This morning my confessor gave me this advice: don’t use the internet for entertainment purposes. What starts out as innocent can lead down other roads.
The confessional is the tool that Christ gave us to obtain forgiveness of our sins. It is not a miracle clinic. Going to confession gives us a new beginning and a clean slate, but it doesn’t remove all of our inclination toward sin. We didn’t become addicts in a day, so don’t expect to recover in a day.
That being said, I would like to share the good advice I’ve received from confessors over the years:
When preparing for confession
- Begin with a prayer that God will enlighten your heart and mind. These can be found in most general prayer books, missals, and misalettes.
- Examine your conscience. There are many good ones online, but if these are not available, run through the Ten Commandments in your head.
- Be on time or early. If the scheduled confessional time is 5:00 – 6:00, don’t show up at 5:45, or even 5:15. Show up at 5:00 or 4:45. If there’s a long line, you may not have your confession heard before father has to vest for Mass. If there is no line, and father has been waiting alone for 15 minutes or more, he may assume that no one is coming and take care of other duties. Emergencies also arise. Be respectful of the priest’s schedule and needs.
When in confession
- List all your mortal sins, in kind and number (it makes a difference if you did something once over a month versus daily)
- Don’t list your tendencies, just your sins.
- Don’t explain why you did it, just say what you did. You can’t shock the priest. Don’t try to rationalize your sins.
- Keep your voice down. People outside the confessional are not bound by the seal.
- Have an act of contrition in front of you, or have one memorized.
- Do the penance that’s assigned. If the penance is vague (“think happy thoughts”) or indefinite (“pray the rosary daily for the rest of your life”) or time constrained (“Mass starts in 5 minutes. Pray 100 Hail Marys before then.”), ask for a difference penance.
To avoid sin in the future (particularly sexual sins)
- Pray the Rosary daily
- Pray three Hail Marys for purity when you wake up in the morning
- Devote at least 15 minutes a day for prayerful reading of scripture. Start with the daily Mass readings (Extraordinary Form – Ordinary Form)
- Fast. All Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday are days of abstinence from meat. In most countries, Fridays outside of Lent are optional abstinence days, but you are supposed to replace it with some other penance.
- For sexual sins, it is good to deny some physical pleasure. This makes fasting from meat on Fridays (and other days) a good option.
- From time-to-time, deny your body some other physical pleasure. It can be small things like foregoing dessert or taking a cold shower.
- End your day by reflecting on the good and the bad you’ve done. Ask God for forgiveness, thank God for any blessings, and petition God for grace for the next day.
- Go to confession whenever you need to, but the “best practice” is to go at least once a month.
Go to confession!
The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death. – Daniel 13:41
Earlier in the story of Susanna, the elders conspired together to gang rape her. They sneaked into her garden and threatened her. If she didn’t submit to them, they would say that she was fooling around with a young man. “Who will the people believe?” they might have asked. “The respected elders and judges of the community, or a worthless woman?”
Indeed, when they tell the story of what didn’t happen, the people believe them, even though such things were unheard of with Susanna. These men were in positions of authority. They were civil as well as religious leaders.
One injustice begats another. How often in your acting out have you also lied and caused calamity to come upon the innocent? Has your acting out damaged relationships with your spouse? Your parents, brothers, sisters, or extended family? What about your children? Very likely, some of your relationships have been harmed.
Many sex addicts are tempted to immediately go into Step Nine, making amends. That is natural. When we realize that we’ve done wrong, if we are truly sorry, then we should want to make amends. That’s an important part of penance in the sacrament of confession, too.
However, we must not rush into our amends. This can make problems worse. Remember, we may be ready for amends, but the people we hurt may not be ready. A sponsor can help you know when to make amends, if ever. Sometimes amends must be spiritual only.
Small amends can be made at any time. If you are on decent terms with another person, start doing small things for them. They don’t need to know why. Just be kind, courteous, and helpful. If you are not on good terms with someone, make time to pray for that person. Have a Mass offered for them. I have had Masses offered for people that I will never be able to make amends for, because they are dead, or doing so will cause more problems than it’ll solve.
Find a sponsor, work with your sponsor, and go to confession!
“They said to each other, “Let us go home, for it is mealtime.” And when they went out, they parted from each other. But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. And then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.” – Daniel 13:13-14
In SAA, it takes only two people and one share to make a meeting. The meeting between the two judges was definitely not an SAA meeting.
Rather than confessing their lust and repenting of it, rending their garments and covering themselves in ashes, they conspired together. These wicked men were willing to share her in raping her.
It’s a poorly kept secret that sometimes twelve-step meetings, including S groups, are places that people meet for sex. I have heard AA members refer to joining an S group as the “13th step” since they learn, through all their AA hook-ups, that the alcohol is merely masking their sex addiction.
S meetings often have a disclaimer that says something like, “meetings are not the place to find a sexual partner.” It is also advised that you do not choose a sponsor to whom you are sexually attracted.
Earlier in the chapter we read that the judges were full of shame. Instead of bearing their shame to one another, they buried it. If we do not bear our shame to one another at our meetings, they can become a dangerous place that lead us to act out rather than recover.
To avoid this, we must commit ourselves to rigorous honesty. We must be willing to be introspective and find our character defects so that God can remove them, and we must then share them at our meetings and in the Sacrament of Confession!
Earlier I posted the story of Susanna from the book of Daniel, usually listed as Daniel 13. This story is considered canonical by Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christians, but not by Protestants or Jews. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful story about justice and purity.
