Tag Archives: pornography

How to Increase Willpower in Our Struggle Against Sin and Addiction

Photo: Getty

 

Like other Catholics and Christians, I find it difficult to resist sin on occasion. Even after a great morning of prayer or right after Mass, it’s not too uncommon for me to lose my temper in traffic when, for instance, someone cuts me off. Like St. Paul discusses in Holy Scripture, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21)

The traffic anecdote may sound mild, but my anger tends to stick with me and ruin my day. I would say my biggest daily struggle, however, is with sexual impurity and pornography. I have made great strides and even stay on the wagon for weeks at a time, but, like St. Paul says, evil is always right there with me.

When I was at a retreat this past spring, I had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. confession) from a kind but stern priest. We were facing each other in folding metal chairs, and I’ll never forget his advice before I received absolution:

“You need a battle plan.”

Being a bonehead as usual, I failed to ask what kind of battle plan, or, better yet, what a battle plan was. In my “research,” I found some very good sites like this one. However, I felt that I was lacking something.

About a year ago, my regular confessor told me, after I had told him about my recent sins of masturbation and viewing pornography, “You… um… just need to… (sigh) try harder.”

I need to try harder?! I thought afterwards. Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job? To help me out when I need it?

I didn’t understand that I needed to put forth some effort. Lots of it. 2 Peter 1:5 talks about making every effort to add virtues to our lives. Also, St. James writes in chapter 4, verse 7 of his epistle: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Then, recently, I came across a blog post by Eric Barker entitled “7 Ways You Can Easily Increase Your Willpower.” I devoured the article and started putting into practice things that I had learned.

It’s a bit lengthy, but the article is well worth your time. If you are having trouble with addictions such as (but not limited to) impurity and pornography, I would encourage you to give it a read.

By the way, I’m not implying that God is not powerful enough for us to overcome addictions. On the contrary, God wants us to make every effort to “avoid whatever leads [us] to sin.” (from the Act of Contrition)

Here it the article:

 


 

 

In general, people have an overly positive vision of themselves and their abilities.

But what’s the one thing surveys show that most people have a problem with?

Self-control.

And who is most likely to give in to temptation?

Ironically, it’s the people who think they have the most willpower.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted. For example, smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight.

So how can we really increase willpower? What does science have to say?

I’ve posted a lot about the subject — from research to interviewing the foremost expert on the subject. Let’s round it all up and make it useful.

Here are 7 ways you can increase your own willpower and live a better life: 

 

1) “Keystone” Habits Are A Magic Bullet

Everyone wants a magic bullet. One pill that fixes everything. The closest thing in the area of willpower is what are called “keystone habits.”

The primary one is exercise. What’s so special about running or lifting weights? It doesn’t just give you more discipline at the gym…

It also makes you eat better. And helps you use your credit card less. And makes you more productive at work. And more patient with loved ones.

Exercise leads people to create other, often unrelated, good habits:

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly… “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Going to the gym is too much for you? Try food journaling. Just write down everything you eat, every day. It’s another powerful keystone habit.

So if you’re going to do anything, keystone habits get the best bang for your buck. What else should you do every day?

 

2) Do Important Things Early

Leading self-control researcher Roy Baumeister, has found that willpower is limited.

It’s highest early in the day but as we make more decisions, it empties like a gas tank.

This leads to a simple answer: do the most important things first. As the day goes on it will only get harder to face big challenges.

When do most self control failures happen?

At night. Roy explains:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

So your willpower is limited. What else can this tell us about the best way to use it? 

 

3) Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower

Productivity guru Tim Ferriss says willpower is overrated. We have a limited amount of it, so relying on it is a bad idea.

Research shows we don’t use much willpower when something is a habit, when our behaviors are automatic.

How do you build good habits? Here’s a fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:

Building new habits is too hard, you say? Then try this:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

Hide the cookies and put your running shoes next to the bed.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

People who think they have a lot of willpower expose themselves to more temptation — and eventually cave. So don’t rely on willpower.

Now comes the part where I contradict myself… 

 

4) Use Willpower To Build Willpower

I know, I know… I just told you not to use willpower, now I’m telling you to use willpower. What gives?

Baumeister compares willpower to a muscle. When you use it too much, it gets tired and gives out.

But by exercising it, over time it gets stronger. So you don’t want to rely on willpower for everything. You want to rely on habits.

But you want to make sure to tap into willpower a bit every day, always pushing yourself a bit to grow that muscle over time.

How simple can your daily self-control exercise be? Merely working on your posture can produce willpower benefits.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

Unexpectedly, the best results came from the group working on posture. That tiresome old advice—”Sit up straight!”—was more useful than anyone had imagined. By overriding their habit of slouching, the students strengthened their willpower and did better at tasks that had nothing to do with posture.

Simple is good, right? Want to know other crazy simple things that can help? Want to improve willpower in your sleep?

 

5) Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep

Yes, improving willpower is as easy as eating and getting enough sleep.

