I wanted to become a Catholic. But first I had to give up the Eucharist—and porn.

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At the start of the fall semester of my senior year of college, I was receiving the Eucharist every day. The problem was, I was not Catholic. I had begun attending daily Mass four months before, drawn less by the Catholic faith than by the soothing regularity of the liturgy. Whenever the host was administered, I went up with the rest of the parish and received it without a second thought. I did not think there was a difference between Protestant communion and the Catholic Eucharist other than that one was administered more frequently than the other.

But by September, I could no longer plead ignorance. I had begun to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and was learning about church doctrine and the theology of the sacraments, including how the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” I also learned that people were not supposed to take the Eucharist unless they had received first Communion. How could I live with this contradiction: breaking the rules of the very church I wanted to join?

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At the start of my senior year of college, I was taking the Eucharist every day. The problem was, I was not Catholic.

Around that time, I posed the question in my journal: “Maybe I should stop taking the Eucharist until I’m confirmed, but could I bear that?” I had developed a burning desire for the body and blood of Christ. And when I went to Mass, that was the only thing that mattered: fulfilling this personal desire to commune with God through the Blessed Sacrament.

But by fulfilling this desire, I was isolating myself from others. By continuing to receive Communion I was taking myself out of the adult initiation process and creating division between myself and the other catechumens and candidates, who were patiently waiting for their first Communion. I was also distancing myself from the greater Catholic community by ignoring the stages that the church in her wisdom has laid out for catechumens and candidates prior to full reception into the church. But the thought of waiting for the Eucharist seemed too much to bear. My faith was growing, yes, but it was also becoming increasingly individualistic.  

How could I live with this contradiction: breaking the rules of the very church I wanted to join?

There was another problem. In addition to my daily Eucharist habit, I was watching pornography nearly every other day.

People often worry that pornography encourages men to view women as expendable and interchangeable sex partners, that it prioritizes sexual “intimacy” over emotional intimacy. I am sure that is true for some users. But I had been viewing pornography since middle school, and it was not leading me to have casual sex with all kinds of women. Instead, it led me to completely isolate myself, both sexually and emotionally.

In college, I developed a fear of sex. It seemed so risky. The potential for awkwardness, rejection and pain hung over me whenever I thought about sexual intimacy with another person. Watching pornography was much better, I felt, because it was safe. There was no potential for hurt because I was alone with a screen. This fear seeped into my friendships, too. It was much easier for me to fence myself off from others and not let anyone get too close because the potential for pain was more than I could bear.

My decision to refrain from Communion also forced me to reconsider how I thought about sex.

Deep down, however, I wanted more. I wanted to experience intimacy with others. I started by giving up Communion. In the week following my September journal entry, I decided to abstain from the Blessed Sacrament until my first Communion. Abstaining meant abandoning a certain “cave mentality” of living my faith on my own. It invited me to share my budding faith with others who were walking with me on the journey.

But my decision to refrain from Communion also forced me to reconsider how I thought about sex. The parallels were all too real. If abstaining from my strong urge to have the body and blood would allow me greater communion in the end, could the same be true of giving up porn?  

I started taking seriously the prospect of marriage and how watching pornography might inhibit my ability to be intimate with my future spouse. I acknowledged its disconnecting properties—that it ultimately separates me from others. I asked, how could I share in the beautiful gift of sex with my future spouse if I kept teaching myself, through every porn clip, that sex was a solitary activity? How could I possibly survive the intimacy and vulnerability of marriage when I was fencing myself off from those exact things by using pornography?

These were the kinds of questions that changed things for me.

I saw that I had to expel pornography from my life in order to free myself from its narcissism. Ultimately, I had to free myself to pursue something greater. And it was the end goal itself—experiencing intimacy in marriage—that made pornography less and less appealing to me. Through the grace of God, I stopped a decade-long habit of giving in to the safe, self-gratifying act of watching porn.

Sex was never meant to be a solitary activity, but for 10 years that was all sex was for me. In a similar way, the way of the Christian was never meant to be solitary. The process of Christian initiation illuminated these truths and taught me that immediate passions must give way in order for us to experience true communion.  

