Equipped is about giving us information and techniques to help people to grow as parents and help their children to grow in virtue, especially chastity and self control, but the last chapter, “Confidence in Divine Mercy,” reminds us that Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules for their own sake, but about growing in our relationship with our Loving God. After all, as Dr. Scott Hahn says, sin isn’t just broken rules, it’s broken lives and broken relationships, and sin distances us from God, because it is incompatible with Who He Is. We didn’t do anything to earn God’s love, He loved us before He made us, so we can’t do anything to lose God’s love. We don’t do good things to try to make God love us; we do good things because God loves us.
We read in chapter 9, “But their (children’s) greatest need in life is not a good understanding of sexuality, a good sexual track record, or even good parents – their greatest need in life is God, including an understanding of their adoption as His children, as well as his Divine Mercy.” The information and tools in this book can help you to avoid and overcome temptation, but, as much as we try to minimize it, we all still sin sometimes. God’s gives us His mercy so we can return to His love, be strengthened by His grace, and continue to grow closer to Him. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:55-58).
Chapter 8 of Equipped, “Supportive and Structured Parenting,” is specifically on parenting styles and gives some practical tips on good parenting. Now, obviously I’m not an expert on parenting, but I would think that it’s good for every parent to occasionally do a self examination on how they are parenting their children.
What is the goal of every parent? It’s to raise your children to be the best men and women that they can become, the men and women that God is calling them to be: good, well rounded, holy, virtuous, and able to thrive when they go out into the world. Ask yourself, “Is the way I’m parenting my children encouraging and helping them to develop these traits?”
One of the main points of this chapter is the need for supportive and structured parenting. If one of these is emphasized to the detriment of the other, then the way you guide your children will become unbalanced and won’t help them grow into well rounded people. I can’t tell you how to do this, not only because I’m not a parent, but because every person, every parent and child, is unique. What I do know is this. If you try every day to be a slightly better parent than the day before, to strengthen areas where you’re weak and grow in virtues that you lack, to keep Christ at the heart of your family, and continuously return to Him when you fall away, then you’ll do the best job that you can.
Chapter 7, “Parental Controls and Media Literacy,” begins to get into the tools that you can use to help yourself and your family build up your virtue and self control. Humans are creatures of habit. Every time we make a decision and act upon it, we reinforce that behavior in ourselves. If we continue to act in a certain way, then it can eventually become a habit, and, if we continue, it will become part of our character. The problem is, it’s easy to form bad habits and hard to form good ones, and it’s easy to break good habits and hard to break bad ones, so we need all the help we can get.
The goal is to have the ability to regulate ourselves and control our own impulses, so that we control our desires instead of letting them control us. However, we know that it’s hard even for adults to do sometimes. There are all kinds of ways that can help with this, and each family has to decide what measures are best for them. When you go on a diet, the best way to control your cravings is to not keep junk food in the house. The same is true of pornography. You can keep the computers in public areas, not allow people to use their smart phones and tablets in their rooms, use parental controls, filters, and monitors, and set a good example yourself.
Teenagers hate to be told that something is adults only, especially when it doesn’t sense to them. When it comes to sexual content, if it’s not fit for being watched by children, then it’s probably not fit to be watched by adults either. The best way you can help your children develop virtue and self control is to set a good example.Treat the opposite sex with respect, especially your wife or husband, don’t tell crude jokes, don’t watch tv shows that amount to soft core pornography, and don’t listen to music that glorifies sexual sins. Your children will pay more attention to your actions than to your words. Seeing you try to live a virtuous life will encourage them to try as well.
Chapter 6 of the book, Equipped, tackles a difficult and complicated subject, but one that affects everyone: “Understanding Sexual Shame.” Shame is a fact of life that affects everyone, either when we sin, or when we think we’ve failed at something, or when something makes us feel inadequate. It’s helpful to understand how shame works and that it can be both healthy and unhealthy depending on how we deal with it.
Shame can be healthy and even a great grace when it points out a real problem is our relationship with God or with other people. When we’ve sinned and knowingly damaged these relationships we naturally feel ashamed of it. The shame is pointing out this damage and calling us to do something to begin repairing that relationship by apologizing and making up for it, or, in our relationship with God, by going to confession and doing penance. It is calling us back to love.
