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.

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!

Should Catholics Use Profanity and Vulgarity?

No they shouldn’t.

You may stop reading this post and continue with your life. But for those who disagree, or who want to read some justification for my answer, read on!

Profanity and Vulgarity In Society Today

I spent quite a lot of time last year with two friends whose daily conversation always included liberal doses of vulgarity, sexual innuendo, graphic sexual stories, and profanity.

Catholic Vulgarity ProfanityThey knew I was Catholic, but I never acted shocked by their behavior. To me it was all too trite and banal. Whenever I had had enough of it for one day or week, I would tell them knock it off, if not for goodness’ sake, then for the sake of me as their friend. They would manage to do so for an hour or two before starting up again.

These two friends are atheists, and have no compunction about morality or following God or anything like it.

I know all about how they are, because as an atheist I was just like them.

I used profanity, the f-word and all the others, made vulgar sexual references, and couldn’t care less what people thought about it.

During college I roomed with a Christian friend, and I would let fly profanity just to get a rise out of him. He would turn and stare at me and shake his head slowly, deadly serious, and it just made me laugh more. What a prudish dweeb! I thought.

But then I became a Christian. A Southern Baptist Protestant to be precise, who are known of course for their strict guidelines against dancing, drinking alcohol, and using profanity. I didn’t give up alcohol, so that was not a big deal, and truth be told I was never any good at dancing, so that prohibition meant nothing, but the profanity and vulgarity were another thing, something I had to consider.

Impure Speech and the Scriptures

As a new Christian, I read the Bible. And that meant I read passages like these:

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”(Philippians 4:8)

Catholic Vulgarity Profanity“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. We would be liable for every word we uttered.

These divinely inspired directives made an impact on me. I took them seriously because I believed they were God’s commands. I reflected on the use of my speech over my many years as an atheist and realized that, like so many other behaviors in my life, I needed to change.

After converting from atheism, I went through my movie collection and threw out movies that glorified perversion, vulgarity, were pornographic or sexually explicit, or made a joke out of demeaning human life.

I went through my music and cleaned out blasphemous and profanely vulgar albums.

Should it surprise me that, after twenty years of living without God, I should have lots of cleaning out to do, both externally and internally? No. No surprise at all. God showed me all the dark corners in my heart and bade me open the door to let His light cleanse them.

It took years, but I eradicated vulgarity and profanity from my speech (and from my heart as well, as best I could).

Catholics Using Vulgar Speech

Many Catholics I know use vulgar speech (and liberal profanity). When I hear them use such speech I consider that they simply don’t realize that it is wrong. As a Baptist I would have said that they had not been “convicted” about vulgarity.

The defenses given are that profanity is culturally conditioned, that vulgarity is not really wrong, that the Bible uses vulgarity or profanity.

For instance St. Paul, frustrated by the Judaizers, says to the Galatians: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12)

Elsewhere he uses a word to mean excrement.

So are these usages the same as the vulgarity and profanity I hear from my potty-mouth atheist friends and Catholic ones? No, not at all. Catholic Vulgarity and Profanity

The speech I hear from atheist and Catholic friends given to vulgarity is much worse. It is speech that calls to one’s mind the perverse, graphic, or sexually immoral scenes or objects they are speaking about. It is too often gratuitous and explicit.

Now, maybe one is so strong a Christian that such language, no matter how graphic or perverse, never leads one mind to picture the things spoken of. But even if that were the case, St. Paul speaks of being mindful of your weaker brother, so as not to lead him to sin.

I could given several recent examples from my own friends’ mouths of such speech, but in doing so it would do the very thing I counsel them against. So I won’t reproduce their words, but they describe gravely immoral sexual actions.

Puritan! Purity Prude!

In response to my objections against vulgar speech, those who employ it accuse me of being a Puritan, or a prude, or a Purity Snob. This is unfortunate, as if there are only two options: either use vulgarity and profanity or be a Purity Snob. False dichotomy.

The virtue of purity is something good, and it sits between the two vices on either side of crudeness and prudishness. We should all strive to be pure, and one of the things that means is to think and speak on things that are true, noble, good, and beautiful.

God gave us speech so we could communicate with each other, to edify one another, to express love and enter communion together. This is what the Bible says many times. We misuse the gift of our speech when we, among other things, speak vulgarities. More often than not nowadays, the vulgarity debases human sexuality.

pure1When my friend used vulgarity at a social event, I gently rebuked him for it. Not in a mean way, but in a “c’mon man, you can do better than that” way. He was a bit taken aback by my remonstrance, and we talked a little about it. Since then I have not seen a decrease in his use of vulgarity, but as a friend and Catholic brother I will continue exhorting him on the subject.

I’m Being Real and Authentic

The last defense I hear from Catholics using vulgarity is that they are being “authentic and real” and that they are reaching people that Puritan Catholics like me could never reach.

First, there is nothing authentic and real about being vulgar. No more than it is authentic to be lustful or to binge on alcohol. These are not virtuous actions.

Can you imagine Our Lady speaking in such a vulgar way or doing these other things? Of course not. Who does act that way? Pagan atheists. That should clue you in that there is something wrong with the behavior. Imitate the saints, not the heathens.

Second, there are many ways to reach people. You can reach people without using profanity and vulgarity. In ridding it from your lexicon, you will actually be even more authentic, even more who God made you to be, and if that is indeed what they are drawn to–the authentic you–then they will be even more drawn to you.

Let’s think and speak on things that are noble and pure, holy and edifying!

Having trouble cleansing your speech from vulgarity? You might want to try praying a novena! This post has been brought to you by Pray: the Catholic Novena app, available now in the Apple App Store.