Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Finding Freedom from Porn Addiction — Part II

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, Diego Velazquez, (1631-32).
The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, Diego Velazquez, (1631-32).

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God….” –Matthew 5:8

One of the paintings that is most dear to my heart is Diego Velazquez’s The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas. For anyone who has struggled with sexual sins, I think this work has the power to evoke many different feelings. In it I see reflections of my own battles for purity. The story behind the image is often told like this:

When the young Thomas Aquinas wanted to follow his vocation for the religious life he was vehemently opposed by his family – so much so that they kidnapped and locked him in a room with a seductress to tempt him. Little did they know that Thomas had been spending that time in prayer and solitude, as represented by the inkwell and books upon the floor, and had prepared for the coming trials.

What you see in Velazquez’s painting is the aftermath of Thomas chasing out the temptress. He had taken a burning log from the fireplace and run her out. That is the same log he used to trace an ashen cross upon the wall of his room. If you look carefully, you can see the woman running out the door looking back upon him. Two angels come to protect Thomas and gird him with a white cord representing purity.

What strikes me the most is that Thomas’ eyes are closed. Look at him. He is resting, almost as if asleep with his head slightly bent in the crook of the angel’s neck. He is safe. The battle is…won.

How often I have longed for that kind of rest! Have you also? From that point on it is said that Thomas never more was tempted in the flesh and the so-called “Dumb Ox” began his illustrious journey to become a doctor and saint of Holy Mother Church.

To this day, partly in honor of this memory, the Dominican Friars still lead the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, which is dedicated to helping people pursue chastity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and our Blessed Mother. Now, most of us probably will not be called to go to such lengths for purity, but that does not mean we that cannot learn from St. Thomas’ example.

I have written this column to continue the reflections in my previous post, where I wrote on part of my own journey of healing from such struggles. My main goal with this second post is to share with you ways that have helped me grow in chastity, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as the “successful integration of sexuality within the person and … inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” according to which we “cultivate in the way that is suited to [our] state of life” (CCC #2337, #2349).

I do not necessarily offer these points as profound spiritual insights of my own, but rather as time-tested, tried and true ways that the Church offers us to gain purity. Truly, it is not often by the loftiest or most complex programs that we gain victory, but rather by the little, most humble, and simple places where we should begin.

1. Humility

It almost seems counter-intuitive, but I only began to find freedom when I realized that I was, apart from God, incapable of overcoming my struggles. It is He who grants us the victory.

For so long I had tried the same things over and over and nothing had ever worked. But go to any Twelve-Step program and they will tell you that the journey starts when we acknowledge that we are powerless over our addictions and recognize that it has become unmanageable for us.

At one point, my life had reached rock bottom and I felt that I could not go down any further. I was utterly broken, my spirit was crushed, and I felt desolate. I could not live like this any longer. That was my wake-up call.

I have learned since that nothing is, ultimately, wasted in the hands of our Lord because he can and often does bring good out of our evil. With contrition for our sins and humility in our hearts, let us do this:

So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4: 7-10)

2. The Sacraments and Prayer

The Sacraments are the heart and soul of a Catholic’s spiritual life. With regard to sins of impurity, two Sacraments that you should regularly receive are the Eucharist at daily or Sunday Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we might bring our sins before God and ask for forgiveness.

The Eucharist is the food for our journey. How can we fight a battle if we are not fed? This is not just any perishing sustenance, but the Bread of Eternal Life itself, the Manna from heaven, the very Body and Blood of our Lord! In the Eucharist, Jesus comes to dwell with us, showing us that we are not alone on the journey.

If for some reason you cannot receive Him, pray an Act of Spiritual Communion or visit our Lord in Adoration. Nonetheless, you should receive as often as you can if you are in a state of grace.

This brings me to my second point: confessing our sins is often difficult, but I have also found it so freeing and liberating! God has and continues to truly forgive us in this Sacrament. Whatever your sins may be, please do not be afraid, do not despair! Do not forget to be merciful with yourself.

If you do fall, consider praying the Act of Perfect Contrition. Go as often as you need, remembering this:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Hebrews 4: 15-16)

3. Community and Friendship

This cannot be said enough: you cannot win this battle on your own. The devil would have us believe that our sins are too shameful, that we are irreparably broken, and that no one would ever love us if they knew what we struggled with. He would drive us away from our family, our friends, or our spouse. That is precisely what we must not do!

