Achieving Chastity in a Pornographic World
By Rev. Thomas G. Morrow, S.T.D.
Introduction: The Problem
With the advent of the internet, and its huge number of pornographic web sites, the pastoral problem of sexual struggles and addiction has skyrocketed. The advance of cable TV has not helped matters. Many have developed addictions of varying intensity to pornography and other sexual activities such as masturbation, fornication, adultery and homosexual acts.
People get into these things for various reasons: boredom, isolation, pleasure-seeking, or hurt. In many cases the sexual activity acts as a temporary alleviation from the pain one is experiencing, but sometimes it is just a seeking of pleasure. Sexual addictions are much like drug or other substance addiction, insofar as they provide a temporary high as a relief from sadness or boredom, but exact a price for the addict. In physical addictions the price is, most visibly, physical, in sexual, the price is often psychological (and sometimes physical as well).
Sexual addiction comes in many forms, and in varying degrees. It ranges from the religious young man (or woman) trying to overcome masturbation, to a high-ranking religious leader being exposed as an exhibitionist, to the CEO of a large manufacturing company being caught leading a child pornography ring.1 Whatever the degree, sexual addiction or even problems of sexual insobriety are a big challenge to the person of faith.
I have found, in helping scores of people over the past fifteen years try to overcome bad sexual habits, that the majority are not hard-core “sex addicts” as the CEO or the religious leader mentioned above. Most are simply people who have gotten into immoral sex and find it difficult to break free from the habit. Some have underlying psychological problems, such as a father wound, or unresolved anger, or a gender identity deficit. Others have been the victims of sexual abuse. For all those cases, it seems that counseling with a good, Christian therapist would be called for, and in some cases participation in a Sexaholics Anonymous group as well (which we will discuss later). Also, for the more compulsive sex addict, therapy might be necessary as well. This book is not aimed at taking the place of such therapy.
It is primarily aimed at the vast majority of men and women who struggle with a sex habit such as the use of pornography, or daily masturbation or frequent fornication or other acting out. The issue addressed herein is how to use prayer and various methods from Moral Theology to overcome such habits. It’s about the sex habit, not the more complex issues that may underlie the habit. Indeed, I believe some therapists, and ministers as well could benefit from some of the ideas in this book, as part of their particular approach, tailored to the individual they are counseling.
Ultimately, the question at hand is, how can we help people overcome such excesses? What steps can those involved take to free themselves from the “sex drug”? The answer lies not just in exercising a rigid self-control, but in trying to harmonize moral behavior with human nature, in trying to change one’s behavior in a way that is adapted to the psyche, and what fulfills it. By accommodating both the truth about human sexuality and the nature of the human soul, and an overall healthy lifestyle, a person can find inner peace in living the Gospel, a peace that is lasting and joy-filled.
Chapter 1: Training The Sexual Appetite
Some time ago I was giving spiritual direction to a young man who struggled with unchaste thoughts and desires. He was praying a good deal each day, and attending daily Mass. He had a reasonably balanced life, with some sports activities each week, and was happy in his job. Nonetheless, in this one area, he felt quite inadequate.
So, I explained to him the need to convert, rather than suppress his appetite, as recommended by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II (certainly a credible trio!). He was to present to his mind, repeatedly, the values he would gain by living chastely, things like "treating others as persons, not objects," "living by reason, not by his urges," and "upholding the sacredness of sex." I had him make a list of these reasons, and encouraged him to read the list several times a day. He began to do this, and within a year, he told me he was over the struggle. He was able to live chastely without having to battle his sexual appetite. It had finally been trained, and was not trying to move him in the direction of impure thoughts or acts. He had found chastity.
I have proposed similar routines to others, many of whom struggled with pornography, especially on the internet. A number of these people have indicated, after only a few months, that it was helping them a great deal.
It seems that all of this points to the fact that with a good deal of grace, and using the proper approach to the psyche, those struggling with addictions to pornography and unchaste thoughts and actions can be set free from their slavery to lust. How important is this emancipation? Very. Any addiction draws us away from our ultimate vocation, that of love, since only one who is free can give himself totally to another in love. Pope John Paul II spoke eloquently of the need for us to live out this love vocation:
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 intimately in it.2
It is only in love that we are fulfilled as persons, love for God and for our neighbors.
