Today, as promised, I talk about St. Augustine who was St. Monica’s son. He is a great saint for those who are struggling with lust and the sins of the flesh. He had a dramatic and beautiful conversions which is recounted in his Confessions. I highly recommend reading it during this time at home. He is also a wonderful saint for all of us as we constantly seek conversion of heart. This process of conversion of heart is a moment-by-moment struggle as we try to turn to God in all things. St. Augustine, ora pro nobis.
I have found that one of the things we Catholics do not like to think about is what we watch on television or read in novels. In fact, when I have discussed this with friends and shared my own struggles, I usually encounter a great deal of push back. We don’t like to be reminded that our choices in the Christian life expand even to our choices in entertainment. I want to consider these choices and the dangers of much of what is on television or in novels these days, and why Catholics must guard themselves in a culture that would lead us astray with glee. In this post I want to focus on gratuitous and graphic sex in television shows, especially on Premium channels on cable. In the second part of the series I will focus on the glorification of violence and how we can discern if what we are watching glorifies violence and leads us to engage in voyeurism.
A few years ago the show Scandal came out on ABC. I enjoy political intrigue and started to watch it. I really should have known better as the premise of the show rests in an adulterous affair with the President of the United States, but no, I was slow to acknowledge the sick feeling I felt after watching the show. It took me a season to realize why my conscience was telling me to stop watching it. It is graphically violent, focuses on adultery as romantic, and most of all, had absolutely no objective good in it. Not a single character possessed the good. There was no hero or heroine. Every single character was objectively evil on some level. It’s quite shocking really, since much of Western culture is still driven by the idea of good overcoming evil. That being said, no one should watch a show with no redeeming value and that glorifies sin. Adultery is objectively evil and destroys the people involved. I should not watch a show that glorifies and tries to paint over this reality. I finally decided to stop watching it and I didn’t miss it.
Why does the good matter, even on television? It matters because we are a people of redemption. We understand the pit that sin leads to and the ever present destruction of mankind, but we know that evil has been overcome by Jesus Christ. Evil does not win and evil is never good, no matter what our culture tries to tell us. Many television shows draw people in and they don’t realize they are watching a show that only depicts evil and no good. Evil can easily be wrapped up in a glamorous package. Why shouldn’t I watch adultery, “gay marriage”, the protection of evil and morally reprehensible behavior? I don’t do those things. Well, the problem is that these shows can dull our sense of what is morally correct. This has been apparent with the Catholic dissent on the nature of authentic marriage. We see enough “gay marriages” on television and somehow that becomes acceptable. Divorce is a foregone conclusion in our culture. Hollywood is our Magisterium, rather than Rome. We start to second guess ourselves and our faith. We begin to embrace the all consuming nihilism of our age that tells us this is it. All that awaits us is oblivion, nothingness. Make the most of it, even if it means using people and then discarding them as garbage when we are done. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospel. What we ingest has a direct impact on our soul. Through our viewing we tell Hollywood that the garbage they are producing is acceptable. We help with the ratings.
Yesterday, I watched a thread on Facebook related to Game of Thrones that caused me some concern. The amount of justification for watching a show with graphic sex and violence is a problem in the Catholic world. I noticed this when thousands of practicing Catholics claimed that 50 Shades of Grey was acceptable reading, when in fact it is pornography, violent pornography. First, graphic sex scenes are not “art” no matter how we much we want to justify our choices. Pornography is not art, it is the obscene. Art is to bring human beings to the good and the true. The same goes for over-the-top sex scenes that are essentially pornographic. We just tell ourselves that it is not pornography because it is on HBO and Starz not a porn channel or Cinemax. That’s just us engaging in mental gymnastics so that we can hold onto a particular vice.
