I’m struggling with a continuing problem of looking at pornography. I’ve managed to stay away from it in the past month, and I pray about this problem and go to Confession frequently. But I’m beginning to wonder if I’m really ready for marriage right now. Do you think I should hold off trying to meet anyone until I have this under control?
I’m sorry to hear of the struggles you are having. But I do want to commend you for recognizing your issues and desiring to work on them. You have every reason to be hopeful about overcoming these issues and living an authentic chaste life. It’s wonderful that you are frequenting the Sacraments to be reconciled with God and to receive grace. God’s grace is the most important thing that will help you order your life again. It’s also important that you strengthen your will and resolve not to partake in pornography any longer by actually resisting temptation (by God’s grace) and not doing it.
However, I do hope you are getting some kind of help from a qualified person who works with sexual addiction. We must never forget that God’s grace acts in accordance with developed human virtue (also known as “natural virtues”). “Grace builds on nature” is what the Catholic Church teaches. Pope Pius XII spoke very specifically about this and pointed out that the grace of God needs a place to settle, and is operative based on the human virtue of a person. This is what it means that grace “builds” on nature. If a person is in the habit of doing less virtuous things (or vice), the grace available at Confession or at Mass will not be as operative and powerful as it could be if a person has or is working at acquiring those virtues that are available to all persons naturally in human nature.
It is a very human thing to be kind, respectful, prudent, loyal, modest, or thankful, etc. These are natural, and actually to be expected of human persons. With God’s grace, a person is then able to become supernatural in their life. This is the universal call to becoming a saint. As we are fully human in our nature and developing the human virtues, God’s grace helps us to become “superhuman” (i.e., living in sanctifying grace) and acquire, sustain, and grow in supernatural virtues. We can become heroic in virtue, and should never settle on just being a good person. We are not called to be merely “good people”. We are called to be “heroic”. And we cannot be heroic without the grace of God, which is the very life of God in us.
You are in a situation where you need to be heroic. You are doing the right things when it comes to grace. I just want to make sure you understand that you need to be doing the right things when it comes to practicing virtue. We overcome our vices by practicing virtue. You have been tainted and wounded by your indulgence in pornography, and not just in the obvious ways. This is where a professional can really help you. And also you should try to avoid being on the computer or watching television during times when you are isolated. Make a point to do more reading, or praying, or hobbies of some kind. It’s good to have alone time, but hours on the computer all by yourself can be dangerous and not a wise use of the God-given gift of time. I often encourage single people not to live alone, either, and to get a good roommate who shares your faith and morals. It’s a good way to stay engaged with reality. So is spending more time with friends. Our same-sex friends who are strong in faith are great sources of inspiration for each other. It’s important to have those kinds of friends. The more isolated you are, the harder it is going to be to overcome this addiction. I would also encourage you to give someone accountability to your computer. In other words, give them complete access to your computer to check up on you. No passwords, nothing private. Make yourself accountable to this person. This is another act of virtue and will help you psychologically as you work at this problem.
Jesus provided the Sacraments and sent the Holy Spirit so that He might live HIS life through us. The more we are disposed to live His life in us, the greater His presence will be, and thus the greater power of God we will have to affect the lives of others.
I think all of us have encountered people whom we know go to Mass every day and frequent Confession, yet are (shall we say) not very good examples of Jesus Christ in their families or in the world. From my experience, this is not because they choose to be a bad example, but rather it is because they don’t have very good character to begin with. In other words, they lack human virtues for grace to build on, nor are they working at acquiring them.
I’m sure you are a person who possesses many human virtues, which is why you are responding to God’s grace as the Holy Spirit convicts you of your disorderly behavior. I said all this just in case you, like many people, have not given much thought to this connection between the human virtues and the grace of God. Hopefully, you will take a closer look at yourself in the way you live as an everyday person, and your own character. If anything is lacking and needs work, you need to address those things as well as frequent the Sacraments. They are necessary in conjunction with each other, not one despite the other.
It is so interesting that there is a certain type of grace that works outside of us called “actual grace”, which primarily works “on” us to wake us up, get our attention, lead us somewhere. These are the graces of God because He is always interested in our salvation and keeps after us. But the grace that is God’s very life in us and working through us, known as “sanctifying grace”, is not something that happens despite us, nor remains despite our actions. This grace is an intimacy with God by invitation. God wants to dwell inside us and live through us. He wants to affect other persons and lead them to Him through us. Most of all, He wants to have a deep and loving relationship with us personally. Human virtue is the key to just how intimate a relationship we will have with God.
Yes, we sin every day, but it is our character (human virtue) that gives grace the opportunity to work on us and in us, and help us to grow, and be a powerful instrument of God. Grace builds on nature.
Now to answer your question. Yes, I do think it would be wise to refrain from dating for the time being. You probably are not capable of bringing to a relationship what you need to bring at this time. Focus on healing for a while. You should concentrate fully on developing good habits, developing human virtue, and strengthening your relationship with God. You don’t want to bring any sexual disorder into your relationships or marriage that is not totally identified and under control. No one is saying you need to be perfect, or totally cured, or incapable of sinning in these areas again. But you do need to have a stronger will to combat any temptation, and have this under control. This will allow you to be at peace as you work at developing a relationship toward marriage, and able to speak about it with the other person. Once you are to the point where any temptation related to this problem is much easier to resist, then you will be ready to move forward.
Keep doing what you are doing, but please make sure you get some help, too. It will make a world of difference in your efforts to be healed completely and be the person God wants you to be.