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We Become What We Choose Regularly
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Is His Life Ruined by Viewing Pornography?
Can You Recommend Resources for the Year of St. Paul?
How Can I Find a Good Spiritual Director?


Q: My daughter’s oldest son is 15 and a half. When he was 13, she discovered that he had viewed pornography on the computer. She admits that she was not vigilant enough about his computer activity, but since then she supervises him more carefully.

Recently, however, someone told her that her son’s life is ruined because he viewed pornography at a young age—and that nothing can change this. She is sick with guilt and asked me what she should do.

I cannot answer her because I do not know if anything can be done to right this wrong. What can I say to give her some encouragement?

A: No, your grandson’s life is not ruined by viewing pornography as a youth. Nothing can be done now to erase that past, distressing as it is. With help from your daughter and others, your grandson can learn to recognize that pornography denies that human sexuality is a profound gift from God. The Bible teaches us that we must always recognize people as our brothers and sisters loved by God—never as mere objects for another’s pleasure.

Habitually viewing pornography and accepting these images as “normal” corrupts a person’s understanding of sexuality. Pornography has become an addiction for individuals who prefer virtual relationships that require no self-sacrifice over genuine relationships that always involve self-sacrifice.

It is true that people frequently need help processing and interpreting many types of experiences. Sometimes professional assistance is needed, depending on the gravity of the event, its duration and other factors.

I continue to be amazed by the number of people who are quick to say that some incident inevitably ruins a person’s life. That sounds almost blasphemous because only God could know such a thing. An individual’s future unfolds according to the choices that he or she makes. It seems to me that those who say, “It’s all over now,” have missed what Jesus teaches about repentance, conversion and new life.

God alone is absolute. Unfortunately, human beings sometimes act as though they can become absolute simply by speaking about God. Not so.

Your daughter is hopefully doing more than monitoring her son’s computer activity more closely. Has she challenged the warped view of life that pornographic images present? Why should furtive viewing of pornography be considered more realistic than an open, genuinely loving relationship with someone?

An example from my years of teaching high school religion may help here. I once suggested to my students that life is like a VCR tape (remember those?) that moves only forward. Whatever we have done or failed to do— that part of a person’s life—cannot be rewound and taped over with new and better material, totally erasing the original decisions from memory.

We can, however, decide which things will go on our life’s tape in the future. We can and must dilute the evil that we have already committed while reinforcing the good things we have done.

We do this diluting and reinforcing by means of our future choices, not by dwelling on past mistakes. We need to acknowledge our mistakes, confess our sins and then make the daily choices that cumulatively will indicate which of our past choices represent “the real me.”

The document Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media: A Pastoral Response (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, 1989) wisely states: “Even so-called ‘soft-core’ pornography can have a progressively desensitizing effect, gradually rendering individuals morally numb and personally insensitive to the rights and dignity of others.

“Exposure to pornography can also be—like exposure to narcotics—habit-forming and can lead individuals to seek increasingly ‘hard-core’ and perverse material. The likelihood of anti-social behavior can grow as this process continues.” The entire document can be accessed through www.vatican.va.

In time, all of us become what we choose, that is, what we accept as normal, ordinary and “no big deal.” God allows U-turns.

Q: The Catholic Church’s Year of St. Paul runs through June 29, 2009, honoring the 2,000th anniversary of his birth. Paul was clearly one of the first mystics in the Church and, like all mystics, fairly deep.

I would like to start reading Paul’s letters. Is there a companion work which would help to illuminate his meaning? Even though his letters are read at Mass, I am sure there is much that I do not understand. Thanks for any recommendation to help get me started.

A: What kind of a Bible do you own? The New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible have excellent introductions, footnotes and cross references for all the books of the Bible. The New Revised Standard Version has very helpful introductions. Its footnotes to explain passages that may puzzle you are shorter than the two Bibles already mentioned.

St. Anthony Messenger Press offers Saint Paul: Called to Conversion: A Seven-day Retreat (a book by Father Ronald Witherup, S.S.), Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (a CD series by Richard Rohr, O.F.M.) and Paul: Apostle to the Church Today (a six-part DVD series by Stephen Doyle, O.F.M.). Father Witherup’s article on page 22 of this issue gives a broad overview of Paul’s life and world.

Liturgical Press’s Web site describes 26 Paul resources, plus three popular-level booklets from The Collegeville Bible Commentary series. All the booklets in that series are available in The Collegeville Bible Commentary.

Paulist Books offers numerous resources, including 101 Questions and Answers on Paul (by Father Ronald Witherup, S.S.), The Life of St. Paul (by Father Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P.) and Reading the Letters of Saint Paul: Study, Reflection and Prayer (by Carolyn Thomas, S.C.N.).

New City Press’s “Spiritual Commentaries” series includes two books by Father Daniel Harrington, S.J.: Romans: The Good News According to Paul and Paul’s Prison Letters: On Paul’s Letters to Philemon, the Philippians and the Colossians. First Corinthians: Building Up the Church, by Vincent Branick, is also in this series.

Our Sunday Visitor has published St. Paul: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics, by Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

Pauline Books & Media has produced Letters of Saint Paul, a small volume containing the texts of Paul’s letters, plus three appendices for searching Paul’s writings on particular topics.

Pope Benedict XVI’s St. Paul (Spiritual Thoughts Series), a collection of short passages from his homilies, Angelus addresses and talks for other occasions, is available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., has edited Praying With St. Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul (Magnificat Press).

Now You Know Media offers St. Paul: His Life, Faith and Legacy (24 talks by Father Ronald Witherup, S.S., on eight audio CDs). Ignatius Press offers St. Paul: Contending for the Faith, a DVD by Stephen Ray.

All these resources are available through Catholic bookstores. Best wishes on growing in your understanding of St. Paul’s writings!

Q: I know that many saints had spiritual directors. I have read that “ordinary” people can also have spiritual directors. I try to live a good life, but sometimes I have questions and doubts. How does someone go about finding a spiritual director? Many priests are already very busy looking after large parishes.

A: Some parish priests explicitly make spiritual direction part of their ministry. Many women and men in religious communities (even contemplative ones) are spiritual directors. A retreat center in your area may be able to suggest names of lay, religious and clerical spiritual directors nearby.

A spiritual director does not map out and direct another person’s faith journey but rather serves as a companion on that journey, questioning and reaffirming as necessary. Spiritual directors must ask tough questions if the person seeking direction appears not to recognize some barrier to God’s grace that he or she is creating.

Saints are people who accept God’s ways as normal, making more and more “room” in their lives for God’s grace to act. No one is born a saint!

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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