Today I witnessed a true and undeniable miracle. A few blogs back I wrote about my experience while waiting to enter the baths in Lourdes, France. I was on a pilgrimage and was visiting the famous Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is well known for its healing water that visitors can bathe in. I chose to do it the hopes of receiving some of the healing properties the water possesses, but at the last minute I had a change of heart. A coworker of mine has been struggling with several demons centered around addiction. Before entering the baths I was overcome with the need and desire to pray for her and to enter the baths with the hope that the graces I received would be given to her.
When I returned back to New York the actions of my coworker were unchanged, or so I thought. I continued to lift her up in prayer, but sometimes the rawness of her language made me uncomfortable and I was beginning to wonder if she would ever be open to the healing Mary and the Holy Spirit wanted to give her, until today. Work was slow and I found myself with a lot of free time. Suddenly, this coworker asked if I had time to talk. She had never directly asked me to talk before, so of course I said yes. Evidently, she was dealing with a difficult break-up and she wondered if she had been taken advantage of by this guy she was seeing. After hearing the story it was pretty clear that she had, but that was not the end of the conversation. We talked off and on throughout the rest of the day and she opened up about how she wanted to change her life. She was no longer smoking weed nor seeking out one-night stands and meaningless hook-ups. She was being proactive, making the conscious effort to go to the gym everyday, and cutting ties with bad influences. I was completely awe-stricken. There was an obvious transformation within her.
I dared to go a little deeper and learned her mother is Catholic. Unfortunately, she had negative ties with the Catholic faith because of her mother’s influence. I know there are quite a few crosses that she is carrying and there is much healing that needs to be done. I asked if she knew anything about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; she didn’t. When I came back from France I brought back a keychain of a rose with Saint Thérèse on it and gave it to my coworker in hopes that it might help in the healing I had prayed for while in the baths at Lourdes. I asked her if she still had the keychain and she said she did. I gave her a little overview of who Saint Thérèse was, and why Saint Thérèse might be able to help her in her pursuit of a better life. I saw genuine hope spark in her eyes. It was a spark that I had never seen before, mainly because before she was severely under the influence of marijuana. She had been in the grip of Satan, allowing her addictions to rule over her, but now there was clarity and it was beautiful. Mary had found a way to touch my coworker’s spirit and transform it. I felt so honored to have the privilege of witnessing it. My coworker is proof of the healing power of Our Lady of Lourdes and that our faith and our prayers can inspire miracles in other’s lives. Bring your prayers and intentions to Mary and Jesus and be persistent, for their mercy will not be outdone.
Lawyers are taught to listen carefully to what our clients say and to ask questions, because a client might think that one issue presents the right course of action to take in court, but in reality a detail that may seem incidental to them could present a stronger case with a different line of argument.
Doctors too, should listen carefully when patients describe their symptoms, lest they misdiagnose them. My mother, a frequent migraine sufferer, was quite adamant that something had burst in her brain and it was a crushing pain unlike any she had endured before, but the GP insisted that it was probably just another migraine and she should just take some painkillers. Five days and many painkillers later, my mother underwent open head surgery for a brain aneurysm.
Sometimes, when we are approached for charity, it pays to listen and assess what the person really needs, lest we end up harming them more than helping.
A disheveled lady approached me outside a hostel in Adelaide, asking for $4 to take the bus home. It seemed strange to me that she needed $4, because the fare from the airport to the city had been cheaper than that. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and handed over the change.
Later, I noticed her playing a poker machine in the basement, and I felt simultaneously incensed and sad. It appeared that I had just contributed to her gambling addiction. How could I have better handled the situation?
In Melbourne, I met a young homeless, nearly toothless girl on a tram, who was being booked for not paying the fare. I offered to pay for her, but the lady booking her paid. So I offered to bring her to lunch at an Italian restaurant… and the waiter paid! After we went for a stroll around the nearby university grounds, I decided to pay for her night’s lodging. After receiving $30, she said, “I forgot, on Wednesdays they raise the price, it’s $40 today.” I gave her more, and she departed. Later, I googled hostels in the area, and there was at least one with rooms for $26. I hoped that she would spend the extra money on food.
