Fight the New Drug

Fight the New Drug Video: My porn recovery story

***To see my featured talk "How Love Defeats Porn" given at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. click here. ***

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Fighting as a Free Man

Braveheart: the speech of William Wallace | 1000 Diamonds
"They may never take our freedom!"
     
My Exodus brothers this morning all echoed something I’ve been thinking but afraid to say out of heresy….Easter sucks.  Haha, don’t get me wrong, He is Risen, He is Risen indeed! However, to relay what one of the dads comically said, “I miss Lent.”  
For those who don’t know what Exodus 90 is, it’s a 90-day spiritual exercise challenge where one prays and does a daily laundry list of ascetic practices such as cold showers, no alcohol, no snacking, no non-work related computer/TV use, no desserts, and on and on.  Quite frankly, having followed the guides as best as I could these past three months (definitely not perfectly), I’ve never been so intimately joyful this consistent ever in my life.  I think on top of praying an hour every day (one of the requirements), it seems to me that cutting out all of these distractions has allowed me to make more intentional time for what really matters: God, family, and others.  But having that bourbon on Easter Sunday didn’t taste as good as I remember, nor the consecutive beers or sweets these past two days. Even the warm shower recently seemed like a consolation prize and not a reward.


The DeSales Exodus 90 Journey: Part I - DeSales Media Group
Probably the freest 90 days in recent memory
           Of course, the Aujero household has had moments during the sad reality of the corona life we live in. In the past week alone, family members of students and friends have died due to COVID-19.  My uncle died of cancer; though hearing a loved one cry about it over the phone was even more painful. Mimi went (and is still going through, though on an upward swing) through a month-long struggle of anxiety/asthma/lack of sleep.  There was definitely a point last week I got on my knees and wept over all that was and is going on. But even through all that sadness and struggle, at least up until Easter, my interior peace and joy remained as I came up for prayer each day.
           It’s only these past three days where I took off the guardrails a little bit with my spiritual practices that my Exodus brothers and I agree that the worldly grass on this side isn’t as green as we thought or hoped.  I told the guys maybe it’s because of the difficult time I’m still in, dealing with Mimi’s health, but there’s something in me that tells me, no, that’s not quite it.
[Editor’s note: Mimi would like to add here that maybe it’s just because I didn’t care enough and that I’m a version of a donkeybutt.]
           BUT, if I believe Fr. Jacques Philippe in his book Searching for and Maintaining Peace, (and I do) he basically says that for the TRULY free and peaceful man, NOTHING in the world---no sickness, no pain, no circumstances, no anything---NOTHING in this world should be able to take away his peace.  Philippe says that a complete surrender to Jesus (not me) to do EVERYTHING, to have complete Trust in Him and to believe that we’re not meant for this world but for eternity, will give us this undisturbed peace.
           A quote from He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. (who by the way, my nearly one-year-old son John Peter Walter is named after) had been leading me:

I had realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong…What he wanted was for me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal.  He was asking of me an act of total trust…no reservations, no exceptions, no areas where I could set conditions or seem to hesitate. He was asking a complete gift of self, nothing held back. It demanded absolute faith: faith in God’s existence, in his providence, in his concern for the minutest detail, in his power to sustain me, and in his love protecting me.

But this last line is what’s really been haunting me these past three days:


           “It meant losing the last hidden doubt, the ultimate fear that God would not be there to bear you up.”

Oof. 

           The Exodus practices had led me throughout Lent to not have that “hidden doubt,” and had contributed to my great peace during those days.  But with the practices gone, the idea that peace comes from my own strength has crept back in, and I’ve tried to sustain it by being hero-dad. Like a kid ready to take off his training wheels, I subtly said to myself,  “I can do it!”  Key word: I. In result, I’ve crashed and lost my peace.  The way I’ve felt these past three days is a STARK contrast to how I’ve felt in the past three months.  Somewhere in my head I thought I was the hero and forgot briefly that there is only one hero in this story and it’s not me, but Jesus.  As JPII reminds me, Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
Here’s how the He Leadeth Me quote ends:
It was something like that awful eternity between anxiety and belief when a child first leans back and lets go of all support whatever---only to find that the water truly holds him up and he can float motionless and totally relaxed.
As “difficult” as the practices have been (cold showers are not pleasant), giving God everything actually gave me an ease of life I’ve never experienced before.    
    

