St. Maria Goretti, pray for us

St. Maria Goretti (painting)
This painting is nice, not making her look so Anglo like so many I’ve seen — but this is after the actress who played Maria, not what she really looked like. Which I guess is okay. It’s the person I care about, not her appearance.

Today is the saint’s day of one of my dearest saints, St. Maria Goretti, who along with St. Agnes, I invoke every day. She is a modern virgin martyr, a patron of chastity, teenage girls, and crime victims, and a witness and model of purity and forgiveness.

Maria was eleven years old, a poor Italian farm girl, when in 1902 Alessandro Serenelli, a nineteen-year-old farm hand and neighbor, tried to rape her. Alessandro had approached Maria a number of times before seeking sexual favors, but she had always refused; he had tried to rape her at least once before. This time when she refused him, he became enraged. She fought him, imploring him not to do what he wanted to do, a mortal sin, insisting she would rather die than submit. In the end, Alessandro stabbed her eleven times.

St. Maria Goretti (photograph)
This is believed to be a photograph of Maria, one of only two that are known.

Before she died some twenty hours later, Maria forgave her attacker, and said she hoped to see him in heaven. Alessandro Serenelli was sentenced to life in prison for her murder, a sentence later commuted to thirty years. At first unrepentant, he told the local bishop a number of years later that Maria had visited him in a dream, giving him lilies, which burned away immediately in his hands. After his release, Alessandro visited Maria’s mother and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, stating that Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed and she could do no less, and they attended Mass together. Alessandro reportedly prayed to Maria every day, referring to her as “my little saint.” He attended her canonization in 1950. Later, he became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living the rest of his life as a gardener in their monastery. He died peacefully in 1970.

I pray every day not only that Maria pray for me in my quest for chastity, but that I might be able to forgive those who have hurt me, to release my hurts and wounds to the Lord, that He might heal me, and to forgive most of all myself.

Tantrums

tantrumDay Four. After one last bitter fall, on the most bittersweet of days, Good Friday, I’m now doing quite well — so well I’m rather afraid to tell about it, lest I become prideful and careless and fall. Easter is a time of resurrection and rebirth, of getting up, of breaking the bonds of death. Please pray for me in this critical time.

It occurred to me today that something is changing; something is different. It’s often only in looking back that I realize where I’m coming from. And looking back now, I see it more clearly than I’ve ever seen it before: The very worst, the most brutal of my episodes, my trips into sin, my benders of porn and masturbation and more sinister things, have been tantrums. Like a little child throwing a fit, I’ve willfully abandoned my self-control and lashed out in a demand for attention and reparation — from God? — or in self-pity, wallowing in my own pain, picking at my own scabs, and somehow wishing to “take it out” on the world — ultimately, on myself.

Like a tantrum, there’s always something that gets me upset — not getting the toy I wanted, or not getting to go out and play — wanting it all right now and on my own terms. And what I wanted, what triggers me, is now so clear to me. I’ve acknowledged my dislike of these things before in terms of “this hurts me” or “I don’t want to see that” — but so often my tantrums are directly triggered, precisely by these things: By seeing wedding photos on Facebook, especially of pretty young girls getting married to pretty young boys, both only on the cusp of adulthood, age eighteen or so — as I see so often in certain sects of the evangelical Christian world. Or pictures of adorable babies born to such young couples. Or announcements of engagements or weddings or pregnancies or births, so often involving girls I sort of liked. And I cry out, Why was this denied to me? Why is my lot to be alone? How can all these other people be so blessed, so happy, while I am such a wretch? I must be worthy of so much hate.

All my harvesting, especially as it’s happened lately, of pretty young girls on Facebook; my harvesting of the lovely models on the modeling site; even my harvesting of “amateur” porn, of “self-shots” and other images of supposedly “real” girls — pours forth from this wound. Why was it denied to me to have a girl? Why have I been deprived of this intimacy? I will take it for myself. At its heart, it is all a tantrum. I scream and I cry and I stamp my feet; I flail my arms and pound my fists against the knees of invisible opponents. I go on binges, sucking up as much of my drug as I can, eliciting as much stimulation as I can, to punish myself for not being good enough; to punish God for failing me so bitterly; to punish those around me for being so happy and having what I can never have. I realize, morbidly, that this is the kind of anger, the kind of darkness, that so often becomes the heart of serial killers on the TV shows.

jesus_healerAnd now, I feel something is beginning to change. I used to feel bitter, or pained, or resentful, any time anyone announced they were getting married, or posted wedding photos, or posted photos of their baby. And now, lately — maybe in just the past few days — I don’t anymore. I’ve genuinely felt happy for people. Two or three days is not much to draw a conclusion from, but something is genuinely different. Can it be that my deepest wound is at last beginning to close up?

A prayer I’ve been praying just since Saturday, just since this revolution has begun, begins, asks Jesus to “heal those wounds that have been the cause of all the evil that is rooted in my life.” Can this really be happening?

The breaking point

breaking pointDay Zero?

I have probably said it before at some time in my life; I’m pretty sure I have, in fact. But I think I’m at the breaking point: at which either I have to change radically, or be utterly destroyed.

It has been a particularly violent week or two of struggle, and it’s growing ever more intense. I’m rising higher, having realizations and revelations, and then falling harder than I’ve ever fallen before. My new Lent has once again been dashed and thrashed against the rocks, again and again and again. Monday, after a particularly intimate Mass on Sunday and a resolute declaration to do better, to pray and fast and stand my ground — I was assaulted by one of the most orchestrated attacks I’ve ever seen. Computers crashing, programs not working properly, telephone ringing off the hook with telemarketers, weather alert radios going off incessantly, followed by fierce storms — my anxiety level through the roof. I fell in the face of it all too easily.

