NOTE: This article features more mature topics that may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion.
Honesty is one of those virtues that has become increasingly hard to come by. It often seems like every person or entity has a secret agenda that drives their convictions. Instead, why doesn’t everybody lay everything out, free and clear? That question can often be answered by a few reasons: self-interest, self-preservation, self-service. How honest are you? How honest are you with yourself about your weaknesses?
Recently on The Inner Life, Josh Raymond asked this question to his listeners, leading up to the discussion of pornography, a sin that many struggle with on a regular basis. He said that if we’re going to address this sin for what it is, find ways to battle it, and truly strive to avoid it, we must be honest with ourselves. No more deception or double lives. No more saying one thing and doing another. If we suffer from the desire to commit this sin, face it head-on.
Josh welcomed Father Sean Kilcawley from the Diocese of Lincoln to discuss his own experience in helping others overcome this problem and the journey that led him to this point.
Father Kilcawley studied at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome from 2009 – 2013. Upon finishing his studies there, he was assigned to the position of director of religious education. Part of his job was to review and update the chastity curriculum for 9th-grade students. “I was really excited about that. But then after maybe a couple months of hearing confessions of high school students, I had to be honest about the fact that that curriculum alone wasn’t going to be effective because of the shift in culture that happened between 2009 and 2013 roughly.”
This shift in culture that Father Kilcawley was referring to was the innovation of phones and technology. Instead of texting being the biggest problem, newer phones acted as “vehicles” for sending anything on the internet directly to the screen of these high school users. With this relatively new delivery system, the average age of first exposure to pornography dropped to 8-11 years old. The kids he was in charge of educating were being exposed to pornography at a young age, getting hooked, and struggling mightily to control this urge.
According to a Barna Group study from a few years ago, about 60% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women seek out pornography monthly. Additionally, 25% of divorces have been caused by pornography or cyber-sexual behavior.
One of the biggest pieces of advice that Father Kilcawley offered to those struggling with pornography is just what Josh said earlier. Be honest. Whether you can tell somebody in your life like your parents, your spouse, an older sibling, a spiritual director, or a counselor, it could be that big step that you need. Shouldering the burden of addiction to pornography on your own is not easy. Keeping it secret can only compound the issues that it causes. A mentor or guardian who can hold you accountable and support you through recovery is extremely helpful.
He said that while this open and honest discussion with a loved one or a counselor can help overcome this issue, it’s not the quick fix. Putting filters on your phone, removing the occasions of sin, finding extraordinary people to support you, and forming better daily habits are all steps on the same staircase to recovery, but there is only one ultimate solution to beating pornography: “So, the only thing you have to do is surrender your entire heart to Our Lord. Your entire heart. That’s all you have to do. Now, how long does that take? That takes as long as it takes,” said Father Kilcawley. He believes that following the 12-step program to addiction recovery is a way to discover that selfless desire to commit one’s heart to Jesus.
A helpful practice to guide one’s new conversion is the three-circle exercise. In one circle, you write down the apparent goods that you receive from this sin. In the case of pornography, it is the feeling of power, power over loneliness, power over sadness, power over anger, or whatever it might be. In the second circle, you write down the boundaries that you need to set up for yourself to prevent the near occasions of sin. A new boundary might mean not watching YouTube anymore because that’s a trigger. It might be no more use of the phone in an area where nobody can see what you’re doing. In the third circle, you write the true goods, the benefits that virtues like chastity and purity provide to you.
Father Kilcawley said that if you ever place the apparent goods of sin up against pure will, the apparent goods will win every time. If you truthfully face the apparent goods with the real goods, virtue, and the grace of God, you can beat the temptations.
Listen to the whole conversation below:
Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT.