About Those Two Bishops And the Prostitute

So the story goes…

To teach the theology of the body, Christopher West tells a story about two bishops seeing a prostitute:

The following story illustrates what mature Christian purity looks like. Two bishops walked out of a Cathedral just as a scantily clad prostitute passed by.

One bishop immediately turned away. The other bishop looked at her intently. The bishop who turned away exclaimed, ‘Brother bishop, what are you doing? Turn your eyes!’ When the bishop turned around, he lamented with tears streaming down his face, ‘How tragic that such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.’

Which one of those bishops was vivified with the ethos of redemption? Which one had passed over from merely meeting the demands of the law to a superabounding fulfillment of the law? (From West’s Theology of the Body Explained, revised edition, p. 215).

A striking story, to be sure. It leads me to ask myself: “Am I truly free? Have I been “vivified by the ethos of redemption”? Or am I merely meeting the “demands of the law” in avoiding to look at a scantily clad woman, for fear of lusting?

Courtship Accusation

West’s version of this story has cropped up a few times in my life as a Catholic, first with a young Catholic woman that I courted a few years after my conversion to Catholicism.

Christopher West
Christopher West

She had been learning about the theology of the body, primarily through Christopher West’s work, and she had introduced me to it for the first time.

I was excited and intrigued by what I learned in the theology of the body, and she and I discussed it often.

One day, we were going to Blockbuster video to rent a movie (yes, I realize this dates me horribly; for younger folks, this was a video rental chain where you went to rent physical DVDs or VHS movies). Blockbuster was pretty awful: every tenth movie you came across featured scantily clad women and some kind of lewdness.

At this point in my Catholic life, I was still struggling with overcoming pornography and lustful sins. I suggested to my girlfriend that I disliked going into Blockbuster because it meant having to face temptation to lust, or at the least have seeds of temptation planted by seeing so many provocative video covers.

She responded by saying: “So you are like the bishop who looked away from the prostitute. You’ve not truly internalized the theology of the body but are only avoiding looking at women because you will lust.”

I was hurt by her words, and at the time I also felt them to be unfair. Here I was, striving to become strong in chastity, but still on the journey, and I was being criticized for not having arrived already at the destination.

Naturally, we got into an argument about it, and we ended up not going to Blockbuster. While that courtship eventually ended, it was a good learning experience for me (and hopefully for her).

What Do I Have to Do to Be Free?

Fast forward 13 years later. I’m happily married with two children. And by God’s grace, I overcame pornography addiction and lustful sins. I am free from them and their power over me, and yet I remain on guard against temptation, knowing that I am not in Heaven yet.

Auxiliary Bishops Robert J. Brennan and Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, N.Y., smile as they process from St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre following their episcopal ordination July 25. Bishop Brennan, 50, is the vicar general of Rockville Centre. Bishop Perez, 51, was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when he was named a bishop. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic) (June 26, 2012)

I created a course to help Catholic men win freedom from pornography and lust. A friend of mine came over to visit and we talked about the course. On the side he does personal coaching to help Catholic men overcome pornography addiction. He himself had struggled with it for many years but conquered it by God’s grace.

He told me that, while he appreciated confession, Mass, the Rosary, devotions, spiritual direction, and so on, he doesn’t think those things are capable of helping a man retrain his heart to see women without lusting after them. At best, they are necessary, but not sufficient, means to achieve purity.

I told him that the course also includes many truths from the theology of the body. But he didn’t think that that was enough either. He explained that he had grown in purity so much that he is never tempted to look at pornography or to lust, and that this type of healing and retraining can only occur through a specific kind of therapy, one that he himself coaches men on.

Now, he said, he is able to look at any woman without being tempted to lust. He went on to say that if any man isn’t at that place yet, then he is really just at the “avoidance” level of purity, only able to avert his eyes and not really free.

Sound familiar? It’s the Two Bishops story once again. Prayers and confession, the sacraments and spiritual disciplines are all well and good, I hear my friend saying, but they don’t lead to true purity. Even learning and understanding the theology of the body is not enough. The virtue of purity must be attained by some other, or at least additional, means than these traditional Catholic practices.

Another Take on the Two Bishops

I am willing to ask myself: “Have I just gotten good at avoiding temptations to lust? Am I not truly free?”

As I reflected on those questions, I could only answer “I don’t know.” I suspect my friend is off the mark, a bit too sanguine about the state of redeemed man and concupiscence, but I am not God and can’t tell you the level of my virtue. Perhaps I have simply not undergone a strong enough test to truly prove me a fraud in this regard.

But I would also answer that it doesn’t matter that much. If the net result in both cases is living chastely, then however one got there, however one may still be tempted, is immaterial. If I’m living virtuously even though it may be very hard, even though I have to avert my gaze from the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, I’m acting in a way that is pure, interiorly and exteriorly, by God’s grace.

One does not conquer pornography and lust on one’s own steam. It requires grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist itself, the Church teaches, strengthens us against future mortal sin. God hasn’t been keeping the remedies to sin and the aids to virtue secret from us. They are there in plain sight, for all to receive and have been since the founding of His Church.

Further, fleeing from temptation, conscious of our own weaknesses, is a practice that the saints commend to us. Pope Francis quoted St. Therese who said:

“In some temptations, the only solution is to escape, to not be ashamed to escape, to recognize that we are weak and we have to escape.” — St. Therese of Lisieux

The truth is that there is a spectrum of virtue between the two bishops. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and one must flee temptation. Other times, having grown heroically strong in virtue, one is called to fight and overcome.

Teachings Old And New

tocuhIn my course on purity, I highly recommend people read the theology of the body, either in its original form or via an evangelist like Christopher West. I endorse his books and ship them out to people

The teachings of the theology of the body are good, and they are one more weapon to growing in purity. It is vital to arm one’s intellect with the proper understand of the beauty of the human person and the purpose of our sexuality. Learning about these was a key element in my growth in purity.

But we are not all the same. Some men benefit from one tool over another, one devotion over another. And men are at all different stages in their journey to freedom. Men closer to the beginning may need crutches, may need to take radical steps to avoid temptation. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Some men further along in the journey may never need to avert their eyes from a prostitute or swimsuit edition. Others, just as far along, but with a different constitution, may find it prudent to continue averting their eyes. Do we drop the Two Bishops gotcha on them?  I don’t think so.

Wiser, in my experience, is to recognize that every man is different, and to encourage each man to try a variety of tactics and tools to grow in purity.

Further, we should never downplay the Church’s time-honored medicines for conquering vice and strengthening virtue. God instituted them for a reason. They have the backing of His grace and power. They come with divine promises of conversion.

About those two bishops: I’m probably somewhere in the spectrum between them. But both are Catholic.

Principles of Catholic Courtship

I just listened to an excellent talk on Catholic courtship by Fr. Ripperger:

Every Catholic parent should listen to it and seek to understand it, and every young adult Catholic should as well. It could save you a lifetime of heartache!

Here’s a recap of what Fr. Ripperger talks about and how my wife Catherine and I courted.

Preparing for Courtship

Courtship has a negative connotation for many nowadays, being associated with antiquated and even harmful practices. But any such excesses or wrong-headed notions are not inherent in courtship itself.

Courtship is a means to a specific end: marriage.

Courtship vs. dating: dating, especially in our society, is largely recreational. Even if two people think that perhaps one day they may get married, dating does not entail marriage is even a goal or purpose for a couple.

Courtship however is not recreational. It is asking a specific question: does this person have sufficient virtue to be a good spouse for me?

Virtue, another word that has a bad connotation for many, is a set of good habits. They tell you how another person will most likely act. Will this person be able to share a life in common, rear children wisely, and be willing to do the duties of their state in life as husband and father or wife and mother?

From the natural law: the primary function of the husband and father is to protect the honor/virtue of his wife and daughters. So the father makes the final judgment about whether a young man is honorable and will be virtuous with his daughter.

Given that background, let’s get into the four stages of courtship.

