Tag Archives: Pornography

Catholicism is Impossible

“Baby Jesus” by Jennifer Hickey

Earlier this week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook, written by Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity on Patheos. In the blog she describes some of the challenges surrounding the use of NFP, particularly the issues that arise when the risk of an unintended pregnancy are so high as to be unacceptable, but abstaining from sexual intercourse is not conducive to mental and emotional health. A priest told her in essence to try her best, and if she failed to know that she really was trying and to leave it in God’s hands. She describes the mind games encouraged by this situation, saying:

“What it meant was that I was in a position where I couldn’t have a realistic discussion about what I actually wanted in my sex life… but provided I was responding to seduction, swept away by my passions, or just doing it because I felt pressure it wasn’t really my fault.”

I recognize this mind game in my own life. To pick one example, let’s say I have composed a particularly biting and sarcastic email, deliberately not giving myself time to think, stifling that nagging feeling that maybe I should reconsider or at least wait a few hours, and pushed the send button before I could come to my senses. Later on in the throes of regret I told myself it was “in the heat of anger.” It wasn’t. I wanted to be cruel, and I encouraged and hid behind a feeling of anger to make that cruelty possible, and now I allow myself enough regret to make me feel I am not so uncharitable after all.

She goes on to say:

“–the attitude that I generally find in Catholic chastity culture… external circumstances are always the Cross that God is calling you to bear. Internal weakness, on the other hand, is natural. Everybody stumbles. It’s a dirty little secret that almost nobody actually practices the teaching. It’s understood that you are going to succumb to passion, that “frequent recourse to the confessional” will be necessary. That if you’re actually rigid enough to follow the teaching as you profess it, well,  probably that would be harmful. But nobody actually does that.”
I do not know if the author actually believes this statement of the “dirty little secret” of NFP, i.e. that no one actually practices it strictly. The comment boxes, both on the particular Facebook thread I read, and on the article itself, contained both rebuttals and affirmations of it. In any event, I don’t want to turn this into an NFP blog. For what its worth, my wife and I practice NFP, it doesn’t seem to cause us too much stress (Deo Gratias), and I don’t think I have ever come across this “Catholic chastity culture” she references, so my two cents on the topic would likely be neither here nor there.

Rather, I want to address the unspoken assumption at the heart of some of the comments, and of much of the debate around (insert hot button topic of sexual ethics in the Church today). NFP is one such arena, but I have personally heard this argument used more frequently in regards to debates around homosexual behaviors and lifestyles, and reception of sacraments by divorced and cohabitating couples. Very few are even talking about what I consider to be the real epidemic, that of pornography within the Church. The argument goes something like this:

“Sure the Church teaches X, Y and Z. But that is not what people actually do. Lots of great Catholics do exactly the opposite and they are still good people, and it’s just a shame that they can’t be more open about it until the oppressive, backwards Church changes her teaching to reflect how people actually practice.”
The problem is that this thinking is 100% wrong-headed. It is exactly backwards.

Whenever I hear this argument used, i.e. that the Church should adjust her teaching to practice, because her ethic is just too hard for people to live up to, I can’t help but think they have understated their case. God’s commandments are not too hard.

They are impossible.

Of course NFP is hard (for a lot of people, not for everyone). Chastity in general is hard. And, as Dorothy Sayers would remind us, lust is not the only deadly sin. There are, in fact, six more, though we often tend to ignore them. Temperance is hard, industry and frugality are hard, generosity is hard, honesty and patience are hard, mercy and justice are hard, and of course, don’t even get me started about humility and charity.

Let me repeat the title of this blog: “Catholicism is impossible.” We get hung up on pelvic issues, (NFP, contraception, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, but always on the one that other people are committing) possibly because these are so noticeable, possibly because we are just obsessed with sex as a race. We talk about everyone else’s sleeping arrangements and never notice our own sins of gossip and slander. We neglect to mention the extortion, usury, greed and envy that are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We don’t bat an eye over the gluttony and sloth wreaking havoc on our health and happiness.

