National Catholic Register

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Fasting to Fight Porn

BY Sue Ellin Browder

Register Correspondent

May 24-30, 2009 Issue | Posted 5/15/09 at 9:04 AM

 

CARMEL, Ind. — The Fasting to Fight Pornography grassroots movement that started in Indiana is catching fire nationwide.

The fasting movement appears at a time when legal solutions to our nation's raging online pornography epidemic seem all but lost. The University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center reports 42% of kids ages 10 to 17 have viewed pornography online. Yet the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) died earlier this year, when the Supreme Court refused to review a lower court's decision that stated the law violated adult freedom of speech.

When Father Christopher Weldon felt weighed down by the number of times he kept hearing cases of Internet pornography addiction, even among elementary school children, he knew he had to do something.

But what?

In prayer, the priest heard what sounded to him like a direct challenge by God to enter into battle against this demonic influence on society. Explaining why he could cast out a demon his disciples could not, Jesus said: "This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting" (Mark 9: 28-29).

"I knew right then I had to start fasting to fight pornography," recalls the associate pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish in Carmel, Ind. "But when God pressed me to encourage others to start fasting, I said, 'Lord, you know I don't have time for this. If you want this to fly, you'll have to do the work.'"

The next day the priest got caught waiting in line for 20 minutes at a cell phone store. At the exact moment he returned to his car and turned the ignition, a fiery preacher on the car radio shouted, "And Jesus said, 'This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting!'"

"No coincidences in divine Providence," Father Weldon said, smiling. And so it was that in the spring of 2008 the grassroots Fasting to Fight Pornography movement was born.

Father Weldon began fasting on Tuesdays and made up a flyer as a parish bulletin insert. From that humble beginning, the movement caught fire.

Parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel joined in. The diocesan paper picked up the news. A small story hit the Internet.

Then the Indiana Men's Conference asked Father Weldon to speak. When his talk ended, the audience of more than 800 men gave him a standing ovation.

The Fasting Solution

Explaining fasting as a weapon in spiritual combat that magnifies the power of prayer, Father Weldon said, "By giving up what is good (food) to receive what is better (grace), we fight what is bad (pornography)."

"This is the key to the message of fasting to fight pornography," Father Weldon continued. "When we realize porn is a demon, we see how much easier it is to defeat through fasting. This is not something we've come up with on our own. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us how to drive out the demon. He even gives us an example through his own fasting in the desert as he faces the devil with all his temptations."

The fast consists of one full meal a day, with two small snacks that don't equal a second meal. For starters, Father Weldon recommends fasting every third Tuesday of the month.

Rick Wagner, principal of St. Theodore Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Ind., eats only one meal (no snacks) every Tuesday. Wryly observing that fasting without prayer is just "food deprivation," Wagner said, "I also make sure I attend Mass on Tuesdays and spend extra time in prayer for the pornography issue."

High school students, already sickened by their addiction, are often eager to do whatever it takes to kick the pornography habit. "When I tell them they have to fast, they simply say, 'Okay, how do I do it?' They're amazingly open," Father Weldon said. "At least from their confessions, it seems to be working among high school students especially."

Wes and Jeannie Eurit of Logansport, Ind., pray and fast to fight pornography every third Tuesday of the month. Their four children often join in by giving up a favorite game or TV show. "In our society, we're so constantly bombarded by [sexual images] we become numb," Jeannie said. "This initiative reminds us all of our personal calling as children of God to confront these evil influences, stand together and bring about change."

The Bigger Picture

Fasting to Fight Pornography is among a growing number of anti-pornography initiatives springing up across the country. The 5th annual Men of Valor Conference in Kansas City recently drew more than 1,400 people. A Pennsylvania group called The King's Men uses legal action, political pressure and prayer vigils to close down adult bookstores and strip joints. Joined by more than two dozen churches, The King's Men waged a fierce yearlong siege against Coyotes Show Club, a strip joint in Milford Township, Pa. In February, the club closed its doors for good.

King's Men co-founder Damian Wargo, a Catholic, called the fasting effort "just tremendous." He said, "Most men have been involved in some sin related to a distortion of sexuality — probably pornography. Once you start fasting in reparation for that and also for a conversion of hearts and change of minds, stand back: Things are going to happen."

Ending the Silence

The Fasting to Fight Pornography movement comes at an auspicious time. In his 2009 Lenten Message, Pope Benedict XVI called on all Catholics to purify their hearts with more fasting. "The sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it," the Pope said. He called fasting "a 'therapy' to heal all that prevents [believers] from conformity to the will of God" and "a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves."

"Lust excludes love: So long as we lust after other persons or things, we cannot truly love them," Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote in The Lenten Triodion. "By delivering us from lust, the fast renders us capable of genuine love."

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., succinctly summed up the damage pornography does to human relationships in his 2007 Ash Wednesday pastoral letter: "Lust isolates. Love unites."

"One of the worst things about porn compulsion is the fact that it's so secret," said Catholic anti-pornography activist Patrick Molyneaux of Battle for Sexuality Integrity in Pittsburgh. "We need to shine a light on this demon."

Online pornography use often starts with an innocent discovery. But over time, tolerance builds as the person (usually a man) seeks out increasingly graphic images to get sexually aroused — and feels helpless to stop. In anonymity behind closed doors, the pornography user becomes convinced his habit "doesn't hurt anybody." He's "only looking at pictures."

But pornography "violates truth," Bishop Finn said, leading people into "a world of unreality" that isolates them from others.

Deacon Ralph Poyo of New Evangelization Ministries in Steubenville, Ohio, knows firsthand the violence pornography can do to the soul. Exposed to pornography at age 8 when he was sexually abused by a visiting relative, Poyo soon began using pornography as "my mode of self-medication when I wasn't feeling good."

"I was addicted to pornography, and it took the Lord about 11 years to bring me out of that addiction," Poyo said. "Fasting is one of the many weapons in the arsenal we need to develop against this fight."

Now freed from temptation, Poyo tries to help other men realize that pornography use is not the real issue. "There is always some deeper demonic lie that needs to be named and cast out," he said.

In Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Sister Marysia Weber, a psychiatrist, observed, "Compulsive Internet pornographic behavior is driven largely by tension and agitation, much like an alcoholic is driven to drink at moments of excessive stress."

But like any demon, it can be defeated. "Satan wants nothing more than for you to feel hopelessness and despair," Father Weldon said, "because those in despair are farthest from God."

The demonic nature of pornography is that it feeds on the isolated self. "I emphasize the importance of praying and fasting for all other men hooked on pornography, not just for yourself," Father Weldon said. "If you see all those other men before you in your prayer, desperate for the grace that can be obtained through your sacrifice, you're more likely to follow through."

Pointing to the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood the battle of the fast brings, Father Weldon declares, "We don't just fast for men. We fast for the women and children that are addicted to pornography, as well."

Patrick Molyneaux of Battle for Sexuality Integrity regards pornography as "the No. 1 impediment keeping men from truly encountering Christ. I often tell Catholic men's movement leaders that if we are not addressing this issue we're committing men's ministry malpractice."

Sue Ellin Browder writes

from Willits, California.