Don't Even Think About It
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Jan. 1 we began a 10-week countdown to the beginning of Lent. Ten weeks? Ten Commandments? Yes. In preparation for Lent, together let's make an examination of conscience by means of this weekly series of reflections on each of the Ten Commandments. The following is the ninth entry:
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife ...
— Exodus 20:17
Maybe your first thought is, "Wait, did God forget He covered this terrain already in the sixth commandment, which forbids adultery? In an effort to achieve a nice round number like Ten Commandments, is God stretching here?"
Of course not. With the ninth commandment, He essentially is saying "... and by the way, don't even think about it!" God is doubling down, in other words. And Jesus reiterates the gravity of covetousness in the Sermon on the Mount, saying "that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28).
Man oh man, God isn't playing around here. (It probably goes without saying, but the ninth commandment covers all forms of lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes, by men and women. Sorry, ladies, but you aren't off the hook on this.)
We have three issues to address here. Who experiences lust? Why is it bad for us? And what can we do about it?
Who experiences lust? Most people, including (you should be relieved by this) those destined for sainthood. Saint Faustina, for one. Saint Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis of Assisi, and many, many, many more struggled with the yearnings of the flesh.
"It is part of the daily experience of the spiritual battle," we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2516).
So, don't beat yourself up. You're not the only one whose eyes have lingered where they should not have lingered. Ask priests what the most confessed sin is, and most will say it's masturbation. Such is humankind's propensity for lust that our culture practically defines itself by it, in film, television, magazines, music, and the Internet. It's everywhere.
And that's not good. Why? Because all forms of lust stem "from the disobedience of the first sin," which broke the commandment that demands that God alone be worshiped (CCC, 2515). We are called to be pure of heart, to see our neighbors not as objects, but rather as "manifestations of divine beauty" through whom we may see the vision of God (see CCC, 2519).
Saint Paul said, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. ... When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry" (Col 3:1-5).
Maybe quoting Scripture is not necessary here. You probably don't need convincing of the reasoning behind the ninth commandment. You probably know it in your heart. You probably already understand that lust is not noble, not pure, not right, and not honorable. You probably already understand that we — body and soul — are to be temples of the Holy Spirit, dwelling places for the Lord.
Still, that doesn't make controlling our lust easier. We've built a culture that cannot restrain itself. Therefore, we, individually, must restrain ourselves. And here's the thing: God will guard you from covetousness, but first you have to work with Him.
But how do we work with Him?
Well, any simpleton could have come up with that suggestion, right? But, really, to overcome covetousness, don't look! Control your eyes.
You probably know how it goes: Gazing can quickly devolve into gawking, and soon enough you could find yourself checking off, broken commandment by broken commandment, the ways you have strayed from God.
Keep your eyes from wandering where they shouldn't wander. If you find yourself among those "whose appearance arouses yearning" (Wis 15:5), walk away.
And don't go to sexually explicit films. If you work using a computer, install a filter, and when your computer work is done, turn the darn thing off and walk away.
Control your eyes! Control your eyes! Control your eyes!
"Duh," I can hear you say. "Tell me something I don't know already?"
No, but really: Pray! Do you? Do you pray for protection against impure thoughts? You need to. We need the help of heaven.
Saint Faustina discloses in her Diary that only through "many years" of prayer, specifically to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was she able to overcome temptations of the flesh. When overcome with impure thoughts, she made haste to turn to the Blessed Mother, who is most pure.
Pray for a greater love — a love for God — to supersede the deadly desires of covetousness. Seek the Lord and His strength. Crave God so much that everything else becomes superfluous. Sincerely and deeply seek to covet "the greater gifts," as St. Paul said (1 Cor 12:31). He probably would define the greater gifts as temperance, wisdom, reason, gentleness, compassion, gallantry, courage, and truthfulness.
"God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10:13).
Be careful what you consume.
Yes, beware of drugs and alcohol. They have a tendency to remove inhibitions, making it more difficult to combat lustful feelings.
Go to Confession — weekly!
Yes, every week. It will redirect your priorities and change your life. Just knowing you will need to account for your sins in a matter of days or hours can help you keep your focus on God and His commandments.
And remember, with the ninth commandment God has doubled down — doubled down on the lengths to which He will go to save us from ourselves.
To learn more about the ninth commandment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2514-2533.
1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides Me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.