And the force of that fall. I lost all of Monday and all of Tuesday, literally every waking minute devoured by lust. I feel completely out of control. I brought to life another evil doll — my cannibalistic creation that, in pretending to be a girl on the Internet, preys on the longings for intimacy of other lonely men like myself. And it has been the most excruciating episode ever — to know the pain I am inflicting on others and mockery of love I am making.

And tonight I am crying myself to sleep. Not in so many years has the agony been this intense and this raw. Today I downloaded several talks by Matt Fradd and Jason Evert from Catholic Answers on pornography and chastity. And I weep. I heard a quote today, attributed online to Bishop Patrick O’Boyle, that “no one can live continually in sin and continue to say the Rosary. Either he will give up the sin or he will give up the Rosary.” Lord, may this be true. Tonight I most truly offer my tears up to Heaven. I cast all my burdens upon the Lord, and offer my breaking heart to Him.

Our Lady of Purity, please pray for me. Saint Joseph, Protector of Virgins, please pray for me. Saint Agnes, my patroness, please pray for me.

Darkness

darknessDay Eight. I’ve been doing pretty well the past few days. But today is really a struggle. I realize that it’s either post or fall.

I know well what triggered this temptation. And I knew it was a risk, and I did it anyway. Was it a compromise? Not exactly. Because there’s nothing wrong in itself in watching Law and Order: S.V.U.; it’s one of my favorite shows. But its themes often play to the deviance and disorder in me—my darkness.

Sometimes that is cathartic; other times it’s arousing. I used to really like Dexter for the same reason—not that murder was ever arousing, but it was certainly cathartic. I could relate to Dexter’s “dark passenger” that he sometimes had to let out, because I have my own. It doesn’t feed on blood, but on another kind of lust. Dexter finally crossed the line in one season or another and I lost interest; but there is a part of me that I know is drawn to that kind of darkness.

At least with S.V.U. the deviants are clearly portrayed as bad guys, and disorder for what it is. And good nearly always wins, and evil is defeated. But sometimes I can relate a little too much to the offenders: not that I have ever or would ever hurt anyone, but I can relate, I can empathize, in some distant way, with the darkness that motivates them.

The word rape is literally a taking by force. I’ve often heard it said that rape is not a crime about sex, but about power and control. And I can definitely understand that. Because I’m all too aware that I feast on the very same feelings when I give in to the demon of pornography. A part of that is always about intimacy and fantasy and tenderness; but another, increasingly prominent part is about having and controllinghaving the girls that I can never have in real life; owning and possessing and controlling their images—hoarding them, collecting them, as many as I can, with ever the lust for more.

In his final interview with Dr. James Dobson, hours before his execution, the serial killer Ted Bundy spoke about the beginnings of his depravity—born in an addiction to pornography and leading into an obsession with true crime stories of rapes and murders. And it horrifies me to admit that I completely understand that. Because at times, that’s the path my own darkness has wanted to take. Sometimes when I’ve been at my lowest, I have been fascinated and titillated by such stories of murder—been delighted by and even aroused by such evil. And then I wake up and realize what I’m doing—realize the horror of what I’m fixating on, realize I’m taking pleasure when I should be feeling nausea and disgust and abhorrence; realize that murder is not just a taking of an image, but of a life; an innocent life snuffed out that can never be restored. And I know then how desperate my situation is: I can see where this darkness will lead me if I don’t break away.

And break away is what I absolutely have to do. These wounds I have are deep and need healing. To continue with pornography, or even worse, such horrible stories, only carves the cut deeper and deeper until it will pierce my soul. I don’t let myself read such stories anymore; I shy even from media coverage. But I know I need help—help above all, from God, but as I write out here the secrets I’ve never written out before, I realize that I need professional help, too, I’m sure.

My merciful saints, please pray for me.

The Sister

Young Nun, by Makovsky.
Young Nun, by Konstantin Makovsky.

Day Four… it’s a little easier today. It’s easier when I devote my time to prayer and my thoughts to the Lord, and to Our Lady.

Last night I met the most adorable nun. I knew, the whole time I listened to her speak and was afterward speaking with her, that I shouldn’t be crushing on a nun — but I was. For the rest of the night, my heart ached for her, and I couldn’t push her from my thoughts — the whole time knowing how foolish I was being. My mind wandered off into a fantasy of Abelard and Heloïse — late in their lives, that is: of having a loving, godly, but chaste relationship with someone like that, writing tender letters between our distant monasteries, both of us steadfast in our consecration to the Lord.

It wasn’t much of a sexual crush — my crushes on “real” women seldom are — but a longing for intimacy, to be close to someone and know someone so precious and genuine and godly as she. To truly have a sister in the Lord. To have what she has and be what she is — to devote myself to chastity; to espouse myself to the Lord, and to love Him above all other things.

Heloise and Abelard
Funerary monument of Heloise and Abelard, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

I am so broken. All my life, I’ve dealt with such passionate crushes like this that have sprung up in but a moment, almost always on women whom I view as good or virtuous or ideal, and never to become anything but a heartache. Pornography has divorced love from sex in my mind completely: I can no more envision true love with a sexual partner than I can envision sex with someone I love. My few sexual experiences, inflated so fantastically with pornographic expectations, were mechanical and robotic and emotionless and miserable. All I ever wanted — from my childhood, up to the crying child inside today — was intimacy; connection; love. I have ruined myself with regard to the gift of sexuality. Only a miracle of God could heal me if marriage is ever to be my vocation. At the same time, if a life of celibacy or religious service is to be my vocation, only a miracle could break these chains of sin that have kept me enslaved for so long.