Have you read the Sermon on the Mount recently?
Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Or to pick another example:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:22-27
Since when has ease or convenience ever been one of the Gospel’s selling points? This is the standard we are called to live up to.

Everyone has a secret failing. For some, NFP is hard. Probably for most. Those for whom it is easy do others a disservice when they act or speak as if it should therefore be easy for everyone, or as if it was easy because of their own merits or strength. Continence, which means perfect control over the appetites, is a gift of God, given to all eventually if they struggle long enough (everyone is continent in Heaven) but very few seem to receive it right away.

Likewise, those for whom patience comes naturally should no go around telling everyone else that patience is easy. The same for every other virtue/vice.
But those who think that the Church should change her teaching to reflect practice have mistaken what the Church’s teaching is. It is not an arbitrary decision that some actions are okay and others are not. When the CDC tells us not to smoke tobacco it is not because a bunch of old white men in D.C. decided that they hate tobacco and are choosing to punish those who like it with cancer. The Church makes statements about what she believes to be fact: e.g. homosexual activity is not in keeping with the best nature of man; usury is not in keeping with love of neighbor; contraception is harmful to marriages and societies; gossip is harmful to communities and souls, and so on and so forth. We may agree or disagree, but let us not have any muddled thinking that these teachings ought to be based upon what people actually do. If people actually were chaste, just, temperate, merciful, humble and charitable, we would not need teachings. We need these teaching because we are, in fact, unchaste, unjust, intemperate, vengeful, proud and selfish. We need to teachings to tell us when we have fallen short, and to warn us to try harder.
I will share with you my own discovery from that process of trying harder, that if you try to battle a besetting sin long enough you will find that two things are true:
  1. You are not really trying as hard as you think you are. You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood, you have not quit your job, moved towns, smashed your computer, engaged an accountability partner, changed your route to and from work, sold your car, cut off your hand or gouged out your eye. Until you have done those things, you aren’t really trying.
  2. Even when you do really try with every fiber of your being (that in itself is a gift) you will find it is impossible. Sure, you may rope yourself off from the sinful act itself but the desire is still there. Part of you still wants it. It is not a sin in itself, but it is not perfect continence either.
We must strive for perfection, not in the hopes that our striving will accomplish it, but so that our striving and failing may reveal our weakness and frailty to ourselves. Then we will pray as we ought, “Lord, I can do nothing on my own. Have Mercy on me, a Sinner, and save me by your power.”
 
When the humility, weakness and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus enters our souls and shapes them into His helpless image, (swaddled in a feeding trough, or nailed spread-eagled to a wooden beam, both show the same vulnerability) then His power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Merry Christmas! God Bless us All!

The Two Kingdoms

No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
– Matthew 6:24/Luke 16:13 (The Sermon on the Mount)

God is Love (1 John 4:8), and we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), therefore we are made in the image and likeness of Love.

Love is pure gift. It cannot be bought, or forced; the more you grasp at it, the likelier it will fade, like a plucked flower. It must be given freely, an act of the will (CCC 1766), willing the good of the beloved.

We are each meant as a gift, to our parents (CCC 2378), to our friends, to our neighbors, to everyone we encounter. Our existence was not necessary, but gratuitous, a miracle of creation.

However, this wondrous gift of each human being is so often damaged, the divine image of Love distorted by sin. Now children are commodified through reproductive technologies that destroy life (in discarded embryos) while creating humans to-order. In prostitution and pornography, people are reduced to body parts for the titillation of strangers. In Japan, lonely singles can rent a “girlfriend” or a “boyfriend”, or rely on apps for affection. How sad is that? The great adventure and mystery of love between persons has been turned into a miserable caricature, a fake. This is junk food which will kill us, not true nourishment that sustains us. It is almost like simony, selling holy things for filthy lucre. It is an insult to the giver, the gift, and the recipient. Persons are not made to be used, but to be loved in genuine, life-giving relationship.

