It was not so long ago that porn showed up in trace amounts only — smuggled in from the West and furtively circulated from hand to hand. Today it’s all perfectly legal and available everywhere: kiosks, service stations, television, and Internet. One of the great achievements of Western culture!
Some people say there’s nothing wrong with pornography and that it even serves a purpose. Next time you meet someone stating this view ask them if they would like to see their sister appearing in a porn flick; or if they would like to have their daughter amuse guys while others watch on the Internet and play with themselves.
But perhaps you think that sex — and even nudity — is not for photographing or filming. Certainly not for profit or entertainment. Sex is something much, much more serious — you say. It is a sacred province, an area where God is especially present. Not the subject of a spectacle! And certainly no achievement worth bragging about! Achievement involves effort. What effort is there in slipping off one’s knickers?
Committing sin in the heart
A moment ago I asked you what you thought of pornography. It would be more to the point to ask what God thinks of it. After all, human beings are known to hold some pretty silly views. All too often we let ourselves be ruled by feelings rather than reason. Sometimes we play up to the gallery, so as not to incur disapproval, etc. And yet no one knows better than God what is good or bad. Here is what the Holy Spirit — through the Church — says on the subject of pornography: “It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants, (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an objet of base pleasure and illicit profit of others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2354).
And Jesus Himself pronounced the following words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat 5: 27-28).
Now erotic material is produced for no other purpose but to make its consumer “look with lust.” The grave sin of adultery can be committed “in the heart.” And should this lustful viewing lead to masturbation, i.e. ersatz intercourse, we have something even more than adultery in our heart.
Jesus says one thing, the devil another. On whose side do the manufacturers, promoters, legalizers, etc. of pornography stand? Jesus has His disciples. We know this and want to be among them. But the devil has his disciples too. They imagine they are free, modern, and progressive; that they are fighting ignorance and benightedness. In reality, they are being led astray by the devil. They say what he wants them to say. They act on his instructions.
Among the manufacturers of pornography there are also avowed Satanists, who consciously serve the Evil One. Exorcists know this. Satanists are even known to place curses on those who go on their websites. I know one priest who had to exorcise someone who accessed such a site only once.
Disconnecting oneself from evil
But to return to Jesus’ words. First He speaks of adultery (to which pornography predisposes us); then He says something that evokes protest from many quarters (including some theologians). Jesus often said and did things that elicited protest on the part of many (including some of His disciples). But He never revoked these things, for Truth does not admit of compromise. It is worth memorizing the following words, for at the rate we’re going we may not be allowed to cite them much longer, or even recall them. Those who legalize various mortal sins so that those committing them may not be overstressed will soon be banning them. In some places of the world it is already illegal to call homosexual practice a perversion. We seem to be moving toward a new form of “freedom of expression” and “democracy.” Its prototype is Sodom and Gomorrah. At any rate, here is the verse: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna” (Mat 5: 29-30).
God is love! Even when He speaks of hell? Yes! Always! To caution is to love. Doctors caution their patients, police — drivers, lifeguards — swimmers, parents — children. To remain silent before the danger of eternal damnation would be to demonstrate an extreme lack of love. Jesus has to speak about it.
Obviously Jesus does not mean self-mutilation. Obviously He wants us to keep both our eyes, hands, and legs. He has something else in mind: namely, that sin is an extremely grave matter. Remaining in a state of serious sin leads to everlasting damnation. That is why, to remain in a state of sanctifying grace, we have to be ready to make great sacrifices. The martyrs would sooner die than transgress God’s law.
We must therefore cut off everything that leads to sin. Perhaps we could rephrase Jesus’ words to say: If the Internet causes you to sin — disconnect it. If cable TV causes you to sin — cancel your subscription. If your friends predispose you to sin — break off contact with them.
Queen Blanche used to say to her son Louis (later Louis XI of France): “My son, I would sooner see you on a catafalque than in a state of mortal sin.” Compare that with today. It was Pope Paul VI who observed that the greatest sin of modern times was the loss of a sense of sin. Sadly, when faith in God weakens, people begin to see themselves as gods. They will decide for themselves what is good and evil. They succumb to the first, primordial temptation — the one prompted by the serpent in Eden: “you will be like gods” (Gen 3: 5). Many people today have no fear of living in mortal sin. On the contrary, they think it is good. God says one thing, they another. The new gods! Premarital sex? Why, it’s nice and pleasant! We love each other. What’s wrong with it? Contraception? Of course! Why not make life easier? Cohabitation? Naturally! No other way these days. Shooting porn flicks at parties. Guys exchanging more and more obscene materials over the Internet. Sodomites fighting for freedom, equality, and democracy. “Black is white, white is black,” “2 × 2 = 22, 5 + 1 = 51” – they say without batting an eyelid, smiling, convinced they are right. This is how the loss of a sense of sin manifests itself. It is the greatest evil of modern times, the consequence of estranging ourselves from God and cozying up to the devil!
No matter what anyone may say, evil will always be evil, and sin will always be sin. Christ’s words never pass away. They are always in force and always binding.
Sin: AIDS of the soul
“To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world” (CCC, 1488). The Catechism speaks here of the effects of sin in the present. Nothing brings worse consequences in the here and now than sin! Holy Scripture compares sin to leprosy. Leprosy is a disease of the body. The body of a leper decays even as it lives. The ears, nose, arm and leg muscles drop off. What leprosy is to the body, sin is to the soul. We can modernize this image somewhat and say that what AIDS is to the body, sin is to the soul.
It is hard to describe all the effects of AIDS; you’d need several hundred pages. The effect of sin on our lives is even more difficult to describe. Let’s consider but one aspect of it.
