Be Mindful in Receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist
Very recently, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope released its first images of the cosmic universe. Across the world, people have reacted in awe. These new galactic pictures truly were stunning and beautiful, but what if you did not have to look to the farthest parts of the universe to find breathtaking beauty? What if the human person, each and every one of us, was more beautiful than anything else one could find?
More than four decades before these pictures of deep space appeared on our devices, St. John Paul II was elected pope in 1978. Known for his teachings on the theology of the body, this great saint made the beauty of the human person a significant part of his pontificate. He wasted no time in delivering his insights on this topic with his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis” (“The Redeemer of Man”). The question to now ask is: how beautiful is the human person?
Let’s look first at the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He worked with human hands as a carpenter. He thought with a human mind and acted with a human will, meaning He had personal interactions with people, spoke to large crowds, and even attended weddings. He loved with a human heart, feeling the joys and the pains every one of us has felt at some point in our lives. Understanding the humanity of Jesus, who was also Divine, reveals the answer to our question on the beauty of the human person.
“How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, …if God ‘gave his only Son ‘in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life.’” These words, coming from Redemptor Hominis (RH), penetrate the heart of the question at hand. The beauty of each and every person is so great in the eyes of God that He became one of us in order to save and redeem us. The price Jesus willingly paid on the Cross for our sins reveals the unsurpassable beauty God has set for each person. By becoming man, Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (1 Col 1:15), showed us the “greatness, dignity, and value that belong” to each person (RH, 10).
Why does this matter? It matters because Jesus saved and redeemed us, but he did not perfect us. He revealed our beauty, but did not remove the ugliness of sin from the world. One of the greater sins attacking the beauty and dignity of the human person today is pornography; and the issue of pornography sorely demands our attention.
Pornography is a sickness that cannot be ignored. Understanding the true beauty of the human person is a first step in fighting this problem. There will be a series of articles following this one on the topic of pornography. The series does not hope to solve the pervasiveness of pornography and the effects of the problem in families and society. It cannot solve it. But it will help by bringing awareness of how pornography directly attacks the beauty of each individual person; a beauty so great that God Himself became like us in every way, except sin (Heb 4:15).
Part I: What is Pornography?
The Church teaches the joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties of all people are her’s as well. This fantastic reality is comforting because it means no one is alone. The Church’s solidarity with every individual is rooted in Jesus Christ, making it more meaningful because God, the Creator of the universe, is personally and permanently invested in each person’s life through His Church. Developing this intimate relationship with God is essential to overcoming one of society’s, and thus the Church’s, greatest griefs and anxieties: pornography.
Pornography is erotic material intended to cause immoral sexual effects. Many definitions of pornography can be found, but it is now time to extend our understanding of pornography beyond one sentence. Using the imagery of a building, I want to highlight four pillars holding up the “pornography building:” art, business, drugs, and the Internet.
Artwork should mirror God, the Artist of the universe. Genesis 1 reveals the goodness, truth, and beauty of His artistic work. Art is therefore inseparable from the good, the true, and the beautiful; unfortunately pornography is a perversion of art lacking in all three. Pornography undervalues the true dignity of the human person by objectifying each individual, and it impedes the reciprocal beauty and goodness within human relationships. Immoral intention and the way the human person is portrayed lie at the root of the problem. Objectification, not nakedness, is the problem. God created the human person, and “saw it was good.”
Pornography is one of the largest, most profitable industries in today’s world. Numerous entities estimate pornography’s global annual revenue at almost $100 billion. That revenue far surpasses the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL’s combined annual revenues. Every business has products and consumers. Pornography’s product is the human person. This business commodifies and exploits the body solely for sexual pleasure and monetary gain. Pornography’s consumer ranges from eight-year-old boys and girls to middle-aged men and women. The target audience is all persons, of any faith, culture, or ethnicity.
Pornography may not be an over-the-counter medication or illicit street drug, but it achieves the same end. It causes the body to release certain natural chemicals that produce a “high.” This high enhances focus and triggers feelings of arousal and euphoria. Like every other drug, repetitive consumption causes desensitization and addiction. Desensitization means the body adjusts to the drug, and will need stronger, better drugs to reach a similar high. Addiction means the person has a compulsive need for consumption, and in this case, sexual satisfaction. Pornography is addictive, causing harmful physical, psychological, and social effects.