A few weeks later, she asked me for more money, saying she would pay it back. Soon enough, she was asking for even more. However, I was in the midst of moving back to Brisbane, and didn’t see her again.
Now, looking back, and having met more people who have struggled with drug addiction, I wonder if I had just been unwittingly feeding a drug habit. What could I have done better under the circumstances? How does one begin to help another person break free of the chains in their life?
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman, and when He met Zacchaeus, He asked them for simple things — a sip of water, lodging for the night. In asking them for things they could give, He opened the way for what He could give them — forgiveness and freedom from their sins, their patterns of addiction to lust and greed.
Perhaps here is a model for charity. Those mired in sin and addiction often feel helpless, even useless. Once you acknowledge someone’s free will and locus of control, they can begin to transform from within, breaking free of self-absorption while realising what they can still give to others. Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to make amends for his misdeeds, but Zacchaeus joyfully announced that he would give half his possessions to the poor, and if he had cheated anyone, he promised to repay it fourfold (Luke 19:8). Our Lord’s request for Zacchaeus’ hospitality unlocked the man’s heart. How may we help to unlock other hearts today? And do our own need unlocking too?
I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.
– attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
My life thus far might seem a waste, even something loathsome, to many people, but now I know it has been redeemed, and is in the process of being redeemed. God willing, I shall yet honor Christ, though I have been all things unholy.
I was raised by a hard-working father and a loving, vivacious mother in a quiet outer suburb of Queensland, on four acres of lush property. From the tender age of three, I joined dance classes which were the highlight of my days, starting with jazz and then progressing to tap-dancing with my mother. All my life, I have found it difficult to remain committed to anything – save dance.
Unfortunately, this love of dancing contributed to my ostracization in school. The other boys were typical jocks, who enjoyed sport and play-fighting. I never understood them, and they labelled me a “gay” for being a dancer.
Being bullied through school, and never finding a true friend, I suffered from low self-esteem and found it difficult to concentrate in class. Things became worse when my family was forced to move to an inner suburb in my teens, where I was abused by a family friend, and introduced to drugs by someone who lived next to the dance school.
No one in my family knew what damage hard drugs could do, and I accepted them, hungry for what appeared to be friendship from the person who proffered them. As Professor Peter Cohen, Director of the Center for Drug Research in Amsterdam, has concluded from sociological research, drugs are a replacement for human connection.
“…human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe… we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.”
Thus, at the age of 19, I began my relationship with speed, and later moved on to ice. My reliance on methamphetamines started off innocuously, producing highs which enabled me to create exquisite drawings, expressing my inner self which had been rejected by my schoolmates. Then I craved more and more of the drugs, and they swallowed up my life.
My parents went through hell. Sometimes I went without drugs for six months, so I labored under the illusion that I was in control – but no, I had long ceded control to the drugs. Once, after having been awake for about four days injecting ice, I drove home (only God knows how I got home without running off the road) and made a bowl of Weet-Bix before crashing on the couch. The next thing I knew, I was standing, in motion and having checked the time began to panic because I was supposed to meet a friend. I drove to her place, and after some frantic phone calls I managed to get in contact with her. She too had been on drugs, and we both couldn’t remember what we had been doing for a whole two-hour period. I ran my hand through my hair and found Weet-Bix mashed against it. I wonder what the living room looks like, I thought.
When I returned home, my mother was terrified. She had watched me standing in the living room contorting my hands and uttering garbled words for approximately two hours before dashing out of the house. Her little boy had turned into a monster.
Life progressed from bad to worse. An acquaintance taught me how to break into homes, stealing any copper we could find in order to finance our drug habits. I had failed high school, and had no aim in life, save the next hit which could release me from this misery, for awhile.
Then my mother had cancer.