Find a good accountability partner, someone who you can be open with. Cultivate holy and virtuous friendships with others, although those struggling with sexual sins must do this sensitively depending upon how they struggle. Consider finding a good Catholic therapist and unpacking some things from your past. Ask yourself, why are you acting out this way because the genesis of sexual sin often does not come out of thin air.

Sometimes sex-addictions are the symptom of a greater problem in our lives, whether that be bodily stress, spiritual, or emotional wounds. Our Lord, when He walked upon this earth, had friends, brothers, and sisters who were dear to him and helped him along his sojourn. In the same way, let us give thanks for those whom the Lord puts into our lives so that we might “bear one another’s burdens, and so…fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

4. Mary and Joseph and the Saints

One final point I wish to make is that learning from the saints, particularly meditating upon our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, has helped me greatly in this regard.

Sexual sin often strikes us at the root of what it means to be a man or a woman, what love and family are, what it means to be a “father” or “mother,” a husband or wife. For me, the Holy Family is a beautiful image of what is possible when men and women chastely give their whole lives to God and to each other.

Whatever saints you may have a devotion to, consider learning from these or others: St. Augustine’s Confessions is a great classic. Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat is another (Chapter 26 in particular!). Meditating upon the lives of the saints, including that of St. Maria Goretti, The Life of St. Anthony, and St. Therese of Lisieux’s meditations upon her saintly parents, Blessed Louis and Marie Zélie Martin, in The Story of a Soul are good places to start. Clean of Heart by Rosemarie Scott has also been helpful to me with its structured daily meditations.

If pornography and sexual sin has filled our minds with foul images and painful memories, then we must find healing by letting in that which is the opposite: that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, of excellence, and worthy of praise (c.f. Philippians 4:8). We must “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).

In these ways, my dear friends, we can begin the journey of healing, of restoration, of a full life in God. In my own life, I have found peace, help, hope, and grace and I wish that you might discover the same. Are there ways that have helped you grow in chastity? Please share in the comments section!

Let us end together by meditating once again upon Velazquez’s painting and ask St. Thomas’ intercession to teach us purity of heart so that we might one day, like him and all the saints, “gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Amen.

Rachana Chhin

Rachana Chhin

Rachana Chhin is a 25-year-old Catholic convert (via Buddhism and Evangelical Christianity) from Houston, Texas. He received his Bachelors degree from Baylor University where he studied International Affairs and the Great Books. He is now pursuing a Juris Doctorate and Masters in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota. In his down time, he enjoys reading, listening to classical and folk music, and playing strategy games on his computer.

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3 thoughts on “Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Finding Freedom from Porn Addiction — Part II”

  1. Justin Kolodziej

    I would like to add that in the case of an addiction to pornography, there may be as well as the habitual sin itself, the contributing factors of an obsessive personality as well as even a demonic obsession because the doors have been opened to it through the sin. So, the Church also has the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to offer, which I really believe is also effective against mental illnesses, as well as prayers of minor exorcism, which every priest has the authority to use. I will testify that adding these weapons to the arsenal through the ministry of a very holy Byzantine Catholic priest has been extremely helpful in my battle. For a number of reasons it may not be so easy to find a priest who will make use of all these helps the Church provides, but do not give up, trust that the Lord Jesus Christ wants to set you free.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Justin! I did not even consider to write about the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in this piece. Although I am not too familiar with the Byzantine Rite and practices from that end, I am grateful that you have found grace and strength in that way.

      Indeed, you are quite right the battle is also spiritual as it is biological and emotional:

      “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground” (Ephesians 6: 12-13).

      God bless you along your journey!

  2. Emily Edmondson

    Another problem I have encountered related to sexual sin is that certain sub-cultures of the Church tend to stigmatize the sexual nature of humans without discretion between chaste and unchaste living. Sexuality is simply bad. On the other hand, the culture at large tends to apotheosize sexuality and sexual experience such that humans become their sexuality. Trying to live in the middle of this tension is a mess (especially since it’s more pleasurable to fall in line with the latter…). In addition to everything you have suggested, I would like to point out the value, to me at least, in understanding that sexuality in Church teaching isn’t bad, though it can be abused. The beauty if Catholicism is that we are neither puritans nor hedonists, yet virtue in the end gets us the pleasure of God.

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