The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
In today’s sex-obsessed society, it is a word that usually has erotic connotations. In the beginning, however, the Holy Scriptures tell us that this was not the case. Nakedness is really the expression of one’s maleness or femaleness; nakedness without shame is the person’s acceptance of his or her own sexuality as God created and intended. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this primordial meaning has been horribly skewed.
Indeed, even in the history of the Church, rather short shrift has been to human sexuality and sexual ethics and most of those teachings are about what people should not be doing. However, with the rise of the sexual revolution, the leaders of the Church were called to revisit this issue.
One man, in particular would address this teaching in such a way that it will eventually change the way the Church does its proverbial business. It is said that this man, Saint John Paul II has taught nearly two-thirds of what the Church has ever definitively taught about human sexuality in his catechesis which is now known as the Theology of the Body. Two-thirds! He only became pope in 1978, so obviously we have a lot of catching up to do.
It was very providential that my sexual healing coincided with a time where the saint’s writings were beginning to be taught and explained in a way that most lay people could understand. It was through the teachings of John Paul II, especially as expounded through a theologian named Christopher West that I found a lot of my personal healing.
One of the famous sayings of John Paul II, which he repeated throughout his pontificate was, “Be Not Afraid!”
Indeed, in my journey toward wholeness, I constantly had to conquer my fears, beginning with my transatlantic pilgrimage to Portugal. I also needed to conquer my fear of being “unlovable” by men which I had only just begun to do. In a certain sense, when we have that kind of intimacy with another, we become spiritually naked and vulnerable with each other. It is a true friendship when you can look at each other with all the flaws and imperfections exposed and still love each other without feeling a sense of shame.
For me, that also meant overcoming my fear of being physically naked in front of another man. I had always been so insecure with my own nakedness. Since I had resolved so many years ago to keep my “deep, dark secret” to myself, I didn’t partake of anything where I would have been physically, emotionally or spiritually vulnerable with another man, including my own father.
I would never have been seen by another man in a state of undress. What if I had an erection? What if I looked too long? The other problem is that at the point I still had true erotic attraction to the bodies of men. I say the bodies for men because I never would have gotten close enough to know them as people. I viewed men from a distance, as objects to be desired, idols, if you will.
When I was first checking out Franciscan University, there was a time which forced me to have that proverbial “locker room experience" I never had. The university had a program called “Come and See,” where the prospective student was invited to spend a weekend on the campus living in the dorms courtesy of the University. I decided to do it one weekend and I was assigned to the dorm known as Saint Francis Hall.
I roomed with two awesome guys who just by being themselves were the best ambassadors the school could have found.
I was having a great time until I went to the bathroom. I was horrified to find that there were only common showers, no individual booths.
Holy cow, I thought though in a panic, my secret is bound to get out and it will be all over for me here.
So, the first night, I planned my shower at a time when I knew the bathroom would be empty. I wasn’t so lucky on Sunday. I had to shower before Mass and the bathroom was full of naked men showering together, laughing and talking and having a great time. I had no choice!
In I went. I was actually so scared and stressed out that there was no possible way I would ever have an erection. God had saved me…that time.
When I came out of the shower, I confessed to the guys I was staying with that I was a little uncomfortable with the shower situation and asked how they felt about it. They first told me that none of the other dorms had this style of shower. They also admitted that they were also uncomfortable at first but then told me that after a while, it really builds a sense of camaraderie and trust among the men.
One of them said very straightforwardly, “That’s why Saint Francis Hall never loses an intramural football game.”
To my knowledge, his statement was true.
During the years I later attended the University, they actually renovated Saint Francis Hall. When the residents found out that the new plans removed the community showers in favor of individual stalls, I am told there was no small protest. Whether that story is true or not, Saint Francis Hall no longer has that shower arrangement. In a sense, it is sad. I have often wondered if I could have received a deeper, faster, healing if I had been able to confront my fears and experience true masculinity like that during my formative years.
Once I finally arrived at the university, I had another experience which continued my healing. During spring break, the university offered a program called SonLife in which students could travel to Florida together. While most spring break trips focus on partying, it had a different focus for Steubenville students. We did, in fact, go to the beach in Florida, but to evangelize rather than to party.
We stayed in a retreat house run by a group of nuns which, ironically, was funded with funds won from that diocese under the reign of the former bishop, who was somehow involved in the Church’s sex scandal. It was fitting that I would here continue my healing, in this place whose existence was based on abuse of that sacred gift. The Lord always allows evil that good may come of it.
The basic program was that we would get up in the morning and have breakfast and Mass together. Next, we all boarded a bus and headed down to the beach for the day where we would perform skits, lead public games and do one-on-one beach evangelization. This was my first time being on a beach with a bunch of Catholic Christians my own age.
At the end of one of the days, a bunch of the guys had an impromptu wrestling match on the beach. Neither I nor the other guy was wearing anything except a bathing suit. I had a lot of anxiety just thinking about it but I figured, what the heck.
I found out two things.
First, I was not very skilled and got quickly pinned. Next, I found that I really liked it, not in an erotic way, but more the physicality of it. I enjoyed the competition and physical connection provided by the sport. This gave me some insight into understanding the psychology of sports, which had always been very foreign to me.
The next event happened after we went back to the retreat center. Since our cabins were single-sex and there were lines for the shower, most of the guys disrobed completely and stood in the line laughing and talking about the day. I figured it was now or never. Off went my clothes as I joined the line. There was something very freeing about it. The guys weren’t even focused on nakedness but rather on each other and on the day. It was another “locker room” experience and it gave me a sense oneness with the men I was with. I began to see them not as mysterious and distant but more like me than I had ever realized before. I belonged with them.
Again, my fears about my own nakedness were not realized. I had taken the next step toward wholeness. The grace of the Lord, as always, was sufficient.
And there was more to come.