I had been brought up in the [Australian] Uniting Church, but never understood any of its teachings. Over time, I became an arrogant, agnostic atheist, but not so arrogant as to reject any evidence of a higher power if it was presented to me. I immersed myself in the goth subculture.
After three years of caring for my mother at home while my father continued working to support us, the certainty grew on me that the end of her life was near. My birthday is on the Feast of St. Monica (as I now know), and I had the strong feeling that my mother was going to die exactly a month later.
The last week of my mother’s life was spent in palliative care in the QE2 Hospital in Brisbane. I was about to step into the shower when Dad called to say that Mum had passed away. I received the news with dead calmness, and returned to the bathroom. It was only when the water hit my body that I felt my heart break, and let out a primal scream of loss.
This was the beginning of a series of events and signs which led me to conclude that a higher power must exist. For the first few months, I refused to even acknowledge this supreme power as God, instead resorting to New Age terms like “the universe” and “source energy.”
I began visiting various churches and reading the Bible about three and a half years later, after spending the intervening time dabbling in tarot, crystals and chakra meditations, an attempt to understand God from a mathematical and scientific perspective. I could never find a home in any of those churches. The Pentecostal services left me with an emotional high which would quickly subside.
Then, last year, after staying clean for awhile, I visited an old acquaintance and fell headlong into the trap of drug addiction again.
Yet, this was what eventually led me to the Catholic Church, for I resolved to amend my life, and checked myself into a facility which happened to be right beside a lovely old church near the Brisbane River.
Still, I would not have stepped into a Catholic church, if my room-mate had not said, “There’s free food next door!” The church has a coffee ministry for the homeless twice a week. Through their corporal work of mercy, they performed the greatest spiritual mercy for me – leading me home to my heavenly Father, away from my sinful past.
At first, as an obstinate Protestant, I shied away from addressing the priests as “Father.” But soon, I began to see how the Catholics truly lived the Gospel, and in my first Mass, kneeling before the Holy Eucharist, I finally found the peace of Christ, the peace which the world cannot give.
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16).
— Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est
I was received into the Catholic Church this past Easter Vigil, and am just beginning to grasp its glorious spiritual treasures. Further, God has blessed me with a loving new spiritual family, in the parish, in Verbum Dei, and in granting me what I thought impossible – a human being who loves me in spite of my past, and who wants to share a life with me, though grave uncertainty lies ahead. Our only certainty is God, after all. What amazing grace, which saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now, I see.
If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today.
– St. Josephine Bakhita
It is usually said that Western democracies are the most free societies on earth. But is that true? This video provides a rather different way of deciding what societies constitute prison societies.
If the information presented above is accurate, and there is no reason to think it is not, then an excellent way to judge how free every country’s citizens actually perceive themselves to be is very straightforward: just measure the addiction rates in each country.
There are two or three major classes of addiction, depending on how you count. Alcohol is such a prevalent drug that it generally gets its own category. Opiates and every other drug are grouped together as a separate class. Sex, especially homosexual addiction, is the last major class. So, how do countries fare on the addiction scale?
Notice that third-world areas, like South America and Africa, simply don’t have the addiction problems that industrialized nations do. These areas struggle with famine, disease and poverty, but they don’t have addiction problems to anywhere near the extent of the “advanced” countries.
Now, this is not to say that living in physical poverty is a walk in the park. Obviously, it is not. But, if the addiction-cage theory is correct, we cannot say industrialized nations are well-off. Industrialized nations simply suffer a different kind of poverty, a poverty of freedom. According to the addiction studies, the industrialized world is simply a series of prison societies.
Being in the thick of Lent, I’ve been reflecting on Lents past and how differently I approach Lent now. Lent the year I was sixteen immediately came to mind—it was the first one I approached with any type of maturity. So I offer this recollection as a hopeful reminder that life gets better and that even when powerless in addiction, even when no one understands, God truly has the power to heal.
