In part 6, I shared about how I was being called to a different vocation than priesthood. In this post, come see how every wound in my past was baptized in the redemption of Jesus Christ.
Discovering God’s plan for humanity
During the summer of 2002, my friend Ellen gave me an audiotape. Thinking it was just another apologetics tape, she told me, “Just listen to it.” When I popped it in, it changed my life forever. It was a presentation by Catholic theologian and author Christopher West who was explaining the Truth about the human person and the gift of sexuality. My jaw hit the floor. I realized this vision of life — this understanding of what it means to be male and female — was everything for which I had been searching!
Saint John Paul the Great’s unveiling of God’s glorious plan for our lives brought about a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I experienced great hope, realizing I was not abandoned in my struggle for sexual purity. On the other, I felt a deep pain because I was so far from where I needed to be and had no plan in place to break free from the chains binding me. It sounded almost surreal: “Could this message be true? Could I really be set free from my lusts?” I could relate intimately to the words of St. Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). My body and soul were crying out, “How long, O Lord?” I had known for a long time that the pixilated images of women would never satisfy the deep ache within me, but merely knowing such information was only one part of the answer. I needed to have a radical heart transplant to be set free to love.
After finishing a very painful experiment of teaching high school theology for a year, I was accepted for the masters program in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Little did I know, God had much more in store for me than a degree in theology and catechetics. Among many things, one of the attractions of Franciscan is its world-renowned charismatic prayer events, known as Festivals of Praise. Picture 2,000 people united, praising God in song. At my first service, it became apparent God was beginning His work in me. One of the Scripture verses proclaimed several times that night was Isaiah 43:19: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Through a crack in my stony heart, living waters were beginning to bubble up.
Like many students on campus, I attended daily Mass, where things began getting a little weird — in the best sense of the word. It seemed that the message of virtually every hymn and praise song was directed toward me. God was trying to break through my darkness with His glorious, blinding light to allow me to see the Truth of His deep love for me. He was wooing me as a Bridegroom woos His Bride.
Over the course of the next two weeks, Jesus met me powerfully in the Eucharist. Through the reception of this most Holy Sacrament, I was infused with the love of God in a way I had never previously experienced. Although I had grown in my relationship with God throughout high school and college, He was introducing me to His most personal and intimate love. I was especially moved to thanksgiving and a bit of the dark fog in my soul began to lift.
Coming to know the Father
After one of the daily Masses, on a particular Wednesday, during prayer I felt an intense moment of gratitude for what Jesus was doing with my life. And then it hit me. It was not only Jesus who was moving me to gratitude. It was my Father – not just any father, but God the Father. This was the Father I had longed for. This union with God — my origin and my destiny — was what I had been yearning for in all of those empty pornographic images. The One who I thought had abandoned me had not rejected me; instead, He wanted to hold me close and tell me He loved me. He had always wanted to hold me and tell me I was His own.
At that moment, I knew I had a Father, a Father who wanted me more than anything. My Abba1 was calling me to climb into His lap and be held. And it was enough. All the fears I had held inside – all the hurt, all the shame, all the forgiveness I could not bring myself to accept – was washed away by a love that penetrated the deepest core of my being. The floodgates opened and I sobbed like the prodigal son in the arms of his father.
Just when I thought my cup was overflowing with too much love, it happened. Boom, boom, boom, boom – my chains hit the floor! I experienced my first tangible, potent sense of freedom. For the first time in my life, I had a genuine experience of freedom from sexual compulsion. Just as St. Augustine was liberated from his bonds of slavery to sin when he read the words of St. Paul, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,” (see Rom 13:14). I no longer desired to look at sexually explicit images. I had been set free. He had brought me to such beauty pornography failed to contain, namely, Himself. The desire to use women gave way to a desire to serve and love them humbly as my sisters in Christ.
How did this transformation happen? How did it come to be I would be telling this story of my compulsion to pornography? For years, I lived with fear, “Do not ever let anyone find out about this compulsion or you will be ruined.” But I did not have to fear anymore. The destructive vision of myself that had dominated much of my youth gave way to the “new thing” He was doing in my life. The clouds of darkness in my life dissipated and I heard in my heart the voice I had longed to hear, “This is my well-beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (see Matt 3:17). The Father? Pleased with me? After everything I had done? After all the times I had turned my back on Him – He still wanted me back? Yes, the Father was very pleased with me. At that moment I knew I had a Father and I was His son. After all the years of drinking the slop from the pigs, this prodigal was being called home. He knew where I had been, but that was not important to Him. He wanted all of me, not the masks I presented to others in public.
Satan wants us to think we are not good enough and we can never be worthy of our Father’s love. He wants us to believe if we come from broken homes, if we have run away too many times, then we are through. The Evil One wants to immobilize us and keep us locked in our woundedness. But he is wrong — dead wrong. It is not that we are too bad – we are too good to be left alone. God never tires of us; He cannot get enough of us. That is why the Father sent His Son and that is the only reason why Jesus’ death makes any sense, because God loves us so much that He would rather die than be without us.
There are many approaches to fighting attachments to sin, but not all of them will solve the problem. Many strategies are often “sin management”. Unless we attack the root of the issue by allowing the Father to infuse us with His radical grace, we will either continue to struggle or give up because the pain is too much. True, it is good to take precautions and seek assistance, especially in Confession, but the key to being healed from any compulsion lies not in “doing” things, but in coming to know the Father’s love. That is the secret. This is not to detract from the power of the Sacraments; God definitely was preparing my heart to receive His gift of love through these supernatural gifts and does, in fact, give us His love through the Sacraments. However, if we are merely doing things and not opening our hearts to receive His love, we will never be set free from our brokenness. We will never fly with the power of love, but simply limp along in our blindness and shame.
Most of us have sold out to a big, fat lie. We are told to be hard and to avoid our emotions, but the love of our Father is totally different. God’s love is not a sentimental, fluffy, Lifetime-television kind of love. This love goes beyond the hardness of this world and gives us the strength to go on when life seems unbearable. We have to receive this love and know in our hearts that we are loved by our Father. If we are going to complete the work of Christ, we must remember that we can give only what we have first received. Christ was able to walk on water, perform miracles, give us the Eucharist, and stay on the cross because he knew His Father loved Him and He had opened Himself to fully receive that love. There was no question in His mind that His Abba was guiding Him with His Love.
I wish I could say that from that moment on I had no problems with pornography. For about four months, it was true until…
To read the whole story, as well as learn how to overcome the power of pornified images, as well as to transform our pornified culture, check out Redeemed Vision: Setting the Blind Free from Pornography, coming soon. Comment below so you can be notified as to when Redeemed Vision is released.
Steve Pokorny is the founder of freedom-coaching.net, a one-on-one mentoring system devoted to breaking the power of pornified images. If you or someone you care about is hooked on porn, click on the link above to learn how you can be set free.
1 The Greek word used for such an intimate description of God is “Abba,” which can be translated as “Daddy.”