I just saw this video clip by Michael Voris (the first in a series, apparently) on the spiritual effects of masturbation, which reminded me of something I'm been meaning to post.
Faithful Catholics have sometimes lamented that they hear so little teaching or preaching these days about the "hard" doctrines of the Church. It certainly must be tempting for priests to preach on the easy subjects that win the approval of parishioners fed on the New Age values of Oprah Winfrey.
I remember being surprised the first time I heard a priest preach against contraception. It was an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia some ten or fifteen years ago. One seldom hears teaching on such subjects, except from champions like Janet Smith, which is part of the problem of the abysmal response of lay Catholics to the administrations current HHS mandate.
Even more surprising was to actually hear one of our intrepid priests at St. Josaphat Church in Detroit actually discussing the subject of sexual impurity in a couple of homilies recently. He wasn't exactly preaching a series of homilies on the subject. He simply brought up the subject in two consecutive sermons in the course of discussing self-denial during Lent in a succession of Sunday sermons.
So few priests are willing to spell out Church teaching in any sort of practical way. But without having Catholic morality spelled out for them, people remain at sea, often in complete ignorance about these subjects. And if they're never mentioned, they don't take them seriously.
This is where our priest was a remarkable exception. He brought up the subject in the context of discussing the significance of the Lenten disciplines of self-denial, not just during Lent, but as a matter of cultivating good moral habits generally. Unless one sometimes denies himself the immediate satisfaction of indulging in physical pleasures (sleeping in, satisfying his sweet tooth, enjoying a hot shower, sating his appetite, etc.), how can he ever expect to master the virtue of self-control in the area of sexual purity? Cold showers or hair shirts anyone?
What is remarkable about traditional Catholic teaching on this subject is how seriously it takes something the rest of the world treats with jocular indulgence if not indifference. Not only is there Woody Allen's awful joke in Zelig about being late to a class he's teaching on masturbation at the university and not wanting the class to start without him; even Evangelical champion of family values, James Dobson, for whom I otherwise have considerable respect, tells followers of his Focus on the Family magisterium not to worry too much about masturbation, because it's probably something with which God isn't really too concerned.
By contrast, St. Thomas Aquinas treats the subject among "unnatural vices" that are the "greatest sins among the species of lust." Not as evil as incest, beastiality, or sodomy, certainly; yet, because of it's disordered and unnatural character, worse than many other sins people today would generally consider far worse. But then, Thomas also regarded the rape of a wife as far worse than adultery, which reveals that there may be more at work in his moral reasoning here than may meet the eye, especially if one enjoys Woody Allen.
"Blessed are the pure in heart," says Jesus at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, "for they shall see God." Think about the logic here and the seriousness with which He takes this subject will be soon apparent.
Kierkegaard adds: "Purity of heart is to will one thing." What we need today is a single-mindedness in the love of our Lord that can root out the duplicity of a divided mind.