When I asked Roy Baumeister the easiest way to quickly boost self-control he simply replied, “Just eat something.

Want to wake up full of willpower? It’s as easy as getting more sleep at night.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

We shouldn’t need to be told something so obvious, but cranky toddlers aren’t the only ones who resist much needed naps. Adults routinely shortchange themselves on sleep, and the result is less self-control.

Eating and sleeping not easy enough for you? Here’s something even easier.

 

6) Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower

Ever been so lazy you put things off that you actually enjoy? This can actually boost self-control.

You don’t even have to say no to every temptation to gain discipline. Just postponing them can help too.

Research shows telling yourself “Not now, but later” is far more powerful than “No, you can’t have that.”

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

…people who had told themselves “Not now, but later” were less troubled with visions of chocolate cake than the other two groups… Those in the postponement condition actually ate significantly less than those in the self-denial condition…

Anything other than just giving in helps strengthen your willpower muscle.

Delay, distraction, or even caving in a defined way can help increase discipline.

Okay, now’s the time for the bad news… 

 

7) You’re Going To Screw Up… But That’s Okay

You’re going to give in to temptation. That’s not defeatist; it’s reality. But what matters is what you do after.

Feeling the urge to beat yourself up over your lack of willpower? Don’t do it. No Mea Culpas are necessary.

Blaming yourself reduces self-control. Showing self-compassion increases it.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion— being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure— is associated with more motivation and better self-control.

People who cut themselves slack go on to keep trying — and end up succeeding.

So how does all of this fit together? 

 

Sum Up

Give the 7 a try:

  1. “Keystone Habits” Are A Magic Bullet
  2. Do Important Things Early
  3. Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower
  4. Use Willpower To Build Willpower
  5. Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep
  6. Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower
  7. You’re Going To Screw Up… And That’s Okay

I’m sure to some people this sounds hard and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary thing.

Relationships improve willpower: the best way to accomplish any change is by having a supportive group of friends around you.

And the reverse is true as well: willpower improves relationships:

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

Willpower is one of the first steps in improving any area of life — and it’s good to know that self-control isn’t selfish.

 

 Source

 

~t

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


How Can I Be A Saint, Part 2: Email from a Friend

Wikimedia Commons

 

It’s always encouraging to know that someone cares.

Since I started this blog, I have become spiritually close to a fellow Catholic who lives overseas. Although “Julia” and I have never met in person, her heart for Christ is so pure and holy that she recently took some time to respond in specific detail to my previous post.

I am honored to share her email with you, dear reader. Whatever sin you’re struggling with at the moment, I pray that God will grant you the faith, grace, and strength necessary to overcome it.

 


 

 

Hi [Topaz], my dearest brother in Christ,

 

I read your new blog post. It was very timely since I’ve been wondering how you were doing and how your Holy Week was. Just a few things I had in mind as I read your concerns:

 

1. Dealing with Sin

Have you thought of emailing Matt Fradd? Or has it ever crossed your mind? I highly suggest emailing him your concerns, struggles and questions, because I am pretty confident he can give some practical advice or insights about the issue [of sexual impurity].

Actually I am suggesting this because I already did it. I emailed him about a question that’s been bugging me for years, and it was related to pornography. And praise God, he replied speedily. I’m really hoping he can help you in whatever way he can and with God’s grace.

 

2. Spiritual Director

I just learned that we as Catholics are in dire need of confessors or spiritual directors who will patiently help us with our struggles. How often do you go to confession? I try to go once a month. It would also be a great help if you could find an accountability partner. Pray and ask God for that person (a male friend or a brother from K of C) who can also guide you in fighting the battle.

But if not, I hope this helps: Try to contact Opus Dei and ask if they have a center near your place. In my own experience, I felt God’s guidance through them. Since I’ve been attending their monthly recollection, I feel that God is there leading my life.

 

3. Continue to Seek God

You ask in your blog “where are they?”, so now I am eagerly telling you to continue seeking… and to never lose hope. Please don’t think that the demons are binding you. We both know that they have nothing else to do but to keep us away from God. So please CONTINUE SEARCHING… and try not to give in to these temptations. Please don’t lose hope.

 

4. Spiritual Reading

Have you heard of this? If not, then let me give you an idea how to go about it. I’ve also learned this from doing the Norms of Piety booklet. It says that allotting 15-20 minutes of spiritual reading daily is a great help to enrich and inspire you spiritually.

You might want to start off with St. Augustine’s books in which he also admitted that he struggled a lot with sins of the flesh. I also just started this habit and I’m currently reading St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. Even doing this, I must admit, is also a struggle. I believe the devil doesn’t want us to practice this because we are uplifted and encouraged to persevere in sanctifying our lives.

 

5. And, finally, Daily Mass

I’ll probably be struggling with this practice forever… but i know that I should not give up. Here in the Philippines, weekday Masses don’t last an hour since sometimes there’s no choir. So, if I go to noon Mass in our Cathedral, it usually only runs 30mins or so. I hope you can find time to go to Mass even on weekdays — especially if your schedule permits. The reason why I really want to practice this is because the Mass is our great source of grace. We do want that, don’t we? And it’s also one way of showing our love for God, giving praise to Him and listening to Him through the Liturgy of the Word. Right?

