I’m what’s called a lapsed Catholic.
“Catholic” because I still adhere to the foundational moral standards that were instilled by more than 12 years of education at Catholic schools and universities. “Lapsed” because I very rarely participate in the rituals, ceremonies, sacraments or observances that the Roman Catholic religion requires.
I don’t have much to say about why I no longer participate in the Catholic church’s rituals. I’m not against religion or anything like that. I always felt there were many paths to finding Hope and Truth in life. Some people seek that Hope and Truth through science. Some through philosophy. Some through nature and art. And some seek it through religion. To me, Hope and Truth are pretty nebulous ideas that are by-in-large beyond knowing. So if people chose to pursue knowledge of the unknowable through some alternative path than mine, who am I to argue? No. I no longer attend Mass regularly or participate in the Catholic church’s ceremonies and rituals because I just got out of the habit. Or more realistically, I got lazy.
But I still identify as a Catholic. It’s hard for me not to. Giving up that identity would be giving up a large part of the things that make me who I am. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in a south Chicago lower-middle class Catholic neighborhood. So did my parents. My seven sisters, one brother, and I all attended Catholic elementary and high schools. My Dad worked in a factory; my mother was the homemaker. They married young and stayed married, through tough times and good, for over fifty years. The neighborhood, my parents, my family – they collectively molded me through my formative years. My moral foundation was provided by my Catholic education. So was my work ethic. Those around me provided the example of how to apply that foundation in the day-to-day decisions of life.
Now two things occurred when I was 11 years old that changed my life forever. The first is that I had an insight into the nature of God. The full implications of that insight would peculate through my subconscious for the next eight years, so that by the time I graduated from college I had pretty much put together a coherent set of thoughts about God and Love that persist unchanged through this day. But this blog entry is not about that insight. It’s about the other thing that happened.
When I was 11 years old, I had my first ejaculation. When it happened, it caught me totally by surprise. I was in my bedroom watching “The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” on an old portable 10” black and white television. I must have been aroused by the sight of that tall half-clad woman destroying the little men that were trying to destroy her, because at some point during the movie I came. And my reaction was probably the same most boys have when experiencing their first ejaculation –.“What the hell was THAT?!?!! That was AWESOME!!” Now you might thing that experience would have given me a giantess fetish. I don’t know why, but it didn’t. What it did give me was an interest in repeating the experience. And so I taught myself to masturbate.
Back then sex education was done exclusively at home, if it was done at all. Around the time I started masturbating, my mother gave me a book to read, sort of a simplified biology book with cartoons focusing on some very specific human anatomy. So I got the gist of how things worked, at least biologically. As for learning how to deal with the more complex emotional and psychological issues associated with puberty, well that was another story. I never had ‘the talk’ with my father, probably because his father never had that talk with him. And so like most boys my age back then, I muddled through the difficult times of puberty pretty much on my own. That was the extent of my adult-led sex education. Well almost the extent of it. Because the Catholic church, the priests, nuns, and non-lay teachers had a LOT to say to young adults about sex.
As far as the Catholic Church was concerned, sex outside of marriage was a sin. For teens, it was THE SIN – the one we were most likely to commit, and the one to be avoided at all costs. The story line went something like this – your body was a temple of Christ and so to masturbate, to get to second base, or have full blown sex outside of marriage was a sacrilege. Only through the sacrament of marriage could sex be transformed from a sin to a blessed union of two souls. I don’t know if the Church still sees sex that way today, but that’s how I remember it from back then.
Now if the Catholic Church is great at anything, it’s great at guilt. As far as my early religious education was concerned, the whole week’s routine was pretty much built around dealing with the sins my eleven year old mind and body had committed. During my elementary school years, every Friday was Confession day. Each class would go in mass down to the chapel where we would sit for 30 minutes performing a thorough examination of conscious. Guided by a detailed list of potential sins loosely framed around the Ten Commandments, we’d try to remember all the sins we committed during the past week. Then off we’d go, one by one, to the confessional where we’d tell all our sins to the priest. Five Our Father’s and ten Hail Mary’s later, all our sins would be forgiven and we’d be good to go for receiving communion at Mass on Sunday … provided we didn’t sin over the weekend. So aside from baseball and sports, sin and guilt were pretty much the two major themes running through my young subconscious. And just to keep things interesting, I attended a Catholic high school where the story line about sex and sin didn’t really change. Though the style of delivery was a different, the substance was still the same. So all in all, it was some pretty heady shit for a kid to deal with. And, oh yeah, there was that masturbation thing where, despite my best effort, I just couldn’t stop “sinning.” Which just added to my fucked up perspective and confusion about sex because, as I said, if the Catholic Church is good at anything, it’s good at guilt.
To make a long story short, I went on to college (nominally run by Jesuit Catholics whose influence thankfully was negligible) where I dived right into all the hedonistic pleasures I denied myself during high school. I got laid, masturbated regularly, had an ongoing and often deep relationship with ‘Mary Jane’, drank beer, attended wild fraternity parties, played a whole lot of team sports, and worked a couple part time jobs in order to pay for my free-wheeling lifestyle. Occasionally I did a little studying, but mostly I just tried to tear life a new asshole. What I didn’t do was go to Confession or attend Mass. I became a lapsed Catholic. And though the rational part of my brain knew that my old views of sex and sin were antiquated and irrelevant, there remained a lingering guilt that somehow I was letting myself down; that somehow I was failing to live up to the moral standards imprinted on my psyche by my pre-teen and teen Catholic education. I had managed to discount the notion that I was sinning, but the guilt still lingered.
It took a couple years to transition from my college life to adulthood. I had to let that part of my life play itself out before I eventually found my way. The hold guilt and sin had over my subconscious regarding sex diminished with each passing year, though it never entirely went away. I suppose some psychologist somewhere could make the case that my financial submission predilections are a manifestation of that lingering guilt, and giving women money selflessly is my subconscious way to atone for the sins of masturbating and objectifying women. Maybe. I don’t know.
What I do know is that the guilt is now gone. Writing this blog has helped. But mostly what has helped is Ceara Lynch. Her view of sex and masturbation are healthy and guilt free. And because she’s a woman saying those things … because when it comes to heterosexual sex, women are the gatekeepers … it means more. Much more. Her perspective is borne of reality as it is, not as someone wants it to be. There’s no artificial standard of sexual morality against which actions are measured and guilt assessed. There’s just twelve years of dealing with men and their fantasies. From her viewpoint, masturbation and sexual fetishes are normal. They’re something to be embraced and enjoyed, not abhorred and feared.
Occasionally when being interviewed, Ceara Lynch is asked whether she thinks there is any therapeutic value in her work. I suppose therapeutic is probably too strong a word. But there is value, at least for me. Ceara Lynch has enabled me to get out the way of myself. Through her example and perspective, I’ve been able to let go of the last vestiges of guilt about sex and sin. Through her words, through her ideas and by seeing sex as she does, she unfucked me. And for that I’ll always be there for her … because I’ll probably feel guilty if I’m not.