Most pornography today is consumed Online, and Online porn Websites are “shopping centers,” offering “customers” an astonishing number of “options.” Mark Kastelman, a counselor and mental health practitioner specializing in addiction recovery and behavior change, developed an excellent template – “The Four A’s Template” – explaining Internet pornography: the four “A’s” are: accessible, affordable, anonymous, and aggressive. Internet pornography is accessible anywhere to anyone with a cell phone. A large amount of pornography is free. Internet pornography is anonymous because it is accessible anywhere. Finally, Internet pornography has aggressive content and effects.
Published in the August 18, 2023 issue of The Mirror
Part II: A Grave Gateway
Last time I was with you, I argued “four pillars” hold up the “pornography building:” art, business, drugs, and the Internet. The goal was to better understand pornography so that we may begin breaking free from its grip. Continuing toward that goal, and beginning where I left you, it is important to understand that Internet pornography has aggressive content and effects. The aggressive nature of pornography is worrisome, but never cause for despair. God is always present, and His grace is always working.
Detailing the true depths of pornography’s depravity here would be inappropriate; but pornography’s content is aggressive in two ways: range and violence. Pornographic content ranges from touchless teasing to violent rape. Sadly, pornography with verbal abuse, sexual assault, pedophilia, and incest are easy to find Online. Even more unfortunate, violence in pornography seemingly has no limit and is extremely popular, such as content depicting people happily giving and receiving painful and humiliating acts for their own sexual pleasure, and for the sexual pleasure of those watching. Every person, on both sides of the screen, deserves better. They deserve respect, dignity, and love.
The effects of pornography are neurologically, emotionally, physically, and culturally aggressive. Neurologically, pornography causes the brain to compete with real sex. Emotionally, pornography impedes real relationships due to unrealistic and abusive fantasies. Physically, beyond the violence already noted, pornography can cause “porninduced erectile dysfunction” (PIED). And culturally, today’s most popular music, movies, and TV shows glorify prostitution and sexual promiscuity.
Existing long before today’s pornography industry, porn has only fueled prostitution and sex-trafficking. The Catechism calls prostitution a social scourge that injures human dignity. While prostitution, the act, is “always gravely sinful,” prostitutes, as people, should not be judged. They need prayers. The hardships prostitutes face are difficult to imagine, but when surveys ask questions regarding the violent acts they face, their hardships can quickly be ascertained. Their culpability decreases based on varying factors, such as social pressure or blackmail.
Former and current prostitutes consistently report being shown pornography by their buyer, and then being forced to re-enact that sexual fantasy. No matter the level of violence or humiliation, pornography performers always respond pleasurably or neutrally. Prostitutes are forced to do the same, even under the most awful circumstances. One Canadian prostitute stated, “What is rape for others, is normal for us.” Prostitution is inseparably linked to pornography, as is sex-trafficking.
The US Justice Department defines sex-trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act,” in which the commercial sex act is “induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts has not attained 18 years of age.” This technical definition is provided to show most pornography is prostitution and sex-trafficking. Distinguishing between consensual (non-trafficked) and nonconsensual (trafficked) pornography is impossible. People watching pornography are likely being entertained through the rape of a sex-trafficking victim.
Pornography, prostitution, and sex-trafficking form a web of lies, destruction, and sin. Pope Francis recently wrote in his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” (“All Brothers”), that millions of people “live in conditions akin to slavery,” and that “trafficking in persons” is a serious global problem today. His words echo Pope St. John Paul II from 40 years ago in “Familiaris Consortio” (“The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”). We understand pornography’s destruction of marriages and personal relationships, the topic of the next installment in this series.
Published in the September 01, 2023 issue of The Mirror
Part III: Destroying Relationships
Thus far, this series has argued that “four pillars” support the “pornography building:” art, business, drugs, and the Internet. A deeper examination of the aggressive nature of pornography followed, arguing it leads to other evils, such as prostitution and sex-trafficking. Given these analyses, pornography’s destructive effects on spouses and dating couples is evident. By nature, pornography attacks virtuous relationships.
God perfectly designed marriage from the beginning with two essential properties and two essential ends. The two properties are unity and indissolubility. The two ends are the procreation and education of offspring, and mutual sanctification. The unitive property is both physical and spiritual. Physically, unity of bodies is attained in the conjugal act. Spiritually, unity of souls is attained through the sacrament of marriage. The indissoluble property is revealed by Jesus himself in Matthew’s Gospel: “Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
The Church recognizes children as the “supreme gift” and greatest blessing of a marriage. Openness to the procreative end cannot be impeded in the conjugal act; furthermore, the responsibility of parents does not end with procreation alone. Parents have a right and duty to educate their children, especially in the faith. The mutually-sanctifying end of marriage means spouses are called to help form and perfect their interior life toward more virtuous love and greater closeness with God.