However, we’ve all experienced a different kind of shame; the kind that tells us that we are unloved and unlovable, that we are bad or damaged, and that’s there’s no hope for us. This type of shame draws us away from God and other people. It feeds on our fears and anxieties and often leads to self-destructive behaviors. It’s not from God, it’s a lie from the evil one. We must reject the lie that God doesn’t love us and draw closer to Him.
Parents, teach your children about the love of God. God loves us unconditionally and there’s nothing we can do to lose that love. We didn’t do anything to win God’s love, so there’s nothing we can do that would make Him stop loving us. Our good behavior shouldn’t be an attempt to try to win God’s love (He already loves us), but a response to His love (by loving Him in return). The best way you can teach your children this is by living it. Make sure they know that you love them unconditionally, that nothing they do will make you stop loving them, and that they can come to you with any problem and not be condemned.
In the fifth chapter, “From Impulse to Life-Giving Union,” we are asked to consider the three sources of temptation and how they relate to pornography and sexual sin. Only by understanding where these temptations come from can we learn how to fight against them and reject them. The three sources of temptation, which are listed by St. John (1 John 2:16-17) are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
The Lust of the Flesh is our bodily desires, for example, for food and drink, for comfort, and for pleasure. None of these things are bad. In fact, they are all gifts from God, but if we allow our desires to get out of control, then they can start to control us. Pornography enhances the lust of the flesh by presenting situations that are out of our fantasies. They go beyond and warp real life. When we begin to control our other bodily desire we can become better at controlling sexual desires as well. We can do this by practicing moderation in what we eat and drink, by putting the thermostat a little bit higher or lower than we normally like it, and by taking cold showers, and in many other ways.
The Lust of the Eyes is how we take delight in what we see. It is healthy to delight in a beautiful sunset or landscape, the work of talented artists, or even in the beauty of another person. It becomes unhealthy when we feel like we have to possess or own those things and when we begin to treat other people as objects. Pornography always treats people as objects and teaches those who use it to do the same. We can combat this temptation by practicing custody of the eyes; that is, when you are tempted by what we see, look away. Look at something else, or even distract yourself with something else. If you keep your mind occupied, then you won’t be able to think about whatever the temptation is.
The Pride of Life refers to the drive for ambition and power. This distorts our healthy desire to be the best that we can be and grow in virtue and holiness. Pride turns this into arrogance a desire for power over others. Pornography is attractive to some because it gives us an illusion of control. We think that we are in control of what we see, but in reality, the more someone used pornography, the more it controls him. We can fight this temptation through practicing generosity, compassion, and humility, and by praying for those who are trapped in lives of sexual exploitation.
All three sources of temptation take what is good and corrupt it. We can fight back through staying close to the source of all goodness, God.
The last chapter, chapter 3, of Equipped was about who we are as children of God made in His image and likeness. The fourth chapter, “Understanding Sexual Integrity,” is about human sexuality. You see, everything has a meaning. It’s been said that God writes history the way that an author writes a book; everything means something and past events point forwards to future events. Well, that doesn’t go far enough, everything that God created, He created for a reason and a purpose, including us. Even our actions have meanings. For example, if you slap someone in the face, it doesn’t mean, “I like you and want to be your friend,” even if that’s what you thought you were saying. It means that you don’t like them and want to hurt them.
The more more important something is, the more important its meaning, and human sexual is very important. In fact, it was the very fist thing that God commanded us in the Bible, “Be fruitful and multiply.” So, what does human sexuality mean? It means, “I want to be completely united to you. I give myself to you totally and completely.” As much as we try to make it mean other things, we all know, deep down, that that’s what it really mean. That’s why we call it consummating, or completed, a marriage. Marriage is about giving yourself to someone totally and completely and uniting your life to theirs.
If human sexuality is about giving myself to another person completely and totally, then what is pornography about? As Equipped puts it, “Porn always teaches us to use and dispose of people.” It’s not about sharing your life with another person, it’s about your own pleasure. If marriage is supposed to teach us to be generous and giving, through caring for our husband or wife and children, then pornography teaches us to be selfish and take.
Once we know and accept the truth about human sexuality and what it means, then we can begin to live it in our lives.
In the third chapter of the book, Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture, we read about the first wall of the house, our God-given identity. We are unique and unrepeatable people. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are sons and daughters of God.
