I have been celibate for many years now, even from a time before I came back to the Catholic Church, and one would think I had therefore “made it” in my battle for purity of heart and mind, which goes beyond celibacy and is, in fact, one of the definitions given by Merriam-Webster for chastity. I haven’t. This became particularly clear to me lately when I found myself ( or rather allowed myself) the “luxury” of going online and seeking out not one but a few chats that were less than edifying or helpful to my Faith or to the faith of others. Although anonymous, and technically sitting home alone, in my heart, and this is what Jesus looks at, I committed adultery before our God.
Obviously one time is too many, and I will freely admit this has happened on not one but a number of occasions. In working on breaking what has been a stronghold in my life, I have looked within myself and up to God for answers to the root causes for what is ultimately a complete waste of time and energy. Below I have listed just a few of those roots, and while there are many more I am sure, these seem to be the ones that most often trigger that type of behavior within me. My strong hunch, and statistics bear this out unfortunately, is that I am far from alone. I have read (although statistics vary somewhat) that somewhere between 30 and 50% or more of clergy have viewed pornography or been involved in cyber sexual activity at some point during their ministerial lives. That is to say nothing of course of the Christian lay person whose statistics are higher still—however our priests and ministers are the leaders we each look to for spiritual guidance and help. But I think that the first step towards breaking a habit is admitting that we have one, and I therefore wish to do so today, and humbly ask for the prayers of all reading this. I will pray for you too, because as I say I am pretty sure others among us in the Christian world carry the same burdens of guilt and pain. So if my experiences can help someone, just perhaps they will have had some small meaning, even though they are most certainly not God’s best way of teaching us! In any case here is a list of points of pain which, at least for me, tend to push me towards sexual as well as other sin, and I might suggest you write your own list if this is indeed your struggle. Write it out, pray it through, and then confess it to God—and if you are a Catholic Christian please do so through your priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Believe me he is not surprised with anything you may tell him. He may even benefit from your honesty in fighting his own battles, especially if he is one of the 50%. Here goes:
- ANGER—I find this to be very high on my list of battles. I am not one to express anger a lot and most people see me as a calm and collected person. But it is there. Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us “26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” But if you do not express it, at least to the Lord in prayer, that will be exactly what you end up doing. We are not meant to stuff our anger in our back pockets or anywhere else. We need to find constructive ways to both recognize it and admit it, at least to ourselves, and then to God, who knows all about it anyway. It may be based on many things, such as disappointment in people around us, fear of pain or financial loss, or a hundred other things. But anger is very often based on fear, and fear, when given into, is in reality a lack of trust in a God who honestly knows best what we need at any given moment in life. I think this is on the top or near top of my list because it comes to us in so many ways, and even all of the rest of the triggers, at least on my list, tend to have anger mixed in somewhere.
- LONELINESS—I do not think of myself as a particularly lonely person, as I spend all of my days on the phone at work and evenings resting up for the next day. I also, at least in general, have a strong prayer life, both with daily Rosary as well as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and spontaneous prayer throughout the day, plus I at least attempt to take time for the Word of God each day too, either through daily Mass or the liturgical readings from Sacred Scripture from the Mass if I miss it for whatever reason. My life should therefore be utterly full of Jesus and people—but sometimes, truth be told, it just isn’t. And if I were married with 10 children I would find that to be true too. Those of you in that situation surely know what I am talking about. We all have dry periods when we simply do not feel fulfilled in our vocations, or understood by even those closest to us. And that resulting loneliness is a very real pain.
- EXHAUSTION—a wise priest once told me that physical exhaustion affects everything from moods to the ability to fight temptation effectively. We cannot always get the rest we need, nor the proper diet, but both should be high on our aims. Our bodies truly are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we owe it to God to give Him a good home. Simple and true.
- SEXUAL DESIRE—I am pushing 60 and I have not lost neither the ability nor the desire to procreate. What I have lost however is the proper situation in which to do so. Learning to give this over to Christ and lay it at the foot of the very Cross where a young, masculine and vital Jesus hung naked for each of us should give the needed graces to overcome. Jesus knew what sexual desire was, after all He co-created it with the Father and the Spirit. Very bluntly He felt every possible feeling, including overpowering sexual desire, while yet, as Hebrews tells us, remaining without sin. It is here that meditating on the crucified Christ and His Wounds, whether through the Stations of the Cross or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, can be of a very real help. “For the sake of His sorrowful passion…” I must be willing to lay my passions at His wounded feet. But I am the first to admit this is easier said than done. On the other hand so was Calvary.
