HE would never walk into a peep show. He would never pick through the racy section of the magazine rack. He would never rent an x-rated video.
But he’s addicted to internet porn…
THE FUNDAMENTAL ATTACK
The truth is, we now live in a pornographic world. It’s in our faces everywhere you look, and thus snaring men and women left and right. For there is nothing in the world that is more of a stumbling block and temptation than forbidden sex. Why is that? Because man and woman are made in the image of God, and the very act of intercourse is a foreshadowing of the love of Christ for His Bride, the Church: Christ plants the seed of His word in the heart of His Bride to bring about life. Furthermore, marriage itself is a reflection of the Holy Trinity: the Father so loves the Son that from their love “proceeds” a Third Person, the Holy Spirit. So too, the husband so loves his wife that their love begets another person—a child.
Therefore, it is a designed attack upon marriage and the family, for through it, Satan indirectly attacks the Holy Trinity.
Whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Evangelium Vitae; n. 10
Is it working? Researchers have found that 77 percent of Christian men between the ages of 18 and 30 view pornography at least monthly, and 36 percent look at it at least once a day. OneNewsNow.com, October 9th, 2014; joint venture commissioned by Proven Men Ministries and conducted by the Barna Group In a word, yes. Gauging by the letters I receive and the men I meet, yes. Watching the cultural effects upon this generation, yes.
The best way to undermine the family, to undermine marriage, is to destroy the sexuality by which it comes into existence. Marriage and family, therefore, have become the hunting grounds…
THE HUNTING GROUNDS
We are the hunted, brothers and sisters. Everywhere you turn, there is another image, another video, another commercial, another sidebar, another link that invites you to the dark side. It is literally a flood of lust that calls to mind the words of St. John in his description of Satan’s attack on the “woman” of Revelation:
The serpent, however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth after the woman to sweep her away with the current. (Rev 12:15)
This fight in which we find ourselves… [against] powers that destroy the world, are spoken of in chapter 12 of Revelation… It is said that the dragon directs a great stream of water against the fleeing woman, to sweep her away… I think that it is easy to interpret what the river stands for: it is these currents that dominate everyone, and want to eliminate the faith of the Church, which seems to have nowhere to stand before the power of these currents that impose themselves as the only way of thinking, the only way of life. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, first session of the special synod on the Middle East, October 10th, 2010
Could truer words be spoken? This flood of lust seeks to completely redefine the purpose and context of healthy and holy sexuality, thus:
Having a clear faith, according to the credo of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism.—Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI) pre-conclave Homily, April 18th, 2005
…if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. (cf. Matt 6:22-23)
When God created the heavens and the earth, Scripture says “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” Gen 1:31 Since we are made in the image of God, the art of looking is akin to the art of loving. So Satan tempts us to look at forbidden fruit, or rather, to lust that which is the counterfeit, and thereby fill the soul with darkness.
[Eve] saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes… (Gen 3:6)
So the bait in the hunting ground is bait for the eyes. But hardly anyone seems to notice the dangers today. What would have sparked universal anger 60 years ago hardly raises an eyebrow now. You can’t walk down a mall without encountering full-sized posters of women in skimpy underwear. Mainstream news websites have become the haunt of half-naked women and exposés on whoever is the latest celebrity to remove her clothes. The music industry has rapidly degraded into a lurid freak show of lust and the occult. And almost every week now, a new aberration is presented as “normal” on evening television; virtually overnight, sad0-masochism, swingers, orgies, virtual sex, gay sex… it’s all spoken of openly as if it were something completely normal and harmless to explore. (And this is only the tip of the iceberg. As I wrote recently, we have entered a period of time now where evil must exhaust itself, cf. The Fullness of Sin: Evil Must Exhaust Itself and so, it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.)
I know good Christian men who are exasperated from being hunted. Their computers, their televisions, their smartphones—these instruments that society frequently requires us to use more and more to communicate, bank, and socialize—are the new hunting grounds. There is a constant lure, a constant opportunity that is two clicks away from sin. Stuff appears on our screens that we don’t want, weren’t looking for, and would rather not see… but there it is, before the eyes. So what can we do? How can we remain “in the world” but not “of the world”?
I have spent the last eight years of this ministry working in front of a computer. I have had to seek out and find thousands of images in conjunction with these writings. Even the most benign searches have, unfortunately at times, inadvertently exposed me to the gutters of depraved minds. And so, the Lord has taught me a few things that have helped me navigate these mine fields, and I share them here with you.