We must turn back to our Creator, Love Himself; we cannot place our hope in the idols fashioned by men, for they are empty promises that will break our hearts. Only in God is true security, joy and complete fulfillment; only from God can we learn to love others and ourselves as the divine creations He made us to be.

Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.
– Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate in it intimately.
– Pope John Paul II

It may be too much for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud shall be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of those destinations… There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts – these are mortal, and their life to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Only creative reason, which has manifested itself as love in the crucified God, can show us the way.
– Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Europe in the Crisis of Cultures

10 Steps to Beat Pornography

pornographyPornography is a big problem in modern society. Actually, no. Pornography is a huge problem in modern society. Did you know that 10-15% of all search engine requests and 20% of smart phone searches are for pornography? Studies show that 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before they are 18 years old. In addition, 70% of young men and 20% of young women view pornography every week and pornographic sites have more monthly visitors than Twitter and Amazon combined.

While the numbers are high, especially amongst males, it is not true that all men view pornography, and we must not allow ourselves to believe that pornography constitutes normal sexual behavior. However, especially for young men, if any sort of regular pornography use is not dealt with swiftly it risks becoming a debilitating addiction.

The good news is that authentic religious observation and involvement has been shown to contribute in a major way to lessening pornographic use and dependence. The following then, are ten steps to help beat pornography. The steps focus on the spiritual life but some of them will require major changes in one’s practical life, but if we are sincerely determined to regain control of who we called to be as men and women in Christ there is no other way.

  1. Commit to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion every day. Holy Communion is food and strength for the journey and if we don’t have it atop our list then we are not serious about the battle. Getting to Mass everyday will almost certainly require earlier mornings or shorter lunch breaks but how much do we want success?
  2. Seek out the sacrament of confession as often as needed. If you are in the midst of the battle consider getting there at least once per week, but if you need to go every day, go every day. Remember this sacrament is the chamber of mercy and this is where we can really ask God to transform our hearts.
  3. Find a Spiritual Director (usually a priest) who you can meet with regularly. Pornography is a sin and all sin thrives in secrecy. We must shine a light on the dark areas of our life and call them out. You must be completely open with your spiritual director about the struggle so that the path to healing can begin.
  4. Spend 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening in prayer. Depending on where you are you might be able to spend this time in a church, but if not, find a quiet place where you can simply talk to God. You may begin by reflecting on a short Scripture passage and you may additionally find it helpful to write your prayer into a journal. Most importantly, the bulk of this time should be an attempt at heart-to-heart conversation.
  5. Pray a Rosary each day asking the Mother of the Lord for purity. The beauty of Christianity is that we exist amongst the communion of saints and we can, and should, ask all those in heaven to intercede for us.
  6. Deal with the device that is leading you to sin. If you access pornography on your smart phone then contact your provider to have data disconnected from your phone (or alternatively move to a simple phone). If the home computer is the problem then get it out of the house until you are ready. These actions can seem extreme but pornography is extreme and it must be dealt with in a radical way.
  7. Say goodbye to friends, contacts or situations that are causing you to fall into sin. Each person must examine their own life to see those things that are stumbling blocks to success and deal with them. These are personal decisions but how much do we put on the price of true freedom?
  8. Spend regular quality time with a group of friends of the same sex who share your faith and are active in the faith. If you don’t have any faith based friends then start engaging with your local parish to meet some. This step is not necessarily about gathering to discuss faith or personal struggles but establishing relationships with good men or women who are also on the journey.
  9. Get busy. The old phrase that ‘idle hands make the devil’s work’ is true. If we spend excessive time lazing around or playing computer games we are leaving an open door for temptation. The positive choices are endless; sport, charity work, hobbies, visiting the needy etc. When our head hits the pillow at night we should be really tired, if not there’s a problem.
  10. Don’t allow yourself to believe that your personal struggles put you in a category apart from everyone else on the planet, and in addition, do not make the struggle be beat pornography bigger than it needs to be. In other words, don’t give the devil too much credit. We all struggle in various ways but as Pope John Paul II once said,We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Emotional Discipline (My Recovery From Addiction)