The Goal: Chastity
To begin with, it’s important to have the goal in mind. That goal must be real chastity. What exactly is the virtue of chastity? According to Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, chastity is the habitual moderation of the sexual appetite in accord with right reason. In other words, it’s bringing the sexual appetite consistently under reason.
Notice it is not just the regulation of behavior, which would be self-control, but of the very desires that lead to sexual behavior. Note too, the norm is “right” reason, i.e., reason in conformity with God's Eternal Law, not merely worldly reason, which sees any sex which avoids unwanted pregnancy or disease as “reasonable.”
Certainly, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, chastity is not something a person can arrive at without considerable prayer and effort. The fruits of a tree appear last, and so it is with the Holy Spirit's fruits: they require a good deal of cultivation under the influence of God's grace.
Are there any methods one can employ to effectively use the grace received from spiritual exercises to develop chastity? Yes there are. A person begins by observing with Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas,3 that the sexual appetite seems to have a life of its own, and it listens not only to reason, but to the senses and the imagination as well. If I want to raise my hand, I direct it to move, and it moves. But, if my sexual appetite is attracted to something illicit, I must do more than tell it, “Forget it.” It can be very persistent.
St. Paul wrote,
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do... For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7:19, 23, 24)4
This is the battle we have with the appetites, especially the sexual appetite.
Thus, one must find a way to “convince” his sexual appetite to obey reason and not the senses or the imagination. Alas, many who are addicted to sex are addicted to visual stimuli, especially pornography (senses), and sexual fantasies (imagination). We will consider how to deal with these elements below, but first, a general approach to convert the sexual appetite.
Since there are competing voices for the control of the sexual appetite, it doesn't work for reason to deal with the appetite “despotically,” i.e., simply saying “no” to the appetite's appeal, and when it asks why not, saying “because I said no.” If it does, it will repress the appetite into the unconscious where it will wait for a chance to explode.5 In a moment of weakness the appetite will indeed explode with an outburst of sexual activity. We see this in the person who contains himself/herself for several weeks but then goes on a spree, and repeats this cycle over and over.
The intellect must deal “politically” with the appetite, setting forth the values which will be gained by living chastity, to make up for the value of the sexual pleasure which is sacrificed. One must, in a sense, convince his (“or her” understood) appetite that it will not make him happy to give in to it.
As Pope John Paul II put it,
...the promptings of carnal desire do not disappear merely because they are contained by willpower, although superficially they appear to do so; for them to disappear completely a man must know 'why' he is containing them... We can speak of objectivization only when the will is confronted by a value which fully explains the necessity for containing impulses aroused by carnal desire and sensuality. Only as this value gradually takes possession of the mind and the will does the will become calm and free itself from a characteristic sense of loss.6
The person, then, must hammer away with reason, to convert his heart to the truth. In the long run, we are more attracted to the truth than to pleasure. In fact, Jesus identified himself with the truth (“I am the way, the truth and the life” Jn. 14:6). Pleasure is a fleeting thing; truth lasts forever. It’s not enough to know what is right and wrong. To survive in this world, chastity has got to be in one’s blood. A person must be completely convinced, mind and heart.
Chapter 2: Chastity’s Values
What are some of these values (goods) of which a person can remind himself so as to alleviate any interior resentment and find peace in the chaste decision? I would propose at least six:
1. Sex is holy, not a plaything. It should never be trivialized.
2. Created in the image of God, I can live by reason, not just by urges (as the animals do).
3. Persons are to be loved, not merely used as objects of enjoyment.
4. I must not treat persons as objects, even in the mind, lest I become a user of persons in practice.
5. Unchaste activity destroys my most precious friendship, that with God, the source of all happiness.
6. Unchaste activity brings pleasure but not happiness.
(A card with these points can be found under the title, The Truth About Chastity)
Let’s briefly discuss each of these.
The Sacredness and Beauty of Sexual Intimacy
One value retained by opting for chastity is that of upholding the sacredness of sex. It is so sacred that it belongs only in marriage. Virtually every decent person has a sense of the fact that sex is not some trivial act, but is quite different in importance from any other act. Few thoughtful people subscribe to the idea that promiscuity is virtuous. By living chastely a person avoids trivializing sex as something merely recreational, so that if and when he does participate in it within marriage, he will experience its sublime dignity and transcendence.
