By Fr. Anthony Aneke
Most times in life, we are desperate for solutions. At such times, we look for quick fixes. We want the imaginary magic wand to work on us. We want it, in fact, here and now. But the hard truth is: there are no magical solutions to life. There is no magical solution to healing the darkness and scars in our souls caused by internet pornography. We should refrain from such fascinating solutions. It is the same magic-like search that brought us to the fascination of internet pornography.
Fr. J. Brian Bransfield makes it clear that magic purports to be instantaneous, without effort or cost, and alleges to bring about or cause exactly what we want in the moment. For many, the tapping of the keyboard amounts to a form of technological incantation to conjure forth what we believe to be a quick fix. Sexually explicit images can appear on the computer screen almost instantly, with little physical effort and apparently low financial cost, and excite the sexual urge with seemingly no commitment. But this is the curse of magic and illusion: instead of freeing the user, internet pornography enslaves the user. Instead of bringing relief, it imposes a burden. Instead of satisfying the user, it makes the user even hungrier. Instead of the vigorous promotion and protection of the sanctity of human sexuality, the user is weighed down in sins against chastity and human dignity, instead of deepening the relation between sex and marriage, Internet Pornography severs this relation, reducing sex to using the self and the image of another for pleasure. Love is excluded. The magic becomes a curse.
Healing the wounds of Internet pornography is a journey. It is not just any journey but a Spiritual journey. As our guide, we will take Jesus in his meeting and conversation with the anonymous woman of Samaria. Here, Jesus encounters the woman of Samaria who has suffered much at the hands of many men. The words of Jesus become the compass that guides those who suffer to come to the front of healing virtue. Although Jesus is our guide, he is also the destination. In him, are all the treasures of grace and virtue.
The story of the woman at the well is one of the most well known in the Bible; many Christians can easily tell a summary of it. On its surface, the story chronicles ethnic prejudice and a woman shunned by her community. But take look deeper, and you’ll realize it reveals a great deal about Jesus’ character. Above all, the story, which unfolds in John 4:1-40, suggests that Jesus is a loving and accepting God, and we should follow his example.
The story begins as Jesus and his disciples travel from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north. To make their journey shorter, they take the quickest route, through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s well while his disciples went to the village of Sychar, roughly a half-mile away, to buy food. It was about noon, the hottest part of the day, and a Samaritan woman came to the well at this inconvenient time to draw water.
Jesus Meets the Woman at the Well
During his encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus broke three Jewish customs. Firstly, he spoke to her despite the fact that she was a woman. Second, she was a Samaritan woman, and the Jews traditionally despised Samaritans. And, third, he asked her to get him a drink of water, although using her cup or jar would have made him ceremonially unclean.
Jesus’ behavior shocked the woman at the well. But as if that weren’t enough, he told the woman he could give her “living water” so that she would never thirst again. Jesus used the words living water to refer to eternal life, the gift that would satisfy her soul’s desire only available through him. At first, the Samaritan woman did not fully understand Jesus’ meaning.
Although they had never met before, Jesus revealed that he knew she’d had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband. He had her full attention!
Jesus Reveals Himself to the Woman
As Jesus and the woman discussed their views on worship, the woman voiced her belief that the Messiah was coming. Jesus answered, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26)
As the woman began to grasp the reality of her encounter with Jesus, the disciples returned. They too were shocked to find him speaking to a woman. Leaving behind her water jar, the woman returned to town, inviting the people to “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:29)
Points of Interest from the Woman at the Well Story
- It was necessary that Jesus pass through Samaria, not for geographic reasons, but for this woman and her salvation.
- This woman had suffered much at the hands of many men. Jesus will address this later in the parable: “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband”.
- Her history may indicate the reason she approaches the well at this time. Having had five husbands, she most likely has a reputation in the town. This reputation has made her somewhat of an outcast, and an object of scorn. Ordinarily, people come to the well in the early morning or later evening when the temperature is cooler. Yet, she comes at noon, when the heat is unforgiving. She would rather endure the scorching heat than the painful glares of her neighbours.
