In My Unloveliness

Once, many years ago in confession, a priest taught me a profound truth. How anyone would prove its veracity I can’t say, yet force of the insight compelled my acceptance. Plato suggested that this was the way with deep truths. We can’t help but to acknowledge them, because hearing them, we think we’ve always known them.

The priest said that all sexual misconduct stems from low self-esteem. At the time, I had been confessing some of my own. After more than a quarter century, why do I still believe that to be true? 

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Because we are our bodies. We simply are our bodies, though, in desperation, we do so much to forget that. The mind roams all over the world; it seems loosed from the lowly body. And when it rests from roaming, to settle again in its own flesh, it immediately wants to alter it, both interiorly—in its imagination—and exteriorly—through the use of countless physical alterations: cosmetics, clothing, tanning, hair coloring and cuts, tattoos, exercise regimes and diets. 

No one wants to possess a weak or an unattractive body, but the problem is already posed in the approach. The body isn’t something that we have. It’s what we are. The creases on the forehead, the tightness in the gut or jaw, the weariness of the back, legs, and arms aren’t attributes of a biological machine, which the mind drives through life. This is who we are, our bodies, our little spot in the world. 

When the soul is hurting, or when it’s hungering for something it can’t quite identify, the instinct, the temptation—the instinctive temptation?—is to reduce those around us to their bodies alone. Yet the same inner repulsion that we feel for ourselves permeates the physical presences in front of us, and so we never quite find the flesh that satisfies the soul. We think the lack lies in the bodies of others. We surf the web for something better. But the deprivation is ours. All forms of sexual misconduct are linked by a self-loathing, a lack of self-esteem.

Confessors hear more than penitents say. Often penitents talk about foolish choices, addictive behaviors, sexual actions that leave them depressed and drained. The confessor hears the sound of a soul that cannot love itself. 

How can we confess the existence of God yet deny the goodness of what God has created? Unbelievers think that God should prove himself through correction of the world, through the expulsion of evil. Sadly, too many believers insist that the world is governed by good, that God exists, yet they cannot believe the same about themselves. Self-loathing is the primordial sin, the great denial of God’s goodness.

Yet what Isaiah heard is gospel truth for all. 

You are my servant,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength! (49: 3, 5).

What saves us from our own lack of self-esteem?  What ends the self-loathing?  It’s love, not sex.  Or rather, it’s sex that’s been focused into love of others.  And by sex, I mean more than sexual activity.  I mean our way of being in the world.

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’ (1: 29-30).

We hear the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the Christ as a diminishment of his own self, but it’s not. It’s the soul discovering itself in another. It’s human life finding its source in something that pre-exists itself. 

I close with a quote from Saint Augustine, one I’ve used too many times before, perhaps because my soul can’t help but to acknowledge its truth. 

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6   1 Corinthians 1: 1-3   John 1: 29-34

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Bruce Snowden
4 years 4 months ago
I greatly admire and respect Terrance W, Klein for his humble, public, examination of conscience relative to a certain type of sin and through Confession his deliverance from self loathing, which he called "the primordial sin." Confession can be a positive, or negative experience, depending if you're dealing with a "little monster" or not. Once I found myself trapped in the presence of a gray headed "little monster" who snapping at me like a piranha ordered me to "kneel" when I asked him for a chair to sit on, in a face-to-face sacramental encounter which I prefer. His growl sent me to the floor and it got worse when I did the Act of Contrition following my confession, using an abbreviated form. The "little monster" with the violet stole around his neck shouted at me, "Not good enough - good if you were about to die. Say the long form!" Confused I couldn't remember it so I asked for his help which he gave. As I was being absolved from sins confessed, I probably had become guilty of another sin, anger, so that Confession was less than a happy experience. As I proceeded to do my Penance, I was negatively bombarded with thoughts of retaliation and ready to go to the rectory to report to the Pastor, my unhappy experience. But emotions began to quiet and I began to find excusing thoughts for the "little monster's" behavior. I said to myself, "Well, he's an old man, probably weary from "smelling" for hours the moral feces called "sin" and also maybe he was suffering from acid reflux, a painful digestive disorder I well know, or maybe his hemorrhoids were acting up!" I found reasons to excuse him and I did and left the Church feeling O.K. Another time years earlier as a much younger man on my way to work early in the morning, somehow I felt uncharacteristically dour, so I decided to stop at a nearby Church for a visit and maybe confession, although I was unaware of any particular need for immediate confession. In Church I found myself in negative prayer, asking Jesus why was I going through with the "painful" ritual of confession. Unexpectedly these words came to mind - "I want you to remember that Jesus Christ is your friend and brother." Spurred by that thought I got up made my confession and although there was nothing in my confession to elicit the following response from the priest, he said to me, "My good man, I want you to remember that Jesus Christ is your friend and brother!" At that confession twice the Lord reminded me of what I already knew, but needed to hear again and I left the Church no longer dour because if Jesus is friend and brother, I have good reason to be happy! And I was and usually am. Confession has been mostly good for me - and now in old age I no longer let "little monsters" bother me. I pray for them showing some smartness, verifying the old German adage, "You get old too soon and smart too late!" thanks Mr. Klein for your good example,
Michael Barberi
4 years 4 months ago
Thanks Terrance for your courageous and insightful thoughts. I am retired and have struggled many times with issues of conscience. I will be brief and offer a short story that one of my priestly advisors said to me a long time ago. Life is like a long walk on a beach. Sometimes the sun is shining and many times is it cold and bitter and you think you have lost your way. You look back and you notice two sets of footprints in the sand. During those times when life was sunny there was always two sets of footprints, your and Jesus'. He was with you. However, at those times in your life when things were confusing, even very burdensome, where you questioned your own faith, your moral decisions and felt alone, you only saw one set of footprints. You cried out "Lord, why were you not with me during the times of my life that was most difficulty for me for there was only one set of footprints in the sand, my footprints?" Then the Lord replied "At the times in your life that was most difficult for you, I carried you". I always like that story, so have faith that the Holy Spirit will guide you to your salvation with him, and you will learn about God and the truth even at an old age. There will be sunny days and cloudy days, but if you fall down, pick yourself up again, and keep moving ahead. Try not to sweat the small stuff. Just let God be God and Terrance be Terrance. I hope this was helpful and I thank you again for your personal reflections.

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