(A He Leadeth Me conversation Mimi and I streamed for our parish three weeks ago. Half of the hour is just Mimi laughing.)
     It brought me this morning to listen to a song I’ve learned to love recently: “Nothing else” by Cody Carnes.  Unlike most praise and worship songs that are happy about God, this song laments how we may really feel at times:

I'm sorry when I've come with my agenda
I'm sorry when I forgot that You're enough

And here’s the line that struck me (and gets repeated)


Take me back to where we started
I open up my heart to You


         I started this Exodus journey three months ago with the realization of my necessity for Jesus.  With it over, even for a short amount of time, I’ve found the worldly pleasures don’t cut it at all in place of Him.  The guys in my groups and I agree that no, maybe I’m not going to go fully back to all the asceticism guides (the bourbon didn’t taste THAT BAD) and we’re not meant to be Captain Exodus, (as one priest says, “Christianity isn’t a program.”)  However, there is merit to the practices because it did give me joy to offer up my sacrifices for others. And perhaps that was part of the point.

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         To end, there’s a scene from one of my favorite movies The Patriot that has come to mind in prayer these past two days.  After many battles via guerrilla warfare against the British during the Revolutionary War, Mel Gibson tells his men to go home and be with their wives and children.  He thanks them for fighting so bravely beside him so far and says he has no judgement if no one returns to fight the next big battle. In the movie, through the fog of the swamp, you see men slowly return after being with their family, to fight once again.  It culminates in a seeing a black man, an actual slave who has been given freedom, to stand up at the front line of the last battle:
White man: “You’re a free man.”
Black man: “I’m here now on my own accord.”

(1:31: "You're a free man.")
         As another priest has said, maybe we’re at halftime.  Maybe this is Lent: Part II and the end is Pentecost. During Lent, there’s this sort of obligation to do penances because it’s a penitential season.  Easter, we have been set free with no obligations. We are free men.  But perhaps the opportunity is even greater to choose to fight, choose to sacrifice out of our freedom, out of love, out of our own accord.
         No, Easter doesn’t suck.  Jesus has risen.  He has risen indeed.  It’s Him I need to continue to keep my eyes on, to joyfully give through in my prayer and sacrifice.

         Amen.



Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Two Sustainable Ways to Pray: Examen and Lectio Divina

There's no one way to pray.  Here are two sustainable options we try to teach our college students at the Catholic Student Center  to have on their spiritual arsenal.

Daily Examen: Reviewing your day in God’s presence

  1. Pray for Light.  Ask God for the grace to pray and see in His Light.
  2. Give Thanks.  Look at your day in a spirit of gratitude.  Everything is a gift from God.
  3. Review the Day.  Guided by the Holy Spirit, look back on your day.  Pay attention to your experience and look for God in the details.
  4. Receive God’s Mercy.  How did I fail to see God in others?  Ask God’s forgiveness for your faults and to show you how to grow.
  5. Have Resolution.  Ask where you need God in the day to come.  Close with an Our Father. 

Lectio Divina: Latin for “Divine Reading”, this is a way to pray with Scripture.  Use a Bible, app, or usccb.org to find the Gospel for today’s Mass.
  1. Read. Slowly read the passage.  Ask what words or phrases jump out, connect or have meaning to you?
  2. Reflect.  Ask why did that word or phrase jump out to you.  How is it relevant to your life right now?
  3. Respond. Have a conversation with God about your prayer.  Share your thoughts, feelings, questions, etc.
  4. Rest. Be still and allow God to speak to you.  Ask Him what He wants you to do with your reflection today.


