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Thomas Johnson wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have a question:

  • about lust
  • whether it is a mortal sin, and
  • to what extent I would be held accountable.

I'm not trying to get an answer to rationalize doing the sin over and over again. I have fought lust for many years with pornography and masturbation. I go to Confession regularly when this happens. I don't want to make it seem like I just go to Confession to be forgiven. I try to stop and then my mind overpowers me. I try to fight, then stress comes and I lose the battle. It's like there is a mental hold on me; the more I try to stop, the worst it gets. Then the fornication part comes and I try fighting my mind telling me it's alright. I know it's wrong because I feel guilt wash over my soul for this and the masturbation struggles.

I don't have mental problems, but I do feel as this is going to be a struggle for the rest of my life.
I don't want to die and go to Hell before I can beat this problem.

  • How can I honestly destroy this sin once and for all from my mind?

I wanted to become a deacon but it's hard. While struggling with these problems my priest has told me I have to be able to laugh at myself when I fall.

I'm trying to sort this out in my mind because I know it's all wrong, but when it gets into my head it's tough to overcome and when it's over I feel the guilt.

  • Is there anything that would help me, like books etc.?
  • Given my situation, would I still be accountable for this sin?

A concerned Catholic that only wants his soul to do good things.

Thomas

  { I'd like to be a Deacon, but I am struggling with on-line sex addictions and sins of the flesh. }

Eric replied:

Dear Thomas —

Let me commend you for fighting the good fight and not giving up. A wise man once said that it is not the soldier who never falls, who is valiant, but the one who gets back up after falling and continues to fight. God is working in you, I can guarantee you. It may not seem so right now,
but in the big picture, he is.

I don't know exactly how long you've been struggling with this but it's not unusual for such struggles to go on for many years before we start to notice progress. Do not be discouraged.
I am guessing that perhaps you went through a period where you were not sexually pure and
now you are having trouble overcoming bad habits and ways of thinking.

The first thing to realize is that you can do nothing with God's grace. Absolute nothing. Nada. Zip. In John 15:5 Jesus says,

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."

This is the lesson God is trying to teach you. The longer you take to learn it, the more you will flounder. Chastity cannot be achieved by natural means, even with heroic effort. In fact, heroic effort can be counterproductive; this may be why it gets worse the more you try to stop. We have to recognize our utter dependence on God and yield to our humility. Because we have so much pride, it can take many years to reach the level of humility needed to live chastely.

This is your path to sanctity. Embrace it. Don't give up. Never surrender.

I think a key is "to roll with the punches". Masturbation is a sin, yes, and your goal is to not do it, but beating yourself up when you fail is not going to help you; keeping your eyes on the goal is.
Go to Confession and move on, making note of what you did wrong and correcting it the next time. I think that's what the priest was essentially trying to say — don't get flustered and discouraged when you fail. Be merciful to yourself if you tend to be severe. Imagine if a friend did it, and how you would counsel them. Extend the same mercy to yourself that you'd extend to them.

Here are a few helpful guidelines:

  1. If it happens during the night or while you are tired or stressed, in all likelihood it's not mortal. Now your goal is to eliminate it entirely, not just to avoid mortal sin, but realizing this, can take the pressure off.

  2. If it happens while you are involuntarily inflamed with passion, it is also not mortal.

  3. If it's clearly a compulsive habit, it may not be mortal.

  4. Anything else that is not freely and deliberately chosen is not mortal.

When you are tempted, relax, I mean relax your muscles, calm yourself, and fix your eyes on Jesus. A lot of times you're conditioned to become anxious when temptations come, and you end up having a self-fulfilling prophecy because you expect to fail as soon as the first temptation comes.

Give yourself some credit. Praise and encourage yourself when you successfully resist temptation, also praise and thank God. Don't merely focus on your failures and limitations.

One helpful technique for battling lust is to pray for the person you are lusting after. In this way, you are loving them in a pure and disinterested way, in the sense that you aren't getting anything out of it, counteracting lust or any interested kind of impure love.

It goes without saying to rely on prayer during temptation. Cry out to the Lord with humility. Recite the Psalms. Let the frustrations and plaintive cries of your heart waft up to Heaven. Surrender every area of your life to Christ.

As for what to read, Scripture is a good start, the New Testament in particular, or the Psalms. The Liturgy of the Hours, which has:

  • Morning prayer
  • Evening prayer
  • Daytime prayer, and
  • Night time prayer based on the Psalms

is a great thing to get in the habit of reading. It's available as a smart phone app (iBreviary) or as a book. The daytime prayers are particularly ordered to helping you avoid temptation. The Pauline epistles in the Scriptures are good books to reading the New Testament.

