Last week I took the last empty seat at a lunch table where five of our seminarians were engaged in a fiery discussion about priestly vocations. One of them was trying to figure out why his pastor only told him that he thought he had a call to the priesthood after he had been accepted to the seminary. He told us that he knew his pastor for most of his life, and that he spent a lot of time at his home parish, but that his pastor never mentioned the possibility of a priestly vocation to him. It was only after he discerned on his own, applied to the seminary, and was accepted, that his pastor told him, “I always thought you would make a good priest.” This behavior made no sense to the seminarian. “Why” he asked, “would he not tell me earlier that he thought I had a vocation? Why did he wait until after I was accepted to the seminary to tell me?” The disgruntled seminarian turned my way and said, “What do you think, Father?” I said, “It’s the same reason that guys look at porn.”
When their shock wore off, I explained my theory to the guys. Here’s how it goes. If you ask most men why they look at porn, they’ll tell you the obvious answer. But if you dig a little bit deeper you’ll find something much more serious at work in a man’s mind and heart. The most secret, and perhaps the most real reason that men use porn is because porn can’t reject you, and a man’s worst fear is being rejected.
With porn, you are in total control. You look at the images that you want to look at, you do whatever you want to do while looking at those images, and when you are done, you simply turn off the computer, the phone, the tablet, the television, or close the magazine. It’s easy. There’s no risk. There’s no risk because there is no person, just images of people, but no actual people. If it’s just you, and no one else, then there’s no one there to look back at you, to see your weaknesses, to see your insecurities, to see you as you really are and love you. None of that can happen because that’s not the nature of porn. Porn isn’t real human interaction, so things like friendship, vulnerability, communion, and love have no place there. Nor does rejection have any place in porn, because there is no one there to reject you. Secretly, men like that, because what man wants to be rejected?
Men are made to confront danger, to take risks and to go on wild adventures. Heroic men, virtuous men, and holy men all do these sorts of things. But they also realize that confronting danger, taking a risk, and going on adventures always includes some possibility of failing, criticism, and rejection. For example, if you take the final shot in a basketball game, there is a chance that you may miss—you may fail. But, the fun of playing basketball rests upon that very risk. If you take the final shot and make it, the victory is sweet. And even if you do miss, at least you took the shot. You learn from losing. In fact, it may even make you a better player, or at least a better man.
Think of the variety of ways that a young man may ask a young woman out to a high school homecoming dance. He can have a friend ask for him. He can text her, call her, DM her, email her, or write her a letter. Or he can ask her in person—look her in the eyes, making himself very vulnerable, and nervously say, “Would you like to go to homecoming with me?” It would be the riskiest move, but if she said yes, it would also be the most rewarding.
Now many young people may be reading this and think, “Come on Father, no one does that anymore! No guy asks a girl out on dates or to dances in person.” To which I respond, “Why not?” Is it because no young men have the desire for adventure, risk, and danger? I doubt it. I think it’s because young men have been trained by the porn-culture to live in fear of being rejected. They think, “If I ask a girl out, there’s a chance that she’ll say no, and I’ll get hurt. Better to not ask at all.” Porn never says no. Young men reason, “If I let someone really get to know me, not just my strengths but my weakness too, she may reject me. Better to avoid the possibility of rejection completely.” Porn will never reject you.
For a boy to become a man, he needs to get over his fear of being rejected. And he needs to recognize that part of being a man is experiencing rejection and growing from it and through it. Heck, even Jesus was rejected, so should we expect anything less for ourselves?
Whether it’s using pornography or being afraid to invite a young man to consider a vocation to the priesthood, the secret reason men do a lot of the dumb things that we do, is because we fear being rejected. That fear is especially bad for the women in our lives and it’s bad for the Church—both expect and need more from us.
There is no better time for us men to gird up our loins than now. Esto Vir.