Sixteen, what a year—many big things happened in my life, among them that I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I was completely addicted to masturbation, and I found out that masturbation is a mortal sin. There were many life-altering events that year, but nothing was more shattering than already struggling in the undercurrent of addiction and then being crushed by a tidal wave saying I was going to hell for something I no longer had any control over. I could not let that happen. I would not go to hell. So without any resources or support or know-how, I did the only thing I could think of: I gave up masturbation for Lent.
Previously my Lenten sacrifices consisted of giving up different candies or cracking my knuckles or other such things appropriate to younger ages, but that Lent was different, that Lent I was not giving up something I loved but something I knew was holding me back from Love (and, coincidentally, love). That Lent I was scared, unsure, but determined. I also decided to begin reading the Bible from start to finish (and this has sparked my now typical Lenten routine—give something up and add a spiritual practice).
That was all well and good until my parish priest said from the pulpit that we should be in Lent together as families, that all family members should share what they are giving up or doing for Lent to keep accountable or to choose something we could all do as a family. I almost broke out into a cold sweat in my pew. My parents knew of my addiction to masturbation as “my problem” and I was not in the habit of telling them about the depth of my problem. I wanted to keep this Lent under wraps. But while I was wolfing down my omelet and cheese danish at breakfast, my mom looked at me and asked what I was doing for Lent. I scrambled and came up with giving up cracking my knuckles, swearing, and snacking between meals, to my mom’s disappointed but consenting, “Okay.” I was off the hook.
Until I went for a cookie a few hours later. Until I cracked my knuckles while helping prepare dinner. Until I cursed when I found more homework due the next day that I had forgotten about. Then I realized that this Lent was truly going to be different than any other Lent.
I quit my addiction to masturbation cold turkey and was keeping it a secret and then, as a show for my mom, I was breaking the habit of cracking my knuckles, watching my mouth (which admittedly was a very good thing), and was skipping snacks while at home (although what happened at school stayed at school). Truth be told, I remember next to nothing about those forty days. All I remember was feeling stressed, pressured, and generally out of my mind. But whatever happened that Lent, I did not break, I did not fall, and I did not give up. I did not realize until that Lent that I could be strong.
I fell back into my addiction after that Lent, but what I did gain was a thirst for truth, understanding, and healing. A thirst I have not lost today. A thirst that drives me closer to God every day. And I’m not afraid of my own weaknesses and limitations anymore because I am in love with a God who has none. When I was sixteen, I found that I was made for more than what I had been allowing myself to live in, and I wanted more life. Holiness is pure, true life. That’s what I wanted when I was sixteen and fought my addiction for the first time, and that’s what I want now. May this Lent purge us of whatever death we have been living in and open us to true life.
The culture of death has many pillars and many faces. One such pillar, surely is the tragedy of drug and alcohol addiction.
Not only does addiction slowly kill the addict (physically, spiritually and emotionally), but sexual impurity is often associated with drug and alcohol abuse, which leads to many unplanned pregnancies and abortions. A friend of mine saw this everyday at the pregnancy resource center she worked at.
The major problem with addiction, I think, is that, because of the social stigma of drug abuse, support for drug addicts and their families is just lacking in society in general. As one mother testifies, “when I had breast cancer I opened up the door and there were twenty women out there to help me. Everybody wanted to help me. But when my son was an addict I opened the door and there wasn’t anybody. So, you’re alone and you isolate yourself.”
It seems to me there is less sympathy towards drug addicts because, unlike something like breast cancer, which the person does not ask for, substance abuse often begins as a personal choice. The problem is that eventually the disease of addiction takes over and the addict is no longer acting on his own free will.
What can be done?
On a pilgrimage in 1998 I visited a community that helps bring life to suffering addicts. I had almost completely forgotten about it over the years, but a few years ago I was reintroduced to the Comunità Cenacolo (Italian for Cenacle Community).
By and large people with addiction don’t need “clinic” as much as they need “community” and, as it’s name suggests, that’s just what the Comunità Cenacolo is. It’s community. It’s family. It’s love. It’s hope.
