It’s Lent, the time where Catholics around the world have chosen to give up their chocolates or coffee or maybe even desserts until Easter Sunday. Or, if you’re like me sometimes, maybe it’s now time where you rush to figure out something to give up or add because you really haven’t thought about it until today: Ash Wednesday.
What if, though, this special liturgical season was about more than just giving something up for 40 days? What if we truly tried to enter the desert with Jesus in intentional prayer and fasting?
That is the challenge. Instead of Lent being a season to give something up or add something only to return to our old ways of life at Easter, perhaps it can be a season that will be the start of an incredible transformation of our hearts, so that by Easter we may begin to rise with new life in Christ and let our old ways die.
In particular, Lent is a perfect time to renew our efforts to grow in the virtue of chastity, especially if you are in bondage to pornography.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2339) offers us this clear message when it comes to self-mastery in chastity: “Either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”
The latter is an all-too-common story I have heard as I have encountered those who are trying to break free from their 20+ year addiction to pornography.
Where does one begin so as to not fall into the realm of being dominated by these passions?
While I don’t have the “one answer to rule them all,” I would recommend starting with a powerful patron of chastity: Saint Thomas Aquinas. Have you heard part of his story? Here’s how it goes:
“He was born in 1226 as the youngest son of a noble family in Italy. His parents wanted him to become a Benedictine monk in the hopes that he might one day become the abbot, or leader, of a prestigious monastery. However, God had other plans. In his teenage years, the monks sent St. Thomas to study theology in Naples, Italy, and there he came across members of the Dominican Order. At the time, the Dominican Order was relatively young and had little social prestige. St. Thomas became very interested in Dominican life and joined the order against the wishes of his parents. His parents were so opposed his decision to become a Dominican friar that they had him arrested by his own brothers and jailed in one of the family castles. They would not release him until he relented and attempted many times to persuade him to change his mind. For a full year he refused to relent. Instead, he quietly studied the Bible and grew in wisdom and knowledge. Finally, after becoming tired of waiting, the brothers of St. Thomas conceived one last plan. They were certain that physical temptation would drive him to break his vow of chastity, after which he would surely abandon his religious vocation.
One night, the brothers introduced a scantily clad prostitute into the room where St. Thomas was being held. The plan did not work as intended. Immediately, St. Thomas snatched a burning brand from the hearth, drove the woman out of the room, slammed the door behind her, and emblazoned the sign of the cross on the door with the red-hot brand. He then fell to his knees with tears of thanksgiving and prayed to be preserved in his chastity, purity, and intention to live the religious life.
According to the records of his canonization, Thomas fell at once into a mystical sleep and had a vision. Two angels came to him from heaven and bound a cord around his waist, saying, ‘On God’s behalf, we gird you with the girdle of chastity, a girdle which no attack will ever destroy.’ In the records of his canonization, many witnesses who knew St. Thomas at various points in his life remarked about his high degree of purity and chastity. The angels’ gift preserved St. Thomas from sexual temptation and bestowed upon him an enduring purity that ennobled all his thoughts and actions. Pope Pius XI wrote: ‘If St. Thomas had not been victorious when his chastity was in peril, it is very probable that the Church would never have had her Angelic Doctor.’”
How incredible is that?
It gets better. After Saint Thomas Aquinas died, the cord of purity that he had worn was preserved and made available for public veneration. People began to visit the cord and pray for purity. In fact, many would have their own cords touched to the relic and would wear them, hoping that the prayers of this purest saint would aid them in the struggle for chastity. In the middle of the 17th century, Father Francis Duerwerders, O.P., organized a devotion to Saint Thomas Aquinas and established it as the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, which would be founded for the Church as a whole in 1727 by Pope Benedict XII.
The Confraternity still exists today, and you can be a part of the fellowship of men and women dedicated to pursuing and promoting chastity together under the patronage of Saint Thomas and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So, when it comes to this Lenten season, here are a few suggestions I would propose to really give your efforts to grow in chastity a holy boost, with Saint Thomas Aquinas by your side:
Join the Confraternity. There are three essential practices as a member of this fellowship: 1) Take the steps to enroll and register. 2) Wear either the blessed cord of Saint Thomas or blessed medal of Saint Thomas (or both) as continuously as one reasonably can for the rest of one’s life, and 3) pray the daily prayers for purity for oneself and all members of the Confraternity. The daily prayers consist of two special prayers for chastity and fifteen Hail Marys.
Take up the Novena for Purity. Covenant Eyes partnered with the Angelic Warfare Confraternity to bring you this novena, which is nine days of focused prayer where you’ll ask God to strengthen you in various ways as you seek to live a life of purity. You can begin at any time.
Incorporate Fasting. Since the first two ideas speak to incorporating prayer into your Lenten journey, here is one to incorporate fasting: STRIVE. It’s a 21-day detox from pornography, created by Matt Fradd. That’s right, 21 days of no porn (and masturbation). Let’s face the elephant in the room, porn is a pandemic that is tearing marriages and families apart, and we know from Sister Lucia of Fatima that the final battle between Christ and Satan would be over marriage and the family. Is it a coincidence then that pornography is such a problem? I think not.
Here’s the great thing about STRIVE: It’s free. You can sign up at any point. If you’re a priest or leader in your diocese or parish, I encourage you to share this with the men in your community. It has been a gamechanger for so many.
This is one testimonial:
"STRIVE has changed my life this past month because it is the first time I've intentionally gone this long without porn or masturbation. I didn't think that would ever happen. I now know this life is possible.”
I pray that your heart may be transformed this Lenten season with what the Lord is laying on your heart to pursue. And if you’re struggling with chastity and purity, I will be praying extra prayers for you, for I know personally how the battle rages inside.
Related: Hey, wanna see something?
One final thought: In Mark 1:40-45, we listen to how Jesus healed the leper. As I reflect on this passage, I’m moved by the words of the leper and how he knelt down before Jesus, begging him for healing. Perhaps those words can be your own prayer to God this Lent: “Lord if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Whatever the leprosy in your life, Jesus in His Divine Mercy does will for us to be clean. He will be moved with pity as we come to Him in complete abandonment and vulnerability. And His perfect glory and goodness will be known by all as our lives become a reflection of His redemptive love.
STRIVE: A 21-Day Detox from Porn
STRIVE: A 21-Day Detox from Porn by Matt Fradd has transformed the lives of men from all around the world. It is a step-by-step plan to finally break free from porn, delivered each day. Powerful videos, challenges, live events, a free trial to Covenant Eyes, and a world-wide community included.
Audience: Men ages 18 and over
Resource Type: Detox Challenge