I’ve never been in a violent or abusive relationship – not physically, emotionally, psychologically, or sexually – and for that I am truly and eternally grateful. But I have been without self-esteem or confidence, I have been desperate, I have been violent towards myself, and, most tragically, I have been an addict.

It has been said many times now (here and here; warning: the second link details the books and the woman’s own past in connection and can be explicit at moments) that 50 Shades of Grey is simply pornographic garbage that sells mostly on its erotic portrayals and lavish fantasy world; a story that portrays two incredibly messed up individuals in a dominant/submissive relationship (all aspects of their relationship are this way) as healthy, good, and even romantic. I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey and I’m certainly not going to see the movie, but I can still tell you it’s not healthy, good, or romantic. Why? Because I was addicted to erotica and masturbation.

I can’t read 50 Shades of Grey.

I regularly masturbated for twenty years of my life and was addicted for about ten years. When I was very young, masturbation was just a sensation that overcame me and I’d give in. When I was a little older, I found I could start controlling my urges by thinking certain thoughts or reading certain stories – thoughts and stories that would arouse me and lead me to masturbate. I became so addicted to masturbation that I used to make sure I was the last one asleep at sleepovers so that I could masturbate and finally sleep. Erotic fiction became part and parcel to this addiction; it was an easy place for me to turn as I was already a voracious reader. I read erotic stories, sexual how-tos, forums, anything I could get my hands on, with the sole intent of getting off. Sure, some of the stories had decent plot lines, but I didn’t really care. My sole criteria was: are the characters engaging in sexual activity?

Sometimes the erotica made me anxious and nervous. Is this right? Would I be expected to do this in a relationship? Is this what a relationship really looks like? All the sources readily available to me said yes, so I never gave it a second thought. You see, most of the guys and girls around me were being fed the same diet of porn and erotica and they were finding the same yeses I did. But alone at night, I’d lament not having an “other” to love and be loved by. The erotica and masturbation weren’t filling me up, they were wounding me further.

The year I learned that masturbation is a mortal sin, I quit it cold turkey for Lent, but at the end of Lent I fell right back into my addiction. I didn’t feel empowered or accomplished, I only felt exhausted. I was lacking some key tools to successfully overcoming addiction, mainly support and emotional discipline. For support, I stopped lamenting myself, owned up, opened up, and turned to Christ and His Church. Emotional discipline, however, I didn’t start learning until I had my heartbroken…twice. After those breakups I became more deliberate with my emotions, not just falling for anyone that gave me the time of day, and also became more deliberate with who I would and wouldn’t spend my time with. I started building up my self-worth and confidence through good friends (female and male), mentors, and the Church and sacraments. In time, I was able to break free from the bonds of addiction (you can read more about that experience here and here).

I didn’t use to be very different from Anastasia Steele – innocent, naïve, and desperate, I was pulled into a fantasy world of violence and degradation. I’m lucky to have gotten out. I’m lucky that when I hit rock bottom, all I could say was, “Lord, please Jesus, help me!” Because of my relationship with Christ, I became empowered, accomplished, and renewed; Ana’s relationship with Christian, through all three books, only further tears the other down. No 50 Shades of Grey is not just harmless entertainment, it is an open door to a world of addiction, perversion, and violence and no one exits unscathed. 50 Shades of Grey, and its ilk, is a gray fog that encapsulates and blinds the heart to beauty, worth, and love. I don’t want to be blind anymore, I want to see. This Valentine’s Day, don’t let the fog blind you; it is filled with nothing but darkness and sorrow. Instead, learn to love yourself a little bit more and walk into the light.
“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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.