Four weeks before Easter Sunday, the members of my R.C.I.A. cohort were asked to examine our lives in preparation for receiving the sacraments. After a moment of reflection, we went around in a circle and shared our reflections. I was shocked to hear another candidate speak about the struggle she had with a self-gratifying sexual practice. When this person finished, I jumped in to talk about my own similar experience. She thanked me for sharing, and for a moment, I felt the solidarity that is our true end. We were two Christians, yearning for more.

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Allan McWilliams
3 weeks 6 days ago

God bless you, Jacob. And welcome!

Will Niermeyer
3 weeks 6 days ago

Rather enjoyable. I guess is a nut shell your journey was one of pleasurable experiential Eucharistic absorption with self until that moment you experienced the other in you from someone else who shared your pleasure.

Alice Pat
3 weeks 6 days ago

I can see why this piece won an award. A beautiful essay.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 6 days ago

Jacob--Well if that isn't the most interesting story, I don't know what! Good for you!

Whatever you do, don't feel guilty about being called to the Eucharist and walking up to receive it. Thousands of people do that in this country. Worldwide it has to be millions. I'm not sure what you were taught in RCIA, but receiving the Eucharist is an intensely personal experience and it is more a matter of having a shared but still private intimacy in a church filled with other Catholics.

I'm a Eucharistic minister and have never asked for a Catholic ID card. On the other hand I can see the wisdom in refraining from receiving once you were engaged in RCIA. Ironically, I have known many couples who were sexually intimate prior to marriage but became celibate once they began Catholic premarital counseling. Similar sort of thing.

Which leads me to porn. (Never thought I'd be writing about that in the same essay with the Eucharist and marriage.)

So here comes the sex part:

Abandon ye all guilt. Sounds like you made the insightful connection that porn is bad when causes damage to yourself or others and you gave up on it for that reason. Good for you! "Self-gratifying sexual activity"--by which I assume you mean masturbation--is another thing altogether. There is no evidence that it harms anyone, although it is true you won't meet many friends that way. There are many scholars, especially women, who believe that female masturbation is how women experience their early sexuality and first learn how to achieve orgasm, which,in females, is far from inevitable. They need to practice. Men don't need to practice but doing so enables them to learn how to avoid premature ejaculation--a frustration for female partners who need more of a "slow hand" approach.

To a very limited extent, porn can be informational but it is filled with crudity, deception and boring story lines. If you really want to learn more about passion and erotica, women film producers do a much, much better job.

But don't give up on passion or sensuality. They are graces directly from God that allow direct experience of the divine. There are wonderful pieces of visual art dedicated to the sensuality of man and woman, and the Song of Songs is one of the great erotic masterpieces of all time. (If you ever figure out for sure which nard the speaker is referring to, let me know.)

I end by adding that if ones love for another is same sex attraction, passion and intimacy , the same rules apply. Celebrate the love that God has given you. That's not the teaching of the Church but it is what God told me to tell you. Go figure.

Rob Abney
3 weeks 6 days ago

Dominic, I suggest that you study St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises so that you can discern when God is talking to you versus when the devil is. God would not ask you to promote evil as you have just done.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 5 days ago

Rob--first of all, thank you for your very civil reply. Even on the pages of this distinctively Jesuit publication, things can degenerate rapidly. Thank you and thank you again.

I don't want to steer us away from the excellence of this young authors essay. Frankly, I don't think I would've had the insight and courage to do what he did at that age.

I am not sure how we got to a God and the devil conversation. I was writing about love and what God told to me to say about it. You know, give witness and all that sort of thing. I suppose Ignatian spirituality could be saying same sex attraction and love is the work of the devil but I doubt it.

This young man's fine example of people we hope to attract to the Catholic faith. I wouldn't want him to go through life with the burden of totally unnecessary and nonproductive Catholic guilt. Generations of suffering Catholics have done that for him. No need to repeat.

My experience with the promotion of evil and the sound of the the devil's voice is that the seed of evil exists in all of us, and for damn good reason (no pun intended). Ignatian and other good spiritualities make resisting the enemy at the gate easy. The real enemy lies within and always has. The sound of the devils voice is easy to detect--it answers all your questions in terms you can immediately understand. The authentic voice of God says " Get off your lazy ass and go find some answers for yourself. don't forget to love one another."

PS: Never believe anything I say without examining it yourself. Even if I think I have found enlightenment, it's only mine. Go find your own.