 
But if you think it’s really hard or impossible (for now) for you to attend daily Mass, then you can always find a way to make if more convenient for you. Like maybe one day a week excluding Sunday… I guess you just have to put a little more extra effort into fighting this battle. And the tricky part is how not to give up the fight and how to sustain yourself in not giving up. I think it all depends on that. We should also realize that we can never perfect all these things on our own. And we probably will not, but it’s still not an excuse not to try. Because, along the way, I’m pretty sure something wonderful is waiting, and something beautiful will happen. Let’s never cease to believe and have faith.

 

Your Sister in Christ,

[Julia]

~t


How Can I Be A Saint When Demons Are Binding Me?

Credit: Tim Stringer

Life has been one struggle after the next since the day before Palm Sunday.

On that day I went to confession. While waiting in line, I was praying for the Lord to help me with my lustful thoughts and sexual impurity. As I gazed at the life-size crucifix, I heard Jesus’ words in my heart:

Do it for me.

In other words, don’t give up your sin in order to receive blessings. Don’t give up lust, masturbation, and pornography just to make yourself feel better. Give it up because I love you.

After confession, I felt like a million dollars. This is it. I will mark time by this day. The rest of my life I will resist these sexual sins with the Lord’s power.

I went to confession several weeks ago at a youth camp that I attended with my sons, and the wise old priest, after I confessed my sexual lust and impurity, told me that I needed a “battle plan;” sheer will power wouldn’t cut it. The problem was, I didn’t know what the heck that meant. And I was too stupid to ask!

So, I did quite well in resisting lust. My battle plan was to chant the word “Mary” to myself until the urge passed. Was that even a so-called battle plan? I have no idea.

Lust was no longer an issue. Instead, anger suddenly became my downfall on Holy Thursday as I lost my temper later that night with a fellow K of C member who was part of the liturgy with me. I won’t go into detail, but he did something that wasn’t even a big deal. However, my paranoia and victim mentality caused me to blow it out of proportion: I screamed at him and threatened him via voicemail, and I also wrote a scathing yet tactful email (because emails can be forwarded and passed around) to him.

My Easter weekend was ruined. All I could think about was how he “did me wrong.” And, like an avalanche, all the times I’d been bullied or taken advantage of came flooding back over me. It was so bad that on Resurrection Sunday, I was questioning my faith and entertaining the idea of driving my car over a bridge.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as that mess got cleared up, the demons hit me full-on with lust. Something tells me (demons? angels? my own thoughts?) that if I fall again, it’s over. No chance at getting a better job, no chance at a better marriage, no chance of reading the Scriptures and knowing by faith that God’s promises are for me.

And, worst of all, I would be forever trapped in that dark place with nothing except my endless lust for female flesh.

I can’t keep fighting off the demons like this. I need reinforcements. Where are they?

I really hope you weren’t creeped out by the image at the top of this post. I chose it because it represents me right now: naked, tempted beyond belief, and confused.

~t


The Downside of Being Holy

Credit: Creative Commons

Living a life fully devoted to God is difficult. In a previous post, I mentioned that, since I had nowhere else to go, I decided to step it up a few notches from being a lukewarm pew-warmer to someone who totally surrendered himself to God (Revelation 3:16).

I have also written about my Josephite marriage with my wife. Basically we are friendly roommates who are raising our two kids together — nothing more. I met with my therapist this past weekend, and I told her that I came across this phrase on a Catholic radio program. Trying to justify the reason that my wife and I have been celibate for nearly five years, I told my therapist that my wife and I have this Josephite kind of marriage — end of discussion.

I even told my therapist that I was okay with this type of arrangement. Actually… I’m not sure if I am; that’s just what I tell myself in order to try and overcome the frustration and emptiness. Five years is a long time. Since it was basically my wife’s decision (a Josephite marriage needs to be mutual), I just got plain worn out and tired of harping on the subject of sex with my wife. I really would like to think that it is God’s will, and I pray and cry out to Him all the time to show me, but the only response I get is… nothing. Just continued abstinence.

My previous therapist used to spend half of each session drilling it into my head that we were not normal, and he actually gave me homework: to have sex with my wife and report back to him about it. I soon left him and found another therapist that I felt more comfortable with and who didn’t keep pressing the issue. However, my new therapist does say that it’s not normal. Duh. I already knew that. I’ve tried everything: talking with my wife, asking her if there’s something about me she doesn’t like, asking if there’s something about her that she doesn’t like, telling her that we are not being a normal married couple, etc. It is to no avail.

So, I chalk it up to being God’s will. I have thought about being a priest since I love my faith and I love helping people, but (another duh), I’m married. Unless my wife passes away or we become divorced, it ain’t gonna happen.