I will give you an example from my own life that is quite recent. Someone had told me that I should check out the show Outlander on Starz because I like British dramas. Mind you I have not read the novels. I watched the first episode which has multiple graphic marital sex scenes in it. Marital sex is a beautiful and holy thing, but we don’t need to watch graphic scenes that incite us to lust in order to understand this point. The show gets worse from there, not to mention that regardless of time period adultery is adultery. I should have shut it off. My conscience told me to shut it off. The struggle with lust told me to turn it off, but I didn’t. Instead I had to hang my head in shame and drag myself back to the Confessional. In full disclosure, this is not a sin that I have struggled with a lot. I have shared the two most recent experiences and they are spread out by years, but I am married and I have a lot of male friends. I know that this is a serious struggle for some people, which is why I am writing. When I did get to Confession, my Confessor said that in actuality there is not much good on television and that he sticks to soccer in order to avoid the lust that our society invites us to in a great deal of shows. He’s Scottish, so the soccer reference is understandable. My Confessor did not encourage me to watch these shows, in fact, he did the opposite. He told me to steer clear of them.
I am not suggesting Puritanism. There is a great deal of art in which the body is shown in its full beautiful nude display throughout human history, but there is a difference between showing the beauty and sacredness of human beings and graphic sex scenes that move us to lust. Sex is holy. Sex is fun and meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be profaned. Even sexual sin can be demonstrated without a move into the pornographic.
One of my favorite novels, and its movie adaptions, is Evelyn Waugh’s, Brideshead Revisted. No one could accuse Waugh of Purtianism. The novel is rife with hedonism to include adultery, lust, homosexual acts, and alcoholism. The difference is that Waugh is not pointing to those things as good. He is showing how in our brokenness and darkness, God is always working for our salvation. In both movie adaptions, the one with Jeremy Irons and the shorter one with Matthew Goode, this hedonism is on display in all of its forms, but without appealing to the graphic. One scene in the Matthew Goode version shows that adultery can even be committed with most of the characters’ clothes on.
Many people trying to defend their Catholicism and their graphic television choices try to appeal to art or history. I even saw someone try to claim Scripture’s sexual sins and graphic violence as justification. This is merely a cognitive dissonance for something that we know to be wrong. Scripture demonstrates the depravity of mankind in light of God’s salvation. There’s a major difference between Scripture and Game of Thrones where sexuality is used for illicit reasons and that is all. Television shows can be true to the deprivation of humanity without resorting to lust filled sex scenes. But, in reality, these shows are glorifying hedonism, not pointing to the brokenness of sexual sin. Let’s at least be honest. These shows are not interested in redemption. So that argument is false and being used to justify sin. If you don’t believe me, then take it to your parish priest. Tell them exactly what you have been watching, including graphic sex scenes and gruesome violence. See what they say. It’s probably not going to be what you want to hear, but it will be what you need to hear.
Catholic art has always given an authentic portrayal of the human person, but in light of Revelation. We have a real opportunity here to move Hollywood to provide actual art. We need to stop supporting trash and force them to provide us with the beautiful and the ugly in a proper light. If you are a Catholic who has struggled with watching shows like this, then go to Confession. Trust me, the priests have heard it all. I had to go Confess this very sin of lust recently. I allowed myself to get sucked into the lie and I lied to myself in the process. I am married. I know that sex is beautiful, so why on earth am I ok with counterfeits on television? Why am I ok with watching our culture destroy one of the great gifts that God has given us? I would encourage you to seriously consider what you are watching or reading. Ask yourself, is this strengthening my soul? Does this help me grow closer to Christ? Will this help me become a saint? Does this serve the mission? Chances are, the answer will be no. When that happens, pray for the grace to abandon those shows and books. It might be hard for a week or two, but eventually, you will forget all about them. The reality is that the closer we draw to Christ the less we want to have anything to do with counterfeits. God bless.
I have decided to add another post into my current series on Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and “gay marriage”. In a perfect world, all of us would fully assent to Church teaching before we professed to be Catholic. We would still sin, but all of us would, at least intellectually, assent to infallible teaching in love obedience, and humility. We would not put ourselves in grave danger by ignoring Church teaching and blatantly doing the opposite. For many of us, that just is not the case. It may be because we have never fully understood that, as Catholics, we are required to submit to Christ and His Church, including the hard teaching. A lot of priests and catechists have led people astray on this point over the last 50 years. Somehow our own conscience has begun to supersede the Church, in a nod to Descartes and the rampant relativism of our day. This is false, but is prevalent within the Church. I have done it in the past myself.
