|column from November issue of The American Catholic
Sex and Prayer For the Young
Being Frank with God about Sex
by William Cleary
(Cleary, a former Jesuit priest, author of 8 books of prayers, writes from Burlington, Vermont. He resides at www.clearyworks.com)
Catholics are a mystery to many people, sometimes even to themselves. When my two sons were young and I was more conventionally religious, my boys would look mystified when I spoke to them of sex. It was important, I would say, to be reverent, to respect wise tradition, to be honest and non-manipulative with those we love. I also said "God is love."
But I had to suppress in myself the greatest misguidance in this area that I had been burdened with, the rule in moral theology books that in sex there is "no parvity of matter." That meant any sexual sin was mortal. I believed it for all my young life, and it crushed me. I often felt on the way to hellfire, and in desperate need of a confessor. Thank God I did not have to lay this one on my own kids.
I think of myself as more enlightened now, even if unsure of my opinions. My working rules for sex still start with reverence, and include respect for life and promise-keeping - but beyond that I have few strictures. I now have come to believe that self-pleasuring and pre-marital sex can be innocent and even helpful, with contraception an important part of the mix. It feels scandalous just to write this down, but that's honestly where I am. (Will lightning strike?)
To give young men a spirituality that will help them find their way across this moral mine-field -- where I was injured in my youth -- I have written the following prayer, hoping to clarify my own thoughts, and perhaps provide something of value to my sons. I offer it here for what it's worth, hoping it does not create more problems than it solves. Quite a different one is needed for young women, obviously.
A Young Man's Prayer of Thanksgiving for Sexuality.
I thank you, Divine Wisdom and Loving Energy, Holy God, for giving me not only my mind and spirit but my body, this forked and grappling organism topped by a head, my upright animal self. All of it is good -- and, with faculties of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling, my body is a many-splendored opening to life and to life's many messages.
High among those messages from you is the call - for heterosexuals -- to "increase and multiply," to link in lovingness with our female counterparts and together to procreate our kind, like other animals.
You have power-packed this sexual message most wonderfully in all my muscles and skin, with the central faculty hidden in safety between my legs, in productive testicles, excitable penis and companion muscles where ecstatic feeling can centralize and focus, giving me your continuing proclamation that my generativity is good, wonder-producing, and colossally joyful.
Holy Creator, give me then an understanding heart so that whenever I hear this sexual call -- in the solitude of reverie, or in innocent, responsible love exchange with an intimate other, or in most joyful ritual procreation with a faithful lifelong partner -- I do so with reverence and gratitude. In solitude I'll be enjoying my holy potency for exaltation; in a love exchange I'll explore the deeper possibilities of relationship; and in procreation I'll be experiencing the goodness of human vitality at its most promising -- wherein future persons are conceived, loved without conditions, and gifted with all our future's future.
Since I am a novice in the world of sexuality, come with me, Vital Presence, into my solitudes in particular. May each innocent episode of body dreams strengthen my sense of my maturing self, building a conviction of my potential for lovingness and co-creativity -- in the expectation of a joyous and loving future in harmony with your evolving world.
William Cleary's books on prayer can be found at www.clearyworks.com