An often overlooked passage in Vatican II (Gaudium et spes) speaks of how the marital act both “expresses and perfects” conjugal love:
This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the act proper to marriage. Hence, the actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions signify and foster the mutual self-donation by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready mind (GS 49b).
The Council speaks first of all of the marriage act expressing conjugal love, that is, it is a symbol of marital love, it signifies it. The act means, “I love you in a conjugal way.” This act also perfects and fosters this love, the mutual spousal self-donation; it enriches the couple. It enriches the spouses, not only through the joy of the act, but because it is a celebration of their conjugal love, as the reception of Holy Communion celebrates our (conjugal) love with God. Each time bodily communion is effected, this love is declared and strengthened. In a sense, the marital act celebrates the existence of conjugal love, proclaims it, and by perfecting it, in a sense forms the future of this love. It is not only a statement about the love that exists, it establishes the direction in which it will continue.
Pope John Paul II and his herald, Christopher West,7 have done us a great service in proclaiming the great beauty of sex as it was intended by the Creator, and the importance of what we do with our bodies. Without going into great detail, how can their work shed light on the sacredness and beauty of sex?
Pope John Paul II pointed out that “The body... and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.”8 What is this mystery? The Pope spoke of it later on when he commented on the communion of husband and wife and the fruit thereof, human life: “In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery.”9 One could say that a man and woman imitate God most profoundly at the natural level, when they express their love in a way that it may overflow into new life in the marriage act, for this is what God did at creation.
“Man became the image and likeness of God not only through his humanity,” said the Pope, “but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning.” Together, in communion, they become “an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.”10 In addition, the union of husband and wife in marriage is, as St. Paul proclaimed (Eph 5:32), a sacrament, a sacred sign of Christ and his Church. In other words, this union and its symbolic act, is sacramental, just as our Communion with God is sacramental. In fact, Pope John Paul II declared that “the Eucharist... is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” He said that Christ, “... in instituting the Eucharist... wished to express the relationship between man and woman, between what is ‘feminine’ and what is ‘masculine.’”11 It is based on this that Christopher West aptly places Christ’s Eucharistic words in the mouth of spouses, “This is my body, given for you.”12
What happens when people use this sacred language symbolic of divine love and creativity for mere pleasure, and compulsive pleasure at that? They drag their very nobility through the mud. They draw mankind down from the threshold of divinity to the realm of animality. They take what is holy and treat it as something trivial and diminish themselves in the process.13
A further value which follows closely on the previous one is that by opting for chastity, one will be living up to his or her own human dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God. As such, we are empowered to live by reason, rather than merely be controlled by urges and impulses (as are animals). Pope John Paul II spoke of the “freedom of the gift” that their nakedness without shame implied. Referring to Vatican II, the Pope recalled the pivotal passage from Gaudium et spes (n. 24),
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one. . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.
The Pope declared that in order for one to give himself to another, he must have mastery of himself, “self-control.” So, to find himself, man must be able to control himself, not in some arbitrary way, but according to reason. To have true self-control, in the image of God, is to live by reason. Reason, as we saw above, reveals to us that sex is something sacred and beautiful, and its trivialization is tragic.
Loving, not Using, Persons
When a person has sex with another outside of marriage, there is a natural tendency to see the other as an object of enjoyment, rather than an object of love. Pope John Paul II, in his analysis of Genesis, pointed out the meaning of the shame which came about after Original Sin. The fact that they were naked without shame before the fall, indicates they had the full vision of each other as God sees them.
Seeing each other, as if through the very mystery of creation, man and woman see each other even more fully and distinctly than through the sense of sight itself, that is, through the eyes of the body. They see and know each other, in fact, with all the peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons.14
This vision was not exploitive, but loving.
With the Fall came a more superficial vision, in which exterior values dominated over interior; the response was to the body rather than the person. This is the reason for the post-Fall shame. “Shame is a tendency,” wrote the Holy Father, “uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of person as such.”15
With redemption, we are called to:
...rediscover, nay more, realize the nuptial meaning of the body and to express in this way the interior freedom of the gift, that is, of that spiritual state and that spiritual power which are derived from mastery of the lust of the flesh...