The dichotomy between pornography and true marriage is inarguable. Pornography injures marital unity because the spouse(s) go outside of the marriage for sexual intimacy. Procreation is impossible because the sexual act is with an image, not a person. Pornography’s intentional push toward lust and objectification contradicts mutual sanctification. These attacks on the ends and unitive property of marriage inevitably lead to an attack on its indissolubility due to a loss of trust and intimacy. Spouses, however, are not the only couples affected by pornography. Dating is a discernment process for the marriage vocation. This discernment process is severely interrupted if pornography has any influence on the dating person. Consider the impact on teenagers. According to anti-porn Website “Fight the New Drug,” varying estimates reveal 80-90 percent of teens under age 18 have been exposed to pornography. Most teens learn about sexual behavior from pornography; meaning they are developing unrealistic and immoral sexual fantasies and expectations from a source that often normalizes dehumanizing submission. Furthermore, as the last article revealed, distinguishing between consensual and nonconsensual pornography is impossible; a teen’s first sexual encounter is likely watching the rape of a sex-trafficking victim.
This type of blunt language is a bit jarring, but it might be what is needed today. Shying away from this taboo subject must stop. The foundation of society and the salvation of souls depend upon it. Teens are not learning reciprocity, and spouses are forgetting it. Teens are not learning communication skills with the opposite sex because pornography requires no communication with a real person. Spouses are losing trust and intimacy because they are going outside of their unitive and loving bond to attain sexual satisfaction, often secretly.
Pornography isolates a person, impairs communication, creates unrealistic, often degrading, sexual fantasies, and destroys authentic intimacy. It also offers immediate sexual gratification without any sense of patience, friendship, respect, and love. More and more people are preferring sexual satisfaction with a screen because it is seemingly easier and more pleasant than real relationships with real people. All of these factors, along with pornography’s aggressive content and effects, significantly contribute to its addictive qualities. Pornography is addictive, but addictions can be overcome.
Published in the September 15, 2023 issue of The Mirror
Part IV: Addiction and Recovery
The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes numerous substance and behavioral addictions, from alcohol and opioids to gambling and working. While the APA is a deservedly reputable association, its failure to include pornography among those addictions is a significant oversight. The APA acknowledges pornography consumption as both potentially problematic and beneficial. There are times when addictive and non-addictive substances and behaviors can be beneficial and problematic, depending on temperance. Take, for example, water and reading. Both are beneficial, but problematic when overindulged. Addiction is a compulsive dependence upon a substance or activity. The absence of pornography as a recognized addiction by the APA is a glaring omission, regardless of any moral argument.
How are addiction and the brain intertwined? Dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, serotonin, and testosterone are all chemicals in the brain naturally released when watching pornography. They cause extreme focus, attraction, increased adrenaline and sexual desire, feelings of ecstasy, and finally feelings of sexual calm and satisfaction. None of these chemicals or effects are inherently bad. God created human beings with these chemicals for good reasons. The release of these chemicals due to pornography, however, is problematic and worsened by repetitive consumption. The repetitive release of these chemicals causes desensitization and habituation, meaning the body conditions itself and thus requires a greater catalyst (porn) for a greater release of chemicals. This leads to an eventual need (addiction) for more and newer pornography.
STEEP HARMFUL EFFECTS
Pornography addiction can or will have harmful physical, psychological, neurological, and social effects. Physically, pornography addiction can cause real abuse and violence in a relationship due to fantasies derived from abusive and violent pornography. Pornography-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) can also occur. Psychologically, porn addiction can cause anxiety, depression, loneliness, body image issues, and more. Neurologically, pornography addiction will cause changes in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and limbic system, affecting a person’s judgment, impulse control, memory, and more. Socially, pornography addiction can cause irritability, seclusion, and adultery. The negative effects of pornography addiction are steep, but the story does not end there.
Highly effective faith and non-faith based addiction recovery programs exist. A simple Google search for “pornography addiction help,” or “anti-pornography tools,” will reveal many helpful Websites. A person can even use non-pornography programs, such as AA, to identify relevant steps, and adapt that program to assist in their recovery process. Several pornography addiction recovery books have also been written, including: Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame, by George N. Collins and Andrew Adleman; Freedom: Battle Strategies for Conquering Temptation, by Everett Fritz; and Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, by Dr. Kevin B. Skinner.
