The Hunger for God
I know what it’s like to struggle with habitual mortal sin. I know what it’s like to justify it, play it off and keep the shame locked inside.
When I was 14, in my last month of eight grade at my small Catholic school where I had been since I was 9, I was sexually assaulted by the older brother of one of the girls on my soccer team. In the aftermath, I began to question: Where was God when this was happening to me? Why didn’t He stop it? Does He really love me or care about me? The only explanation my teenage self could conjure up was that God was not as powerful or present as He said He was.
With God as a distant, rhetorical figure in my life, I began to fall into step with what our culture teaches us about what it means to be an ambitious woman in the world. I believed the lie that I was the only person strong enough to heal the wounds inflicted upon me by men. I believed the lie that a man’s love was a sign of his weakness and that manipulating guys I dated was necessary so I could feel in control.
Then came Michael.
I wasn’t looking for love. I had dated casually (too casually) for years and was sure that my future husband was not in Miami, where I still had a year and a half left of school. My plan was to move to Mexico to get more international experience, and then join the Foreign Service for 25 years before semi-retiring to teach public diplomacy.
But God had other plans, and the Holy Spirit was powerfully working in my life. After years of emotional healing on my own without a serious relationship, God knew I was in need of two things: a large dose of spiritual healing and an even larger dose of humility.
Michael was my debate partner: smart, cute, and growing quickly in his faith by the grace of God. It was the first time that a friend of mine had fallen for me while I had feelings for him too. We began dating, and I was immediately confronted by my need for spiritual healing in my relationships with men. I had always played it safe when dating, careful not to share too much of myself, thinking that no man could love me if he really knew my past and my authentic self.
Michael came into the relationship with his own wounds as well. They were wounds I had never faced personally but, like my own, they were based on lies about his identity and about the almighty power of God.
Given my past wounds with men and Michael’s decade-long battle with pornography, we quickly fell into the habit of mutual masturbation. The day I finally named this sin in Confession was a turning point. It forced me to acknowledge the depth to which I had fallen and the sin that I could not overcome myself. It was like God had shined a light into my heart and revealed a big fat load of pride.
If you are a prideful person like I am, and active in a Catholic faith community, frequent confessions can feel embarrassing. I used to ask myself, do I really want the priest to see me there so often? What if my Catholic friends see me there two weeks in a row? Why not just receive the Eucharist before going to Confession “just this once”? My pride would rear its head so strongly that for years of our relationship, I only went to Confession every six to eight weeks, even though I was falling into sin every Saturday and still receiving communion on Sunday.
I finally internalized the gravity of my spiritual sickness during a five-day Spiritual Exercises retreat with the Institute of the Incarnate Word. I had been dating Michael for more than three years at this point, and we had lost hope of ever incorporating chastity into our relationship.
One of the first mediations of the Spiritual Exercises is called the Two Standards. It helps you decide whether you will stand with Jesus or with the way of the world. At the end of this mediation you ask yourself, “What have I done for Christ?” and as the retreat progresses, you also ask, “What has Christ done for me?”
I experienced such intense contemplation during this mediation that I fell to my knees at the sight of the Crucifix in the church. Christ had done everything for me, even willingly died for me, and in comparison I had done nothing for him. After years of struggling with my habitual sins, on that day I let go of my self-reliance and asked the Holy Spirit for the grace to be chaste.
In his book, Audi, Filia, which translates to Listen, O Daughter, St. John of Avila writes that sometimes God allows people who are the most prideful to suffer from sins against purity. Why? Chastity intrinsically requires humility. It calls for delayed gratification – waiting until marriage to have sex. But as a virtue, it also brings us closer to God through a greater awareness of the sanctity of life He endowed us with, closer to the God who loves each of us personally and intimately.
It took divinely inspired courage and reverence for me to reach a point where I was humble enough to fulfill my Sunday mass obligation but not receive the Eucharist when I was in a state of sin. As hard as it was, this helped me run to Confession so much faster to receive His grace, which I understood was the only thing that could help Michael and I win the battle for chastity.
I am now engaged to Michael, and despite our first three years of dating and feeling hopeless in the fight for purity, Jesus transformed our relationship the moment we humbled ourselves enough to believe that God can and has done everything for us.
St. Teresa of Calcutta described chastity as “hunger for God” in our lives.
Sisters, let’s hunger for God together.
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Renee lives in Arlington, VA, and works for a strategic communications firm in Washington, DC. She loves leading Walking With Purpose Bible studies at her parish and trying new cuisines from local restaurants. She has a Master’s in Latin American Studies from GWU and a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from the University of Miami.