It’s still early in the new year, and resolutions and fresh starts are still inspiring us. Lent approaches. Many readers of The Catholic Gentlemen are participating in the ascetic rigors of Exodus 90. This is in many ways the most proper time of year for the unchaste, especially those with long-term addictions to pornography and masturbation, to make a fresh attempt to quit and heal.
At this time therefore, I would like to bring together the wisdom and example of the saints, one of the toughest gospels, the authority of the Catechism, and even some modern psychology to propose a new spiritual superweapon in fighting against these soul-destroying vices. Many of us are consecrated to Mary after the teaching of St. Louis de Montfort, and yet there is a traditional capstone on Marian Consecration that is generally forgotten today. Consider this text:
“It is very praiseworthy and helpful for those who have become slaves of Jesus in Mary to wear, in token of their slavery of love, a little chain blessed with a special blessing … I cannot help but give the warmest approval to those who wear them. They show they have shaken off the shameful chains of the slavery of the devil, in which original sin and perhaps actual sin had bound them and have willingly taken upon themselves the glorious slavery of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, they glory in the chains they wear for Christ.” –St. Louis de Montfort
These chains are called consecration chains, and, when worn on the wrist, consecration chain bracelets. They are sacramentals. Most of us don’t talk about, think about, or use sacramentals much, so some background here will help. First, the definition from the Catechism:
“Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By
themmen are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy…Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” –Catechism, 2nd ed., 1667-70”
The Importance of Tangible Reminders
The rosary is one of the best-known and most popular of sacramentals. It is possible to pray the rosary without having the physical object in hand. Have you tried it? I have. I end up using my fingers to count Hail Mary’s. Sometimes when I do this alone I forget that I’m praying, go back to some other activity, and only much later realize that I never finished my rosary. Even when I do succeed in finishing it, it is less meritorious because I am more often distracted, and I have to reserve some part of my brain for counting when the visible and tangible reminder of the rosary beads is absent.
Think about that while reading this next text, again from St. Louis de Montfort:
A man’s actions are prompted more frequently by his senses than by pure faith and so he can easily forget his duties towards God if he has no external reminder of them. These little chains are a wonderful aid in recalling the bonds of sin and the slavery of the devil from which baptism has freed him.
Habits and Choices
This is where modern psychology comes in: people generally assume that we do the things we decide to do. This is false. It is the opposite of the truth; we actually end up deciding to do the things that we are already doing by habit. In regards to habitual actions, and especially vices that bring immediate sensual pleasure…staying in bed after you turn off the alarm clock, eating that last piece of pizza, masturbation…it is a dangerous myth that has contributed to the despair and continued entrapment-to-sin of many decent people of good will. This concept and its ramifications have been extensively explored by modern science, but the mental model has not sufficiently sunk into everyday thinking. Consider this excerpt from Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, Better than Before:
“The real key to habits is decision making—or, more accurately, the lack of decision making. A habit requires no decision from me, because I’ve already decided. Am I going to brush my teeth when I wake up? Am I going to take this pill? I decide, then I don’t decide; mindfully, then mindlessly. I shouldn’t worry about making healthy choices. I should make one healthy choice, and then stop choosing.
Like St. Louis de Montfort in the preceding quote, St. Paul understood what science is only now catching up to:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” –Romans 7:15-20
This sounds scary, like our actions are beyond our control. But it actually contains the key to the whole puzzle of escaping habitual vice. Just as external sensibles drive our actions towards vice when left unmanaged, external sensibles can be deliberately manipulated to drive our actions towards virtue. Further, this is not “cheating”, it’s not avoiding the hard work of virtue; it is prudent and holy to manipulate our environment in a way that reinforces good actions. This is what the alcoholic does when in a fit of desperation—or inspiration—he dumps out and throws away all the liquor bottles in the house. This is what the addict does when he checks himself into rehab. It is what you are doing when, in a moment of lucidity, you install a browser extension to block X-rated websites. If you want to drink more water in the morning, fill up your water bottle and place it on your nightstand before bed. If you want to do some meaningful creative work in the morning before email overtakes you, close your email at the end of your workday so it won’t be staring you in the face next morning. If you want to increase your devotion to the Eucharist, go to daily mass.
How Sacramentals Help
Sacramentals are not good luck charms. Unlike the Sacraments, they do not confer
What sin is more closely associated with our right hand than masturbation? But Jesus is speaking figuratively, surely; for one thing, a hand cannot cause us to sin; sin is in the will and what we do with our hands is only an outward expression of a sinful choice we have already made. No. Remember the words of St. Paul and St. Louis. “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Our flesh guides our actions to vice. There is truly some sense in which it is our hand, standing for our whole body, that sins while our mind looks the other way. But surely we are not meant to actually cut it off? Probably not. Then how to fulfill the gospel commandment?
Wear the consecration chain bracelet. “Cut off” your hand by giving it over completely to Jesus through Mary, enslaved to virtue by the power of charity within you, yes, but confirmed and reinforced through the power of deliberately manipulating external
Decide TODAY that you will wear a consecration chain bracelet on your right wrist until the Good Lord calls you home. Decide TODAY to start over, go to confession, and never again let your right hand drag you towards hell. “Make one healthy choice, and then stop choosing.”
The reader may be wondering whether I write from experience in preaching the efficacy of this devotion. I do not. I have been wearing my consecration chain bracelet for the better part of a year now, but thankfully, I quit masturbation years before I’d ever heard of the consecration chain bracelet, and before I consecrated myself to Mary. My shame over my habitual masturbation and addiction to porn kept me away from the confessional and the other sacraments for years as a teenager. I finally came back to the Church as a college sophomore and spent the next two years going to confession regularly while frequently falling again. Finally, as a senior, two months before my wedding date, I confessed to my fiancée my years of entrapment in sin, and that I was still in it. It was the hardest conversation I ever had, and one of the most beneficial and important. I could not in good conscience promise that I would never masturbate again, but I did promise that if I ever fell, I would tell her promptly. That was six years ago. By the grace of God, I have never had occasion to fulfill that promise to her. The hurt I caused her, her face, her words to me during that conversation are etched in my memory forever, and I cringe to think of dragging us both through that all over again. So my challenge to those of you still trapped in the darkness: take the easier way out. Complete a Marian Consecration if you haven’t yet, and then wear the consecration chain bracelet as a permanent external sensible reminder of your commitment to chastity.
Colin and his wife Stephanie met at Thomas Aquinas College. They are raising three wonderful children in Wisconsin, and are member’s of Fr. Rick Heilman’s parish, St. Mary Pine Bluff. Formerly a minimally-practicing Catholic and COO of Ballotpedia.org, Colin heard God’s call to a deeper faith in early 2018 and directed that energy towards improving the online presence and unity of the pro-life movement. Read his story and support his ministry at TheTippingPoint.org/story.