Christ's words bear witness that the original power (therefore also the grace) of the mystery of creation becomes for each of them power (that is, grace) of the mystery of redemption.16
The “new man” can come forth as the ethos (the ethical pattern) of the redemption of the body “dominates the lust of the flesh and the whole man of lust. Redemption contains the imperative of self-control, the necessity of immediate continence and habitual temperance.”17
The redeemed, new man, is one who loves others rather than uses them. This temperance with regard to sex is, of course chastity. The connection between chastity and love comes out of the personalistic norm: The person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.18 Thus, said John Paul,
The virtue of chastity, whose function it is to free love from utilitarian attitudes, must control not only sensuality and carnal concupiscence, as such, but–perhaps more important–those centers deep within the human being in which the utilitarian attitude is hatched and grows... To be chaste means to have a “transparent” attitude to a person of the other sex–chastity means just that–the inner “transparency” without which love is not itself, for it cannot be itself until the desire to “enjoy” is subordinated to a readiness to show loving kindness in every situation.19
One need not be an ethicist to realize that it is wrong to exploit people, sexually or otherwise. Even visual exploitation is wrong, since exploiting someone in the mind will result in exploiting them in practice.
Destroying Our Most Precious Friendship
Certainly unchaste activity destroys our relationship with God (until we are able to restore it by sincere repentance and the sacrament of Reconciliation). Jesus himself spoke of the evil of fornication:
...from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy... All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.20 (emphasis added)
St. Paul had something similar to say:
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.21 (emphasis added)
Being excluded from the Kingdom is the result of persisting in sin which destroys our relationship with God. (Of course, repentance and reconciliation are always possible in this life, for those who sincerely seek them.)
Why is this so? Most notably in light of the arguments given above with regard to the very sacredness and beauty of sex, wherein man most closely approaches the action of God at the natural level. Sex signifies a matrimonial covenant and an openness to new life. Neither is ordinarily present in fornication.
The immorality of adultery is clearly stated in the ten commandments. In addition to the reasons given for fornication’s immorality, adultery has the added evil of violating the fidelity of marriage.
It is not only non-marital sexual intercourse which is sinful. All deliberate non-marital sexual arousal is sinful. Thomas Aquinas wrote:
...since fornication is a mortal sin, and much more so the other kinds of lust, it follows that in such like sins not only consent to the act but also consent to the pleasure is a mortal sin. Consequently when... kisses and caresses are done for this delight, it follows that they are mortal sins...22
There are some who have been addicted to foreplay even if they have avoided fornication. Why is this wrong? Because it too trivializes sex by using sexual arousal as mere recreation, rather than as a noble introduction to marital union.
Pornography is another abuse of sex. It is an implicit statement that sex is recreational and women (or men) are objects of pleasure. Although people don’t go into pornography with these lies in mind, but often do so just for the pleasure involved, they come out branded with these attitudes, which are so destructive. It is no wonder that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “[pornography] is a grave offense.” CCC 2354).
Masturbation is another serious sin. Why? Because it not only degrades sex by using it for mere pleasure, but it also turns a person in on himself in the very act which is meant to signify and perfect communion with a spouse. C. S. Lewis put it well:
For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back, sends it back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.23
The Church has spoken clearly of the immorality of masturbation (CCC, 2352):
Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."[footnote] "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.
However, as we shall see later, the Church in this same section cautions us to evaluate carefully subjective guilt in regard to masturbation.
Homosexual activity is another violation of the sexual order which is serious matter. St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians (6:9+),
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites [The Greek here is arsenokoites, combining the two words arsén, meaning male and koité, meaning bed. Thus, a more literal translation would be "men bedding men."], nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The Church has confirmed this in the Catechism (CCC 2357):
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,[footnote] tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."[footnote] They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
While the Church is clear in proclaiming homosexual acts as seriously sinful, she also wishes us to show respect and compassion to those who suffer with this condition:
They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (CCC 2358)
The Theology of The Body should make it clear that homosexual acts contain none of the noble elements which makes conjugal union man’s most God-like natural act.
All of these sins involving the misuse of sex are serious matter. The Church taught in 1975, “the moral order of sexuality involves such high values of human life that every direct violation of this order is objectively serious.”24
This, it seems covers all those violations of chastity which lend themselves to addiction. Each has the potential, if they are done with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will, to destroy one’s relationship with God. This is a huge price to pay for a few moments of pleasure.
Pleasure, Not Happiness
Finally, unchaste activity may provide pleasure, but this is not what brings us happiness as persons. Only love will make us happy, love of God and of neighbor. Unchaste activity qualifies for neither. One need only compare the lives of the saints to the lives of debauchers. The latter often had smiles on their faces, the former glowed.