- BOREDOM—why we as believers are ever bored is actually a mystery, but it does happen. Generally this occurs when we are attempting to escape responsibility. King David, the man after God’s own heart, failed Him in the most miserable way possible by staying back when he had been called to lead the armies of Israel in battle. Instead he spent the time creating his own “live porn show” by watching Bathsheba wash herself on her rooftop, and then let it lead to both adultery and murder. The consequences are always far more serious than we plan them to be. And there are no victimless crimes. Psalm 51, probably the most penitential passage in all of Sacred Scripture, was written by King David as a direct result of this dark, dark chapter from his otherwise bright and God-fearing life.
- “EASY WAY OUT”—Pleasure is not wrong but rather a gift from God. The path we go about to find it is more at issue here. The great Christian singing group of the 70s and 80s, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, had a line in one of their powerful songs which states “taking the easy way isn’t an easy way.” Truer words would be difficult to find. Life only becomes more burdensome when we add the weight of unconfessed sin and lack of repentance. There is nothing “easy” about it.
- TAKING CONTROL—to me this is one of the strangest yet most tantalizing reasons to fall—I frankly get a certain thrill, and not only sexually but in other ways too, when I sin by either the internet or other means, sexually. For one thing it is taboo—“stolen bread is sweet” as Proverbs tells us. I think it makes a person, at least this person, feel alive, vital, and powerful somehow, or perhaps an odd combination of all three. But it leaves us more powerless in the end. Remembering the end result before I begin is key here.
- UNBELIEF—as I mentioned earlier in the point about anger, it is very easy to somehow think that God does not know our best interests or perhaps at worst plans to withhold them from us for some sadistic reason known only to Him. The sin of Adam and Eve was exactly this, in that they had it all and did not believe that they did once Satan was able to convince them otherwise. Sacred Scripture is replete with such examples, such as Abraham being promised a son and then becoming impatient and impregnating Hagar instead of Sarah. The entire Middle East issues of today would have never occurred if only he had waited for the Lord in this one thing, thousands of years ago. God’s ways simply are not our ways. I forget this, and you as well, to our own peril and too often that of many others.
- PRAYERLESSNESS—essentially we all have 24 hours each day. The exact same period of time we use to tell ourselves that we do not have time to pray or get to Mass or whatever other duties God has put before us to do can easily become boredom, recklessness and finally abandon. I find that if I use my time to “do the do’s, I won’t have time to do the don’ts.” Yet that simple message seems to be a lesson I have to learn over and over, and do not always succeed at even still
- ANXIETY—it is not a sin to feel anxious, and sometimes we simply are seemingly mercilessly overwhelmed. That is particularly true of those of us who carry any form of generalized or other anxiety disorders. But all of us have had that feeling from time to time. However it is nonetheless a sin to use that condition, whether the temporary kind we all manifest occasionally, or if a permanent medical condition, as an excuse to relieve those feelings or numb them by false means, whether alcohol, drugs, TV, sexual escapism, or in any other way we might use to mask them. And sexual lust is very high on that list of temptations during anxious moments. Jesus gives us the answer here through St Paul in Philippians 4: 6-7 6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.But He is merciful enough not to leave it at simply telling us not to worry. Instead He tells us to let our requests “be made known” (and for the record He knows them already!) to the Lord, and then guarantees that the peace of God will fill us up. Note He does not say how long that process may take, but He gives us the assurance that He will keep us, if we allow Him to, on the right path during the interim. We block our own chance for peace when we run from the God of peace.
Finally I think we owe it to others, if we can and if we are able to do so without becoming unduly tempted again, and at least on a few occasions I have actually been able to eventually minister to those I first met in a sexual chat room or other dubious website. I surely do not as a general rule recommend that form of evangelization, but if we are able to do so without it becoming a further occasion of sin to us, and if we can, through God’s grace, bring some small blessing to someone we have previously sinned against or led into sin, we owe them that much I think. If nothing else we absolutely owe them our prayers of reparation. And none of these points above are a “cure.” Remaining close to Christ and the Sacraments are the real and ultimate answer in controlling ourselves. But sometimes we need to take other concrete steps as well. Sexual sin, at least for me, and at least in my mind and heart, is an ongoing day by day battle. I once heard a priest share openly that he had struggled in similar ways for a full 20 years and was finally just now finding the path of victory. While admitting it to others might be embarrassing, it would be far worse to pretend we are perfect when we are so far from it. That is why I write this.
 Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Eph 4:25–28). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.
 Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Php 4:6–7). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.