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4th Sunday of Lent – “Safe Haven Sunday”

March 31, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


In this famous parable, Jesus uses the merciful Father to represent our Heavenly Father. The father in the parable keeps reminding his boys who they are— they are his beloved sons. The younger and the older are both lost because they have forgotten who they are in relation to their merciful Father—they are his beloved sons.

The younger son thinks he must abandon his identity because of his sins. After all by claiming his inheritance before the proper time, the younger son basically said to his father, “I wish you were dead.” Then he goes one worse by squandering his inheritance on loose living. He returns home hoping to be treated like a hired hand, simply so he can have food to eat. But his father sees him coming from a long way off and sprints out to welcome his younger son home. Full of compassion, he will not hear any of this nonsense about his son becoming a hired worker. He clothes him and throws a feast for his beloved son who was lost and is now found, who was dead and has returned to life.

The older boy is not living like a son, either. Even though he stays home, he is just as lost as his younger brother. It is out of duty, not out of love or knowing how much his father loves him as his son, that the older boy slaves away in the field. He lives and works as if he were a hired hand, not a son loved by his father.

Because both boys have forgotten who they are, they are both lost. But they are found by a Father who reminds them that they are and always will be his beloved sons. This is their deepest and truest identity.

On the 1st Sunday of Lent we went into the desert with Jesus where we encountered the devil attacking Jesus’ identity as Son of God. If you are the Son of God, turn this stone to bread. If you are the Son of God, jump off this temple top. The Evil One attacks Christians at the core of who they are. He attacks their identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. Satan knows that when we live from our identity as beloved children, then we rely in trust upon our merciful Father for our every need. So, the Father of Lies tricks us into thinking we are not loved by God our Father, that we have been abandoned by God, that we are not His children. The enemy of human nature does this by isolating us from God and others.

Note how isolated both sons are from their father and from each other. Note, too, how the Merciful Father restores his boys’ dignity as beloved sons by reconnecting to them. By going out to them where they are isolated, he reconciles them to Himself.

The Father leaves his home and goes out to both of his sons. He knows one feels all alone because of his sins and the other because of resentment.

Sin cuts us off from God and others. Those who struggle with a particular kind of sin, with the sin of pornography, feel especially isolated from God and others Because all sins against chastity come from a loss of identity, those struggling with this sin feel cut off their best self as a child of God. They feel like they are all alone—their dark secret cutting them off from their spouse and from others and from God.

Shame is part of this dynamic. Now shame in its healthy form is helpful, because it’s like a warning bell alerting us that we are doing something wrong. But there is another kind of shame which many who struggle with addiction to pornography suffer. It is called “toxic shame.” Toxic shame causes someone to close themselves off to the extravagant mercy of God, to believe the lie that no one can love me that much. But God can and God does! Because of toxic shame, they become more and more isolated, and with every porn driven high, they feel more and more alone. Why? Because the pleasure that porn promises is empty, for there is no one there, no one to connect to, no one to relate to.

The way out of addiction to porn is by connecting once again with God and with others. This can happen by having an accountability partner, or a spiritual director, or joining a SA group. This can then lead someone who is married to reconnecting on a deep level with their spouse.

The reconnection with God occurs when one realizes that no matter how low one has stooped, even to desiring the food of pigs, our Merciful Father still looks upon us as one of his beloved sons or daughters.

Our Heavenly Father is too busy loving us to be disappointed in us. When we come to our senses, and take that 1st step away from toxic shame and back home towards our Father, He comes running out to meet us, to remind us we are always his beloved sons or daughters.

In many parishes throughout the archdiocese today, priests are not only bringing to light the dangers of porn but also challenging parents to make their homes a Safe Haven from porn. As the US bishops said recently in “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography”, “the use of pornography by anyone in the home deprives the home of its role as a safe haven and has negative effects throughout a family’s life and across generations.”

Because of our smart phones and computers, internet pornography has poisoned the lives of almost every man and of many women. The effects of porn are devastating: addiction & compulsive behavior, marriage and family breakups, and human trafficking. Viewing porn causes a distorted view of human sexuality, leading the viewer to treat not only those on the digital screen as objects instead of persons made in God’s image, but to do the same to the living and breathing persons with whom they interact.

Today the average child is first exposed to porn at age 11. The digital landscape is a deadly minefield for children and ill-prepared parents. Because money is what drives the porn industry, those who put porn out there for consumption want to worm their way into the lives of children. Porn purveyors know that children’s brains are not fully developed, and that if they can expose kids to porn at a young age then they will have them hooked for the rest of their life, because viewing porn as a child powerfully alters brain chemistry, changing the way one’s brain works. There are many evils at work in the porn industry, but one of the worst is the many sneaky ways purveyors of porn try to hook children, because if they can get a child at 10, 11 or 12 years of age hooked on porn, then the porn industry will have a paying customer for the rest of that person’s life.

There seem to be 2 constants which cause someone to become addicted to porn: early exposure and lack of sexual formation. We want to provide help to parents on both of these fronts. Those who become hooked on porn usually see these devastating images before they become a teenager and then find there is no one to talk to about what has happened. Today the Church offers some resources for parents to protect their children from early exposure and tools to help them talk with their children about the gift of human sexuality.

As parents leave the church today, a books entitled “Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture” will be given to you as a gift to help you protect your children from exposure to porn and to provide you a way to talk to your children about the beauty of human sexuality as intended by God. Also, this Wednesday at 7 p.m. there will be follow-up meeting for parents who want to talk more in-depth about how to protect their kids from porn and how to teach their children about the beauty and challenges of human sexuality. More resources will also be provided at this meeting to assist parents in this task.

One tip that I have learned from friends raising teenage children is never let your children take their phones to bed with them. Before your children go to bed, have them give their phone to you. Set a time every night when your children’s phones have to be handed over to you. You will not only save your children from temptation but also they will get a better night’s rest, which they so desperately need as teens. Your kids will not like you for doing this, but you need to be their parent, not their friend.

Covenant Eyes is a company working with our Archdiocese to help implement the US Bishops pastoral document, “Create a Clean Heart.” Covenant Eyes has developed accountability and filtering services for Internet users and is a leader in the crusade to make the Internet a safer place for users.

I would like to encourage all parents (and grandparents) to take out your cell phones and enroll in a free 7 day e-mail crash course from Covenant Eyes offering practical tips on how to make your homes into safe havens from porn and places of healing in a porn ravaged culture. I never ask you to take your cell phones out in church, so you know how important this is if I am asking you to do so.

Type SECURE to 66866. You will then be asked for your e-mail address. Type that in and you will receive an email every day for the next 7 days with specific information on how to protect your children from porn sites and material.

What is also very important, as I mentioned earlier, is that parents teach children the basic facts of the beauty of our human sexuality, and the dignity of every person as a beloved son or daughter of God. When parents are available for their children to ask them questions and to learn the truth about why God made us the way we have been made, children can overcome porn being the norm and be free to live and love as God wills them to live and love.

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