Catholic Courtship Stage 1: Friendship

Any courtship first begins with friendship. Each gets to know the other as friends, without any romantic pursuits.

Recall that love is willing the good of another. “Love at first sight” is therefore meaningless. You do not know a man’s moral character on the first date.

Consider the prevalence of pornography and lust in our world, even among Catholic men. Women need to ask themselves whether the man is capable of love, or whether he is a slave to lust. Many women, including Catholic women, don’t even imagine that a Catholic man could struggle with lust, but the numbers indicate that they should be expecting it. (For Catholic men struggling with lust, check out my video course here.)

Mutual love at this friendship stage is based on virtue. Interactions should be done in public settings to see if person has virtue. Also, there should be no physical affection at this stage, so each person can have clarity of judgment.

If they do have sufficient virtue, and they judge each other’s personalities are sufficiently matched, they can go to next stage.

My wife and I began our friendship online, through a Catholic singles site. We then met in person for the first time, as friends, and got to spend time together. We became friends through phone calls, emails, and written correspondence, but it was only after meeting in person that we were able to really determine whether we were a good match for each other.

Stage 2: Courtship

The hallmark of the courtship stage is the beginning of exclusivity. There’s a recognition that you are considering each other for marriage in an exclusive way. Again, contrast that with modern secular dating where you might date four people at a time.

Before entering this stage, the young man should ask permission from the young woman’s father if he can court her. Now, this might seem antiquated and ridiculous, but I can attest the wisdom behind it. I asked Catherine’s father for his permission to court her. He laughed and couldn’t believe I was asking him. But I wanted to receive his approval, even if he didn’t realize it was his duty to give it.

Also during this stage, you should get to know each other’s family as well. These will be your in-laws, your brothers-in-law, etc. and you will see the environment in which your girlfriend grew up.

The principal function of this stage is self-denial: spend more time together to understand more deeply if the person is virtuous and would be a good match. Note the recurring theme here! Marriage without virtue is miserable. Better to know now then walk in blindly and pay the consequences.

Also, it may come as a surprise that there should be no physical affection in this stage either: it causes bonding to occur to various degrees, and that emotional bond can confuse wise decision-making. Since you are not fully commited to one another, if the courtship is broken off, those emotional bonds can cause great pain, so it is unjust to commit more with your body than you have in your heart.

The young man is looking to see whether the young woman can and will submit to his headship in marriage. She is looking for love: is he self-sacrificing? Is he capable and willing to suffer for her and for their children one day?

This period can last 3 – 6 months.

My wife and I entered courtship and it lasted for four months. We were still living in different states so every month I flew out to her city or flew her out to mine and we spent extended periods together. I saw in her a virtuous young woman, serious about prayer and following Christ through His Church.

Stage 3: Betrothal

Betrothal is often thought of as engagement in our modern culture.

But in older times, society didn’t consider a pair engaged until the betrothal. The young man needs to ask her father for permission to marry his daughter; and only after receiving that approval can he ask young woman for her hand.

If she says yes, now they go to priest for the rite of betrothal. This rite is a series of promises that says “yes I intend to marry you.” Most Catholics have no idea that such a rite exists.

Catherine and I, without any sort of guidance for a priest or other who knew about this, stumbled upon the existence of the rite and asked the priest to do it for us after we got engaged. The priest didn’t know what we were talking about but went ahead with it anyway.

Physical affection can begin during this stage, prudently, as only for grave reasons should a betrothal be broken. Of course, that physical affection should be done chastely and without breaking the commandments.

The couple also should be praying together seriously. They should not be alone together, as the young man needs to protect her honor and reputation.

Principal thing to look for in this stage: can he moderate himself in a relationship with me, and vice-versa? This stage is an opportunity to grow in virtue even more deeply.

Stage 4: Marriage

This stage is self-explanatory as it is the end of the courtship. By now the couple has discerned that they are a good match for each other, that they are marrying someone who will love them and live virtuously.

