Question

Dear Father Angelo,

I’m M., I’ve been writing since … and I’ve already had the opportunity to contact you about other questions.

I am married and I have two children.

I am very much in love with my wife and I don’t want to hurt her. The problem is that her health has deteriorated and most likely we will never have sex again.

I don’t want to leave her, much less betray her with other women, because I love her, I feel attached to her, and in any case, regardless of religious tenets, I have always considered betrayal a horrible thing.

However, sexuality is an important part of life, and completely repressing it requires substantial effort. It must be said that when I think of sex, I always and anyway think of sex with her, not with other women. And the idea of not being able to live it with her makes me feel incomplete and amputated.

Now I say: couldn’t it be at least partially excusable, if I sometimes practiced self-pleasuring while thinking about her in that moment?

These little outbursts would allow me to fulfill my duty – which is also what I actually want – in providing affection,faithfulness, and emotional closeness, without being disturbed by the unfulfillment of what is still an important part of my existence. (…).

One of the recognized functions of marriage is Sedatio Concupiscentiae – that is, if my recollections of Latin do not failme – to appease the desire, making sure that it finds legitimate satisfaction and does not end up in the whirlwind of disorder and debauchery.

I’m feeling so bad, father. I love my wife, I don’t want to wrong her! As I’m typing on the computer keys, I almost feel like crying, out of the agitation and sadness in which I find myself. This happens also because my wife’s illness… strongly impacts her temperament and emotional state as well.

However, apart from this aside, which is for me an offhand outburst borne out of sadness and despair: coming back to the matter about self-pleasuring, can it be a mortal sin without any mitigating circumstances, even in the situation I am living?

If you could answer me, I would be very grateful.

Kind regards,

M.


Answer

Dear M.,

1. It is true that as a consequence of original sin, sexual relations also involve a remedium concupiscentiae.

However, this should not be understood from the point of view of purely material satisfaction, but rather as meaning that the impulses of sexuality are put at the service of self-giving and procreation.

If this is not the case, they remain impure acts, as it is said, and remain in contradiction with that path of holiness that each of us is called to travel in the present life.

Holiness, that is a growing communion with God, is the goal of the earthly life we are living, and it is so necessary and indispensable that the Holy Scripture says: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord“(Heb 12:14).

2. There is therefore a chastity or purity of affections to be revived and fostered even in marriage.

This chastity, as indeed the practice of any virtue – think of patience, meekness, fortitude – is not built by itself, but requires discipline of the senses and of the spirit, and sometimes even to be fought for.

3. In this respect, self-eroticism is as opposite a thing to true love and holiness as there can ever be.

John Paul II, speaking about responsible parenthood, said: “Knowledge must then lead to education in selfcontrol: hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it.

In the Christian view, chastity by no means signifies rejection of human sexuality or lack of esteem for it: rather it signifies spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it towards its full realization” (Familiaris Consortio, 33).

4. It should be emphasized that here the Pope is speaking to the spouses.

And he addresses these words right to them: “hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it“.

He emphasizes the importance of chastity by linking it to the dignity of the person.

In fact, he says that “man is indeed person because he is the master of himself and dominates himself.

In fact, insofar as he is the master of himself, he can give himself to others” (22.8.1984).

5. Ancient authors had already said that no one can give what he does not have (nemo dat quod non habet).

To be able to love in a true way, that is, to give oneself, it is necessary to be the master of oneself.

Otherwise we end up mistaking for love what is actually slavery to our own lust.

6. John Paul II also points out that chastity enriches love, making it grow: “If marital chastity (and chastity in general) first manifests itself as the ability to resist the lust of the flesh, it then gradually reveals itself as a remarkable ability to perceive, love and implement those meanings of ‘body language’, which remain completely unknown to lust itself and which progressively enrich the spousal dialogue of the married couple, purifying it, deepening it and simplifying it at the same time.

Therefore that self-denial of continence, of which the encyclical speaks (HV 21), does not impoverish the ‘affective manifestations,’ on the contrary it makes them more spiritually intense, and therefore results in their enrichment”(24.10.1984).

7. Before him, Paul VI in the Humanae Vitae encyclical had said: “For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial

And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings.

For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities.

And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers” (HV 21).

8. I’ll stop here.

You may say that I did not answer your specific question, but that I took the opportunity to speak of the purity that must be cultivated also among Christian spouses in view of holiness.

Yes, it’s true.

I wanted to talk specifically about this because today a certain kind of language has become commonplace, e.g.speaking of engaging in sexual activity.

As one engages in sports activity, religious activity, one engages in sexual activity all the same. As if they were separate matters and there was no horizon towards which all of them must converge: holiness.

As for the answer, you know the divine commandments well.

What the divine commandments forbid is a path that neither leads persons to growth nor fosters their commitment to holiness.

I assure you of a special remembrance in prayer and in the celebration of Holy Mass. This remembrance includes your wife and your children too.

I remember you in prayer and I bless you.

Father Angelo

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