Changing The Heart
As we saw in the opening story of the young man struggling with chastity, by reminding oneself of these values over and over a person can, in a sense, graft reason onto the appetite, to the point that the appetite in time will appear to participate in reason. The values of chastity must be “objectivized,” internalized, such that the will is “constantly confronted by a value which fully explains the necessity for containing impulses aroused by carnal desire and sensuality. Only as this value takes possession of the mind and will does the will become calm and free itself from a characteristic sense of loss.”25 In other words one must repeatedly recall the truth about sex and his or her own happiness, until the appetite in a sense “gives up,” and surrenders to reason. Only when this happens is the appetite in conformity with the mind, and does one arrive at the peace of chastity. Another way of putting this is, it’s not enough to convert one’s mind; he must convert his heart as well.26
Those who have struggled with sexual addictions know very well that it doesn’t work to try to avoid thinking about these things, hoping the temptations will go away. They won’t. One must think about the positive values of chastity often. It’s not enough to remind oneself of these values only when tempted. A person needs to call them to mind several times a day and really meditate on them.
Why is this effective? Because, as we mentioned earlier, in the long run we are more attracted to truth than pleasure. But we must penetrate the thick skin of pleasure with the truth before truth can take hold of our whole being.
It is only when the heart, the emotions themselves, have been converted by reason that the person will experience true peace with regard to sexual matters. Self-control, whereby one struggles and wins, is not a full virtue, as St. Thomas taught. Chastity enables one to avoid sexual sins without a struggle, and it is attainable.
* * * * *
This "converting the appetite" is really the key to arriving at the peace of chastity, something that many in our world doubt can even happen. Some might say, "It can't be that easy!" bringing to mind the complaint of Naaman who doubted he could be healed just by washing seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14). However, it's really not so easy. Many compose a card with all the reasons why they should be chaste and read it for a few weeks, and then for one reason or another, they let it slide. Perhaps they were expecting quicker results (it can take a year or more) or they lost the card and failed to compose another. Or, perhaps they have been struggling with this so long, they don't really believe they can change. But, people do change, and dramatically so. However, it takes a good deal of motivation, and perseverance in reading the "values" of chastity and letting the truth permeate one's whole being, mind and heart.
If it took two or three years of reading the benefits of chastity three or four times a day (requiring perhaps three minutes a day), would it be worth it?
Of course, the Christian has much more than just a psychological technique to help him overcome sexual insobriety. He has the ability to benefit from grace, the grace that all people need to live virtuous lives. And, there are any number of other aids for the Christian striving to move from vice to virtue. We will consider these in the next chapter.
It should be noted as well, that chastity is not just about sex, but it should be part of a whole Christian lifestyle, which is balanced, realistic about what the world can offer, and is built on the virtue of prudence. These things will be addressed in subsequent chapters.
Chapter 3: Get Help
The first help a believer should seek is grace. St. Augustine said, “The law was given that we might seek grace. Grace was given that we might keep the law.” Prayer opens us to the entire life of grace. Christians can meditate on the life of Christ, as one of the most powerful types of prayer. Catholics can do this by meditation on the mysteries of the rosary,27 but all Christians can meditate on the Scriptures. This is done by reading a passage, and then closing one’s eyes and reflecting on what was read.
One young man told me he struggled with an addiction to homosexual activity for many years, and then masturbation for several years more. When one day he began to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (after years of prayer), all of a sudden he was given the grace of chastity. Prayer is essential for chastity, and indeed, for all the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
To be sure, the Divine Mercy Chaplet was the final piece in a mosaic of prayer for the man just mentioned. It usually takes a good deal of time to arrive at chastity. However long it takes, grace is essential for it to happen. As noted earlier, the fruits are generally the last thing to appear on a tree, and it is no different with the fruit of chastity. One must persevere in prayer, and make a constant effort to overcome sexual sins, and the peace of chastity will come.
And prayer here is not just something one does until he is healed. It’s a way of life for the Christian. Many have discovered the hard way that when they stopped praying, having achieved the goal of chastity, lust comes roaring back. Prayer is not a temporary medicine for sin, but the basic spiritual food of every Christian. Even if we were to live in perfect chastity for the rest of our lives, it would mean very little if we did not have a strong relationship with God through prayer. Prayer is the way to true happiness and every follower of Christ should know that. Prayer draws us close to the Lord in love, which is essential to our being saved. It’s far more than a remedy for lust.