Not only are they dedicated to reaching out to drug addicts and their families, but their services are free and, through prayer, hard work and personal outreach, they provide for the underlying reasons many of these people turn to drugs in the first place – loneliness, low self-esteem/sense of self worth, selfishness and, of course, lack of faith.
It is a “school of life”, providing for the complete person, not just helping them get “off drugs” but giving them the tools to deal with their defects when they re-enter the world and all its temptations. This is the kind of healing that needs to take place in order to truly build up a culture of life!
The Community was founded in 1983 by the saintly Mother Elvira Petrozzi who felt a calling from God to serve the “poor of the modern world,” especially drug addicts and the youth, whom she says have been “abandoned and excluded by this consumerist society.” The Mother House of the Community is in Saluzzo, Italy and today there are 56 houses spread throughout Italy and the world, including four here in America thanks in no small part to Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham.
Not your typical drug rehab program, Cenacolo is based on prayer, sacrifice, truth, work, faith and authentic friendship. Those who want to transform their lives with the help of the community are encouraged to stay for a minimum of three years in one or two of the houses where they will essentially live a very disciplined, monastic kind of life centered on the Eucharist.
What I find most beautiful is the encouragement of family participation in the life of the community. Not only is it important for the recovering individual to have the support of friends and family, but addiction doesn’t just affect the individual. Everyone who loves and cares for him suffers as a result of his self-destructive behavior, and having a network of other people going through the same experience helps the family cope as well.
Here in America, the community offers semi-annual Parents and Families Retreat Weekends and monthly regional meetings throughout the country. Family members can participate in an experience with the community in order to see from inside what their loved ones are learning and better walk with them on their journey. And, of course, there is the annual Festival of Life, a gathering of faith for all the youth, families and friends of the Community world-wide.
It can be frustrating watching a loved one in a seemingly endless cycle of self destructive behavior, but, as Venerable Sheen notes, “There is hope for each… Every man is made in the image and likeness of God.” Don’t give up. Keep praying, especially, and maybe give the Community a call if you haven’t already. There are houses for men and women.
This approach is not for everyone, of course. Some people may need more involved “professional” medical and psychological help. But numeroustestimonies confirm that this can be just what someone trapped in the shadow of death needs to come back to life and find purpose, meaning, hope. Many have entered and been saved after failed attempts with other traditional rehab centers and programs.
I can’t speak from any personal experience, so I spoke with my friend Kim who has had three younger siblings enter the Community. ”Before my siblings entered community,” says Kim, “it was extremely hard and painful. I really feared for their lives on numerous occasions.” Desperate to get them help, they had tried conventional forms of rehab and other accommodations to no avail. Then, her father heard about Cenacolo from a parish priest who had helped another family get their son into Community.
“My dad began meeting with the other family to learn more about Cenacolo.” After several meetings, says Kim, he knew Cenacolo was the right place to turn to. Since then, “the community has changed them and my family so much.” The main change, obviously, being an increase in their faith.
Their family has been helped, too, Kim says, through the family retreats, the fall festival and the monthly first Saturday meetings that allow them to walk with their family member(s) in community. “At the first Saturday meetings, we discuss a topic that makes us reflect on our lives. It may be about our selfishness, our anger, forgiveness, etc. We are usually asked to make commitments at the meeting to better ourselves, i.e., go to adoration, practice humility.”
To those who are going through something similar in their family, Kim says not to lose hope. “I’ve seen what God’s grace can do. Also, don’t be afraid to push them to do something they don’t want to do.’
A Prayer to Break Free From Addiction:
God of healing, we are once again reminded of the fragility of the human person. Bless those who struggle with addiction and grant wisdom and fortitude to those who love them.
Grant to each of us the humility to allow your strength to make up for our weaknesses, and bless us all with loving companions who can bolster us in times of need. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.
The Cenacolo Community relies solely on generous donations to make this life-changing experience free for all who enter –please help if you can!
“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.
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.
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 Heartby 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.
“Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” –John 4:14
I recently read the article that Sr. Theresa Noble wroteabout the Duke “adult film-actress” Belle Knox and have been reflecting on it ever since. To be completely frank, I felt like I had already heard enough about this story and wasn’t sure whether to write something on it or not. What I appreciated about Theresa’s article was that she also briefly touched upon the role of the young man who “broke” the story. He had watched one of Belle’s videos and “outed” her to the entire campus.
The whole sordid tale between the two made my heart ache. You see, I’ve struggled with pornography and other sexual sins for over half my life. No one told me that once I had become a Christian that the old struggles would go away. I know full well what St. Paul speaks of in the scriptures: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).
Innocently enough, I was first exposed to pornography at school and then later sought it on my own on the computer. I was fascinated by it but it soon became a chain and shackle upon me. There were points where it had almost destroyed my life: relationships were ruined, countless hours of time were spent aimlessly scouring the internet for another “fix,” and many dollars were wasted at seedy adult bookstores and video-shops. Porn left me tired, wasted, and hating myself. Worst yet, I despaired that I would ever be free. It truly was a vicious cycle.
It must be said here that porn did not draw me in because it was bad per se. I believe most of us who fall into sins of the flesh are only longing to be loved, to feel love, to even give love. Even if that young man didn’t know it, that’s what he was seeking for too. Certainly, seeking love and fulfillment in porn is a misguided view of what the good actually is, but the Catholic perspective on sex is that it is a good thing, created by God to express the totality of love between a husband and wife.
Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses…concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. (CCC #2361)
The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude. Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure. (CCC #2362)
Undoubtedly, sex can be an ecstatic, joyous, and heartfelt expression of tender love and sheer delight for the beloved. But just as that may blossom in the creation of a new human life, so also sex points us to something beyond itself: to God. St. Augustine was onto something when wrote in his Confessions, “Thee, O Lord, have created us for yourself, and our heart finds no rest, until it rests in Thee.” Ultimately, we were not created only for sex but for God.
I think this is where the porn or the sex-addicted person must begin. That is, if we do not learn that we are wholly, completely, and unconditionally loved first by God, then we cannot ever fully and humanly love ourselves, let alone another. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). You are loved. Yes, you, dear soul reading this. I may not know you or what crosses you are carrying but that I do know because I have come to experience such merciful love myself.
We remember together this Lent the great lengths our Precious Savior took for us towards Calvary just to show us His love: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). All the saints in each age (e.g., St. Margaret of Cortona, St. Augustine, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Romuald) knew this love. In it they found their peace. They found hope. They found joy. They found rest.
For many years I asked God, “Why?” Why this cross, Lord? It is so shameful, tiring, and heavy… Embracing it, carrying it, and holding it is the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my life. I’ve shed more tears and felt more anguish over this than any other. Why, Lord, why? I have not received an answer from Him yet. But I am slowly starting to realize something. That, no matter what our crosses may be, all of our “whys” in this life are brought up and gathered unto Jesus as he hung that mournful Friday. For He too asked, “Eloi, Eloi lema sabachthani?”(Mark 15:34: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”).
This is the paradox of the Christian life, on which our salvation hinges, where our souls either stand or fall: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). If we wish for eternal salvation, it is precisely in carrying our crosses that we find our way…home. Although the journey may be long and the battle tough, we may even at times fall again, no more do we have to run away from our crosses, for He is beside us and helps us carry them.
Yet, in this kind of death we also find our hope: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). In dying with Jesus we find Resurrection, we find a restoration of Innocence, a rebirth of Love: for Christ has “raised us up with Him” to new life (Ephesians 2:6). “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I have written this article on the Feast of the Annunciation, where we meditate upon our Blessed Mother who said, knowing full well the cross she was to bear — “And you yourself a sword shall pierce” — “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, 2:35). For now, simply entrust yourself to Mary’s care. Pray to her, she will teach us how to love Jesus, how to truly love. Please especially pray for Miriam and for her family, and for that young man too, that they will know God’s love for them. Let us find our rest in Jesus through Mary.
By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, purify our bodies and sanctify our souls!
