[Guest post by Hudson Byblow]
Recently, I received an inquiry from a parent who was looking for a “healthy online community for a young person graduating from high school.” The parent went on to mention that “same-sex attractions may be an issue.” Though I am joyful that this parent wants what is best for their child, their inquiry drew me to think about community (or a lack thereof) and how that may impact a young person’s development overall. This strikes particularly close to home for me, since growing up in a solid Catholic community was instrumental in my eventual return to the Catholic Church.
Negotiating The Jungle
There is nothing wrong with a healthy online community. However, there is something wrong when that online community becomes a substitute for face-to-face community. This is true even in the context of a faith development community. The main reason is because an online community offers people a lesser degree of opportunity to navigate verbal and nonverbal cues given by others. This is important because the less a person understands these cues, the more likely they are to inadvertently contribute to their own exclusion. This is because when people don’t know the “unwritten rules” of face-to-face communication, they are all the more likely to break them. And if this breaking of the “rules” is seen as not advantageous by the rest of the critical mass, they will distance themselves from said “rule-breaker.” In other words, peers jockeying for position in the jungle of adolescence tend to exclude those who behave inappropriately enough to bring down their own social status through association. For that reason, it is in the best interest of people (of any age) to learn how to negotiate those invisible “rules” so that they will be less likely to commit social faux pas that could contribute to their exclusion, or worse yet, bring about the situation where the critical mass of peers might turn on them.
Cause and Effect
The topic of exclusion is important because when people are excluded, they are deprived of opportunities for positive and appropriate physical contact. Where appropriate physical contact norms are learned, a person would be less likely to be fearful of that very same appropriate contact. And this is significant because if one is fearful of such contact, they are more likely to avoid situations where they might encounter it. However, the aversion to appropriate contact (which may result in the lack of contact) brings with it a lack of holy contact. And without experiencing holy contact, there will result a deficit in understanding holy intimacy. And where there is a deficit in understanding (and knowing the joys of) holy intimacy, people will be less likely to seek it out for themselves. Instead, it will remain off their radar. And this will impact the type and quality of friendships that a person will be able to have.
Holy intimacy is necessary for all persons because it provides for us the optimal space to grow in relationship as opposed to isolation. It is optimal because truly holy contact is devoid of the commission of sin and thus it is less likely overall to draw people towards sin. In addition, holy contact honors what God has authored, and draws people closer to Him and the pursuit of virtue (even if a person doesn’t recognize this gradual transformation at the time). With holiness and virtue as an underlying objective, a person reveals that their primary intention is to strive to draw another person into a deeper intimacy with God Himself.
The Cultural Narrative…
Though God made us (including our bodies) good and holy, without a foundational understanding of holy intimacy, intentional physical contact itself may become perceived as something reserved for only sexual/romantic circumstances. As this perception takes root within a culture, people may be drawn to withdraw from appropriate non-sexual/non-romantic contact altogether for fear that it may be interpreted as something romantic/sexual when it is not intended as such.
Despite the over-sexualization of our culture, however, people seem to be increasingly deprived of holy contact altogether, let alone holy intimacy. However, the basic needs for holy contact and holy intimacy remain. As a result of the increasing absence of holy intimacy, people seem to be increasingly seeking out ways to fill that void. It is predictable that people strive to do this in the only ways they have come to learn (which in this culture, largely involve sexual/romantic exploration). A person engaged in this pursuit ought to not shoulder all the blame, for they are products of our culture. Indeed, their expectations may have become set in this way on account of any number of factors, including the lack of holy intimacy being modeled within our world today.
As Catholics, we are called to strive to live that holy intimacy with Christ and reflect that to others, and we might do well to ask ourselves about how well we have reflected that to the world. Truly, it starts with us.
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[This commentary originally appeared on HudsonByblow.com and is reprinted with the author’s permission.]
Hudson Byblow is a Catholic speaker, author, and consultant who lives in the Midwest where he has a career in education. He has presented at National and International conferences in the United States and Canada and also presents to clergy, schools and parishes. Additionally, Hudson serves as a consultant to various Catholic agencies, speakers and educators. His website is www.hudsonbyblow.com and he can be booked by emailing email@example.com.