My House Awareness Sunday ~ October 26, 2014
Diocese of Columbus
Reflection on Today’s Gospel in Light of the Issues Related to Pornography
Matthew 22:34-40: Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In today’s Gospel reading, Christ puts the entire law and all the scriptures in the context of love. Everything hinges upon these two commandments to love. You can imagine what a shock that was for the Pharisee who came to him and posed this question. He was a scholar of the law and no doubt was expecting to get into an academic debate with Jesus over the intricacies of the law. But Jesus cuts through all the pretense and calculations of his questioner and goes to the heart of it all. Love is what matters most.
Jesus is not talking about love the way we sometimes do these days. Love is not fuzzy, feel-good platitudes. Loving God with all your heart and all your mind is not merely about having religious sentiments. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not about thinking nice thoughts. Love is not a feeling, and it’s not a sentiment. Love is an act of the will; it’s a choice that we make.
This Sunday is Sexual Integrity Awareness weekend within the Diocese of Columbus. Pornography (alternative text: inappropriate images) and the behavior that generally accompanies its use have become pervasive in our culture. The untold damage this has wrought upon families and individuals is truly tragic. The Gospel provides us a wonderful opportunity to look at how love for God and love of neighbor can and should influence our attitudes and actions in this area of sexual integrity.
Pornography against love for God
Let’s take a look at love for God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Pornography profoundly damages us on all three of those fronts.
First, pornography damages our mind. Advanced medical studies in recent years have shown that when a person views pornographic material, it has a physical effect on the brain similar to when a drug addict takes drugs. It literally rewires one’s brain to require ever increasing amounts and ever stronger experiences, leading to full-on addiction. It’s not hard to imagine how a person whose mind is filled with sinful images will not have room for God, for thinking about the things of God. In such a state, how will he be able to see God when he’s reaching out to them? How can he see God’s actions in his life and in the lives of those around him?
Pornography damages our souls. When one engages in pornography, not only does that person degrade and dishonor himself as a temple of the Holy Spirit, but he also essentially tells God, “I don’t really care about the dignity and beauty with which you created this other person; I don’t really care that she is your daughter just as I am your son. To me that person is just an object that I can use as I wish.” We begin to abuse God’s creation, using it as it was never intended.
Imagine your grandfather gives you precious family heirloom at Christmas. You value the gift itself, and you also value and respect your grandfather who freely chose to give it to you. You would protect and care for that heirloom with special care, in part to show him the respect and love you have for him. How differently we treat God and the creation that he has freely given us! Every person is one of God’s creatures, a dearly loved son or daughter.
Pornography against love for neighbor
Relationships between spouses are often challenged and stressed when pornography is discovered in the home. But those who have a problem with pornography need to realize that the damage is being done well before it is discovered. By engaging in that activity, one intentionally holds back part of oneself that should be entirely and exclusively given to one’s spouse. Complete and open self-giving are the keystones of marriage, and using pornography is a direct contradiction to those values. It’s a lack of honesty with the person one should be entirely open with.
It is worth pointing out that this secrecy is a double-edged sword. This secrecy which is often used with the excuse that “no one knows and no one is getting hurt”, can also be what is holding those very people back from getting help. Many men have shared that they hesitate getting the support and assistance they need because they don’t want their spouse to know. Those of us around people who may be afflicted by pornography –especially spouses – should be supportive of them finding counseling and support. The process of recognizing this pattern of behavior in someone we love most definitely will be painful, but the alternative of letting the disease fester is far worse. We must call it out for what it is and seek the help needed to overcome it. It’s not impossible, but it’s nearly impossible without help. This openness and support will no doubt lead more men and families to seek help from others to solve the problem.
Men are Protectors, Providers and Prayer Warriors
Traditional Christian fatherhood has often been portrayed as comprised of three main roles: Protector, Provider, Prayer Warrior. Fathers are prayer warriors because they are called to be the spiritual heads of their families just as Christ is the head of the Church; they are called to pray for their family and all of their spiritual needs. Fathers are called to provide the physical and spiritual needs of their wife and children, and they are called to protect them from evils both physical and spiritual.
God does not leave us alone in the battle
The good news is that God does not leave us alone in our battle against temptation. God’s readiness to rescue us is illustrated by a true-life story in the aftermath of a severe earthquake that devastated the country of Armenia, on December 7, 1988 – killing an estimated 25,000 people. “In one small town, just after the earthquake, a father rushed to his son’s school only to find that the school had been flattened. There was no sign of life.
But he had no thought of turning back. He had often told his son, “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you when you need me!”
Though his prospects appeared hopeless, the father began feverishly removing rubble from where he believed his son’s classroom had been. Other forlorn parents only wailed hopelessly…”My son!” or “My daughter!” Some told the father to go home, that there was no chance that any of the pupils could be alive. To which he always replied, “I made my son a promise that I’d be there for him anytime he needed me. I must continue to dig.”
Courageously, he worked alone; no one volunteered to help him. He simply had to know for himself: “Is my boy alive or is he dead?” With strength and endurance beyond himself, the faithful, loving father continued to dig…for 8 hours…12…24…36 hours. Then in the 38th hour, as he heaved away a heavy piece of rubble, he heard voices. “Armand!” he screamed.
A child’s voice responded: “Dad! It’s me…Armand!” Then, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved. You promised you would always be there for me! You did it, Dad!”
This is how God cares for all of us, his children. At times we can feel trapped under the heavy rubble of our sins, crushed by the weight of our bad choices and addictive behavior. Yet, God is always there, trying to pull each stone away and provide us a path to the freedom. His forgiveness is eternal, and the strength of his grace is real – if only we let him into our lives.
He offers us forgiveness through the sacrament of confession to heal us and give us strength. If we struggle with a pattern of sin, let us continually go back to him and ask for forgiveness. He is waiting for us with open arms.
We also have available to us many wonderful programs of support and guidance. My House ministry provides confidential support groups and counseling for men and women struggling with addiction to pornography. There are filtering and accountability software programs that can keep us honest with ourselves and our loved ones about the choices that we make online. The help is there, let’s take advantage to heal the wounds and get out from underneath the rubble.
As we continue the celebration of the Mass, let’s ask the saints to pray for us as we strive to live with greater love for God and love for our neighbor. May St. Joseph who protected Jesus as a child and Mary his wife, show us what it means to be a true Protector, Provider and Prayer Warrior. Through his intercession may God grant us all the strength and courage to resist temptation, to recognize our faults, and to seek forgiveness and help when we struggle. We ask all this through Jesus Christ Our Lord.