167. How to Overcome Pornographic Distortions Without Negating the Goodness of the Body and of Sexual Desire

Rome, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria of Ecstasy of St Theresa, by Bernini Gian Lorenzo, 1644 - 1652, 17th Century, marble

Rome, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria of Ecstasy of St Theresa, by Bernini Gian Lorenzo, 1644 – 1652, 17th Century, marble

Pope Francis’s marvelous reflection on St. Paul’s hymn to love (“Love is patient, love is kind…”) from his document The Joy of Love continues to enrich me. I’d like to reflect on what Pope Francis said about the fact that “love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” as a way of overcoming the distortions of our pornographic world. What follows is an excerpt from my new book (see bottom of post) on Pope Francis’s document.

I recently read that the world’s largest porn site gets 2.4 million visitors per hourIn one year alone, people around the world watched 4.4 billion hours of its content – that’s over half a million years worth … on only one of the millions of pornographic websites available. The magnitude of the problem and the misery it causes is simply unfathomable.

Why do I bring this up here? Because taking pleasure in the sexual exploitation of men and women in pornography is a keen example of “rejoicing in the wrong.” Pope Francis speaks of this as “the toxic attitude of those who rejoice at seeing an injustice done to others.” What could be more unjust to a person than to turn a blind eye to his or her dignity and value by treating that person as an object to be exploited, used, bought and sold for others’ lustful gratification?

The way we overcome “rejoicing at wrong,” however, is not merely by condemning the wrong, but by “rejoicing in the right.” In this case, overcoming the wrong of pornography does not happen by negating sexuality and erotic desire, but, rather, by coming to rejoice in God’s glorious plan for them. As Pope Francis rightly insists, “the rejection of distortions of sexuality and eroticism should never lead us to a disparagement or neglect of sexuality and eros in themselves.” To the degree that eros is rightly ordered “it becomes a ‘pure unadulterated affirmation’ revealing the marvels of which the human heart is capable” (Joy of Love 157, 152).

The key here, of course, is rightly ordering our desires. Francis speaks passionately about this need and this real possibility throughout his document on the family: “A person can certainly channel his passions in a beautiful and healthy way,” he insists, “increasingly pointing them towards altruism and an integrated self-fulfillment” (148). The discipline required here involves “not the denial or destruction of desire so much as its broadening and perfection” (149).

One of the things God wants to show us is that behind all our misdirected desires and lusts, there is a legitimate desire God put there and wants to satisfy. Uncovering that legitimate desire and entrusting its satisfaction entirely to God is critical to our healing and wholeness. Father Jacques Philippe makes this point insightfully when he observes that “one passion can only be cured by another – a misplaced love by a greater love, wrong behavior by right behavior that makes provisions for the desire underlying the wrongdoing, recognizes the conscious or unconscious needs that seek fulfillment and … offers them legitimate satisfaction.” Some people call this “inner healing.”

Here’s an example from my own life. I was six or seven years old the first time I was exposed to pornography. In my teen years rejoicing in this wrong became a habit. When I gave my life to Christ in my early twenties, I was in need of serious healing from all the distorted images that had been ingrained in my mind. A few weeks before my wedding, I was in a chapel praying specifically that the Lord would make me a true gift to my bride on my wedding night. Right then and there I was bombarded by a stream of pornographic flashbacks and I cried out to God for help. I heard a voice in my heart say, “Give all those lies to me and I will show you the truth you were really looking for.” In my mind’s eye I saw an image of a fire, and as I pulled all these pornographic images up and out of my heart and placed them into the fire, I prayed, “Lord, please untwist these lies and show me the truth.”

To my astonishment, what emerged from the fire as the lies were consumed was an image so beautiful, so holy, and so healing it moved me to tears: it was an image of the Christ child nursing at the breast of the Blessed Mother. My heart cried out: “Yes, that’s what I had been looking for the whole time – to be fed like the Christ child in this holy, beautiful way. Forgive me Lord for all the sinful ways I have acted out, not trusting that you desired to feed this deep hunger in my soul all along.”

Would that that had been a “definitive healing” and the end of all of my disordered desires. Alas, the inner healing we need takes us on a life long journey that passes through various levels of painful, interior purifications. Step by step we learn to expose the real contents of our hearts to God and let him transform our desires. The more we do, the more we mourn what is wrong and rejoice in what is right.

Love does not rejoice at wrong. Sometimes I do. Lord, teach me to rejoice in the right. Teach me to love!

Question: What, ultimately, do you think people are really looking for when they turn to pornography? In other words, when we “untwist” the distortions of erotic desire, what is it we truly want? Share your comment on Facebook and Twitter.


You’ve heard Christopher West talk about love before… but not like this.

The truth is, none of our relationships are perfect! If you’ve ever wondered what to do with that deep cry of your heart to love and be loved, read on. In this revealing book, renowned speaker and author Christopher West discusses the topic of love and relationships, but he does it through the lens of his own powerful and personal experience.

Love Is Patient, but I’m Not offers West’s reflections on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love. It focuses on the heart of the pope’s meditations on the famous “Love is patient and kind” passage from 1 Corinthians 13. Its short chapters will take you line-by-line through the passage, and will also let you in on some intimate aspects of West’s faith journey—his wound of perfectionism, his consequent challenges as a husband and father, and the ups and downs he experiences as he struggles to work it all out. As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones who find it hard to live out the love St. Paul describes for us.

Interspersed throughout the book are short prayers and questions for reflection designed to help you open your heart to God and experience his unconditional, merciful love more fully. Read this book for a dose of spiritual encouragement and for a real-life look at what it means to live the joy of love. Order this life-changing book today!