally, you must work to strengthen the fundamental building block of our society heterosexual marriage. It is only within healthy marriages that the faith can be passed onto the next generation.
The Catholic Legate
April 2, 2004