Cancer

medical-wasteSo I just deleted some hundred gigabytes of porn (probably that much — I didn’t count).

At least, what counts as porn for me. What I use as porn. In fact, photos of “models,” who blur the lines between “porn” and “art.”

But the important thing is that it’s gone.

It had been growing like a cancer for the past six or seven months. Even when I quit, I couldn’t bring myself to excise it. And it was always there, malignantly, ready to welcome me back the moment I slipped.

But it’s gone now. Lord, have mercy.

I feel a release. But I still have something I need to get rid of. Something not inherently bad, but nonetheless pathological: quite a stash of photos of pretty girls from Facebook. I am embarrassed to say how many or how much. It serves me no good purpose. It is sick to have it — how could I explain, as a man of God, having such a hoard? It is a constant temptation to fashion evil dolls — which, in fact, is the only real end it has ever served.

It is masturbatory. And even when it’s not, it fulfills the same need the porn does: to feel a sense of intimacy with someone, a connection, even if a false one. And the reason why I can’t delete them is because I do feel connected. I have grown attached to these girls. They are my “friends.”

I managed, after falling two too many times, to extricate myself from the “friendship” of my models. May this release be permanent and forever. May I find release from the rest of this, too, and when I return to this computer again, put an end to these “friendships,” too.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us

St. Maria Goretti (painting)
This painting is nice, not making her look so Anglo like so many I’ve seen — but this is after the actress who played Maria, not what she really looked like. Which I guess is okay. It’s the person I care about, not her appearance.

Today is the saint’s day of one of my dearest saints, St. Maria Goretti, who along with St. Agnes, I invoke every day. She is a modern virgin martyr, a patron of chastity, teenage girls, and crime victims, and a witness and model of purity and forgiveness.

Maria was eleven years old, a poor Italian farm girl, when in 1902 Alessandro Serenelli, a nineteen-year-old farm hand and neighbor, tried to rape her. Alessandro had approached Maria a number of times before seeking sexual favors, but she had always refused; he had tried to rape her at least once before. This time when she refused him, he became enraged. She fought him, imploring him not to do what he wanted to do, a mortal sin, insisting she would rather die than submit. In the end, Alessandro stabbed her eleven times.

St. Maria Goretti (photograph)
This is believed to be a photograph of Maria, one of only two that are known.

Before she died some twenty hours later, Maria forgave her attacker, and said she hoped to see him in heaven. Alessandro Serenelli was sentenced to life in prison for her murder, a sentence later commuted to thirty years. At first unrepentant, he told the local bishop a number of years later that Maria had visited him in a dream, giving him lilies, which burned away immediately in his hands. After his release, Alessandro visited Maria’s mother and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, stating that Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed and she could do no less, and they attended Mass together. Alessandro reportedly prayed to Maria every day, referring to her as “my little saint.” He attended her canonization in 1950. Later, he became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living the rest of his life as a gardener in their monastery. He died peacefully in 1970.

I pray every day not only that Maria pray for me in my quest for chastity, but that I might be able to forgive those who have hurt me, to release my hurts and wounds to the Lord, that He might heal me, and to forgive most of all myself.

Forgetting

jumping off a tall buildingI’m back on the wagon. This is the ninth day.

I realize now, looking back on the past month when I was on the ropes, that I completely forgot something crucial. The devil’s lies are a toxin that paralyzes, a drug that makes me complacent and forgetful and pliable. And I forgot the whole reason I am here, why I am on the road I am on, and where I am going. The reason I was enslaved for so many years as a Protestant is because I didn’t know; I didn’t understand; and then I forgot again.

In the Protestant mind, at least the evangelical mind with notions of “eternal security,” all sins are already forgiven by Christ’s finished work on the cross. Looking back, I don’t understand how this theology ever worked or what it was based on. But Scripture is very clear that God will judge us according to our deeds (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:8, 16; 1 Peter 1:17, etc.) and that those who work iniquity will receive no reward (Romans 2:8; Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 15:50; Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 21:8, 22:15, etc.). These verses and ideas are unpalatable to the evangelical mind — surely a loving God, who saves us by His grace, would not allow us to be condemned! Surely we are saved by our faith alone, and our “works” do not matter at all! But they read Scripture very selectively, submitting the words they do not like to the words they like, when we must read Scripture as a whole.

Protestants accuse Catholics of “works’ righteousness” for taking Scripture at its word. No Catholic believes that our “works” can save us, but certainly our works can damn us. Salvation is Christ’s alone to give, by His grace; but it is ours alone to lose, by our sin, by willfully rejecting God. And that’s what I forgot. My mindset had reverted to my old, Protestant one — that God loved me and would have mercy on me no matter what, and that my sin did not matter at all. Sure, it was wrong; sure, it disappointed God; but it didn’t really matter, since Christ’s cross overcame everything.

But it does matter. Not only in that it hurts my Lord — that it was my very sins for which He was crucified — but that it hurts me. In addition to all the pain and spiritual harm it brings, it puts my soul in jeopardy. Sure, I will always be forgiven; but His grace is there to heal me and help me, to allow me to grow and stand, not to enable me to continue in this vicious cycle. To willfully choose to sin, when He gives me the capacity to move past it, is exactly what makes this sin grave matter (1 John 1:9). The fact of my addiction is a mitigating factor — thank God for Bishop, who reminds me of God’s mercy. But to willfully continue to choose to sin is no different than repeatedly walking to the edge of a building and jumping off, expecting that God will always save me before I hit the ground.

I get up and do it again

confessionSomething I noticed over the past month, when I was on the ropes:

When I was a new Catholic, I had a tendency to view the cycle of grace and forgiveness in an all-or-nothing fashion. That was very Protestant of me. For a Protestant, one is either “saved” or “lost.” Salvation happens at the moment when one accepts Christ, and then that salvation can never truly be lost — at least in the evangelical conception of things I had before my revolution. One could “backslide” — a state that wasn’t very well defined in my head — but that wasn’t quite the same as the idea of “losing one’s salvation.” In the Catholic view of things, in which the Christian can fall from graceĀ through mortal sin, and only regain it through the Sacrament of Confession — I tended, at first, to suppose, once I’d fallen, that there wasn’t really any point in stopping; that since I couldn’t receive absolution until I could go to confession on Sunday, I might as well “enjoy” my sin until then. It was so much an echo of the way I lived for years as a Protestant: wallowing in my sin until I could return to church and “get saved” again; or worse, for the years I was on the bottom, feeling that, since Jesus had already forgiven my every sin, there was really no point in striving for holiness at all, in making any effort to quit my sin.

But lately something has been remarkably different. Even though I still so often buy into the lie that I “enjoy” it — some part of me does — I realize, when the ecstasy has passed, the error of what I’ve done, and how unhappy it in fact has made me. And I stop. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Because I know I’ve screwed up, and don’t want to screw up anymore. Because I love God with everything I am, and I know my actions have hurt me and disappointed my Savior. And I long for purity, for sanctity. And even though it may yet be a few days until I receive absolution — I have no desire to continue. And even though I might get up in the morning and fall again — I just as well might get up, as I did this past weekend, and stand.

The Church teaches that perfect contrition — the kind that arises from a love for God above all else and a genuine sorrow for one’s sins — not only remits venial sins, but can even obtain forgiveness of mortal sins, if it includes the firm resolution to go to the Sacrament of Confession as soon as possible (CCC 1252). And even if I didn’t know that, I think I could feel it: because when I do feel that true contrition, when I do get up even from my squalor and resolve to stop and to try again — I find a new font of grace beginning to well up in me; the beginnings of my restoration.