But let me say first: it is time to think really, really hard about whether you need this technology. Do you need a smartphone, or will a simple cellphone that receives texts work? Do you need a computer? Do you need to surf the web, or can you listen to news on the radio? Do you really need it? The words of Christ come to mind:
…if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna. (Matt 18:9)
I am sure most of you will say yes, I do need it. Then, let’s read on…
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT
What is easier, to walk away from a fist fight, or to win it? It’s much easier to walk away than to try and wrestle your opponent to the ground. So it is with our passions. It is easier not to engage them in the first place than to try and wrestle them to the ground. They may try to pick a fight with you, and there’s nothing you can do about that, but you don’t have to enter it.
Curiosity killed the cat, as the saying goes. If we are the hunted, it is our curiosity that Satan tries to bait. This is the strategy behind websites like YouTube and other sites: watch one video, and a whole list of others pops up in the sidebar, and all of a sudden, the cat is curious! The problem is that evil exploits this constantly… exploits our curiosity. Let’s not be naive. You know that the web and television commericals and movie trailers etc. are going to have smut. So you need to be prepared what to do…
A PARABLE OF MISGUIDED CURIOSITY
A man’s wife is gone for the weekend and so he decides to go for a walk. His path takes him near a street where he knows there is a strip club. He gets a sudden impulse out of nowhere to “walk by.” But he simply decides to take a different route home. His passions declared war, his curiosity was tweeked, but he won the battle because he refused to enter the fight.
The next night, he goes out for another walk. This time he decides to go past the end of that street… just curious how many guys actually go to those things, he tells himself, no harm in that. But the night’s early, so he walks around the block again. This time he’s compelled to go down the street, but on the opposite side (reminding himself, of course, how disgusted he is with these establishments). Soon enough, he circles round again, this time walking right by the front entrance. His heart is pounding now (she’s not home). The door opens and closes while laughter and heavy music floods the street; he catches glimpses of lights, smoke and glistening poles. Ah, just one more time, he thinks, then I’ll go home. He walks by again, this time following behind a couple of “normal” looking guys. As he reaches the door, he says to himself (or so his “sound” reasoning tells him), Ah, it’s about time I learned what the heck goes on in these bloody places… and walks in with them.
That night, he sits by his bed with his hands in his face, totally ashamed, shocked, and loathing himself.
WHEN IT’S BLOCKS AWAY…
The point is this: it is much easier to walk away from a temptation when it is “blocks away” than when it’s dancing in your face. But the choice has to be made right away. And that means discipline.
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. (Heb 12:11)
Now, you can install plugins to remove unwanted ads or even accountability software that lets others see what you’re seeing online. Fine. But if you don’t deal with the curiosity cat, then you’re not tackling the root issue here: the need for discipline. Ah, hate that word, eh? But listen, this is what Jesus meant when He said, Pick up your cross and deny yourself. cf. Matt 16:24 “Sure,” we often say, “I will lay on the cross—but those nails and thorns have got to go!”
Discipline seems bad to those going astray; one who hates reproof will die. (Proverbs 15:10)
Yes, you will feel a cost in your flesh, a nail piercing your desires, a whip scourging your emotions whenever you make the choice not to reach for forbidden fruit. cf. Rom 7:22-25 This is Satan’s moment: he will lie to your face telling you that you need to see this image, you need to know what this body part looks like, you need to see this actress in this outfit or on that beach or in that sex tape, and that you need an outlet, you need, need, need it.
There is a scene in the movie War of the Worlds where the father does everything he can to keep his son from going over a ridge into a war-zone where alien ships and army tanks are battling it out. But the son pleads over and over again: “I need to see it!” So the father reluctantly lets the son go… and moments later, the entire ridge is engulfed in flames.
Do you really need to see porn? The question at this point isn’t what you need, but what do you really want? Peace, joy, happiness, innocence? Then you can’t begin down Curiosity Street; you won’t find what you’re looking for down there. The notable thing about sin is that, not only does it leave us unsatiated, but it leaves us even hungrier than we were before. That’s the story of porn retold a billion times a day all over the world. Ask Adam and Eve if the fruit they ate satisfied… or if it was filled with worms. On the contrary, the will of God is food that satiates beyond words, cf. John 4:34 and keeping His laws brings true joy. cf. Psalm 19:8-9
THE ANATOMY OF TEMPTATION
A teenager told me how when he saw pornography for the first time, he wept. He wept, he said, because he knew instinctively how wrong the images were that he was seeing, and yet, how powerful a draw they were going to be. That was the time for him to walk away from Curiosity Street. But he didn’t, and he regrets those lost years of innocence.
