Sunday, April 29, 2012

Healthy Sexual Integration

Sexuality suggests God's design for us as life-giving, relational beings. Managing this energy well is a challenge for all people, whether celibate or not. As with most things in life, each of these dimensions calls for us to develop a balance between attending to it and not getting preoccupied with it.

Kathy Galleher, Ph.D., April 19, 2012

Although I have wanted to talk more about celibate sexuality in recent times, sexuality has not been on my mind that much, to be truthful. The energy of sexuality, sublime though it is, has not gripped my body, and it has not jarred my heart. Using Kathy Galleher's standard of measure for healthy sexual integration, the thing-in-itself occupies me just enough, and without a trace of equivocation I can say it preoccupies me not at all. This has been the state of things since the beginning of initial formation last August.

I firmly believe that living within the environs of Capuchin fraternities has allowed me to establish the level of attention most fitting for a healthy maintenance of celibate sexuality in its primary, affective, and genital dimensions. Without reservation I can say I place neither too much nor too little focus on these dimensions. I am comfortable with my sex, gender, body, and orientation (the primary dimension); I can manage my desire to relate to others and show a capacity for warmth (the affective dimension); I can deal with my sexual and romantic feelings, fantasies, desires, and behaviors (the genital dimension). Nature determines our sexual identity, but nurture has much to say about the quality of our sexual health. Let me say again that I am so grateful for my new surroundings.

Let me also be clear: I have not renounced my sexuality. I have only renounced genital expression of my sexuality. I have renounced the emotional exclusivity of a life-lasting monogamous sexual relationship. I have not renounced loving others. I have chosen, as Dr. Galleher puts it, to love "in an emotionally inclusive way ... in the service of God's work and as a model of God's love." My sexual energy is being channeled in ways different from people who do engage in genital sexual behavior. I aspire to an integrated commission of my sexual energy, used positively for "emotional intimacy in life and ministry"; for the cultivation of solitude; and for the protection of the personhood of all, especially women.

Formation thus far has helped me improve the relationship with self in terms of awareness and acceptance; with others; and with God. And of course, formation should deepen an already demonstrated capacity for sexual abstinence. This, too, formation has accomplished within me, as I have discovered means for attaining more perfect chastity not only in behavior but also in word and thought.

Dr. Galleher commended the postulants repeatedly for their willingness to talk about their sexuality -- not to talk around it or talk at it, but to speak directly to their sexual thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We did this in guided reflections on gender and sexuality, and the messages we received early in life from family, culture, and spiritual authorities; in reflecting on key experiences in our sexual development; and in discussing ministerial boundaries and the challenge of attractions. Few if any of the brothers needed to be drawn out and drawn in to the general conversation. None of the brothers monopolized the conversation. This in itself is a marker of healthy sexual integration: a comfort with our urges, desires, and reactions that realizes itself in open speech.

Listening to and responding to our sexual feelings is not a sinful thing; indeed, it is the best way to thwart actually sinful words and deeds. It prevents the cycle of shame and non-acceptance that spirals into the unfreedom of compulsive, addictive actions. And it demystifies -- and disarms -- our sexuality. Sexuality is powerful, but all too often we ascribe too much power to it. What appear to be purely sexual longings may in fact mask other, deeper longings that are not sexual and need just as much care and attention.

In the course of eight months of instruction, the postulants have discussed celibacy a few times, but the conversations about celibacy as celibate sexuality would come only at the end of the year. It was well worth the wait. I strongly recommend that Kathy Galleher be invited back to St. Michael Friary next spring to address the New York/New England and Midwest postulants.

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