- That noon becomes the perfect timing for Jesus. It is at noon when he will mount his cross and cry out in his loneliness and thirst. He is here for her in her loneliness. He thirsts here at this noon hour, as he will on the cross at the noon hour. He asks for a drink (Jn.4:7b). He longs to fulfill the mission of salvation.
Like the Samaritan woman, Jesus the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, follows us to rescue us from our painful places as well. Many faithful Christians, and many well meaning people of good will, find themselves isolated in the lonely, scorching heat of the effects of Internet pornography and cybersex. Even in this contemporary moment of pain, Jesus sit down as the teacher. He comes to us where we have turned to a place of indulgence. He comes to us in the time of our intensity and embarrassment. He wants to save us, to begin a new narrative in our life and to heal us as he draws us closer to him to follow these steps.
EMBRACING THE TRUTH
It was a moment of realization for the Samaritan woman when Jesus says to her: “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18). This is the truth she knew all along, but never wanted to hear. This is why she avoided everyone and came to the well at midday. This moment of realization is hard, but it brings a clarity that is crucial. Jesus indicates the woman has spoken the truth. She has emerged from denial of glimpse and gauge the true nature of her circumstances, situation, and actions. When the charade is over, the healing can start.
To consciously accept that we have a problem that seriously affects our life and environment is an act of courage. Jesus leads us to the realization and acceptance that we have an internet pornography addiction and thus, we decide to leave it behind. Like the Samaritan woman, we should be brave to acknowledge the fact that we have a problem that affects us and our loved ones. In that realization, we should make a decision to put an end to this vice. The grace of God will lead you.
THE RAPPORT OF FREEWILL AND HOPE: A prerequisite
Making the decision to confront our internet pornography addiction is our free choice. No one will decide for us. No one can do the realization inner work for us. Your counselors cannot do it. The practice of the virtues is crucial to healing. The theological virtues of faith, hope and love, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance are the path to healing. Often, we believe that God will love us only after we have somehow fixed ourselves. In this, we even attempt to build God into our illusion.
When we are messed up with internet pornography, the only thing left to do is to hope. When we hope, we are by the very act of hope united to God. Hope is the first step: “I hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24)
The virtue of hope is the first virtue in the healing process. Hope does not dismiss the present painful circumstance as if to say, “One day we may figure all this out and be free of this difficulty”. Hope is not wishing things away or mere optimism. No. Hope is the virtue that leads us to look squarely into the obscurity, complexity and difficulty of the pain. Hope looks to a future good even in the midst of the pain. Hope is the virtue that sustains the Christian in time of difficulty. Coming forth from denial can only take place in hope. One has the strength to realize inner pain only in the context of greater hope. The one who hopes is joined to God by the very act of hope.
THE EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
The examination of conscience is a crucial step in inner work of healing against internet pornography addiction. This work is carried out under the principal rule of being gentle with oneself while being attentive to the patterns, consequences, relapse, and effects of our painful and sinful behavior. According to Fr. J. Brian Bransfield, The examination of conscience is not self-shaming or beating oneself up with accusatory and self-defeating thoughts. It means living our daily life with a deeper attentiveness to the way we act. It means taking time at the end of the day, and even at the key times during the day, to review our relationships and actions. It uncovers ways our negative thinking leads to painful feelings and then on to inappropriate and sinful behaviours. Our recovery and healing consists, in part, in awareness and vigilance over our daily circumstances. This awareness and vigilance help us in the struggle to avoid the occasion of sin and respond to temptation with virtue.
DEALING WITH THE OCCASIONS OF SIN
In the act of contrition, we pray that the Lord protect us from the near occasion of sin. With many sins, as with those against chastity, we also benefit from protection from the proximate and remote occasion of sin.
Our temptation to use internet pornography does not begin when we are sitting at the computer and with our phones. It begins hours, if not days, earlier. As we examine our conscience, we can more readily identify when we are feeling adrift, insecure, over-tired, over-worked, stressed or lonely. We can identify when we try to be the hero, and how quickly after these futile attempts, we feel lonely. These feelings along with continued internal worry and preoccupation about his status, would easily wear him down, exhaust his inner resources and make us more vulnerable to acting out in a virtual world rather than suffer in the real one. We can be whoever we want to be online. As we learn to identify the risk factors and early onset of these feelings, and to call upon creative and life-giving ways to redirect and counter the effects of these experiences, we grow in the life of virtue.
