Brothers, fathers, men, dudes:

I cannot begin to tell you how many articles there are on fighting porn-addiction. Thankfully I probably don’t have to. If you’ve looked, you’ve seen them. Groups, Christian or otherwise, are flaring up like wildfire trying to provide aid and accountability. They offer journaling, web-filtering, ‘battle calendars’ and all of the latest scientific and psychological methods for controlling and adjusting addictive behaviors.

Now don’t get me wrong – these things are useful, to an extent. They provide men with knowledge and tools, but they usually neglect the heart of the issue, and if they touch on it at all they do it on accident, not by design.

Allow me to explain. When I was a younger man I spent a significant amount of time looking for quotes on chastity to motivate me to virtuous action. I read the pious (and true) quotes about the necessity of prayer, the Sacraments, and devotions like the rosary. I heard the clichés (still true) about how “real men” love. But none of it really struck me. It just reminded me that I wasn’t measuring up. There was however, one quote that really captured my imagination. It was written by St. Josemaria Escriva in his book, The Way. He wrote, “To defend his purity, St. Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond…You…, what have you done?”

Woah. I mean, just woah. What an image! I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think about this quote when passing by frozen duck ponds on my way to class or when lopping off whitethorn while clearing trails in the High Sierras. These men – these Saints – took their purity seriously and went well beyond the steps of setting up an online web-filter. Granted, the circumstances are a little different today, but let’s not dismiss the wisdom of the Church just because the Church Fathers couldn’t get Wi-Fi.

For a long time that is exactly what I did – I was inspired by the general notion of a medieval monk doing the polar plunge for purity, but I didn’t take it seriously. Come on! It was more like when Jesus told people to cut off their members if they cause you to sin. Strong language, but certainly not literal language (Dear God, I hope not…) However, I think there is a principle here that is easily forgotten. A baby that gets thrown out with the figurative bath water – if you will – and that is the principle of penance.

We get a small dose of this in Lent, but let’s be honest, even our Lenten practices have waned mediocre. (Chocolate? Facebook? …Oh the humanity!) But what about real penance? St. Jerome, often pictured with a stone in one hand with which he is said to have beaten himself daily, understood the importance of penance. Contemporary readers of Jerome are quick to judge his radical approach at tempering his passions. They act as if penance that you can feel (pulling a “Jerome”) is a sin against the “virtue” of “patience with self”… Many joke about the anecdotal story of an anonymous pope who supposedly said, “You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you.” Ha ha…ha. We modern men understand it as a demonstration of wit. But take a second to re-read it, and consider: what if it were true? What if that stone was all that kept Jerome from falling out of sanctity? What if that stone were all that kept Jerome tethered safely to Christ as the storms of his passions raged? You do well to carry that stone…

So what? Do we need to beat ourselves with stones? Not necessarily, but don’t think that I’m backing down on my claim here. I think the most apparent and most overlooked tool that we have as we battle for our purity and virtue is the real practice of penance. The stuff that hurts. The stuff we can feel. How about only cold-water showers or no television, movies, or internet? How about no secular music, no meat, no snacks, and nothing sweet? How about no alcohol, soda, or sports drinks? How about getting up early – really early – to get a holy hour of prayer in before going to Mass? How about all of the above?

Let me be clear: I am not advocating for some form of Jansenism. Neither am I advocating that anyone submit themselves to penance that actually harms beyond the point of repair. Check with your spiritual director or father or brothers and don’t allow yourselves to be overcome with pride. Yes it is the Lord that brings freedom. Yes it is grace that we need. That said, allow yourselves to submit to self-denial. This opens a path for grace to enter. Gain control of your will again, so that you can exercise its use for Christ. Learn to rein in your passions by tightening their leash and show your soul what life is like when you have only the Lord to lean on. Carry your cross. Pick up your stone. And remember: You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you.

[N.B. The practice of penance goes hand in hand with other virtues and is nothing without charity. The Fathers (even Jerome) led integrated lives and their penance was part of a whole discipline and relationship with the Lord. In the future I will elaborate on the latter points in an effort to edify and aid you, my brothers.]
10 18 2015
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  • You have not fought temptation to the point of bleeding, St. Paul says (I'm paraphrasing). For some of us, confession becomes a revolving door and we begin to abuse the sacrament going back to it again and again, but not advancing in our work against the temptations that surround us daily. There is a literal flood of temptation almost every day that surrounds us in this pornified culture. Sensuality is mainstream and self satisfaction and self pleasure is in most cases, the ideal, the goal of happiness - perceived, yet not achieved really. We long for the temporal and not the eternal. True penance is needed to thwart temptation. Sexual temptations turns us inward. Christ wants us to take the good desires that we have and turn them upwards to him. There is something to say about accountability though. St. Paul exhorts us to confess to one another. In some monasteries, brothers will do community confession of sorts, where they confess their wrong doings to the entire community. How humbling! Sometimes we can't always be forthwith with a priest, but we can be with a friend. I'm not saying to not go to confession with a priest, but to regularly share your struggles with someone you trust. St. Paul struggled too. "I do that which i do not want to do and that which I want to do, I don't." You're not alone! Share in that struggle with someone you trust! Find a good confessor and stay with them. Their counsel is that of the Lord's counsel and can bring you to healing!

  • Tevaughn Maxwell Alleyne

    This is absolutely true. Far to often we compromise based on selfish desires and try to sway the word of God to benefit the foolishness we indulge in. Personally, I even tried penance but again, due to inherit sin and selfish desires I stayed conforming to "ok i will start monday" or "ok i will start month end" etc.. when in reality it DOES NOT matter on the timing you start, but just starting. Though again my selfish thoughts are trying to stop me from starting, I will start with giving up something very important to me in order to get closer to My Father and Dig DEEPER in my journey to live like him #dab

  • Mario

    My pal Andy told me long ago that he figured out how to avoid speeding tickets. Eager to know the answer, as if it were some form of secret, I asked him how. He replied, "Don't exceed the speed limit."

    Applying the same logic to this problem, I have been able to avoid problems with pornography by not looking at it.

    Oh, sure, as an adolescent, I never hesitated to peruse. I thought as a child and did as a child, as St. Paul says. But when I became a man, I realized this was a childish, moreover a juvenile thing, and so. I put it aside. It's all the same, anyway, if I recall.

    Now a happily married man and the father of five beautiful children, I thank God for my friend's advice on speeding.

    • Tevaughn Maxwell Alleyne

      PROUD OF YOU MY BROTHER !

  • Jonathan

    Great article. practicing self-denial is so important for some many reasons. Especially, in dealing with sins of the flesh. If you can't resist the urge to eat a piece of candy, how are you going to fight satan? We still can't do it without God's grace, but we also shouldn't expect him to do all the work for us.

  • Greg

    Nice article. Agree penance in the form of self flagellation is a good way to keep a leash on our sinful flesh. One modern way of doing this is hitting the gym - hard. Good and healthy way to tire you out and spending a couple hours daily away from the computer.