Kevin Murphy
3 weeks 6 days ago

You need some help Dominic. God speaks to you and asks that you pass it on? Sounds like you've formed your own faith. It isn't Catholicism.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 5 days ago

Kevin--of course I formed my own faith. That's what Catholic Faith Formation is about. It's what we do. One question:

Are you telling me God * doesn't* speak to you?

Will Niermeyer
3 weeks 6 days ago

Dominue Deus right on. What a wonderful enlighten approach to human sexuality. A beautiful gift from God like Eucharist.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 5 days ago

Will-Thank you. I am humbled. Usually I am too much full of ego or bullschnit but now I am humbled.

James Haraldson
3 weeks 5 days ago

If you can not grasp that humility is at the heart of everything related to God, including not giving advice to desecrate the Eucharist, then you seriously need to consider a long retreat from the practice of being a Eucharistic Minister.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 5 days ago

James--Funny you should mention humility. Trying to parse out human virtues, their deeper meaning and relevance to human life is one of my areas of scholarship and I have a suggestion for your consideration: In speaking on humility, the best approach to it is to state the need you personally have for it in your spiritual and intellectual life, your family life, your friendships, your sacrificial love life . That's it. Stop there. Go no further.

When you *preach* humility to others, it comes across as bullschnit.

Question: So you're telling Jacob his receiving of the Eucharist all those months desecrated the Blessed Sacrament? I have to throw the bullschnit card on that one. Jacob was doing exactly what his brother Jesus called him to do. Good for you Jacob!

James--Final suggestion. I promise: Do you have a humility mirror? Better to find your own before someone sends you one ;-

James Haraldson
3 weeks 4 days ago

Were you to know anything about humility, you would not presume to know what Jesus told anyone to do in prudential particularity, let alone exactly what they should do. Were you to know anything about humility, you would have enough of a sense of irony to not recommend the mirror of hypocrisy among the very comments you dole out advice about how someone else needs to avoid it.
An absence of humility is self-evident whenever anyone establishes their own criteria for what authenticates a valid veneration of the most sacred of encounters that God gave to man that is simultaneously not respectful of the necessary refraining constrictions of soul that would illuminate and accept that sacredness.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 4 days ago

Too late James. I tried my best but obviously failed you.

I agree with you: I don't know enough about humility and will need to keep on learning. I must confess, however, that you never gave me much to work with by way of example.

Your humility mirror is on the way. I can't tell you when it will arrive but it always does. You may already have it and just haven't looked closely enough.

Relax. A lack of humility is not the absence of it. Just the other day I was a self-indulgent, wallowing in Irish melancholy, grouch. Last night, I knelt down and asked forgiveness from my wife for being such an ass. It's one day at a time. Oh, by the way, you might wish to read my reply to Will above.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 4 days ago

James--I just noticed something: "....the necessary refraining constrictions of soul..."

My God, did someone actually teach you that? In seminary? In prison? Where?

That's the ugliest reference to the life of a soul I've ever heard. Wait, I think have heard it before. It sounds like Augustine trying to confess his bafflement at why he lusted after his father's servant girls. ("Because you were normal, Augie. It wasn't your soul that needed refraining constriction, it was you hormones. Get a grip"). Of course, he didn't know about hormones but we do, so we need to change our advice giving practices. New wine in old skins and all that.

Come to think of it, that's a perfect scriptural parable for explaining why new hormones have to live in young bodies and old geezers should should understand that.

James Haraldson
3 weeks 3 days ago

You're predictably shallow. The reference was obviously directed to your lack of respect for those with good sense enough to not desecrate the Eucharist when they properly recognize they are unworthy. Leave to your shallow mind to construe something stupid.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 2 days ago

I'm sure those are the exact words Jesus himself would have used. ;-)

Well, the weekend is here so relax and don't get too worked up about this. The important thing was Jacob's great testimony to young faith which is, apparently, more adaptable than old faith.I firmly believe God has spoken to you over the years in ways that would form your persona faith. Same with me and same with Jacob. In the universal catholic church, no one should have to live in a cave to find sanctification. If someone wants to, fine, but it's not required.

Jacob, if you have not already gotten bored with this discussion, consider this possibility: You are a spiritual being having a temporal experience. Celebrate every minute of it! Eternity can wait.
-Dominic Deus

Anne Danielson
2 weeks 6 days ago

Dominic, that which sexually objectifies the human person, who is, in essence, a beloved son or daughter, is a act of lust, not Love. Authentic Love, is devoid of lust.
Salvational Love is both personal and relational.
“It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion.”