St. James describes the anatomy of temptation that begins with curiosity:
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death. (James 1:14)
I am a red-blooded male as much as anyone else. I think God’s most remarkable and stunning creation is the woman—and Adam would agree. But I also realize, in God’s design, that I am not made for every woman, but only my woman, just as Eve was meant solely for Adam and vice versa.
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen 2:23-24)
Outside of this arrangement—the union of a man and a woman in marriage—there is no other life-giving sexual intimacy. There may be fleeting pleasures, there may be physiological rushes, there may be counterfeits… but there will never be the supernatural life of God that is, in fact, the very bond between a man and woman in marriage. Just as the moon is held in orbit by the law of gravity, so too, our hearts are held in the orbit of grace (which produces our interior peace) by obeying the law of marriage. I can tell you that after nearly 24 years of marriage, I am neither tired nor bored because God is the center of our marriage. And because He is infinite, our love knows no bounds.
So, when an image pops up on the side of a news story or a woman walks by on the street, it is completely normal to recognize beauty—just as Adam and Eve would have acknowledged the beauty of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden. But when the look turns into lust, then the poison of the forbidden fruit already begins to seep into the heart.
I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:28)
And thus, the Old Testament’s wisdom is as pertinent today as ever:
Avert your eyes from a shapely woman; do not gaze upon beauty that is not yours; through woman’s beauty many have been ruined, for love of it burns like fire… Do not awaken, or stir up love until it is ready… I will not set before my eyes anything that is base. (Sirach 9:8; Solomon 2:7; Ps 101:3)
In other words, keep moving on; don’t linger; don’t click that link; don’t start down Curiosity Street. Another way of saying this is to “avoid the near occasion of sin.” cf. The Near Occasion of Sin You’re not going to win otherwise because you’re not wired to win that battle. You are made to find fulfillment in one woman (or man). That’s the grand design. Trust that. And so St. Paul nails it when he says:
…make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Rom 13:14)
I’ll tell you this right now without a hesitation: pornography would destroy me. It’s either my marriage and my eternal soul, or the quick thrill. Therefore, there is one path ahead… the way of the Cross.
THE ANCIENT LIE
The ancient lie is that God is keeping something from you; the Church is restraining your happiness; go on, take a bite… cf. Gen 3:4-6 How many times do you have to eat the apple and still feel empty?
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)
No Christian man nor woman will ever grow in holiness, will ever advance in the spiritual life, until they resolve to resist the lure of Curiosity Street. I would say the majority of the Christian Church today is stuck on this street: the saints of God dazzled by neon lights, video games, mindless videos, and yes, pornography. And so the world does not believe our Gospel because we look like them. Instead, we need to take the lane called “Fear of the Lord”, as in a childlike trust in His way, not ours. The payoff is out of this world:
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord… (Prov 9:10)
You can believe the liar, or you can believe the Lord:
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
There is a cost though! There is a cost to following Jesus! And it is conversion. There is no alternate route around Calvary; there is no shortcut to Heaven:
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2015
Somehow, I think these words, though they may be sobering, are also bringing you a sense of purpose… that there is something greater awaiting you than just living in the compulsive moment. The truth will set you free. You see, you were created to be holy, created to be in control, created to be whole. This is why what I am saying here, what the Gospel says, is irresistible and will leave you utterly restless your whole life—until you rest in it.
Listening to Christ and worshiping Him leads us to make courageous choices, to take what are sometimes heroic decisions. Jesus is demanding, because He wishes our genuine happiness. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. —BLESSED JOHN PAUL II, World Youth Day Message for 2005, Vatican City, Aug. 27th, 2004, Zenit.org
Want to be one of them?
PREPARING FOR BATTLE
But listen, you and I cannot set out upon this Way, this narrow way that so few people are willing to walk…. and walk it alone. Jesus does not expect us to, nor want us to.