A woman’s body is super-attractive. Viewing erotic pictures is an exceptionally pleasurable experience. The question is: does any good come from it? Addiction certainly does. Pornography very quickly enslaves the imagination, ones thoughts, and one’s actions. The psychological and social consequences are every bit as tragic as those of other addictions, such as to alcohol and narcotics.
I cite two brief testimonies from a documentary film commissioned by “Fronda” [a family friendly Polish magazine — ed.] entitled Porn Addiction: “My father kept pornographic materials in the house, so I came into contact with pornography early on in life. As my father’s addiction grew and his collection of materials became increasingly more graphic and hard-core, so my own dependency on pornography increased. By the time I was twenty-one I was well and truly hooked. I’d go to a sex shop and take out three or four films for the night. This would go on for five to six days in a row. It cost me a lot of time, energy, and money. It got to the point that I had no control over my addiction whatsoever. I was dealing with a growing need as powerful as a drug addict’s craving for cocaine.”
“At age eighteen I had my first experience of hard-core pornography. The effect of the film was intoxicating. It began to draw me in right away. Scenes from the movie inflamed my imagination. Before long my conscious mind was swimming with these images and I was accepting them as my own. It got to the point that I would sit on the edge of my bed unable to move. I couldn’t pull myself together. I was a total wreck, unable even to get up and get dressed. It was like a paralysis. I remember I couldn’t even write a check, go to the bank, or pay my bills. In the end, it destroyed my marriage.
“Even now that I have succeeded in breaking the addiction’s vicious cycle, I am still struggling with the effects. The money I spent on those materials amounts to a small fortune. The addiction also makes great demands on your time and energy, which are better spent on more useful things. Pornography turns sexuality into a dark force. Sex ceases to be what God intended it to be and becomes a wasting power. It destroys intimacy, which is supposed to be a gift for us. It destroys purity of thought. Pornography creates unrealistic expectations in our sexual life. (…) We seek from sex something it cannot give us. In life we have so many different needs. Sex cannot satisfy them all.”
We have not yet come up with a medicine for AIDS of the body, but there is a medicine for AIDS of the soul. It is the sacrament of penance and the Eucharist. The Church calls confession the sacrament of healing. It cleanses the soul of the virus of evil, when we become infected with it. The sooner we cleanse ourselves, the better. The longer we delay, the greater the devastation wrought by the virus, and the longer the convalescence. But we must use this healing gift of the Holy Spirit properly. A medicine taken incorrectly does not bring the desired results and may even be harmful. You know the conditions of a good confession: a careful examination of conscience, sorrow for sins as expressed in a firm resolve to make amends, then an honest admission of one’s sins followed by an act of contrition. If these conditions are not met, the confession will be no good and may even be sacrilegious.
Let us consider for a moment what is meant by a “firm resolve to make amends.” It does not mean some hazy hope that we will not commit the sin again. Rather, it means doing everything in our power to prevent that sin from happening again. We need, then, to consider what concrete steps we will take and then to go to confession with a clear plan of action, so as to be able to answer the confessor — should he ask: what do you intend to do (or: have you done) so as to prevent the repetition of this sin?
In the case of pornography, it is especially important to cut off the temptations at their source, or, as we say, “to avoid the proximate occasion of sin.” If these sources remain within arm’s reach, there is a high probability that we will reach for them, for temptation is then extremely strong. The more often we fell into sin in the past, the easier it will be to fall into it again. There is no point in imagining ourselves as giants and then being furious with ourselves for not being so. We need to be realists. There aren’t too many giants around when it comes to pornography, especially when you’re just a boy in your teens. We are weak. But this doesn’t mean nothing can be about it. There’s a way for everything!
If someone has a weakness for alcohol, should he keep a case of whisky in his room? Of course, he shouldn’t, for sooner or later he will reach for it. If someone has a weakness for pornography, should he have unlimited access to the Internet in his room? All he has to do in that case is click on at any time of the day or night. The spectacles are always open. Millions of pornographic sites stand waiting for their clients. What’s the remedy? Block the sites. They’re easy to find. Only you’ll need someone to set up a password for you. A friend can do it for you, and you for him. It is easily done and there is no shame; in fact, it’s a wise precaution. Something you have to do. For anyone susceptible to this sin, the blocking of pornographic sites is almost a condition of a good confession. You will have taken a concrete step in avoiding a repetition of this sin. You many not consciously and deliberately remain within the proximity of sin.
A good and careful confession, the Eucharist, daily prayer, sticking to a daily plan — all these are highly effective weapons in the spiritual warfare that every baptized person must wage. (Alas, many desert the field or soon hoist up a white flag and capitulate; they hand themselves over to captivity, while some even join the ranks of the enemy.) We are participating in a war between Good and Evil: the civilization of love versus the culture of death. This war began at the dawn of the creation of the world and will continue to the Last Day. Those who go through life with Christ will triumph. The closer they cling to Him, the safer they will be. In prayer we open ourselves up to Jesus and become one with Him. In the sacraments we partake of His strength and light even more directly. What are the stakes involved in this war? First of all — eternity. Second — the shape of our life in the here and now. We have but one life. It depends on us whether it will be a beautiful, noble, memorable, and happy one. Pleasure is not happiness. Sin does not make for happiness; on the contrary, it wounds, destroys, corrupts, debases, and enslaves. Such is the nature of evil. Happiness, joy, freedom, and growth are all linked with the Good. But we must fight for these things. So let us be like soldiers: tough, unwavering — wise strategists. “Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” writes St. Paul to young Timothy (2 Tim 2: 3). These words are for all of us!
Fr. Jan Bilewicz OFM
The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in August 2016.
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