As a father, I prided myself that my kids knew what kinds of TV programs and movies they should and should not watch. But there was a time in my life when I didn’t practice what I preached.
It was a stressful period when I was overcommitted. I regularly worked late, I attended my kids’ school functions, and I helped out at church. Such a full schedule didn’t leave much room for me to unwind.
Eventually, I found my time to relax: late at night, watching movies on television after my wife and kids had gone to bed. Most channels censored out scenes that were sexually provocative, so in a movie store one day, I was surprised to see an R-rated version of a program I had watched—“R” for nudity. I discovered other explicit movies, and watching them became a weekly routine. I hid the rented videos under the seat of our family van until everyone was asleep, then I replayed them over and over.
Like cancer, the pornography addiction started out small. But left untreated, it became consuming—that is, until my daughter went out to the van one day in search of her Girl Scout materials.
The Hypocrite in the Mirror. It was a Saturday, and since I am an avid golfer, I was out on the green with a neighbor. I had achieved a personal best score and was excited to share the news with my family. When I got home, I dropped my clubs in the garage and bolted into the kitchen. That’s when I saw my wife across the room, with the video lying on the counter.
She told me our daughter was in her room crying. She had given the video to my wife with the words, “I thought my dad was better than this.” Instantly, I went from feeling euphoric about golf to feeling as if a dagger were rammed into my heart. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was go to my daughter’s room that day, ask her forgiveness, and promise her this type of behavior would never happen again.
I stopped renting those movies, went to Confession, and believed that God had forgiven me. I was lucky that my children and my wife forgave me too. But there was one person whose forgiveness I did not receive: me. Every day for the next ten years, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw the word “hypocrite” stamped on my forehead. I was disgusted with myself and consumed with guilt and shame for not having led the life I professed. No matter what I did or said, the knowledge of what I had done remained chiseled on my heart.
“Use My Failures, God.” Then one day I received a call from a friend who knew of my experience. He told me that the archdiocese was introducing a pornography awareness and recovery program. He said they were looking for a person to share their story in a video. They planned to show the video at all Masses on the first Sunday of Lent. “Would you be willing to share your story?” he asked.
I had visions of becoming known as “Mr. Pornography” around the archdiocese. I didn’t really want my least proud moment broadcast to the Catholic world. But we talked a little more, and I asked my friend what he would do in my place. After a brief silence, he responded, “First, I’d pray about it. Then I’d do what Jesus would do.”
So I took his advice and had a talk with Jesus that day. I told him I realized I was no hero. I was never going to have a statue erected in my honor for leading the country through war. No building would be named after me because I had found the cure for a deadly disease. “But,” I told Jesus, “if you can’t use my accomplishments to make an impact, I give you permission to use my failures.” I recalled how Jesus allowed the Father to use his supposed defeat—his death on the cross—to bring resurrection and new life.
It was in this grace-filled moment that I finally forgave myself. It is hard to describe the tremendous weight that lifted from my shoulders! After that prayer, I knew what Jesus was prompting me to do. After consulting with my wife and kids, I agreed to share my story on camera. When my video was shown at Masses across the archdiocese, one man who saw it had just gotten out of prison for pornography-related charges. He immediately joined a self-help group and later started a nonprofit to help others like him. And that’s just one story!
A Revelation about Forgiveness. Now, the Holy Spirit works in strange ways. It wasn’t long after this that I had a startling realization during another prayer time. For ten years, I thought I was a hypocrite because I had professed to live a pure life while I was watching pornography in secret. But the Holy Spirit showed me that my true hypocrisy lay elsewhere. It was because I had confessed my sin and accepted God’s forgiveness, but I was unwilling to forgive myself. I was a hypocrite because I set my personal standard of forgiveness above that of my Savior. Finally realizing this, I accepted God’s forgiveness of me as being real and complete, won through Jesus’ death, and taken hold of through my own repentance.
God’s Never-Ending Love. When Jesus taught his disciples about forgiveness, he said, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15). Now I know that this includes forgiving myself. It is still a challenge, but I try to remember that there is no sin so great that Jesus isn’t willing—and able—to forgive it. This is the very reason he died on the cross: to give us an avenue back to the Father! And because he knew we would keep sinning, he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He loves it when we return there, again and again, to receive his never-ending act of forgiveness.
Frank Boos lives in Kansas City, Missouri.