One of the great issues facing individuals today is pornography. It’s not that this phenomenon has just arrived on the scene during the past couple of years; it has been around for centuries, perhaps tracing back in some shape or form to the sin of Adam and Eve and passed down to us in what we call “original sin.” Even with our best intentions, we are still subject to temptations of various kinds, as we were reminded in the Gospel two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Lent. And St. Paul reminds us from his own experience that we often do what we do not want to do and do not do what we ought to do. St. Peter in his First Letter tells us that the devil roams around like a lion seeking whom he might devour. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that these realities from the Scriptures are not merely commentary on things in the early Church; they are pertinent right up to the present moment.
What has changed about the issue of pornography is the fact that it is so much more readily available today than it was in the past. Some time ago if one wanted to purchase or to view pornography, you had to go into a sleazy part of the city and enter an “adult” book store. There you could peruse stacks of material and perhaps even view videos or movies in a theater or cubicle, but you also had the possibility of being seen by a neighbor or acquaintance, even by a co-worker passing by as he/she drove down the street. Now all kinds of pornographic material is readily accessible on the internet on a laptop or desktop computer as well as on all kinds of mobile devices. It is literally available 24 hours a day no matter where we might be, and much of it is free. One’s viewing can be much more private than what was formerly the case. As a result, the problems and the implications of pornography are categorically much more catastrophic and formidable than just a few years ago.
Because of this, the Bishops of the United States decided to write a pastoral letter on this topic and to consult experts in the field as consultants. It was worked on for several years during which they also spoke with victims of pornographic addiction, with spouses of victims, with individuals who viewed pornography either frequently or just sporadically. They interviewed people who had broken their addictive habits and some who were still struggling. The end product of this research and consultation culminated in the approval of the document entitled Create in Me a Clean Heart: a Pastoral Response to Pornography in November 2015. It is well worth your reading and reflection whether you are a parent, a husband or wife, a single man or woman, a widow or widower, a teenager, a priest or religious.
Besides the text, this document also contains a list of support groups and recovery programs, advice and resources for parents, grandparents, and all who work with children and young people and wish to protect their innocence, preaching resources for priests and deacons, internet filtering tools to block pornographic content on computers and all devices connected to the internet, educational resources and additional information about the difficulties of pornography, etc. In other words, you will find all kinds of useful material. You can purchase the document at USCCB or download it for free at www.usccb.org/cleanheart.
While it is virtually impossible to summarize the total contents of this Pastoral Letter here, I hope I can at least whet your appetite to take up the document, read it and reflect upon it. The bishops state they want to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness. They recognize children whose innocence has been stolen, men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually, spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized, and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry. And they point out that we all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person and sexuality.
The Church’s teaching on the harm and sinfulness of pornography is grounded in the greater “yes” or affirmation of the inviolable dignity of the human person revealed fully in Christ and the gift of human sexuality and marriage in God’s plan. When the Church follows the Lord in upholding the truth of the human person, this involves rejecting anything that would harm that truth.
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners in order to display them deliberately to third parties. 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 object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. Pornography does not consist only in visual images (which can be real or virtual, including computer-generated) but can also be in written or audio forms (e.g., certain romance novels, erotic literature, phone conversations, social media, online video chats, etc.). It encompasses what is sometimes distinguished as “soft” and “hard-core” pornography. This is an artificial divide; all pornography is harmful and wrong, while the effects on a person may vary depending on the intensity of the content.
Pornography use hurts the user by potentially diminishing his or her capacity for healthy human intimacy and relationships. It presents a distorted view of human sexuality that is contrary to authentic love, and it harms a person’s sense of self-worth. Occasional use can turn into more frequent use that can then lead to an addiction to pornography, which is a growing problem. Sin also damages the community. It can increase isolation between people because of the feelings of shame and self-reproach it generates. It breaks down trust between family members, and it damages the ability of parents and other adults to be virtuous role models for children.
There are many victims of pornography. Every person portrayed in it is beloved by God our Father and is someone’s daughter or son. Their dignity is abused as they are used for others’ pleasure and profit. Pornography has connections to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation worldwide. Many sex trafficking victims (mostly women and girls) are forced into prostitution, which may include pornography as “training” or as their “product.” All child pornography is automatically trafficking and a crime, because it involves the sexual exploitation of a minor for commercial gain, and it is against the child’s will due to the inability to give consent. The actors in pornographic films also face serious risks, such as contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and high rates of drug and alcohol abuse.
Pornography is often misrepresented as a harmless pastime (using euphemisms like “adult entertainment” or “gentlemen’s club”) or even promoted as good—for example, as an aid to marital intimacy. It is not uncommon to hear pornography use described as “normal” for men, implying that they are “hard-wired” to look at it. Many people, more men than women, do not consider viewing pornography to be cheating, that is, being unfaithful to one’s spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend. Pornography also desensitizes its viewers, who may seek out and watch more extreme and degrading content over time as their tolerance increases.
