Like most men who survived their twenties, I was a regular consumer of pornography. Not occasionally, and not compulsively, but somewhere between the two extremes. It’s the white sugar of the internet — cheap, accessible, pervasive, and empty.
Being Catholic didn’t help — at least not initially. I came into the Church at 18 in the late nineties when the internet was becoming a staple for college students (though I still had a landline phone in my dorm room, and a flip cell phone for emergencies). I went to Confession regularly, but habits and compulsions can be hard to break.
Pornography doesn’t have to be a part of a young Catholic man’s life, but it often is. It is reported that more than two thirds of Christian men view pornography at least once a month; a scourge, though a common one. It is the Romans 7 of the struggle to eschew sin and live the virtues: “What I hate, I do.” (Rom 7:15).
Of course it’s better to never let it into your life or consciousness, but for many (like myself) who had a B.C. and A.D. period of their lives, those visceral images and memories can try to stay long after they are no longer welcomed anymore. And often, one finds the scripture playing out:
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Lk 11:24-26).
We can sometimes attribute to will power and natural means what belongs to grace, and this can be the case in deliverance from such particular sins: we are healed and delivered supernaturally from what we cannot, ultimately, heal or deliver ourselves from, naturally. Sometimes it is a long slog of cooperation of the will with grace, and sometimes we are delivered in an instant from what binds us. Either way, grace can and does have the power to “deliver us from the evil one,” and restore us to newness of life.
The photographic memories of pornography can be pernicious and persistent, but we are not doomed to be bound by them forever. In exercising the will to “train the eyes” and “beat the body into submission” (1 Cor 9:27), we starve what we previously fed, and what subsisted on our attention.
When I got married at 30 and left such viewing of things behind, time and the healing of memories by God’s grace made sexual purity and chastity possible. This becomes incredibly important in a marriage, specifically, because you don’t want to be subject to transference (having relations with your spouse while thinking of someone else), which is what our Lord warns us about — that is, adultery of the heart (Mt 5:27-28).
As a matter of justice, we relinquish our rights to our bodies as our own in taking on “one flesh” and have no right to give away and squander what is no longer ours to give to one to whom they do not belong.
The healing of memories in this context relates to images we have more or less allowed into our consciousness by acts of the will. There are both natural and supernatural forces at play here–when we commit mortal sin, we are left ‘spiritually exposed’ to forces contra to God. This can not only darken the intellect and weaken the will, but kill the life of grace in the soul, making us subject to stronger forces that want to keep us bound and chained.
But the natural forces of compulsion and habit have interplay here as well. There can be the painful kind of psychological withdrawl that comes from trying to let go or leave behind something that has a hold on us. One may not receive the same kind of ‘pleasure’ from viewing such images as before, but the thought of abandoning them altogether (as Augustine recounts in Book 8 of Confessions) is painful and we will play psychological games to keep from going through that.
When one leaves pornography behind and works on retraining the mind and will to live without it, there is both a physiological and a psychological response. Our spirits are being cleansed and brought back into right order, but the Devil is fighting extra hard to play tricks to keep us bound to those things we think we cannot live without.
The healing of memories is not bound just to issues of pornography
The healing of memories is not bound just to issues of pornography. Many I know who work in deliverance ministry note that things like trauma, betrayal, and anger play a part in the things we hold on to that can keep us bound.
In fact, unforgiveness is often the root cause for the need for deliverance from diabolic oppression and possession. This is why Confession is even more efficacious than an exorcism; in exercising the will and choosing to forgive those who have wronged us (and yes, forgiving ourselves as well), we are able to accept Christ’s free gift of forgiveness and be freed from the chains that bind us.
We must not dredge up our memories–whether the flies of lust or the mire of resentment and unforgiveness–but must cooperate with grace, and not return to our sin like a “dog to it’s vomit,” as is written in Proverbs.
For the Devil and those who do his bidding, work “by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:18-22).
A friend who is active in deliverance ministry and whose spiritual director is an exorcist, told me that he advises people who struggle with lust to offer their resistance and subsequent suffering for a thousand others who struggle against lust. In this matter. If one is successful in resisting temptation in this way, their suffering is offered to others and puts the Devil in a conundrum: if he continues to besiege them and they resist his advances, more souls are sanctified in the process. Eventually, he leaves them alone because of the collateral damage.
We must remember the scripture: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee.” (James 4:7).
We will never be completely free from temptation in this life, for the devil will fight for our souls to our dying breath. But we have a force greater than the power of darkness, the Son of God Himself who died to set us free from our past, and bring us into the future glory of the Kingdom.
Remember: “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (Jn 8:36).
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- Prayer to St Mary Magdalene & Our Lord