Here are some good passages:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Galatians 5:16-17

Romans 7 is also a good read.

Father Benedict Groeschel has some good books that might be helpful. I'm not sure of any books that address this specific topic.

Here are some earlier posts on the topic, where I give a lot of advice to other people:

Eric

Thomas replied:

Hi, Eric —

Thanks for your reply.

It has put my mind to ease a bit. I need to stay away from the pornography, masturbation and fornication with women unless I am married; and not get involved for the thrill of sex or for any other reason. I really want to go for the diaconate but I don't know if they would take me in unless I can truly get rid of this sin. I will keep going to Confession to help with this sin.

  • Is it still okay to receive the Eucharist?

The priest had told me that if I would just shrug it off, it wouldn't be an issue but because my mind does want to do good and knows this behavior is wrong; it's hard to resolve.

Thomas

Eric replied:

Thomas —

Actually, do us a favor and "Reply All" or "Wide Reply" so everyone on the team can join in.

Your priest is right. You can always receive the Eucharist if you repent and go to Confession and, in fact, you should because the Eucharist makes you "a partaker of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), and will strengthen you in your struggle. You can also receive the Eucharist if you are not conscious of having met the conditions for a mortal sin (deliberate consent, in particular). Whether you do so in a specific situation, without having gone to Confession, is something for your conscience to determine, with input from your Confessor or spiritual director. In most cases, it is good to go to Confession promptly after every failure in this regard, whether it's clearly mortal or not. However, if you are scrupulous, and if I were you, I'd explore this possibility, obsessing about getting to Confession or denying yourself the Eucharist may be counter-productive. Trust your Confessor on this.

When you receive the Eucharist, make sure you are well-disposed. The Eucharist is the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary re-presented so we can consume its fruits. Consequently, it is the source of all grace. Open your heart to receive that grace and be aware of the profundity of the sacrament.

The same Presence who occupied the throne of the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant in Numbers 7:89, the same Presence that destroy Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:3-7, the Shekinah glory of God, is present in the Eucharist. This is the cup of salvation (Psalm 116:13), the medicine of immortality (St. Ignatius of Antioch, 107 A.D.). You are being filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), you are eating from the Tree of Life (Revelation 2:7), your lips are being touched by the coal from the altar that cleanses you from all sin (Isaiah 6:6-7). Meditate on these things during each Communion. Open your heart to receive all of Him which you can possibly contain. Never take Communion for granted but make it always an act of love. Let it penetrate your being.

As for the diaconate, it depends on whether you intend to get married. If you do not intend to get married, the rule of thumb for those embracing celibacy as I've heard it, is freedom from masturbation for six months.

Here is a good article as you explore what it means to be scrupulous:

Eric

Thomas replied:

Hi, Eric —

After reading that article, it does sound like I am being scrupulous. I do experience a lot of (OCD) Obsessive-compulsive disorder habits as well. I was married at one point and don't want to be married again. I would like to go down a path and serve God for the rest of my life.

Its just a matter of fighting the good fight. Leaving the masturbation and pornography is a tough fight. Although fornicating doesn't happen as much as the other two, I know it's just as wrong.

I feel one day I will meet a priest in the Confessional who will not forgive me, so I set a goal to not do these sins again ever and that's one of my problems: my expectations are high. I know I'm a good person inside. I help those who are needy and I have helped others financially as well. I know there are a lot of people in the world who are addicted to this same sin.

I'm honestly trying to stop all this but, my mind out weighs reason. I have even thought of doing self hypnosis MP3's to help with the pornography and OCD but I don't know if they will help, outside of reading the Bible.

Thomas

Eric replied:

Well, the priest's reply to you suggests he thinks you are scrupulous. I wasn't quite clear on what you were doing but if you are not going to Communion even after going to Confession, assuming you aren't committing an intervening sin, that's a big red flag. Your comment about fearing not being forgiven reinforces this, but it is not for me to make that determination. You need to speak to a spiritual director. Read that article I sent you. You need to find one spiritual director (preferably) or one Confessor and stick with them; don't go from priest to priest. Once you find one that is wise and follows the Church's teachings, accept their judgment as coming from God.

With respect to pornography, there is a service called Covenant Eyes that allows you to have an accountability partner who receives reports of how many naughty web sites you attempt to visit. You might want to look into it.

If you need to turn off Internet access, do it. There's always the library. Also try:

a great resource on overcoming porn addiction.

Eric

Mike replied:

Hi, Thomas —

Thanks for the question.

Beside what my colleague Eric has said, you may want to read through our FAQ's
on this topic:

I think the very last posting should help:

Mike

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