Friday, March 13, 2020

What's keeping my peace undisturbed during this Corona craziness

The Contradiction of a "Crucified Messiah"
Photo Courtesy: Thinkstock
              As I prayed early this morning, today Friday the 13th, 2020 has an aura of the original Good Friday to me.  It was a day in history that, to the early Apostles, probably felt like the end of the world---a day where their Jesus became absent in their life.  After the announcement last night from our Archdiocese of Washington proclaiming all public Masses---our primary access to Jesus in the Eucharist---to be cancelled, today feels as close to that first Good Friday as anything I’ve ever experienced.
           No school.  OK. No sports, wow.  No Mass? OK, COVID-19, you got my attention.  For Lent, I’ve decided I’m giving up Coronavirus, too.
Despite the hysteria, my wife Mimi has told me to remember that there are actual people who have died, or are physically suffering, and/or are in real financial crisis.  There are real people who have predisposed physical symptoms, including her, who are legitimately scared because catching the virus could mean their life.
With that said, I could not shake this morning that still there is a peace in my heart that has yet to be disturbed.  Am I weird?  Not empathetic enough?  Maybe the fact I avoid reading the news?  This morning I asked God, “Why?” So here are a few thoughts.
“What a great opportunity”
           What kept coming up in prayer was this line: “What a great opportunity….what a great opportunity….what a great opportunity.”  I think what God is saying to me is what a great opportunity to not take our faith for granted.  I remember not too long ago when Sunday and daily Mass was my only time for prayer in my day.  I figured that was enough. Then I read the Soul of the Apostolate by Fr. Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O and realized that although the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith, I also need to have a personal prayer life outside of Church.  
After that book, I decided to double down on my commitment to show up every morning for silent prayer for an hour or more, whether I wanted to or not.  Doing this for the past few years has, I believe, been the greatest game changer in my entire life. This practice unleashed the fruits of joy, peace, conviction, and total surrender that I strive to give to Our Lord.
           During this same time, I was reading Fr. Jacque Philippe’s book Searching for and Maintaining Peace, which has a line that turned my view of spiritual warfare on its head.  He says, “The first goal of spiritual combat…is not to always obtain a victory (over our temptations, our weaknesses, etc) rather it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat.”    Wow, to “maintain peace of heart under ALL circumstances”---what clarity!  
Fr. Ciszek also lived in a time of no public Masses
Furthermore, I later read He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Cizcek, a story of a priest who kept his faith during difficult and strenuous times in Soviet-Russia where Catholic Mass was forbidden.  He writes, “What can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives to do His will?” 
           During those months I reflected a lot about the Book of Job and Job’s life.  Everything was going great for this guy, and then,everything suddenly was taken away---his crops, his fortune, and the death of his wife and children.  It was a test from God because the Evil One told God that Job only loved Him because He the Lord had been so good to him (Job 1:9-10). Take away everything, the Evil One challenged, and he would surely turn away (Job 1:11).  So God allowed it. And what was Job’s response when all he loved and cared for was lost?
           “[He] arose…and fell to the ground and worshiped.  He said,
                          ‘Naked I come forth from my mother’s womb,
                                        and naked shall I go back there.
                          The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
                                        Blessed be the name of the Lord!’
           In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with wrong.”
                                                                           Job 1:20-22 (emphasis added)
This man, who has lost everything, blesses and praises the name of the Lord.  This is the faith and great opportunity the Lord invites us to and I desire it, as well.
           Then around that time our chaplain Fr. Rob at our Catholic Student Center said something at Mass that I initially thought was odd.  He said, “Even Jesus was joyful on the Cross.”  Respectfully, I thought what was Frob smoking?  Of course, it challenges our preconceived notions of joy, which is not mere happiness.  I went digging and was taught that before our Savior’s last breath, this happened: 
           “And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” 
Mark 15:22
           Many, including myself for a long time, misinterpret these words as Jesus expressing abandonment from His Father.  It’s quite the opposite. He is referencing Psalm 22 which begins with the same line, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:2).  Read the entire Psalm. It begins as prayer from a man in desperation, in suffering, begging God to stay near him. But beginning on Psalm 22:23 it takes a turn:
Source: Getty Images

           Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the assembly I will praise you.
           You who fear the Lord, give praise!
                     All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
                          Show reverence, all descendants of Israel! 
           For he has not spurned or disdained
                          the misery of this poor wretch,
           did not turn away from me,
                          But heard me when I cried out.
           I will offer praise in the great assembly;
                          My vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
           The poor will eat their fill;
                          Those who seek the Lord will offer praise.
                          May your hearts enjoy life forever!

           All the end of the earth
                          will remember and turn to the Lord;
           All the families of nations
                          will bow low before him.
           For kingship belongs to the Lord,
                          the ruler over the nations.
           All who sleep in the earth
                     will bow low before God;
           All who have gone down into the dust
                          will kneel in homage.
           And I will live for the Lord;
                          My descendants will serve you.
           The generation to come will be told of the Lord,
                          that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn
                          the deliverance you have brought.”                       
Psalm 22:23-32 (emphasis added)
           Our Lord and Savior, after emotional agony in the Garden, after being scourged with indescribable pain and crowned with thorns torn into his skull, after carrying a cross digging into his bloody shoulders, after having large stakes nailed through His flesh, after hanging in cold air in complete naked humiliation…after all of it, He praises the Father. 