I would like to post a few short reflections on some salient verses. Today, verses 9-11:
And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments. Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to possess her. And they watched eagerly, day after day, to see her.
At the beginning of the story we see that the two judges, who were pillars of the community both in legal and religious settings, were gradually becoming infatuated with the daughter of a wealthy and powerful man. Neither one acted immediately on his lust.
First, they neglected their prayers. Rather than occupy their minds with prayer, they “perverted” (which means turned, changed, or distorted) their minds. Once in confession, I mentioned that I committed X and Y sins, and then I stopped praying. The priest asked me if I was sure it was in that order. Of course, it wasn’t. We are much more likely to act out when we stop communicating with God, our Higher Power, than the other way around.
Second, their work suffered. The judges put their law work aside in favor of their lustful desires. How many of us sex addicts have acted out at work? How many hours of productivity have been lost? How many of us were caught and perhaps even lost our jobs? We lose sight of our relationship with God, then we lose sight of the important matters of the world.
Third, they turned inward. One of the greatest virtues of the twelve-step programs is accountability. We share at the meetings. We call on our sponsors. We examine our consciences regularly. Here the two judges became silent. Their shame drove them inward to themselves. They didn’t talk or admit their problems. Instead, they spent the day fantasizing rather than judging, ogling rather than praying. It drove them to obsession.
Next, as we shall see, the consequences are all-too-familiar.
As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ – Luke 23:26-29
Today is Good Friday, the day we recall the passion and death of our Lord. Many people have reflected upon the stations of the cross on the Fridays of Lent, especially today.
The Eighth Station has always stood out in my sex addict mind. Sex addicts, men and women alike, often engage in behaviors that are risky. For some, the risk of an unwanted pregnancy is like the risk of getting caught in a public place. It increases the thrill, until you are actually caught or conceive a child.
These unwanted pregnancies are a mark of behavior we regret. While some people can welcome the child lovingly into their lives, some of us may resent the child, and many of us choose to give the child up for adoption or to have an abortion. For both women and men, these last two choices often come with a great deal of shame and guilt. We lose our own flesh and blood on account of our addiction.
So, indeed, we may find ourselves crying out, “Blessed are the barren!” Perhaps you’ve thought to yourself, “if I were sterile, I could sleep around without worrying about the burdens of pregnancy.” Maybe you’ve made yourself sterile for that very reason. We do some elaborate things for this master we call sex addiction.
Whatever shame and guilt you have, offer it to Jesus on the cross. He gave His flesh to free us from the sins of the flesh. He died to destroy our guilt and shame. And we know that He rose to restore us to new life, not only in Heaven, but here and now.
The grace of the cross is given in the sacraments. Go to confession! God is waiting for you.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
All of Lent, but especially Holy Week, is a time to rekindle our relationship and conscious contact with God. It is a time for increased prayer and meditation. It is a time for Step Eleven.
You do not need to have worked Steps One through Ten to improve your conscious contact with God. That is something all of us, addicts and non-addicts alike, should be working towards our whole life.
Make a special effort toward working Step Eleven during Holy Week. Go to Mass on Palm Sunday, and take home some palms. They are blessed objects, sacramentals, and it is customary to place them in your home. They are typically kept in the home until the next year, when they are returned to the church to be burned and made into the ashes used on Ash Wednesday.
Maybe you can go to daily Mass during the week, or at least read the Bible readings from those days. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are special, of course. Thursday commemorates the our Lord’s Last Supper, or first Mass. Friday commemorates His death. The Good Friday service features veneration of the cross, and is usually at 3 pm, the time Jesus died. Most parishes have the Stations of the Cross devotion sometime on Good Friday, too.
Holy Saturday has no liturgy until the evening. It is referred to as the “Easter Vigil,” because we are metaphorically awaiting the resurrection of Christ. It is the first Easter celebration. The Ordinary Form of the liturgy is long, but is a beautiful transition of darkness into light, which symbolizes both the death and resurrection of Christ as well as our “death” as sinners and “resurrection” through baptism into a life in Christ. It is fitting that this is a common time for adult converts to be baptized and confirmed. Furthermore, for us addicts, it symbolizes us being brought out of the darkness of addiction into the light of recovery.
Although the Holy Saturday Mass “counts” as Easter (meaning it fulfills your Sunday Obligation), there is nothing wrong with going to Mass on Sunday, too. The feel of the Mass is different. It is more like a normal Sunday Mass, but it should be marked by more joyous celebration than sometimes the drab penitence of Lent.
Step 4: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
If there’s one other thing I can encourage you to do: Go to Confession! Steps Four and Ten tell us that confession is a crucial and valuable part of our recovery. For recovery purposes, it does not have to be a sacramental confession (that is, to a priest). But why not make it to a priest? As a Catholic, you’re supposed to go to Confession at least once during Lent. But besides that, Confession is a Sacrament; it is a means of grace.
When we confess our sins to the priest and he absolves us, we are truly forgiven by God, and God gives us His grace to help us avoid sins in the future. We resolve not to sin (including our inner circle behaviors) and to avoid those things that lead us to sin (including our middle circle behaviors).
If you haven’t been in long time, tell the priest. He will help you. Here are some tips for a good confession.
Don’t worry about anonymity. You can always go behind the screen (request it or go to a different parish if a screen isn’t available). The priest isn’t allowed to reveal anything about the confession under penalty of excommunication.
Blessings to you in your recovery!
“Yet even now,” says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart…”
– Joel 2:12