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 5 days ago

Dominic Deus here. First of all, I want to repeat my appreciation for Jacob's story. Second, I want to thank all my critics above for focusing on the Eucharistic questions and not really objecting much to my sex positive comments. I'm not suggesting they agree with everything I wrote but they chose to focus on sacramental issues Well, that plus my delusional belief that God occasionally speaks to me and my self-evident bromance with the devil. Anyway, thanks to them for prioritizing wisely. If I have misunderstood them, I am sure they will write back,

Mark M
3 weeks 5 days ago

Jacob, keep up the good struggle.
But do not follow Dominic Deus words. They are way off base & will lead you nowhere.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 5 days ago

Mark--I agree. If someone even *tried* to follow me I would say, "What are you doing? I don't know where I'm going and besides, you should be on your own journey. Not mine. Not Mark's. Yours. Maybe we'll meet somewhere along the way. Probably not but who's to say?"

PS to Mark: There is a lot of nowhere out there but that's what makes the journey challenging. On the other hand, there is plenty of nowhere inside the Church as well and that worries me. ;-)

Parch Mint
3 weeks 5 days ago

I always appreciate posts about those who struggle with pornography.

There is another group, though, that suffers in silence. There are humans out there, and I have provided counsel to several, who are undercover or otherwise employed by those who track child abusers, who pour through graphic images every day in attempt to incise the small, small subset of pornographers who need to be stopped most urgently. They invade private networks and hidden servers to stop harmful scars from consuming children.

I ask those who read this article to pray for those who sacrifice a part of their minds for the sake of fight such crimes. .

Suzanne Harris
3 weeks 4 days ago

It bothers me that baptized Christians are not ordinarily permitted to receive the Eucharist in a Catholic church. If we accept the baptism as valid, and the individual believes in the Roman Catholic teaching of the Eucharist as being truly the body and blood of Jesus, why should there be a barrier to receiving it. I get the feeling that it's like inviting a friend to dinner, then saying, "Sorry you can't eat with us, but you're not part of our family, so you can just sit and watch." Is this truly what Jesus wanted?

James Haraldson
3 weeks 4 days ago

Yes, it is what Jesus wanted when we pridefully refuse to repent of our sins.

Dominic Deus
3 weeks 4 days ago

Suzanne--No it's not. Of course I am not one to claim knowledge of truth but truthfulness, that I know. I just can't imagine our brother J wanting us not to share. My suggestion is ask him tonight.

--Dominic

Dr. Geraldine Kerr
3 weeks 4 days ago

Jacob, what a beautiful tribute to who you are and to who you have allowed God's grace to become within you. Your honesty to yourself is refreshing and life-giving. The more honest you were to what increasingly was stirring within you, the more Life in the Spirit unfolded for you. The joy of faith and walking humbly with our God is that he never stops guiding us, if we only take the time to listen and follow his lead. He loves us all so much! Thank you very much for sharing.

Robert White
3 weeks ago

You should seek mental health counselling. There is little else so sick, delusional and destructive as this guilt/shaming cult called catholicism. Join the real, rational world and leave this barbaric nonsense behind you.

Anne Danielson
2 weeks 6 days ago

Robert, there is nothing that is ‘sick, delusional, destructive, or barbaric”, about recognizing that only The Truth of Love can set us free from all that is sick, delusional, destructive, and barbaric, and lead us to Salvation Through God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy.

Anne Danielson
2 weeks 6 days ago

Jacob, Thank you for your courageous witness to to the Life-affirming, Life-sustaining transforming essence of Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy. Godspeed!

Bill Mazzella
2 weeks 5 days ago

The devil may be in the details because the details confuse more than enlighten. Moral theologians developed out of a need to help people from tyrants within and outside the church. Controlling people's minds is usually tyranny. As a result moral theologians came to conclusions that we might find laughable today. Yet we ignore the larger more pressing sin of separating children from parents and defiantly saying "there is no room in the Inn" for Mary and Joseph, that is , our brothers and sisters. While the majority of Catholics voted for and still support a depraved person as president. Each person has to work out her conscience. But Matthew 25: 36-41 is always the clear mandate.

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