The use of internet pornography wounds the dignity of the human person, harms the sanctity of human sexuality and is always a matter of serious sin. Growing in virtue, we may discover that our turn to internet pornography involves factors. Fear, force, habit, strong emotion, immaturity, and anxiety may condition our actions as we engage in cybersex. It is very important for us to understand the way in which these factors affect our behavior.
SEEKING FOR HELP: approaching prayer and Sacrament of Reconciliation
The greatest support will always come from the one who loves you most. Look for God. Fighting without God does not make sense. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation again and again; seek forgiveness and grace. Pray fervently.
It is very helpful to keep two images in mind as we approach the sacrament of reconciliation. The first is that of the scriptural account of the prodigal son. The second is of the woman who is caught in act of adultery and is brought to Jesus. These accounts reveal that Jesus is always merciful to the sinner who seeks forgiveness. The confession of sins, the sorrow and the willingness to perform a penance, that is, an act by which the penitent manifests his or her renewal and dedication to make amends for sin through the new life of grace, are all important steps of healing.
The priest, through the power of the Church, absolves us of our sins. This brings the grace and mercy of God to the depths of our souls. Sanctifying grace is the grace of Jesus Christ that comes most especially in the Sacraments. Sanctifying grace brings the Trinity to dwell in our soul. Through this grace, the Holy Spirit conforms and configures us to Jesus Christ. Grace is not magical or automatic. If we are looking for results or trying to gauge progress, we will inevitably end up focusing on the puzzle of ourselves rather than on the mystery of Jesus. Our part is to approach the action of God with a faithful disposition and a humble anticipation as we invite Him to dwell within us. Doubt dissolves through grace. We are led to trust God’s absence as much as his presence. We sense a heritage and a direction within our reach. The unity and nearness to God transforms us.
Here, it is necessary to point out that Confession, Contrition, Satisfaction and Absolution essential to the sacrament of reconciliation are not a list of rules or hoops that one must jump through. They are not an obstacle course we must complete to somehow earn forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be earned; it is only and always a gift. The acts of penitent and absolution are postures of healing. Going to confession is not just going through the motions. Going to confession is not a motion or a gesture. It is a purposeful action. Confession is a place to humbly acknowledge the feelings of inadequacy and self-centeredness that often underlie our sins. Humility is the central guide to confession. It is not easy to be honest and candid about our weaknesses, and to confront our guilt. Yet, this is the path to healing and to emerging from the cycle of pain that reinforces patterns of sin. The trust and transparency of the truth is not easy, but it is life-giving.
CONCLUSION: The Grace of the Holy Spirit
Internet Pornography thrives on self-centeredness, isolation and deception. One cannot conquer Internet pornography simply through determination of iron will, the insistence of clenched teeth, and the resolve of white-knuckled grit alone. One must be ready to find a prudent, knowledgeable and experienced guide with whom one can be ruthlessly truthful about the self, about one’s patterns, deceptions, short cuts, and ambiguities. This guide cannot simply be a family member or friend. It must be someone who has the professional distance and the knowledge to care in a free and mature manner. This would take place in a professional setting with a regular appointment time and proper boundaries. This guide must also know the path. They must be familiar with the human condition, the gifts of God and the pitfalls and perils of recovery from internet pornography. The false belief that one can escape the perils of Internet Pornography on one’s own is simply another version of the false self-sufficiency that fuels the pornography problem in the first place. Asking for help is the first sign of authentic strength.
The water the Samaritan woman asks for is the water of truth. At first, she does not understand the full meaning of truth. She envisions the water as something that will enable her to stop making the cumbersome trip to the well. But Jesus, through his conversation with her, introduces her to the true meaning of the water of grace he provides through the action of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the internalization of virtue is not automatic. The life of virtue is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit as his gifts move upon our docility and truth. We may experience relapse, binging, and setbacks. The key at these moments is the return to the life of grace, together with our own honesty, transparency and accountability, which also come through the virtues of hope, justice, fortitude and prudence.