That doesn’t mean perfectly or without even erring or commiting a sin. But it does mean that they have a confident assurance that the other wills what is best for them and is willing to self-sacrifice for their good and the good of their future children.

Even going through all this, both persons are human. Both have faults and blind spots and weaknesses and areas of improvement. In our cases, I grew up in an atheist family and my wife grew up in a family with some particular challenges. These rear their head during marriage; it doesn’t mean they are insuperable but all the more reason that virtue is needed.

So, Catholic husbands and fathers: are you willing to step up and fulfill your role to help your daughter marry a virtuous man?

(Want to help become a better man or woman for your spouse or future spouse? Start praying novenas regularly! This post has been brought to your by my free app, Pray the Catholic Novena app.)

How to Raise Chaste Catholic Men

Impossible task? Some say it is so.

With so many men, including Catholic men, addicted to pornography and lustful vices, the idea that parents can rear a chaste (read: self-mastered) Catholic young man seems impossible.

Not so, says Leila Miller, Catholic mother to many, including virtuous Catholic sons. What are her secrets? Read on!

Raising Chaste Catholic Men

Leila is an old friend of mine and sent me an early draft of her first book: Raising Chaste Catholic Men: Practical Advice, Mom to Mom.

I flew through the book: it’s written in down-to-earth language with straightforward advice that is instantly applicable to your parenting. Also, as a now-Catholic man who is now-chaste, I was able to read the book from the perspective of someone who had to fight to discover the truths Leila talks about.

What are her priorities when rearing sons:

  • Make moral formation top priority
  • Logically explain beliefs and principles
  • Make discussions open to any topic

Moral Formation

Moral formation, says Leila, trumps teaching kids to be financially shrewd, socially popular, or even academically successful.

We want our children to become ultimately successful, which means they become saints, so moral formation with the truths of the Church is top priority.

Logically Explain Catholic Beliefs

Faith is supported by reason; the two go hand-in-hand. So when a child asks “why” we believe a certain dogma, do not say “that’s just the way it is, I’m not sure why.” Be ready with reasons to support the belief.

Examples include areas where the Catholic Church’s teachings contradict those of our modern secular society, e.g. contraception, divorce, pre-marital sex, etc. but also truths of divine revelation like the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.

No Holds Barred

Nothing that you children bring up is taboo. Of course, Leila wisely cautions that our responses need to be age appropriate and divulge just enough information to satisfy, but the important point is that your children grow to trust you and know they can bring up sensitive topics with you.

Later on Leila talks about respecting the latency period, or “years of innocence” as Pope St. John Paul II said: 5 years old til puberty. This means not disturbing this period with unnecessary information about sexual topics.

Being careful to guard them during this time means being vigilant not just of what they see and hear in your own home, but also via movies, television, videos, music, and their peers. They may go over to a friend’s house every week whose parents are MIA or oblivious to all of these things.

So Many Good Guidelines

Leila teaches you how to answer questions your children will face from the culture on sexuality, then also dives into uncomfortable topics like masturbation and pornography and how to help your children see through their emptiness.

She also devotes a chapter to navigating pop culture: movies, video games, school choices, and more. She isn’t dogmatic or condemning on these matters (e.g. “homeschool is the only way!” or “no movies or t.v., period!”) but also gives prudent warnings of the dangers your children will face from pop culture and society.

Finally, she interviews her sons on a range of topics related to purity, and they share their thoughts, proof that young Catholic men can grow up to be strong in chastity.

Raising Chaste Catholic Men is a must-read book for all Catholic parents. We are facing an epidemic of impurity and it is wrecking souls, marriages, children, and women. We aren’t doing near enough as the Church to combat it and reverse the direction, and too often Catholics don’t look much different than the culture when it comes to the statistics of men addicted to pornography.

After you get the book, consider buying my course for Catholic men to conquer pornography addiction.

Perhaps you weren’t blessed with wise parents like the Millers and fell into the pit of pornography and lust. An ounce of prevention is best, but sometimes you need the pound of cure. I did, but the good news is that the Church’s teachings are true and will liberate you from this evil.

Thanks Leila for a great book!