In Christ a New Creation: Finding Hope in Porn-Addiction — Part I

Christ and the Woman of Samaria, Giovanni Lanfranco, c. 1625-8
Christ and the Woman of Samaria, Giovanni Lanfranco, c. 1625-8

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 wrote about 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.

Catholics are neither ascetics who hate the body or bacchanalian pleasure seekers. Sex, put on a pedestal and turned into an idol, can consume all in its path and leave nothing but havoc in its wake. But the Catechism sets out the truly beautiful and liberating via media of the Church like this:

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)

Furthermore:

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.)

Duke’s Porn Star and Pope Francis’ Lenten Intentions

dukePope 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Check out Integrity Restored, a Catholic online resource for men addicted to porn.
  3. 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.
  4. The archdiocese of Washington has a great list of resources for pornography addiction on their web site. The diocese of Wichita also has a lot of resources.
  5. 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.

May your Lent continue to be blessed.

Don’t forget to pray, make sacrifices and work in response to the intentions of Pope Francis’ Lenten Message!

Children and Online Porn: Five Quick Stats

kids_on_computer_bw copyIn our media world children will almost certainly be exposed to images and material that can have a negative impact on their moral and psychological development. Exposure to pornography is one such concern that should be on every parent’s radar.

First, some statistics about children and exposure to online pornography:

1. One study in the US found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during adolescence.(1)

2. A study in the UK found that nearly 57% of 9-19 year olds who use the Internet weekly have been exposed to pornography. (2)

3. The same study found that only 16% of parents think their children have seen pornography on the Internet.(3)

4. A Dutch study found that adolescents aged 13 to 20 with frequent exposure to sexually explicit Internet material were more likely to show greater sexual uncertainty and more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration (i.e., sexual relations with casual partners/friends or with sexual partners in one-night stands). (4)

5. Exposure to pornography among youth is often unintentional. One study in Australia found that 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds have been accidentally exposed to pornographic websites, while 38% of boys and 2% of girls have deliberately accessed them. (5)

So what to do?

Unfortunately, the reality that children will most likely be exposed to pornography online can lead to two extreme reactions which are counterproductive.

One approach well-meaning parents can take is to control the media their children consume to such a great extent that the child is led to believe that technology and the Internet are bad. This approach is actually contrary to Church teaching. In the encyclical Miranda Prorsus, Pope Pius XII wrote that technological advances are “gifts of God,” which like our own lives can be used for ill or for good. According to Communio et Progressio, a document of the Second Vatican Council, “the communications media can be seen as powerful instruments for progress.” The document goes on to say that “it is true they present difficulties but these must be faced and overcome.” In other words, media is a potential for great good. We are called to work with media to promote good in society and to teach our children to use it in accordance with Gospel values.

The Church, therefore, urges a balanced approach that requires much more from adults than either shutting down the Internet in their home altogether or having an anything goes policy. John Paul II, in his World Communications Day Message in 2004 advised parents “to regulate the use of media in the home” but “above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.” John Paul II also urges parents to “join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media.” (emphasis mine)

I highlight “opportunities” because when we speak to children about media and Gospel values it is important to be positive. It is necessary to have open dialogue with children about the dangers of the Internet, including, at an appropriate age, pornography. But often it is the dangers of the Internet that parents harp on while the seeds of the Gospel, and our role as Christians in planting them, are ignored.

Instead, parents can lead their children to the water of the Internet and teach them that while it is not all good for drinking; some of it is good. Children should be taught that they cannot drink everything in the media uncritically; the waters should be analyzed and strained before consuming. But it is equally imperative that children learn to identify the Gospel, even tiny seeds of it, when they see it in the media.

And most importantly, we can teach our children that as Christians, we are called to contribute clean, fresh Living Water for others to drink through our kind words and our thoughtful and patient presence  – online and offline!