Defeat Lust & Pornography Folded hands of a man praying in front of stained glass.
Defeat Lust & Pornography 7 minute read

What the Saints Can Teach Us About Struggles With Porn

Last Updated: November 1, 2022

You and I are truly in good company as we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1), the multitude of sinners-made-saints who go both recognized and unrecognized in the liturgical calendar. This is true even if you struggle with pornography.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll recognize the true glory that we celebrate on this day: God has the power to utterly transform your life, make you whole, and yes, make you happy. After all, this is precisely the reality of sainthood. The saints are men and women who have been transformed by the grace of God, and this is very good news for those of us striving for purity.

In his Angelus address on All Saints’ Day in 2018, Pope Francis said:

“It is good to let ourselves be provoked by the saints, who never had half measures here on earth and who from there above ‘cheer’ us, so that we choose God, humility, meekness, mercy, and purity, because we are impassioned about heaven rather than earth.”

As I read this quote I am faced with these questions: Am I provoked by the saints? Am I inspired by them? Am I stirred by these witnesses of the Christian life? I have to be honest…sometimes this is challenging for me. As I continue to reflect, I realize that perhaps it is a distorted image of holiness in my mind and heart that is the source of my struggle. I need this image to be “repainted” before my eyes. Perhaps, like me, many of you carry around false notions of what it means to be a saint, and some of these false notions are not only unrelatable but altogether unattractive.

So, let’s dig a little deeper. Below, I’ve laid out some of my own misconceptions about the reality of sainthood, along with some reflections on what is true. My hope is that it “provokes” you and stirs within you a deep desire to give your deeper yes to Christ today as the saints did.

Shallow or Deep?

Consider for a moment the images of saints often depicted on holy cards—halos around their heads, hands folded in prayer, and eyes raised to heaven. This might sound controversial, but these are shallow images. They are shallow not because they don’t depict the truth on some level, but because they only tell a part of the story. After all, they are only images and therefore they are incapable of telling the whole dramatic story. The saints all have stories filled with ups and downs, vices and virtues, and victories and seemingly major defeats.

Take the witness of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a former atheist-turned-priest who moved to the deserts of Algeria to bring the Gospel to the Muslim community. Despite his best efforts, not even one person was converted.

During his lifetime, he also tried to begin a new religious order. Despite a few men joining, everyone eventually left. To top it all off, Charles was eventually shot…by accident. Looking at his life, it would seem to be wrought with mishaps, and yet despite what looks like a “failed life,” thousands began converting after his death.

You see, in every human life, including the saints, there are bruises, scrapes, and cuts as well as betrayals, heartbreak, and failure. The saints wrestled with deep doubts and deep questions. Nevertheless, in their lives, or perhaps after their earthly life as in the case of Blessed Charles, there are also great victories. This is all simply to say that the saints are deeply human. For those of us who perhaps struggle with the habitual sins of pornography consumption and masturbation, and it seems like failure is a daily part of your life, take heart!  Although your daily struggle might be a part of your story right now, it is not the whole story. There is so much more to be written.

Static or Dynamic?

Let’s go back to the image theme for a moment. An image tends to capture one moment, a static moment. Think about the kinds of images we like to keep of ourselves; they are usually the images of when we were at our best. We don’t want to remember the hard days or the phases in life where we were hurting or insecure. Nevertheless, these are definitely part of the story. Like you and me, the saints experienced various seasons of life. Seasons where prayer was easy and felt fruitful, where their battles against their own vices were easier. They also experienced seasons where prayer felt dry and difficult, where they felt the weight of their own powerlessness and weakness when faced with their own tendency to choose sin.

Take the witness of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta who suffered extreme spiritual dryness for 50 years (a terribly long season). She had to wrestle with doubts about her previous convictions and even doubted that what God had promised her would be fulfilled. And yet, she held on as God, himself, became her daily strength. You see, the experience of faith is not a static one, but it is rather much more dynamic. If there isn’t occasional wrestling now and then, we don’t grow and we don’t walk away with ever-deepening convictions about the reality of the Gospel.  If you’ve been engaged in the battle for purity, or even battles with faith, with all of its ups and downs and various seasons of victories and defeats, let the dynamism of the lives of the saints be a source of encouragement and hope for you. There can always be improvement, but you’re doing something right!