To “be a man” today is really to become a spiritual “child.” To say to God: I can do nothing without You. I need You. Be my strength; be my help; be my guide. Ah, it takes a man to pray like this; it takes a real man to become this humble. cf. Reshaping Fatherhood So what I’m saying is only real men get to Heaven:
Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18:3)
But it takes more than simply crying out this prayer, though it’s a great start: it means entering into a personal relationship with Christ in which He can feed, strengthen and teach you every day how to become a man of God. Let these words of Jesus echo in the very depths of your soul:
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Let’s go back again and read that entire phrase by St. Paul:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Rom 13:14)
We need to “put on Christ,” that is, put on His virtues, His example, His love. And here’s how: through a life of prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and going beyond yourself to others.
You will see many things begin to change in your life when you become a man of consistent prayer. This means setting aside time each day to read the Scriptures, speak with God from the heart, and let Him speak back. More than anything in my life, prayer has changed me because prayer is an encounter with God. cf. On Prayer
II. The Sacraments
Make Confession a regular part of your spiritual life. Padre Pio and John Paul II both recommended weekly confession. cf. Weekly Confession If you’re struggling with porn, then this is a must. There, in the “tribunal of mercy”, not only are your sins forgiven and your dignity restored, but there is even a deliverance from spirits of impurity that you have let through the door.
Once you’ve emptied the garbage out of your house, you need to fill it through prayer and the Eucharist. Cultivate a love for Jesus hidden there in the diguise of bread. Take His Body into yours so that His flesh can begin to transfigure yours into the purity and chastity that is proper to your state of life.
III. Look beyond yourself
A lot of guys get into trouble because they’re wasting their time aimlessly staring into smartphones and computer screens. That idle time is akin to standing on the corner of Curious Street just waiting for temptation to walk by. Instead of wasting time, become a servant in your home, in your parish, in your community. Become available again to your children to play and talk with them. Fix that thing you’re wife asked you to months ago. Use that time to read spiritual books and pray, to be present to your wife, to be present to God. How many of us bury our “talent” in the ground because we’re killing time instead?
It’s pretty hard to surf porn when you’re not on the web.
Porn is not only a problem for men, but increasingly for women as well. Remember, it was Eve who was tempted first by how good the fruit looked… Is not 50 Shades of Grey, read now by millions of women, even Christian women, a sad parable of our times? What I’ve said above applies to women as well in terms of making no provisions for curiosity. Prayer, the Sacraments, service… they are the same antidotes.
Nor is the above an exhaustive means of dealing with porn addictions. Alcohol, lack of sleep, stress are all things that can wear down your natural resistance and resolve (so it’s better to stay away from computers when your tank isn’t full). Understanding spiritual warfare, having a close relationship with the Blessed Mother, and tapping into other resources are part of the bigger picture as well:
- Jason Evert has a great ministry dealing with porn addiction.
- St. Joseph Covenant Keepers can help you in becoming a better man, husband and father.
- There are plenty of articles on my website to help you develop an authentic Catholic spirituality. See the sidebar (and my sidebars are safe).
Last, as I finished writing this, I suddenly remembered that it is the Feast of St. Joseph, the “most chaste spouse” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Coincidence? St. Joseph is invoked as the Protector and Defender of the Church as well as the “terror of demons.” It was he who sheltered Mary and Jesus in the desert. It was he who carried them in his arms. It was he who sought out Jesus when He seemed lost…. And so, this great Saint will likewise shelter you who invoke his name; he will carry you through his intercession; and he will seek you out when you have become lost, to bring you back to Jesus. Make St. Joseph your new best friend.
We are all the hunted now… but through Christ, we are more than conquerors.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
O LORD, my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and rescue me,
Lest I become like the lion’s prey,
to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me.
First published March 19th, 2015 on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
My encounter with pornography: A Miracle of Mercy
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|OneNewsNow.com, October 9th, 2014; joint venture commissioned by Proven Men Ministries and conducted by the Barna Group
|cf. Eph 6:12
|cf. 1 John 2:16-17
|cf. The Fullness of Sin: Evil Must Exhaust Itself
|cf. Matt 16:24
|cf. Rom 7:22-25
|cf. John 4:34
|cf. Psalm 19:8-9
|cf. The Near Occasion of Sin
|cf. Gen 3:4-6
|cf. Reshaping Fatherhood
|cf. On Prayer
|cf. Weekly Confession