“You have heard how it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell.” –Matthew 5:27-30
Last month, I wrote an article here about dealing with pornography, offering 5 strategies to overcome temptation. When I wrote that article, I omitted one essential strategy, because I felt discussing it warranted an article of its own. (And, let’s face it, the previous article was already plenty long!)
One popular form of the Act of Contrition, which we pray right before receiving absolution during Confession, says, “I firmly resolve, through the help of Your grace, to turn from my sins and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” This is what Jesus is talking about when He teaches us to cut off our hands or pluck out our eyes if they cause us to sin. When we struggle with serious, habitual sin (like pornography), we need to not only strive for virtue by not looking at it, but we must especially be vigilant to not put ourselves into situations where we will become tempted to do so. Like the recovering alcoholic who avoids the bars altogether (rather than going there with friends but not drinking), we need to take extreme measures if we’re going to overcome our habitual sins. If we don’t do so, it will not matter how many rosaries we pray or how many Masses we attend. We will fail to overcome our vices if we don’t recognise and root out the “near occasions” in our lives.
This is a twofold process. The first and most obvious step is to eliminate and minimise the sources of temptation. Content blockers and filters on the computer, subscriptions to accountability software like Covenant Eyes (which emails your internet usage to a person of your choosing, and flags potentially pornographic content), and other steps like putting computers in a public location, are examples of Step 1. The goal is to make encountering and accessing the temptation as impossible as you can. It’s very important to involve someone else in this process (after all, if you have the password to the parental controls, what’s the point?), and to develop a thorough inventory of all the sources of the temptation.
Step 2 is much more introspective, and is best done in consultation with your spiritual director or a good Catholic counsellor. This step involves understanding your triggers. We all have times and situations during which we are more susceptible to temptation than others. Sometimes, a particular trigger can be such a powerful motivation, that all the precautions in Step 1 won’t be enough to deter you. Recognising these triggers will help you to avoid those scenarios or find healthier responses to them.
For myself, my main trigger of pornographic temptation is stress. When I’m stressed, the high resulting from this sin seems like the best and easiest source of release. Because I know this about myself, I can monitor my stress levels, confide the danger to my wife, and find ways to reduce the stress and more productive ways to deal with it. Understanding your trigger, be it stress, tiredness, depression, or whatever unique vulnerability you have, will help you best be able to compensate for it, and practice the strategies we discussed in my last article.
In all of this, do not forget that other key phrase in the Act of Contrition, and remember that our victory over sin will only come “through the help of [God’s] grace.”
If publishing article online please attribute source Serviam Ministries with link to original article.