First of all we need to ask ourselves if we have really encountered Christ. Are we actually converted to Him. Are we ourselves evangelized? Is Christ the center of my life? Do I love Him more than anything? This takes a lifetime to do. Do I want His will over my own? Do I believe that the Church is headed by Christ, not men? Do I understand and believe that the Church’s teachings are in fact Christ’s? Do I believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, not a symbol? That is our starting point. Can I honestly say that I love and want to follow Jesus Christ? Then the rest comes into play.
I think that many people are ignorant of the Church and her teaching. They go to Mass on Sunday and think that is enough. They rely on their grade school level catechesis and think that is the end. There has not been as much emphasis on adult education until recent years. And even when these programs are available, the same 20 people show up. Many people do not think, or even realize, that study of the Gospels, Church documents, lives of the saints, etc. is a lifetime endeavor. I think many parents, in a striking similarity to the dominance of public education in this country for the past 150 years, think that religious educators, like myself, are responsible for teaching their children the Faith. This is also false. Parents are the first teachers of the Faith. I just help out.
Many families do not even pray outside of Sunday Mass. I have been astounded over the years as a catechist at the lack of prayer in family homes. I guess it should not surprise me, because it was not prevalent in my own home growing up. Once again, I think that families do not realize that being a Catholic is an all encompassing way of living. It makes us “not of this world, but the next”. We are planted here on earth, but Heavenly pursuits are our aim. It takes a lifetime to let go. Prayer begets prayer. The more we pray daily, the more we desire that prayer and union with God. Prayer leads to conversion.
Church teaching on sexual ethics in the face of an over-sexualized culture such as ours is hard to swallow. Mainly because people do not take the time to understand, or even teach (including way too many priests), the beauty that is God’s plan for the human person, which encompasses Theology of the Body. Most of us are told don’t do XY and Z, but never told why. As someone who abandoned Church teaching and lived with a boyfriend in her mid-Twenties, I can tell you that the WHY matters. So does orthodoxy. If you tell me you ignore Church teaching on one issue, then why should I not ignore others? This is the dictatorship of relativism that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned about. From the outside looking in, if you blatantly ignore it, then why shouldn’t I, is a terrible way to evangelize. This is how I felt back then. I am examining my own example in the past here. If I don’t fully live the Church’s call and her teaching, then I cannot evangelize. People want examples not words.
Conversion takes time. It takes prayer and it takes the Sacraments, especially Confession. I know. Constance, are you bringing up Confession again? I cannot tell you how important Confession truly is for the soul and for our path to holiness. Think about it this way. Blessed John Paul II who is about to be canonized went to Confession at least once a week. Many of the saints went daily. They are saints and feel the need for that frequent of Confession. I am not nearly a saint, so how often should I be going?! OFTEN! The Church’s requirement of once a year, except for mortal sin (it must be Confessed right away), is a minimum. I personally cannot go more than two weeks without needing Confession, and I am not even dabbling in the mortal sin arena these days. Not everyone is like that. Some people need monthly or bi-monthly. Figure out what is best for you, but go more than once a year. Take your kids to Confession!
Conversion may take serious prayer and many discussions with a priest. For me it was an “ah-ha” moment at a Theology of the Body seminar and a realization of my own incoherence at claiming to be Catholic, but ignoring Church teaching. Once I understood, I was all in. I still struggle at times. I have had three miscarriages, so it can be hard for me to want to get pregnant again. Using NFP is not easy, but it is the only option in line with God’s plan, until things stabilize for me. As hard as it is, I want to learn to live in line with God’s will, not my own. So I embrace it through the difficulties and fears.
We also live in a culture that thinks that marriage is about “me” and that is why no fault divorce and “gay marriage” are two sides of the same coin. If marriage is about “me” and not children and God’s plan for man and woman, then anything goes. Why limit it to just two people? What about inanimate objects? A woman married a bridge last year. Or why not marry myself, which is becoming popular? We live in a society that puts “me” and my desires at the center of all things. This is diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. I am not the center of all things, Christ is at the center. My husband and daughter are more important than I am. Sure I have to take care of myself, but my wants and desires are not primary. This is a major struggle for me in my sinful nature.