I get extremely guilty when the thought crosses my mind of her dying early. Sometimes I have thought about our getting a divorce, but I couldn’t live without seeing my kids every day; plus, I can’t bear the thought of another man raising my kids. Yes, they will always be my kids, as my therapist says, but it wouldn’t be the same.

Well, it looks like you’re stuck, Topaz.

By the grace and power of God, I have overcome pornography and masturbation and no longer have any inclination for either. However, lust and impure thoughts constantly haunt me. Most of the time I don’t allow myself to dwell on these, but sometimes I do.

The bottom line is that I’m lonely. I live with a slim, attractive woman and I literally can’t touch her. It’s torture. I see women at church and long for a marriage with a good, faithful Catholic to share my life with. I see images on Facebook and other sites of a man and woman holding hands or hugging, and my heart aches so much. Oh, how I desire affection and intimacy.

I used to fall asleep at night imagining my soul mate curled up next to me. All that did was incite temptation, though. Now, I imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary, my mother in the order of grace, sitting in a chair beside my bed, her arm around my shoulders, whispering to me that everything will be all right. It always helps me drift off to sleep.

I’ve been a Catholic for three years, but I’ve only been a faithful, practicing one for the past 12 months. Since my mindset has become more in line with God’s, I no longer look at a woman’s chest, backside, or legs. Instead, I notice qualities like hairstyle, personality, and a sincere smile, and it makes my heart race just as quickly. My point is that I’m still struggling; it’s just in a different, non-sinful (?) way.

I refuse to give in to impurity. God has taught me how to channel my stubbornness into my battle with spiritual darkness. Instead of taking cold showers when I’m hit with lust — because that would be a lot of showering — I literally brace myself and pray until my hormones die down.

Some Christian leaders say that the only way to overcome pornography and masturbation is to get an accountability partner. I think that is very wise. However, I overcame by my sheer hatred of always sliding down the mountain after nearly reaching the top every time. I was sick and tired of not growing in Christ. I longed for a better life, one that I read about in the Bible over and over again but just couldn’t believe was possible for me. I’m not saying my “do it alone” method will work for everyone, but it did for me.

I would never consider infidelity. I love God too much and am faithful to my marriage vows. Maybe God is preparing me for the priesthood down the road. I’m in no way saying that I’m a saint, but maybe my celibate marriage will help me focus more on God and His will for my life. I will keep praying that He continues to unfold His plan for me. I guess I’m on a need-to-know basis with the Almighty. It sure would be nice to know, though.

~t


The Thorn in My Side

Credit: Carl Heinrich Bloch

Things have been pretty difficult for me lately. I made the mistake of going off my medication because it was making me too groggy to perform my job. At first I felt like, “Wow. I’m doing all right! I’m glad I got rid of those blasted pills.” However, weeks later, my mood began spiraling downward: I no longer desired to interact with colleagues and students (which is unacceptable since I am a teacher), and the time I was spending with my wife and kids was starting to suffer.

In a panic, I resumed the normal dosage after being off the meds for so long — a big mistake. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

As a way to cope with all this, I felt the need to share some things with you.

I believe that God put it on my heart to begin this blog. Before I post anything, I pray about it and let the draft sit for a few hours just to make sure that it meets my/God’s standards. I have messed up a few times, though. For instance, I thought by posting censored images of pornography that I would, in essence, be smacking people in the head with a wooden staff, waking them up to how degrading and inhumane porn is to the women who are displayed — and to women in general.

I also thought that by throwing in a few cuss words here and there, it would make me “relatable” to non-religious people who read my posts. I have since come to my senses; I should “not conform to this world.” (Romans 12:2) Rather, by trying to be a good example of a Catholic and upholding God’s standards, I can “be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” (Ibid.)

Anyway, I believe that God allowed the thorn of mental illness to be stuck in my side, and, by surviving two suicide attempts, He has allowed me to live in order that I may share my experiences with the world.

Maybe it’s a result of quitting my meds cold turkey, or maybe it’s because they weren’t working properly, but since I started blogging, my heart has felt like it is ready to burst with fountains of tears. It’s a feeling that I’m used to experiencing, but not on a constant, day-to-day basis.

There are so many people whom I am meeting in the blogosphere and beyond, individuals whom I wish more than anything I could hug and comfort. I have sobbed from reading their blog posts, and I have cried during our correspondence. How I wish I had God’s healing power as the apostles had in the Book of Acts. I wouldn’t attempt to be like Jesus and perform public miracles or anything. Instead, I would visit these poor people with broken hearts and broken spirits and heal them in private, avoiding any limelight or fame. These feelings of yours are not healthy, some might be thinking. But only God knows the answer to that.

When I was in graduate school, and before I became a Catholic, I led a small Bible study through a non-denominational campus ministry. It was a small group that I shepherded: only about four other members. They have gone on to become professional artists, engineers, and physicists, but back then, we were just a ragtag band of emotional outcasts who needed each other. I include myself because, although I was chosen as the leader by the pastor, I was “one of them.”