A deeply personal story
           This leaves me with a deeply personal story I have not shared with anyone beyond my wife and a few friends.
           During this time of committing myself to daily prayer in my house and reading about Job and Jesus’ praise on the Cross, my heart was beginning to turn to another level of intimacy for Our Lord.  And not too long after these revelations, my life was threatened.
Source: Wallpaperflare.com

           I received a text early one Thursday morning from someone I knew.  Someone that I have shared many one-on-one conversations with and someone I called a friend.  Out of nowhere, with no warning, I received a violent text message from this friend threatening to harm me.  He cursed me, he mocked me, he made fun of me and made fun of my wife. Although there were no actual words that said, “I’m going to kill you”, my life and my family’s safety felt jeopardized.  We called law enforcement. I had to go into the police office late that night to write up a report. Mimi was freaking out. It made me incredibly angry that someone had caused my wife to feel this emotionally fragile. 
           That Friday we received a Court Order to confront our friend the following Monday for a hearing.  We did not feel safe in our own house. My oldest was three, the next was one and a half, and Mimi was eight-months pregnant with our third.  We did not want to stay in our home for the weekend. Feeling like a modern-day St. Joseph, I packed up the family and fled. With a van filled with luggage, we had no plan but to go to daily Mass and figure it out from there.  We confided in our pastor who offered to help. We decided to call one of my best friend’s dad with whom we were also close, explained what was going on and received a no-hesitation reply, “Come on over.”
           After our forever grateful stay in our second family’s basement, we returned home Sunday evening.  I showed up to court the following Monday morning. The judge pressed no charges as there was not enough evidence in my friend’s message to show actual decision to harm or kill.  I confronted my friend outside the courtroom. He profusely apologized, explained the hard times in his life that’s been happening that lead to the message, and apologized again for taking it out on me.  He told me he was getting spiritual and professional psychological help and means no harm to my family then and now. I forgave him on the spot and told him I loved him. We embraced and departed.
           Since receiving his message and throughout that weekend I was level headed, mostly to stay stable for my wife who was losing it at moments.  An emotional roller coaster of fear, anger, and confusion took our family those few short days. “Why did God allow this?”, I asked myself.
           The following Tuesday morning I showed up to prayer, early before the children woke.  Months of reading Chautard, Philippe, Cizcek and reflecting on Job’s life and Jesus on the Cross, I showed up once again in my office upstairs in my house to spend deep silent time with our Lord.  And I finally lost it.  I cried the hardest I ever cried in my life.   Halfway through my bawling and face in my hands on my desk, kneeling from my chair, I asked God what was the source of my tears.  I thought about how much I loved each of my little girls. I thought about how much I loved Mimi. My heart turned to Job and a thought crossed my soul that has changed my life forever since.  I told God silently in my interior prayer, as much as I love my children, as much as I love my wife, even if they were all taken away from me, I still love you more Lord.
           I still love you more Lord.  “You giveth and taketh away,” I still love you more, Lord.  Even if it was all taken away, I still praise you and love you more Lord.  It physically hurt how much I loved Him in that moment.  It was these words that made me cry so hard. I was not crying out of sadness.  I was crying out of joy of how much I loved the Lord Jesus.
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           My friends, to the best of my ability, I have given my heart and entire self completely to Jesus.  I strive for complete surrender. I admit I fall short many days and let doubt and discouragement plague me from time to time.  But whenever I come up for air in prayer, I am reminded that I am a beloved son of God and nothing in this world can take that Truth nor my peace.  A peace and hope in Jesus Christ alone.
           Archbishop Gregory recently told us employees on a recent day of reflection, “Conversion is a daily process.”  St. Mark gets straight to the point of our daily call:
           “You shall love the Lord your God
                          with all your heart
                          with all your soul
                          with all your mind
                     with all your strength.”
Mark 12:30
           Saint John Paul II quotes scripture repeatedly, “Do not be afraid!”  Our Father is always with us.  The feeling of not sensing Jesus’ presence does not mean He is absent.  He is forever with us, right there in the room you’re in as you read this.  He’s there whether you sense Him or not.  Mother Teresa taught us this as she felt an arid spiritual loneliness and yet still did His will.  The truth of the matter is that none of us were made for this earthly world and our life here is a drop in eternity.  To quote Fr. Carter Griffin, “Suffering is not the worst thing possible; Hell is the worst thing possible.” 
           This Friday feels like the original Good Friday, where all confusion, fear, and anxiety is unleashed in the (seeming) loss of our Lord.  Our post-Resurrection advantage is to know that the Lord did, and does, rise three days later. The Victory has already been won. This too shall pass.  Until then and always, let us keep our hope and joy in our Heavenly Father with whom we forever belong.