Offering detailed steps for pornography addiction recovery seems imprudent due to the amount of options available; nonetheless, Everett Fritz’s faith-based approach deserves special mention here. His book, Freedom, offers seven “disciplines” to battle addiction and temptation: (1) prayer; (2) writing; (3) engaging the Holy Spirit; (4) protecting your eyes; (5) fasting; (6) setting boundaries; and (7) accountability. Do not underestimate the value of prayer and fasting in the addiction recovery process. Scripture is filled with specific words and examples on the fruitful power of these practices.
Breaking any addiction is incredibly difficult. Thankfully, a “one size fits all” approach is not prescribed with addiction recovery. Every program has differing recovery steps, thus offering addicts varying approaches from which to choose. Covenant Eyes, Strive21, and Fight the New Drug are particularly helpful programs and Websites. Our own diocesan Website offers anti-pornography resources at https://dioscg. org/antipornography-resources/.
One source always present, always willing, and always ready to help any addict is the Church. Stay tuned for what the Church has to offer.
Published in the September 29, 2023 issue of The Mirror
Part V: The Church Will Help
Parts I – IV of this series focused on the nature of pornography and its effects. How and why pornography is a serious problem is hopefully clear now. Part IV, however, began a subtle transition from the vice of pornography to the virtue of hope. The Church is the ever-faithful light of hope that guides us to believe in, and attain, the promises of Christ. Her hope rests in her possession of the fullness of truth, a wealth of knowledge revealed by God himself. What then ought the Church do with this divine wellspring of wisdom?
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ call to proclaim the word of God to all the world (see Mt 28:19- 20; Mk 16:15). Every Catholic has a duty and responsibility to evangelize (proclaim the Gospel) in the mission field. The mission field is not necessarily some foreign land on the other side of the world. It is at school, at work, at a friend’s house, and at home. Simply put, the mission field is everywhere. Neither the mission field nor pornography have geographic, cultural, ethnic, gender, or faith boundaries. Recognizing pornography’s prevalence in society, the Church has the wisdom and drive to evangelize, but she needs active participation.
Venerable Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical “Fidei Donum” (“The Gift of Faith”), called for a “threefold assistance” in the Church’s missionary activity: prayers, material aid, and gift of self. Prayer has the power to change lives; it can help a person overcome loneliness, despair, and addiction, all effects of pornography. Material aid (e.g. money, supplies, food, etc.) helps the Church contribute significantly to the fight against pornography. Monetary and supply donations help the Church produce booklets, articles, and brochures, and maintain schools, parishes, and diocesan Websites. Our diocesan Website, and the Website of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, currently has freedom from pornography resource Webpages. The URLs for those Webpages are found below. Finally, the gift of self is needed. Pornography addicts need accountability partners, and the Church needs help spreading the word on pornography’s destructive evils.
Pope St. John Paul II made an extraordinary development on the understanding of “gift of self,” particularly as it relates to pornography. His now famous Theology of the Body (TOB) is difficult to understand, but extremely profound. If it were possible to summarize TOB in layman’s terms in one sentence, it might read: freely giving oneself in union to a reciprocating person brings happiness, and awareness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. John Paul II calls this the “spousal meaning of the body.” Pornography and the spousal meaning of the body (TOB) are incompatible. Pornography will not bring happiness; it does not respect the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within each person; freedom is either hindered or removed; and, reciprocity, union, and the gift of self are impossible to fulfill, both inside, and certainly outside, of marriage.
The Church’s arguments against pornography, and Her zeal to fight it, have the same foundation as John Paul II’s theology of the body: God, who is Love (see 1 John 4:8, 16), and our being created in His image and likeness. Out of love, God created mankind with the freedom to love. Pornography seriously attacks and misconstrues the true meaning of freedom, love, and hope, and that is where we will begin next time.
Published in the October 13, 2023 issue of The Mirror
Part VI: Authentic Freedom
Part V of this series began arguing for the Catholic Church’s willingness and ability to fight against pornography. A full analysis of how and why the Church can help is impossible to cover for this series; nonetheless, focusing on a few key points—such as freedom, love, and hope—is a good start. Freedom is perhaps one of the most misdefined and misunderstood words today.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Freedom” is “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility.” Freedom separates humans from animals. Animals cannot reason, and they do not have free-will or responsibility. Humans possess all three, yet pornography pushes a person toward animalistic behavior. Pornography can subdue rational thought and free-will, because thoughts of truth, goodness, beauty, and responsibility are diminished or ignored.
The analogy of the “pornography building” supported by four pillars (art, business, drugs, and the Internet) presented earlier in the series was hopefully helpful. Perhaps the same could be true now. The “building” of freedom is supported by five pillars: truth, balance, discipline, rules, and responsibility. Other pillars could be chosen as well, but these were chosen for a reason. A false dichotomy exists today between these pillars and freedom, but consider the following example.