One time, a member who went on to become a physicist heard through the grapevine that I was thinking about quitting leadership. “You can’t quit,” he told me, tears welling up in his eyes. “You are a true leader in ways that you cannot imagine.” I didn’t know what he meant, although the encouragement was nice to hear. However, due to such low self-esteem, I never considered myself a leader.

Another time, a member who is now supporting himself as a very talented artist in California told me as we were driving, “You know why we follow you? Because you feel. You really feel.” Again, I appreciated this, but I didn’t (couldn’t) fully comprehend it.

It was after years of seeking God and praying to find Him that I discovered that my ability to feel and suffer with those who were hurting was perhaps connected to my being diagnosed with mental illness. I’m not saying that only those struggling with mental illness can most effectively help others. However, it helped me to begin learning about this stranger who was myself.

I used to pray daily that God would take away my illness and make me normal. When I was hospitalized, though, I learned from one of many counselors that there is no such thing as a “normal” standard by which to measure others, including those with mental health issues.

My favorite time to pray is at night. I go into the walk-in closet with my Bible and saint cards and gaze at the crucifix above the doorway. After learning that St. Dymphna was the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness, I bought her saint card because it had a special prayer on the back. I soon discovered that God was communicating with me through the words in the prayer (the bold words in italics are mine):

…Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Your divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Your will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen. (Prayer to St. Dymphna)

If it be Your will. These five words pierced me like a silver-tipped arrow. God will cure me or leave me like this according to His will. But why would God leave me in this condition? Doesn’t He help those He loves? Does that mean God doesn’t care about me? Quite the contrary. St. Paul struggled with a mysterious thorn in his side and pleaded with God to remove it. However, God’s response was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For some reason, God is allowing my illness, my “thorn in my side,” to remain. Perhaps He will remove it at some point. Perhaps it will be there for the rest of my earthly life. I do know that St. Paul was able to accomplish great things for God and His Church because he was forced to rely on God and His strength, and what an awesome strength it is to have!

On a related note, if you’re suffering or hurting in any way, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Tell someone. Tell me. Call a help line. Do something. Please.

And be assured that even Jesus needed comforting during dark times in His life. (Luke 22: 41-44)

~t


Getting Routed in Battle

Credit: thequickbrownfox

Grief wants only sleep.

No more battling demons

unless you’re dream knight.

                                        —Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

I wanted to use Sister’s haiku as the epigraph to this post because it sums up everything that happened to me over this past weekend.

During my darkest moments on Saturday, it explained everything; that “Aha!” moment when everything fits into place like in the movie Monster when Charlize Theron’s character finally sees the big picture while talking on the pay phone in jail.

I received quite a number of encouraging messages on Twitter (Yes, I know they’re called tweets, but messages sounds better) this past weekend. No, it’s not because I’m so popular. It’s because I was a victim of an ambush.

As a soldier — all Christians are soldiers by the way — I found myself traveling along the battlefield called Earth without my sword and shield.

That’s pretty stupid, Topaz.

Yeah, you’re right. It was stupid. And careless.

Satan is the commander of the opposition forces, and they are legion. As you might recall from a previous post of mine, I believe that God has put it on my heart to start a recovery/accountability group at my parish that specifically deals with men who struggle with pornography.

Now, picture Al Capone’s crime syndicate in your mind. Well, if a small band of vigilantes were to try and expose a drug trafficking ring of theirs, um…

You can imagine the swift, deadly response. Those vigilantes had better be ready for a counterattack or else.

That was my situation this past weekend. As I stated, I have been (smugly) targeting Satan and his demons by attempting to create a program that would help men leave the bondage of a very destructive type of sin. Porn is such a lucrative moneymaker for the Dark One. My problem was, after announcing myself and my intentions to the enemy, like an idiot, I traveled around without my small band of warriors — heck, even without any weapons or defense.

I underestimated the enemy while overestimating my own faith and strength like a glory-seeker.

I was like, “Oh, look at me! Satan and his demons are gonna be running scared because I’m attacking his stronghold!”

The enemy is very intelligent and a master at guerrilla tactics.

I was driving along by myself this past Saturday when, from out of nowhere, I happened upon a certain temptation that hit me so hard, it was like getting struck with 50,000 volts from a Taser gun. My whole body went into shock, and I could no longer think straight. This all happened within an instant. I’m lucky that I didn’t have a car accident.

I won’t go into any more details, but it was akin to a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for several months and suddenly walks by a bar that is giving away free beer samples out front.

As you can imagine, the demons blindsided me, and I crumpled miserably. The rest of the day I was out of commission, ready to throw in the towel. Not just with the recovery group, but with the Church and my faith in general. I had fallen and couldn’t stand up. I was finished.

The next morning, instead of getting ready for 8:30 Mass, I was on the sofa, surfing the ‘net on my iPad. “Aren’t you going to church? You’ll be late,” my non-Catholic/non-Christian wife said.

“I’m not going today. It’s okay; no one will miss me.”

