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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.