Years ago, a fellow Catholic shared a statement that struck me. It was at a tavern between sets of an Irish guitar player, over quite a few beers on a guys’ night out that my new bride had consented to. While philosophizing, as young men do, my Catholic acquaintance said, “If you want to be happy for an hour: get drunk. If you want to be happy for a month: get married. But if you want to be happy for a lifetime: become a priest.”
The maxim intrigued me. It struck me as a truthful and witty endorsement of the ordained life. True, and yet it also seemed that it should not be so. I’d been married for several months and had already experienced some disillusionment. Was that it? Had I gotten my month of happiness?
Like so many men and women reared in the wake of the sexual revolution, I came into my marriage relationally wounded. However, I didn’t quite realize the damage done and how it could hurt my wife. In my teens, I had fallen away from my Catholic faith, and in college the Lord called me back to the church. This calling centered on God showing me that sex is a holy thing and that abusing it was spiritually devastating.
While I renounced sexual sin, I came into my marriage with untempered sexual desires and a spiritual immaturity that caused me to abuse the wife I loved so much. I mistakenly thought I had been given the antidote to sexual sin. Now, as long as it was with my wife, I could have all the sex I wanted without sinning.
After about a month, my wife, who had so lovingly given herself to me, had to lovingly set some boundaries. She shared that I was making her feel used and asserted that she did not want to be treated as a vessel for me to masturbate with. Without meaning to, I had been using her, and she did not feel loved by what God ordained to be a loving act.
The Living Water’s manual is so right when it says in chapter 5, “Commitment to the good of others always involves growing in chastity: fully owning and integrating the gift of one’s sexuality.” I had to learn how to better make my sexuality a gift by saying no to myself. This has taken many years with the Lord meeting me where I am. Each time He shows me the next step and the next unholy attachment I need to bring to Him at the cross to heal.
When the time was right, Christ, through the circumstances of my life, brought me an opportunity to grow through the Living Waters program. This came at a time when my wife and I were in a good place in our marriage. We had embraced natural family planning, and our sex life was really good. We had made a personal covenant with each other and God to never use artificial contraception and to be open if God wanted to bless us with a child. If we didn’t want to get pregnant, we abstained from sex during fertile times.
The manual talks about “those holy, harassing moments, [in which] love is forged.” There were holy, harassing times of the month when my wife could clearly see I was saying no to myself by abstaining from sex. I was giving agape, or selfless love, and so it was safe for her to say no as well. Ironically, because we got better at nos, the yeses were more enjoyable and more frequent. Yet, I still had some deep work to do, and I needed Living Water’s help.
I learned that there were wounds and attachments that I was carrying that inhibited me from bearing God’s image in my relationship. Unbeknownst to me, they were distorting God’s image and even stunting my spiritual growth. One wound I had to reconcile was the recognition of my parents’ shortcomings in modeling healthy gender roles. I also had to come to terms with their failure to protect me from exposure to pornography. I love and admire my parents, but I couldn’t let those feelings obscure the fact that damage was done to me. The realization that neglect is a form of abuse was huge for me, and I was able to bring that wound to the altar for healing.
I also grew to discern, through group prayer and the invoking of the Holy Spirit, that I needed to stop praying for a high school girlfriend. My prayers for her were keeping me attached to her. Because of the coaching from Living Waters I was able to get to a place where I could hear the Lord say, “I will save her. But now I need you to stop praying for her.” In doing so, I became a more complete gift to my wife. Everything in my heart that should be hers is now free to be given. Also, forgiving my parents has helped me to set better boundaries with them.
After going through Living Waters, I know I still have more work to do, but I also realize I have gained a spiritual wisdom and maturity that I don’t think I could have gotten on my own. In this wisdom I would revisit the maxim that convicted me as a young adult. God has made us to be happy in the vocation He calls us to. However, as the manual states, God’s “call to love in the image of God causes us to cast ourselves entirely upon God.”
The reason the priest is happy for a lifetime is because he does just that. As a married man I am called to do the same but in a different way. I am called to image God the Christ to my wife and to image God the Father to my children and to my community. So, to edit and improve the maxim, “If you want to be happy for a while: get soberly intoxicated in the Holy Spirit through prayer. If you want to be happy for a lifetime: get married with Jesus Christ at the center. And if you want to be happy for an eternity: live the priesthood of your baptism by offering up prayers for the world to God and being a chaste gift to others.” It’s not as catchy, but it’s certainly true.