Do not underestimate petite Japanese women.

“You WILL go. Get. Up. Now.”

Maybe she knew that I needed some cheering up, or maybe she needed some time alone from my grumpiness. I didn’t ask, but I’d like to think that God was actually picking me up through her. God works in mysterious ways. We all know the cliché. He even works through individuals who don’t even believe in Him. Now that is amazing.

I didn’t want to be at Mass, but my Tiger Mother wife had forced me to go. I was miserable while I sneaked in during the Gospel reading and grabbed a seat in the very back. I remained in this emotional state until I uttered these words with the priest during Mass:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

The floodgates were opened, and I couldn’t stop from crying my eyes out. The rest of my day was transformed. God had heard my pleading and worked a miracle!

For lunch, our kids wanted to go to McDonald’s to get more Despicable Me 2 Happy Meal toys (even though they haven’t seen either of the movies yet). By chance, some friends of mine happened to be there as well: a fellow Knight of Columbus and his wife, a strong Catholic who happens to be from Asia. I have always wanted my wife to have some quality time with her, but with their schedules, it was always impossible.

Although a different nationality from my friend, my wife was excited to talk with someone who was actually from the same continent (Yes, Asia is vast and diverse, but in a place like Texas, my wife gets excited when she sees anyone who resembles an Asian).

They had a great chat about God and Chinese cuisine, and I was able to spend some time with a fellow parishioner and Knight. Our kids were more than pleased because, thanks to the nice cashier, they ended up getting two Happy Meal toys each instead of one.

By the end of last summer, I was thankful to be alive. By the end of this past weekend, I was thankful to be standing on my own two feet, clad in shiny new armor of God that I truly didn’t deserve.

So:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Yeah, especially if you’re lobbing Molotov cocktails into his command center.

~t


Into the Lungs of Hell: Blasphemous Pornography

This post is a continuation of the topic of pornography. Although images have been removed and no foul language is used, the subject matter could incite lust and temptation in individuals.

The purpose of this post is to bring awareness to how far this porn epidemic is spreading into sacred areas for Catholics, Protestants, and even Muslims.

Anyway, if you are like me and want to stay informed about the enemy, Satan, and his latest guerilla warfare tactics, then, by all means, put on your armor of God, take up your shield of faith, and grab your sword of the Spirit and follow me as I follow St. Michael the Archangel into the lungs of hell.

I am really angry right now.

I’m angry with pornography for keeping men and women from God, and I’m angry that I didn’t take action sooner. I’m angry because I knew there were genres and bizarre fetishes out there (After all, I did live in Japan — the land of the bizarre — for almost a decade) and I did nothing about it. Heck, I even gave in and indulged in some of it at one time.

But mostly I’m angry because it has been brought to my attention that there is a genre of porn out there that I had no idea existed.

I really thought I’d seen it all, folks.

Imagine the most perverted, grotesque form of pornography and I’ve seen it (except for child porn — The Lord knows that I am telling the truth). I’m not even going to list any of them because you get the idea.

But…

When some fellow prayer warriors told me about something called blasphemy porn, I thought, How bad could it be? Naked people inside a church building? Topless feminists burning Bibles?

Nope.

What I glimpsed, Christian, was so disturbing, it would likely have had the same impact as on an atheist being held at gunpoint, forced to watch as his beloved wife and child are sexually assaulted and then murdered.

I didn’t mean to pick on you, atheist friends. I just needed to provide y’all with a reference point as well.

Here we go:

Gosh, on second thought, I really don’t need to describe anything, do I?  I mean, the title of this post pretty much says it all.

The first image I saw–

But it’s art!! The woman is merely protesting against centuries of oppression by the Church–

Shut up. Just shut up.

For all of you with that kind of thinking, imagine the dearest person (wife, husband, newborn baby, handicapped child) or thing (American flag, your brand new car) to you. Got the image? OK, now imagine it/her/him being desecrated in some way. Are you a minority? Imagine a racial slur being spray painted on the beautiful house that you worked so hard to purchase. Love Obama? The Queen of England? Imagine their photographs being desecrated in the most abhorrent way.

OK, now we’re all on the same page (I hope).

Unfortunately, Muslims are not immune to this genre of filth either. Did you think the cartoon that depicted Mohammed as a terrorist was blasphemous?  Well, that ain’t nothin’.

Believe me, sexually deranged people in cyberspace pick on Islam just as much as they do Christianity. Take my word for it.

My point is this: We Christians and people of faith need to wake up and see that the Devil never ceases blaspheming God. We need to hate him and fight against him with prayer and awareness of this garbage.

It’s freedom of speech, you prudes. Freedom of expression. These aren’t the Dark Ages.

Yeah? Then why don’t you stop the next Hispanic person you see and call him/her a $%!@& w__ b___?

Why don’t you go outside and scream the N-word at the first African American you see?

Why don’t you give me your address and let me come to your door so I can call your loving wife a dirty whore? If you live in Texas like I do, you’ll probably grab your gun and shoot me. If you don’t own a gun, then chances are you’ll get kind of upset.