Sanitized or Sanctified?

There’s a natural tendency inside of us to want to “clean ourselves up” before presenting ourselves to the world. Perhaps we can even look at the saints and only see sanitized versions of humanity. However, there is a big difference between being sanitized and sanctified. When you sanitize something, you apply something to the outside of an object to clean it up, making it less “dangerous”. However, the saints are far from sanitized, and in a certain sense, they are not “safe.” Take the witness of Saint Louis Martin, the father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and husband of Saint Zélie Martin.

Late in life, he suffered deeply from dementia accompanied by severe paranoia, which eventually landed him in an insane asylum. It would be easy to want to “skip” over these “unfortunate” details of his life and offer a sanitized version. Many in history have tried to do just that. However, if we skipped over the trials he faced, we would be skipping the Cross which was the source of his sanctification and transformation. It was precisely in bearing these trials and allowing those difficulties to be a springboard that launched him into the arms of God, that he was transformed.

Stoic or Passionate?

One thing that I get excited about in ministry is speaking the truth that God didn’t become man in the person of Jesus Christ so that we could become “good little boys and girls.” Being good is, well, very good. But, what does it mean to be good? It means to be like God. God is not stoic; He is not devoid of passion. In fact, in Jesus, we see passion so perfectly ordered that it set the world on fire. You see, the Christian life is not about ridding ourselves of our passions, but rather ordering them, channeling them, and becoming masters of them so that they become even more potent and powerful.

The saints possess passion unlike any other. It drove them to make hard decisions for the glory of God and for others, and sometimes, it drove them to do what, in the eyes of the world, looked insane. The saints are those who are madly in love. Take the solid example of Saint Augustine of Hippo who wrestled deeply with lust for years and at times, felt like it was impossible to break free. When Augustine tasted the love of God, he realized what he had been searching for all along:

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

Does that sound stoic at all? Far from it. If you have struggled with lust, masturbation, or pornography, it is easy to get to the point where you begin to hate your sexual desires. However, there is good news the saints can teach us: God doesn’t want to take away our passions or our desires, but rather he wants to transform them and actually fulfill them so we no longer need to travel down dark roads where, in the end, we are left broken and unfulfilled.

Accused or Called?

And you, a saint-in-the-making, are you accused or called?

It can be easy to look at the many faithful witnesses of the canonized saints, and the countless other saints who go unrecognized, that we celebrate on the Solemnity of All Saints and feel like we can never and will never measure up. Maybe you read the Gospels, the Beatitudes for example, and rather than feeling convicted to live up to them, you feel frustrated by your own weakness. If you find yourself in this place, consider the question: is that voice accusing you, or is that voice calling you?

You see, the voice of the enemy will always hold up a measuring stick and accuse you when you don’t measure up, but the voice of your Savior will say, “I will get you there, be not afraid.” The saints didn’t become saints by mustering all of their power to do it themselves, they became saints by answering the call to daily surrender and by allowing God to do the heavy lifting.

So, fellow saints-in-the-making, what is heavy in your life right now? What do you need Jesus to take off of your shoulders today? What loads do you need to hand back over to him? Let’s ask the intercession of all the saints today, known and unknown, to teach us how to answer the call of Christ and embrace the new life He desires for us.

  1. Tim

    Do you have a citation for the Augustine quote? It reads like poetry.

    • Keith Rose

      Great question Tim! It’s from his Confessions, and the whole thing is well worth the read. You can find that particular quote here: https://cmed.ku.edu/private/Augustine.html

      Blessings,

      Keith

  2. Dale

    I appreciate the saints and their examples. But nothing in this article referred directly to our struggles with sex addiction

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