“God is love,” as we read in the first letter of St. John. God is eternal, which means that He didn’t have a beginning but has always existed, and that He won’t have an end, or stop existing. But, if God is eternal, how can God also be love. Love has to be shared with another or given away. Before God created the universe He was alone, wasn’t He? No, God wasn’t alone, because God is a Trinity, and the Trinity is an eternal exchange of love. Before time began, the Father has been pouring Himself out in a total gift of love to the Son, and the Son has been receiving the Father’s love and pouring Himself back out to the Father, and they have both been pouring themselves out to the Holy Spirit. God is a relationship, a perfect sharing of love. We are destined to share in the eternal, perfect love of God. That is the reason that we were made, and that is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.
The first wall of the house is to make sure that you and your children understand this. We all we know about religion is the rules, the “thou shalt not’s,” then we’re doomed to failure. We have to understand God’s love for us and that we are destined for the same love. Our job on earth is to love and serve God by living in His love and by loving one another as He has loved us.
The second chapter of Equipped is “The Blueprint.” Most of the chapter is taken up with a summary of what we’ll see in the rest of the book, but it starts off with a brief explanation. It says that the book is modeled after a home, with the chapters being the walls, roof, and floor of the home. They chose to do this because the home is the Domestic Church. This is a term taken from the 2nd Vatican Council, from the document Lumen Gentium. Lumen Gentium has this to say about the family:
"Finally, Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church, help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. By reason of their state and rank in life they have their own special gift among the people of God. From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God through the centuries. The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state (LG 11)."
Married people have a special calling, or mission, from God, which they agree to when they make their vows before God. That mission is to help their family to get to heaven by growing in holiness, by loving one another sacrificially, and by raising their children in the faith. It says that parents should be “the first preachers of the faith to their children,” by word and example. Notice that it doesn’t say that the Church, or the priest, or the religion teacher is the first preacher of the faith, it says the parents are. Parents have a unique role and relationship with their children. We learn about what is truly important in life from our parents. Every child, as they grow into an adult, has to choose for themselves what is going to be most important in their life and whether to live the faith or not, but what you say to them, and more importantly what you show them, can prepare them to make those decisions. If they look at your life and how you spend your time will they see that your relationship with God is very important, or not very important at all?
This is my first blog post about Equipped, I hope to post about 1 chapter each week, usually on Wednesdays.
My paw paw used to tell us a story about a group of scholars working for an emperor. The emperor charged them with collecting all human knowledge; so the scholars worked for ten years collecting copies of all the books and manuscripts in the world. The collection was so large that it filled up an entire palace. After the ten years were up, the Emperor came and saw the collection, and said that it was too much. They would have to reduce the size of the collection. So the scholars worked for another 10 years going through the tomes and manuscripts, getting rid of repeated information and useless books, until the collection could fit into a building the size of a mansion. But this was still too large to the Emperor. So, they worked for another 10 years until it was could fit into a large room, but this was still too large, so they kept working. Then one day, the Emperor came to check on his scholars, and found the room empty of books. The head scholar came up to the Emperor and handed him a slip of paper. The paper said, “There ain’t no free lunch.”
In the first chapter of the book that we gave out after Mass a few weeks ago, Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture, you can read that some studies show that, in the Millennial Generation, 79% of men and 76% of women say that the view pornography at least once a month. More disturbing than that, though, is that some people think pornography is actually good for society. This shouldn’t be surprising, since sexuality is one of the most powerful human passions, and we live in a highly sexualized culture where pornography is available for “free” on thousands, if not tens of thousands. We all know from personal experience, however, that nothing is free, everything has a price.
Heavy use of pornography can be damaging for anyone, although this will be different for everyone. When we view pornography, we train ourselves to view other people as objects of sexual gratification, instead of as people with human dignity. Just like we don’t want other people to view us as a means to get something for themselves, so we shouldn’t treat others that way. Human sexuality was given to us by God as a way for husbands and wives to express their total love for one another. Love is concerned for what I can do for you, whereas lust is concerned with what you can do for me.
When someone views pornography, it becomes very easy to stop thinking of them as people at all, but as objects, and we don’t want to train ourselves to do that. During this season of Lent, and as we go through the rest of this book, let’s pray that God will help us to learn more about the dangers of pornography, grow in the virtue of chastity, and become better at controlling our desires so they don’t control us.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.