As Christians, we need to pray for the people who are involved in this blasphemy. Jesus Himself, as he was dying on the cross, cried out, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

We Catholics need to love the people but hate Satan and fight him with much prayer and fasting. In chapter 9, verse 29 of St. Mark’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.

Here is what Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says about Mark 9:29:

But Satan is unwilling to be driven from those that have been long his slaves, and, when he cannot deceive or destroy the sinner, he will cause him all the terror that he can. The disciples must not think to do their work always with the same ease; some services call for more than ordinary pains.

These are blatant attacks by the Devil against our dear faith, brothers and sisters. Let’s get righteously indignant and do something about it.

Well, what can I do? Do you expect me to–

For starters, you can pray. Pray hard. *Then ask God and fellow prayer warriors what to do next.

~topaz

*No violence, though. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the Prince of Peace.


A Drug Called Pornography

As a flesh-and-blood male, pornography is something that I struggle with — even as a faithful Catholic. So many times, I feel like St. Paul must have felt. I plead with God to take away this load of bricks from my shoulders, but He gives me the same response: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Huh?! What the heck does that mean, anyway?  Why don’t you speak in simple, straightforward English, Lord? Because I’m an idiot and I need for you to be clear. I want answers, darn it!

Then I’m reminded of that final epic chapter in Job where God does indeed answer Job’s complaints about Him. So, maybe I’m better off with the enigmatic response that St. Paul received.

There are some good resources out there for men and women who struggle with purity and pornography.

Yes, women, too.

I always thought that porn addiction was a problem that only men encountered.  That is not true. According to a 2013 study by Covenant Eyes, 20% of all Christian women (and 50% of all Christian men) are addicted to pornography.

To any non-believers reading this: Please do not hate on us and call us hypocrites. Yes, viewing porn is not very “Christ-like.” Duh. I’m not making excuses, but it is extremely difficult to resist the temptations of the world.

I will be the first to tell you: I am no better than any non-Christian. Shoot, I can probably name numerous atheists who do better at holding to good morals than I do.

But we Christians need to keep striving to imitate Christ and to get this stuff out of our lives.

Why, “Topaz”? You crusading, holier-than-thou prick? What’s wrong with a little porn? It’s natural. We’re human after all, and it helps jump-start my sex life with my spouse or significant other.

Dudes, ladies, I ain’t here to condemn you. When God looks down from heaven, he see all of us as sinners. I’m no better than anyone else reading this measly little blog.

And I mean that.

Oh, how I would love to tell you about my life before I got serious about practicing my faith. Heck, if I were to tell you about some of the stuff I struggle with at the present when I fall into sin, you would stop visiting this blog right away.

Yes, I’m rambling; I tend to do that when I get emotional about an issue. Please forgive me.

Anyway, here are just a few stats from that study over at Covenant Eyes:

88% of scenes in porn films contain acts of physical aggression, and 49% of scenes contain verbal aggression.

9 out of 10 boys were exposed to pornography before the age of 18.

The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old.

71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents.

28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to porn online.

6 out of 10 girls were exposed to pornography before the age of 18.

15% of boys and 9% of girls have seen child pornography.

32% of boys and 18% of girls have seen bestiality online.

39% of boys and 23% of girls have seen sexual bondage online.

83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online.

51% of male and 32% of female students first viewed porn before their teenage years (12 and younger).

70% of wives of sex addicts could be diagnosed with PTSD.

56% of divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.

There are awesome resources at XXXchurch that include accountability groups via videoconferencing, accountability software, and other stuff. Unfortunately, the guys at XXXchurch take a lot of flak from Christians for the name of their site. I say, hey, whatever gets peoples’ attention. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (Jesus)

These aforementioned sites are Protestant (hey, we’re all on the same team).  A good Catholic resource can be found here.

OK, to change gears a little bit: Last week was my monthly Knights of Columbus council meeting. It was the first meeting in which I attended as an officer since the new fraternal year began July 1. (Proof that there is a God! Just a few years ago, there was no way that I would ever have been nominated and elected as an officer in a Catholic fraternal order.)

I brought up the topic of accountability partners because I haven’t seen anything like that at my parish. The typical pew-warmer tends to be lazy (hence the term pew-warmer), so I took it upon myself to initiate the idea. Again, this is something so unlike me; not only am I a pew-warmer, but I’m a wallflower as well.

Anyway, as I was afraid of, I received a pretty indifferent response from the general members as well as from the other officers. Dejected, I vowed to go to the parish priest and ask him for advice on how to initiate this much-needed accountability program.

Little did I know, though, that my fellow Knights were too hesitant and embarrassed to voice approval in front of everyone else. After the meeting had finished, several Knights approached me and opened up about their personal struggles with pornography and masturbation.

I was vaguely aware of the hall becoming empty as I chatted with brothers about their issues as well as mine. However, sitting in a corner of the hall, in semi-darkness, was a very prominent member. What was he doing? He usually had to rush out directly after the meetings because of his busy schedule.