A young child must know certain truths about the game of baseball. It involves catching, throwing, running, teamwork, and more. Without knowing these truths, the child is in fact not free to play baseball. Once the child knows these truths, he or she must balance practice, eating, and sleeping, or he/she may find himself / herself unable (not free) to play the game. The child must have the discipline to practice, or he or she will not have the skill (freedom) to play. The child must follow certain rules of the game, or the child will not be playing baseball at all. Finally, the youth has a responsibility as a member of the team to practice, follow the rules, and understand the game. Without truth, balance, discipline, rules, and responsibility, the child is not actually free to play baseball. Now translate this example to pornography.
Knowledge of certain truths about God and human dignity leads a person to virtue and freedom. Without knowing these truths, pornography’s ability to enslave someone to immoral passions and pleasures is empowered. A person must demonstrate temperance (balance) by regulating how frequently they indulge their passions and physical pleasures, even through moral means. A person must have the fortitude to maintain discipline, always seeking a pure mind and heart. Without temperance and discipline, one will succumb to vices and addictions, thus forfeiting their freedom. Following God’s will and laws (rules) opens every person to a freedom for excellence, virtue, and love, over an “absolute freedom.” Finally, every person has a responsibility to follow God: “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Following God is not for his benefit, but for ours.
Today’s popular culture fights for, even worships, absolute freedom. No impediments and unlimited choices define absolute freedom. Its realization is impossible, and its pursuit destroys freedom. People become enslaved to their vices and obstruct the freedom of others when no impediments are presented; and choices are not a guarantor of freedom; rather, they enhance or diminish freedom, depending on their moral character.
Published in the October 27, 2023 issue of The Mirror
Part VII: Never Lose Faith, Hope, and Love
This seven-part series had two goals: demonstrate the immoral and destructive nature of pornography, and provide hope through the Church’s teachings on the dignity of the human person, freedom, and love. Part I presented four “pillars” supporting pornography: art, business, drugs, and the Internet. Part II looked deeper into the aggressive content and effects of pornography, particularly in how it fuels prostitution and sex-trafficking. Part III presented the inherent dichotomy between pornography and all relationships, especially marriage. Part IV examined pornography addiction and recovery. Part V argued the Church is willing and able to fight pornography. Part VI attempted to correct the modern notion of freedom as a basis for breaking free from pornography.
Hopefully this series has been informative and helpful, but the end of this series is not the end of the fight against pornography. Pornography is a pervasive force that has permeated society, but do not despair. The Holy Spirit dwells within every person (1 Cor 3:16). Use God’s presence to work toward creating a porn-free world filled with faith, hope, and love.
Have faith in God and his Church, that they will bring freedom, happiness, and love. Faith cannot be forced; but it can be inspired through two means: grace from the Holy Spirit and education. Allow God’s grace to transform your life, and learn the true teachings of the Church by reading and studying her documents and Scripture. Nurturing grace and education will transform the heart and open the mind to the truth of the Gospel: Jesus Christ saved and redeemed mankind out of love.
Faith ought to then give hope, a hope in attaining eternal life in Heaven. God desires the salvation of every person (1 Tim 2:4), and the Church works tirelessly to guide his flock. Pornography is incompatible with God’s love and his Church, no matter how difficult that can be to accept or follow. This difficulty, however, is precisely the moment when a person is called to “cross the threshold of hope,” as Pope St. John Paul II said; meaning, the demands of God will require a personal cross to be carried, but, once again, do not despair; carry your cross behind Christ’s cross, and follow him in the hopes of finding freedom, happiness, and love.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the greatest act of love in human history, for it is the means by which God saved all of mankind. What then does love mean? Love means willing the good of another. It requires sacrifice, as is evident through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Love is not only sacrificial, however, in the sense of giving. It is reciprocal (giving and receiving). Love receives because that is the appropriate response to someone who gives. The Father gave his only Son to the world, and he desires us to receive his Son. This understanding of love excludes treating a person as an object for pleasure. Objects cannot freely and willingly give or receive to another; therefore, love excludes pornography.
Faith, hope, and love in the name of God are inherently and diametrically opposed to pornography. In the end, remember Pope St. John Paul II’s famous words: “Be not afraid!” Do not be afraid to break free of pornography; do not be afraid to fight against pornography; do not be afraid to fail; instead, courageously fight every day. Move forward with God in faith, hope, and love, and rejoice in the joy and freedom that comes from a pornography-free life.
Published in the November 10, 2023 issue of The Mirror