That same over sexualized culture makes things like pornography and promiscuity normal. Books like 50 Shades of Grey, Anne Rice, or certain romance novels convince women that they are not committing the sin of pornography when they actually are. Women are not as visual as men, so books are the preferred pornography. Reading about S&M could not be anything, but pornography. Anymore, rated “R” movies tow the line of pornography with graphic sex scenes and many wives see no harm in their husband’s Playboy subscription or occasional dabbling on the Internet. Pornography violates God’s desire for us because it makes human beings into objects of our own lust. Regardless of how we intend to watch or read something, sexual responses are a part of being human. Even if a character is fictitious it is meant to invoke lust in us. I will get more into this when I write about Theology of the Body at a later date.
Here is the crux of it, being Catholic is hard. Following Christ is the hardest thing we will ever do. No one said it would be easy, least of all Christ. Many of us in this country feel safe and secure, as if no one would ever attack us for our Faith. First, this is ignorance of American history and the Catholic Church and second, it ignores Scripture. We are promised persecution by Christ Himself. Being Catholic is “weird”. I personally love that weirdness, but it can be hard for others to swallow. Look at it this way, I am even weird in Catholic circles these days.
Here are some examples: We do not watch shows like Modern Family or anything that is meant to support the “gay marriage” agenda. Not because I do not like gay people, I love them and have had gay friends, but because I know the intent is to indoctrinate me. We do not watch rated “R” comedies anymore because they are sexually vulgar and mock our understanding of the human person. I do not read popular fiction, especially those which I know are pornographic. I know that Disney has jumped on the “gay marriage” band-wagon. I pray at Planned Parenthood. I boycott companies that support abortion and “gay marriage”. Church functions and requirements supersede all secular engagements in my week. My child will not play sports on Sundays. I read Catholic items before secular. I see the world as a Catholic. The Faith is the center, the very life blood, of my life. It makes me weird. I am okay with that. It is one of the many reasons I am a Lay Dominican. That is how Dominicans live. I am not a saint, but that is my goal, God willing. It should be every Christian’s goal.
Pray for conversion daily. We all need God to ‘help us in our unbelief’ in one way or another. Read up on what the Church teaches. Study the Faith. Pray about the Faith. Being Catholic is to delve into the deepest of oceans and then go even further on to Eternity. It would take so many lifetimes to take in the richness of the Faith. Talk to an orthodox priest. Let Him tell you the truth and help you reach that point of conversion. Find a good spiritual director who knows and loves the fullness of the Faith. Put Christ first in your life. Radical things will begin to happen.
Today I am going to write about what I see as the most controversial subject of our time: “gay marriage”. I also believe that this agenda will lead, and has led, to persecution of Catholics and other orthodox Christian churches. It will get very rough in the years to come. This particular series is meant for those who profess to be Catholic. First, I want to start with some observations about people within the Catholic Church and then broaden to wider implications. I will probably write a series, with this one focusing primarily on what the Church teaches about sexual sin.
The Catholic Church is losing the “gay marriage” debate within its own pews at this point in history. That will change as my generation rises up, but for now, many Catholics do not submit to Christ and His Church on this teaching. Quite frankly, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Large groups of Catholics ignore Church teaching on sexual matters. So let’s clear up some confusion first. A grave sin is a grave sin. Redundant? Yes. Here is what I mean: To knowingly (knowing Church teaching) and willfully use artificial contraception, get a tubal ligation or other types of sterilization, have an affair, engage in premarital sex, divorce and re-marriage (without an annulment), use (look at, watch , read) pornography, masturbation, use IVF, get an abortion, or engage in homosexual acts are all grave sins. There is no difference. Homosexual acts are not somehow more grave than heterosexual ones. For some reason I think that there are people who think that this is the case. Perhaps this is part of the reason individuals who struggle with same sex attraction are so hurt by the Church. Somehow their sins are worse than those of a heterosexual couple. This is categorically false.
Now that I have listed some sexual sins, let’s look at heterosexual couples. A large contingent of people who profess to be Catholic in the pews are engaged in the use of contraception, sterilization, pornography, cohabitation, etc. (I highly recommend investing in a Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic home should have one!!!! ) They either blatantly ignore Church teaching, putting their souls in great danger, or some may not know Church teaching. Ignorance of teaching does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. However, once you are aware that these are grave sins you are required to go to Confession and stop the sin. If you refuse to stop, I encourage you out of love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and you as a member of His Mystical Body, to refrain from the Eucharist until you have been converted to the truth. Pray for conversion. Taking the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin greatly endangers your soul. I say this as someone who has done it in the past. That is about as theological as I want to get in this post.