(This is the first of two posts. My second post will focus on ways that I have helped me in my own struggles against pornography.)
Pope Francis’ Lenten message for 2014 calls all Catholics to confront destitution in its varying forms of extreme poverty, spiritual destitution, and moral destitution. He writes: “Moral destitution…consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography!”
I thought of this when I recently read about the Duke University student who turned to adult films to pay for her college tuition. Her work under the name “Belle Knox” was found out when another student on campus watched one of her films and recognized her. He confronted her about it on campus. “Belle” asked him to keep it under wraps but within a few days the “gentleman” spread word to all the fraternities on campus.
As word spread, this young woman was left with the choice to retreat or proudly stand by her chosen line of work. She chose the latter. “Belle” wrote an article for the online magazine xoJane defending her activity as a sex worker and responded to criticism with articulate, at times astute, and at other times quite baffling, arguments.
It is, perhaps, in her vocal, articulate defense of her activity that the media has found the shock value of her situation. She wrote in her article for xoJane.com: “For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy. When I finish a scene, I know that I have … completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.”
The media reaction to this young woman’s activity has been at turns laudatory, critical, and patronizing. But what has been most interesting to me is the lack of interest or criticism for the young man who “outed” her. In fact, the male student’s full name was used in the earliest articles that can be found on the subject without the slightest concern for his well being or future ability to land a job (something people are concerned about in respect to “Belle”).
It seems American society has begun to accept porn watching as normal and expected in a radical way. But most of us still draw the line at participating in porn, which very clearly reveals a hypocritical double standard. A double standard that does not only apply to young women.
A young, male senior in high school was recently suspending from school for participating in an adult film in order to pay his mother’s bills. Major outlets covered the news. This incident, like Belle’s case, was discovered by fellow students. However, in both Belle’s case and the young man’s case, the media seem generally unconcerned that the pornographic consumption at both Duke and this young man’s high school was so high that out of all the adult films that are out there, their activity was discovered within what seems to be a very short amount of time.
More shocking to me than teenage pornography use and participation in pornography is adult indifference to the problem. This laissez-faire approach to the problem of pornography is seen virtually everywhere. In an otherwise insightful op-ed on the subject at the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus writes:
“It would be naive to expect that [Belle’s classmates], like thousands of teenage boys, don’t spend some computer time on activities other than studying. Fine. Boys will be boys, and girls too, for that matter. What should concern us is the extreme nature of the content they’re viewing and the way that inevitably seeps into their attitudes toward real-life sex.”
Really? We should only be concerned about this growing trend of young people participating in pornographic films and watching pornography if the sex that is depicted is extreme?
As we carry this story and this societal problem in our hearts during this Lent, I encourage everyone to pray both for “Belle” and other men and women who participate in the porn industry, as well as those who are caught up in temptations to or addiction to porn.
I am thankful that against the tide of “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls” we have many Christians who, rooted in their belief in the saving power of Jesus, proudly declare “Pornography is not normal. Pornography is not healthy. Pornography is not empowering. Power and freedom is found not in doing what is wrong and unhealthy for ourselves, others and society as a whole, but in doing what is good, what is truly empowering and what is in line with the true meaning and beauty of sexuality.”
Some resources and further information:
Bishop Loverde of the Arlington diocese in Virginia wrote a beautiful pastoral letter, Bought with a Price, on the issue of pornography with a foreword written by Matt Fradd, author of Delivered. You can access the PDF of the bishop’s pastoral letter here.
Check out xxxChurch.com, a Christian online resource for those addicted to porn and for men and women who desire to leave the industry. This is a great article about the founder of the site and his unlikely friendship with Ron Jeremy, one of the world’s most famous porn stars.
Annie Lobert, runs Hookers for Jesus, an organization that supports sex workers who want to leave the industry as well as women and children who have been sex trafficked. In this moving video, she describes how she got caught up in prostitution and how she escaped.
This is only a drop in the bucket; if you know of more resources or further information, please add to the comments.