Both science and personal testimonies confirm that many people who start by occasionally viewing pornography later become compulsive viewers who feel trapped in a cycle of fantasy, ritual, acting out and despair. Viewing pornography, usually combined with masturbation, directly affects the brain’s reward pathways and has been noted to have a similar effect on the brain as cocaine does on a person with a drug addiction or as alcohol on a person with an alcohol addiction. After using pornography, the person craves more and over time seeks out a higher number of and/or more extreme images to get the same “high.” A person addicted to pornography may become obsessed with viewing pornography, may take increased risks to view it (such as accessing it at work), may continue viewing it despite adverse consequences to self and others, and may feel out of control or helpless to stop. He or she may also deny that a problem exists. While pornography addiction can happen via free online content, compulsive pornography users may spend large amounts of money on “exclusive” online content, go to strip clubs, or solicit prostitution. The moral culpability of an addicted person may be lessened depending on the circumstances, but the situation is particularly grave. Addictions are very hard to overcome and help is needed to regain one’s freedom. We invite the many good men and women who suffer from addiction to pornography to trust in the Lord’s mercy and seek appropriate help, support and resources. You may want to consider the (Chaste Living) Men’s group that meets here at St. Peter’s on Monday at 5 PM.
Pope Francis reminded the Church of her calling to become a “field hospital” for the wounded of the world. All of us are wounded, starting with Original Sin and its consequences as well as our own sins. In the wake of the so-called sexual revolution, many have been hurt by their own sins, the sins of others, confusion, and broken relationships and families. In particular, the effects of pornography on the soul can be deep, and the use of pornography itself can be a sign of other emotional wounds. No wound is so deep, however, as to be out of the reach of Christ’s redeeming grace.
Christ is our hope! Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the mission of his Church, Jesus continues to give us himself so that we can follow and abide in him. We encounter him in multiple ways: through Sacred Scripture, the sacraments, and the whole teaching and life of the Church. Jesus is the way to freedom. The Church says, “Be not afraid!” Come to the Lord Jesus, whose mercy endures forever! The Lord never tires of forgiving.
THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
Moses’ call in today’s first reading reminds us that God calls us as we are. Moses is “tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.” We do not need to seek out God. God calls us; our task is to be open to hearing the call. Moses’ experience of the Lord is mysterious (as was Abram’s). He sees a burning bush that is “not consumed.” One thing that is often overlooked in narratives like this is that God is the initiating force. “I have witnessed the affliction of my people,” the Lord says. “I know well that they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them.” It is not Moses who will rescue them; it is the Lord. Moses is merely the servant, called to do God’s will.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that even the people in the wilderness strayed from God’s will. “God was not pleased with most of them,” he tells us, and so “they were struck down in the desert.” This serves as a warning for us, “so that we might not desire evil things as they did.”
A similar theme is presented in today’s Gospel: Jesus calls his audience to repentance; otherwise, “you will all perish.” In the parable of the barren fig tree, Jesus presents an image of a tree that should have been producing fruit but did not. Frequently in the biblical text, such imagery symbolizes God and his people. The owner of the orchard orders the tree to be cut down. But the gardener requests, “Leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it,” giving the tree one last chance to produce fruit. This imagery reminds us that God is patient with us, giving us opportunities to produce fruit in our own lives.
For Reflection: How has God caught my attention on my spiritual journey? What is my own “burning bush”? Have I ever experienced God’s patience?
LENTEN COMMUNAL PENANCE SERVICE
The sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the hallmarks of the season of Lent. As we move through this special time of the year, we come to realize our faults and failings as well as our gifts and blessings. Here at St. Peter’s we have the wonderful opportunity to celebrate this sacrament either within the confessional setting every Monday through Saturday or within the context of a Communal Penance Service twice during Lent. The first of these Lenten Penance Services will be held this week on Wednesday, March 2, at 12:15 P.M. It will consist of prayer, Scripture reading, a short homily, an examination of conscience, and then face-to-face confession with more than ten priests stationed around the church. The entire service will last about fifty minutes. We hope you will be able to participate with us on Wednesday. Please note that the Penance Service will take the place of the 12:15 Mass on this day.
UPDATE ON FR. JIM PERLUZZI, O.F.M.
Some time ago we reported that Fr. Jim Perluzzi, one of the faithful confessors and members of the St. Peter’s staff, was in the hospital initially for pneumonia. With the advent of more tests, it was determined that he had suffered a minor stroke causing him to have difficulty swallowing with the consequence that he was aspirating his food. All of this led to the need to install a feeding tube to allow him to be fed directly into his stomach, a condition which would probably be for the rest of his life. He was eventually transferred to the Warren Barr nursing facility just north of Northwestern Hospital with the hope that he could be later transferred to Felician Village in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where a number of our friars live who need constant care in a professional setting. We had hoped that Fr. Jim could begin his stay there by the middle of February, but complications have necessitated him remaining in Chicago longer. As soon as these setbacks are overcome, he will be moving. We ask your continued prayers for Fr. Jim now and in the days ahead.
A CHUCKLE FOR LENT
As a butcher is shooing a dog from his shop, he sees $10.00 and a note in his mouth, reading, “10 lamb chops, please.”
Amazed, the butcher takes the money, puts a bag of chops in the dog’s mouth, and quickly closes the shop. He follows the dog and watches him wait for a green light, look both ways, and then trot across the road to a bus stop. The dog checks the timetable and sits on the bench. When a bus arrives, he walks around to the front and looks at the number, and then boards the bus. The butcher follows, dumbstruck.
As the bus travels out into the suburbs, the dog takes in the scenery. After a while, he stands on his back paws to push the “stop” button, and then the butcher follows him off.
The dog runs up to a house and drops his bag on the stoop. He goes back down the path, takes a big run, and throws himself against the door. He does this again and again. No answer, so he jumps on a wall, walks around the garden, beats his head against a window, jumps off, and waits at the front door. A big guy opens it and starts cursing and pummeling the dog.
The butcher runs up and screams at the guy, “What in the world are you doing? This dog’s a genius!” The owner responds, “Genius? No way! It’s the second time this week he’s forgotten his keys!”