So why is the Church currently losing this battle in the pews? First, because many people who say they are Catholic are ignoring Church teaching. If they ignore Church teaching on these matters, why not support “gay marriage”? After all, they love each other. Second, there is a deep misunderstanding of what love truly means. In our society it seems that feeling, sentimentality, and attraction are the biggest components. Do homosexuals love one another? Yes, I am sure they do on some level. However, a proper understanding of love is as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “to will the good of the other, as other”. Third, I think that many Catholics think that celibacy is too hard for homosexuals. It’s too harsh to expect them to refrain from sexual activity, is one of the complaints made.
The Church’s, God’s, teaching on human sexuality is not meant to be a list of rules from some angry old man in the sky. Rather, since God is pure Love, he knows what is best for us. He knows how we will thrive and attain holiness. Our Lord knows what will kill a soul and He wants to do everything in His power to prevent this from happening. That is why the Church, His Bride, is our guide on this side of Heaven. Most of us would rather listen to the culture, but the culture is leading us to death. Christ leads us to life, and with that comes major sacrifice. It also requires that our lives be blatantly counter-cultural and it also means persecution. Christ was killed on a Cross, what makes us think that we are any different as His followers?
Within a Christian context love means that we desire what is best for someone even if they do not know what is best or choose what is bad for them. Part of the reason Christians are opposed to sexual sin is because they, when grave, kill a person’s soul. If I love someone do I want them to do something that would kill their soul? Not only that, Christ called us “to love our neighbors as ourselves”. That is a tall order and means that we must lovingly bring people to the Truth. So when someone tells me that they blatantly use contraception, cheat on their spouse, or engage in homosexual activity should I just say that is not my concern? As a member of the Mystical Body of Christ does this fit my Baptismal call? No. So the next time someone calls you out on a grave sin, remember it is out of great love and concern for your very soul.
Regardless of what our culture tells us, love requires great sacrifice. If you want to know what real love looks like, take a look at the Cross. Love is total self-emptying. It is the giving of everything we have, and then giving more. Do we all fall short? You bet! That is why we are sojourners. We are on a journey to holiness. It takes a lifetime, and for many Purgatory too. But, the Cross is the ultimate example of how we are to live our lives. That includes fighting against a culture that worships at the the altar of the false god of sex. Sex in and of itself is not love. It is a total self-giving. It is the uniting of one man and one women who have taken been joined in a covenant before God. Two become one flesh.
There are many Catholics who say that it is too hard for homosexuals to be celibate, or chaste. As a Catholic, this is a rather silly assertion. There are hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, sisters, and brothers who live celibate lives throughout the world. Celibacy has always been seen as a loving sacrifice to Christ, which is why virginity is celebrated in the Church. But, if you don’t believe me, look at the stories of individuals who struggle with same sex attraction who live celibate lives as Catholics. Here is one example.
We must remember that as Catholics we are not called to be a “good person” we are called to be holy; to be saints. They are not the same thing. Hopefully, now you more fully understand God’s desire and love for you. If you are struggling with Church teaching then you need to discuss it with your parish priest. If, Heaven forbid, your priest does not fully submit to Church teaching, then find one who does. A lot of people have been hurt and led astray from “the spirit of Vatican II”. Humanae Vitae and other similar documents require our submission. They teach timeless truths. I pray for your conversion, healing, and strength in the years to come. The next part of this series will discuss how the “gay marriage” agenda is the greatest threat to our religious liberty that we face today. I will then write a post on parenting in an over sexualized culture that wants to convert us to its beliefs, and quite frankly, wants our children.
It is Small Success Thursday over at CatholicMom.com. Come share this week’s small successes with us.
*A note to moms and dads: Some of this may be hard to read or understand, but this is the reality of what our daughters are facing. Things have changed drastically since we were teens.
*There will be a letter to sons coming very soon.