Apples

cranach-adam-and-eve-1533The twenty-third day.

In this month’s Magnificat there is a reflection on charity as a fruit of the Spirit, contrasting it with the apple of original sin. At the beginning of this month, when I was caught in such a desperate struggle, its words became a rallying cry: What conquers sin and pride in our lives is not mere obedience but love-filled self-surrender to God. No one can avoid sin simply by willing it. The only way to avoid sin is to love, to have our lives transformed by acts of charity that overflow into the lives of others.

Lately I’ve been involved in some heated and unpleasant arguments with atheists on Facebook. Some people seem to enjoy argument, but it has only ever left me feeling bruised. Despite all my hardness, deep down I have a tender inside — and it’s that tenderness that the Lord has been striving to restore. It’s when I am loving others, not fighting, that I feel the most fulfilled, the closest to God. And I do believe that love is my path to healing.

I prayed this morning: Father, give me a tender heart, so that everything I say is full of tenderness and love, never anger or hate or polemic — that even my criticism is full of your love and mercy, and may always lead back to you.

No sooner had I prayed that than somebody responded to an apologetic argument I’d left on another blog. I will respond in charity, I said.

I checked out the person’s blog solely to find out if he was a boy or girl, to know whether to respond to my “brother” or “sister.” But what I found was an eyeful. I hadn’t read very far in the very first post before I came upon quite an explicit description of a casual sexual encounter.

I felt my cheeks flush, my heart burning inside me. I’m going to fall, I thought. I am so vulnerable. But I stopped. I didn’t have to fall. It was my choice. And I chose to hold on to my Christ.

I did respond in charity to my brother. I don’t know what was up with that person or with his blog, and I didn’t read any further to find out. But it did cause me to think, and led me to write this post:

In that moment I thought, I miss that. Will I ever have that again? And then I thought, Do I need that? Do I really even want that? My struggle for so long has been one that confused love and intimacy with sex and nudity: but I’m finally beginning to realize, I think, through a willingness to give all of that up, how seductively false those misconceptions are.

Pornography, nudity unbridled from true intimacy, will never fulfill. The parade of hundreds of women, not one of whom I’ll ever have a true connection with, is only a cruel mockery of the longing for that intimacy and of the unalienable beauty and dignity of the human person. Casual sex, sexuality unbridled from love, will never fulfill. It only hitches my heart to a random tractor, to have a precious bit of substance ripped from the socket, until there can be no real attachment there at all.

So I give all of that up, consciously, voluntarily. Just as I’m giving up my free passage on the Internet, I give up my freedom to consume myself with those false gods. The analogue is a sacrament: my giving up the Internet in submission to my parents is like a vow of obedience in submission to a superior, to God Himself. My giving up pornography is a vow of chastity. As the Catechism teaches, The [evangelical counsels] are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity. The aim of the counsels is to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if it is not contrary to it (CCC 1973). Where I am now calls for strong medicine. Even if having a relationship with somebody, someday, is not contrary to charity, I give up the pursuit of that now, for the kingdom, that the Lord can birth charity in me, that I might be healed. Lord my God, fill me up with your charity!

A blessed exile

Goodness. Has it really been October since I posted?

Yes, for a few months there I was almost gone: first being consumed with a project for school, and then, when that was gone, coming the closest to drowning in my sin that I ever have. I found myself in a vacuum, the house that had been emptied and swept clean to leave only a depressing and purposeless void, all too welcoming to my demons.

And there was fear: a visceral and palpable fear at the darkness I saw ahead. What now? What was God calling me to do? So often I had considered the priesthood or religious life; thought that might be my vocation; but how could that be, when I’ve been consumed with the longing for a girlfriend my whole life and addicted to pornography? Or was I called to be married, to be a husband and father, as I so often dreamed when I was younger? But how could that be, when I’m hopelessly shy and a perennial loser at the dating game; when my addiction had all but ruined the prospects of ever having a healthy relationship? Not seeing light in either tunnel, I resigned myself to the rising waters.

And then, my parents, thanks be to God, intervened. Twice I made a show of giving up control; twice I made excuses and held on to some avenue of escape. The third time I surrendered. So many times I’ve tried to surrender to God all by myself, only to seize the reins again in panic when the going got hard. I resented the restrictions they put on me for my protection, sought to circumvent them — am I not an adult? — but this time, I voluntarily submitted. Now I am a willing exile.

I’ve given up the Internet almost completely; I have no access from any PC, except when they are home and awake. I continue to have limited access via my phone and iPad, which so far has not been a temptation to wander. So much of my addiction is wrapped up in the hoarding impulse, to have and control, and I cannot do that from this little lifeboat. Now, three weeks in, the temptation is rising again. I know that I could go looking — yesterday, even, I found myself on a lustful hunt to find a pretty model I saw on a magazine cover, to know who she was and have pictures of her — but I stopped myself. I confessed my sin. I am still standing. I know that there is an avenue still open — but I want to be strong. I want to choose right, to know I could and choose not to. I want to prove worthy of my parents’ trust this time. It is hard, it is a pain, having no window to the outside world save this little lifeboat, but I am glad to have at least that, and I want to keep it and not abuse it.

Today will be 22 days. Yesterday I briefly thought, well, twenty days was a nice run of it; I could give in and not be ashamed — but no. I want to please my Lord. I want to spare the grief of my parents, who are so worried for me. I want to have a future apart from this.