After I had finished speaking with the last brother, it was only the prominent guy and me remaining in the hall. “Do you have a partner yet? I could use one. I look at porn,” he said, avoiding eye contact.

Oh. My. Goodness.

This was someone who I barely spoke to because his time seemed reserved for the “important” people. For him to wait and humbly admit this to me in an empty K of C hall really blew me away. “I’ve got your number. Can I text you?” I asked.

“Sure. That’ll work.”

I went home that night to my little prayer closet — they’re not just for Evangelicals anymore  — and just sat before the crucifix, electrified and humbled. Electrified because God was using a mental, introverted fool like me, and humbled because some of the most important men in my council and parish were now looking to me for a way out of their spiritual bondage.

St. Augustine, pray for us!

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

~topaz


About Catholic Confession

This is *not* a good example of confession.

I try to go to confession as often as I can.  At my parish, it’s offered only on Saturday afternoons from 4:00 to 5:00.  Having a family that doesn’t practice Catholicism with me, it’s sometimes difficult to get time away to receive the Sacrament.

My wife, a non-Christian, is very good at tolerating my faith and all of the “extra events” that go along with weekly Mass (i.e. confession, Knights of Columbus meetings, volunteer activities, etc.).  She is from a country and culture that doesn’t place much emphasis on religion or faith; it’s a very secular society that she is from.  However, I’m very thankful that my wife is so open-minded and loving.  Heck, even when I practiced Wicca, she was okay with it — as long as I didn’t do anything “weird” or “cultish.”  (Um, Topaz, dude, witchcraft IS weird.  Shut up.)

Anyway, I just came back from receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, colloquially referred to as confession.  I feel better than ever right now.  I always do after confessing all the muck and garbage that builds up inside of me.  It’s so incredible to know that my gross sins are absolved and that I am free to begin again!

But…

What happened BEFORE I went to confession is a different story.

Maybe just by reading the few paragraphs at the beginning of this post, you might think that I’m a Wonder Christian ™ who is always happy and “on fire” for Jeezus.

Ha.

Just take another look at the title of this blog.

Yep.

Now, I don’t want to blame the following on my mental illness which, by the way, includes bipolar disorder, paranoia, and social anxiety.  I am totally responsible for the following.  (Gosh, it sure helps that I’m anonymous!)

I have been taking part in some “binge and purge” type of actions.  As a male, I struggle all the time (yes, all the time) with lust and sexual temptation.  I go to confession, vow not to sin again, and then go home triumphantly.  For the next couple days, I do pretty well: When tempted to look impurely at a woman or to let myself be led to racy Internet images, I stop myself and then pat myself on the back.

It never fails, though.  After a few days of living like a monk, I get tempted beyond my own will power and give in.  Then, as I mentioned, it’s *binge and purge time*.

modern confessional

This is what the confessional at my parish looks like. No dreary dungeon atmosphere or musty smells here.

I can’t believe this happened earlier today (Actually, yes I can, because I’m a sinner.).  I had to stop by Target to get some items that my wife needed.  Mind you, I had already been indulging in lust and impurity before arriving at Target. However, Target, to me, is a palace of pleasure, a Sin City beneath the red doggy logo.

Huh? Target? The retail store?

Guys, I don’t know if you feel the same.  Ladies, I apologize if this seems sexist or offensive (which means I’m about to offend you).  But, it seems like the only people who shop at Target are the most attractive females in the most revealing outfits.

*bracing for all the hate mail*

Walking down the aisles, Satan was giving me left-right combinations to my face and chest, knocking me down and flinging me against the ropes.  My whole mindset inside Target was, “Well, I’m going to confession right after this, so I’ll take in as much flesh and voluptuous curves as I can.”

The impact of my sinful thinking didn’t really hit me until I was praying before the life-size crucifix in my parish after confession today.  It disgusted me that I was in such a pathetic state of mind, seeking out opportunities to fill my lustful heart.  I actually winced when God reminded me in prayer that I was using His gift of forgiveness as sin insurance.

No, I’m nowhere near a “Super Christian.”  Heck, I’m nowhere near a normal Christian.  I’m just a guy who, after lots and lots of studying and praying, became convinced that Christianity, more specifically Catholicism, was the Church of Christ and the way to God.

I’m not here to try to convince you (although I’m convinced) or argue with you.  I’ll leave that to the apologists.  That isn’t my bag anyway.

I’m not here to scream at you that you’re going to hell.  Only God knows the answer to that one.  (Hopefully I’m not going there by the way.)  Shoot, if I told my wife that she was currently on a one-way roller coaster ride to the Eternal Lake of Fire, I would no longer be able to urinate like a normal guy.

Anyway, I’m not a very good example of a Christian.  I (intentionally) sin.  But I always get up when I fall down — sometimes slowly, sometimes even more slowly.

God just wants you to be a person after His own heart.

~topaz