And, as St. John Vianney said, “The more you pray, the more you want to pray.” Alas, the opposite is true as well: the less you pray, the less you want to pray. A person who struggles with sexual addiction–or any addiction–should commit to ten or fifteen minutes of prayer daily and then try to increase that commitment every six months or so. The commitment to pray is the first miracle in the life of a Christian, as St. Augustine said. Once that commitment is made and kept for a year, adding to it is relatively easy. The beautiful thing about prayer is that once a person makes it a habit, he begins to see the results of prayer and becomes highly motivated to keep going. One woman commented about her discovery of prayer and all that flowed from it, “I am never going back to my old ways. I’ve found it and I’m never going to let go.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said,
Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer and take the trouble to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God's gift of Himself. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own.
There are, of course, other sources of grace besides prayer. In a Catholic context, the Mass is the highest source of grace, the "source and summit of the Christian life," as Vatican II put it.28 Catholics have the opportunity to attend Mass not only on Sunday, but on weekdays as well. This is a most powerful source of grace. Most of the Catholics I know who have been set free from lust are attending Mass every day. Certainly the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation29 and that of the Eucharist, are also great sources of grace.
In addition to these things, the daily reading of Sacred Scripture, and books on the saints30 and their writings is an invaluable source of inspiration to continue on the journey toward holiness. And it is holiness that one needs to be free of sexual addiction, and even more so for salvation.
Fasting for Chastity?
Thomas Aquinas taught that one of the purposes of fasting was...
1. See Patrick Carnes, Out of The Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Center City, MN:Hazelden, p. 71.
2. Pope John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, USCC, 1979, n. 10.
3. Summa Theologica, I, q 81 a 3; trans., Fathers of the English Dominican Province, New York: Benziger Bros., 1947, p. 1785.
4. All Biblical quotes herein are taken from the Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
5. Karol Wojtyla, (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, pp. 170, 198.
6. Love and Responsibility, p. 198.
7. The following three paragraphs make use of the reasoning found in Christopher West’s Theology of The Body for Beginners, (Westchester, PA: Ascension Press, 2004), pp. 9-30.
8. Pope John Paul II, Theology of The Body talks (henceforth TB), Feb. 20, 1980.
9. TB, Dec. 30, 1981.
10. TB, Nov. 14, 1979.
11. Pope John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, n. 26. See Christopher West, Theology of The Body for Beginners, p. 9.
12. Christopher West, Theology of The Body for Beginners, for example, p. 10.
13. I believe that this sort of “high sexology” of the Pope and Christopher West is an excellent antidote to the “low sexology” spawned by the sexual revolution. The work of Mr. West, despite it’s occasional diversions into hyperbole, is key for the rehabilitation of sex as truly sacramental, in that it makes more readily available and understandable the thought of the Pope. For those who need more convincing, I recommend West’s recordings on the Theology of the Body, available at http://www.luminousmedia.org, http://www.giftfoundation.org/products_naked.cfm for free MP3 download.
14. TB January 2, 1980.
Lov e and Responsibility, p. 187.
16. TB October 29, 1980.
17. TB December 3, 1980.
18. Love and Responsibility, p. 41. Stated negatively, the personalist norm is: the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end.
19. Love and Responsibility, p. 170
20. Mk 7:21-23; see also Mt 15:19, 20
21. 1 Cor 6:9, New American Bible, New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1991; See also Gal 5:19-21
22. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q154 a4; trans. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, New York: Benziger Bros., 1947.
23. Leanne Payne, The Broken Image, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1981, p. 91. The complete text is found in: Letter to a Mr. Masson (March 6, 1956) Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.
24. Declaration on Sexual Ethics, henceforth, DSE, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1975, para 10.
25. Love and Responsibility, p. 198.
26. Much of the above text, beginning with the subtitle, “The Goal: Chastity,” is taken almost word for word from the author’s book, Christian Courtship in An Oversexed World, Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003, pp. 87-92.
27. For meditations on the mysteries which you may download free, go to http://www.cfalive.com/online-store/booklets/.
28. Lumen gentium, n. 11.
29. See a card on how to confess at https://www.cfalive.com/collections/miscellaneous/products/a-brief-guide-to-confession.
30. For a list of recommended books, see ...