In the Case of Self-Destruction
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. In this sixth entry, we reflect on adultery.
By Peter Markavage
Many years back, I had the privilege of attending a Christian rehabilitation facility with the aim of overcoming a particular personal habit of sin. While there, I met a man who was also struggling to overcome sin. In his case, it was the sin of adultery. I will call him "Chris."
I'm not certain of the circumstances that led him to commit adultery. Perhaps he had just one glimpse of a dirty magazine which led to a pattern of impurity and, eventually, adultery. He engaged in an extramarital affair that lasted for several years.
Truly remorseful, Chris thought that voluntarily going to a Christian rehabilitation center for what he considered an "addiction" would win forgiveness from his wife and children so that he could get back to his marriage and family life. In fact, Chris was so excited that his family was going to be with him at Thanksgiving at the rehab facility that he made preparations to leave with them. I clearly remember him telling me (in spite of the fact he had not yet finished the program), "I have learned everything I needed to learn to overcome this, and when my wife visits at Thanksgiving, I will make arrangements to leave with her."
And, in fact, his estranged wife did visit him for Thanksgiving at the live-in facility, but not for the reasons he expected. She came to deliver divorce papers and to tell him that she was finished, that she could not go on living with a man who broke his sacred marriage vow. His sexual indiscretions had damaged, not only his own life, but that of his wife and children.
In the sixth commandment, God tells us, "You shall not commit adultery" (Ex 20:14). We define adultery as the act of sexual relations with someone who is married to another — between married and unmarried people, or between a married person and someone else's spouse. Marriage is a union established by God, so to commit adultery is to sin against both our spouse and God.
Moreover, Jesus expanded upon that understanding of adultery when He declared that "everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (see Mt 5:27-28).
So even lustfully imagining deeds like those Chris committed is considered adultery. As Chris could attest, his own ordeal began with such imaginings.
For Chris, breaking the sixth commandment only proved what it says in Proverbs: that anyone who commits adultery behaves as a fool and destroys himself (see 6:32).
In retrospect, Chris's wife leaving him proved the real wakeup call for him from his spiritual stupor. He hadn't realized the extent of the damage his sin had caused to his family. He had hurt the woman of his dreams, and she was unable to recover.
I remember going to a Bible study one night in rehab. Chris was in attendance. The leader of our group asked us, "What is the solution to overcoming an adulterous heart and falling in love with Jesus?" None of us knew the answer. Finally, he replied, "The mercy of God; only by God's mercy can you overcome this sin and start living a life honoring God again," which included obeying His commandments.
According to the Catholic Church, for a married person not to give themselves fully to their Creator and their spouse (in that order) is the worst tangle we can find ourselves in. What seems to be momentary "fun" can become a lifetime of heartache and trouble. While it is true God extends His mercy to the greatest of sinners, sometimes our sins have lasting consequences that cannot be made right in this lifetime.
That is why we need God's mercy. We need it now. We need to cry out to Him, either for ourselves (if we find that we are slipping into bad habits) or for others who are fallen (or falling). He wants us to live self-sacrificing love just as His Son did for us. When our hearts are focused on Him and learning how to love others, we are living the meaning of our lives.
The Lord Jesus's specialty is healing and restoring our relationship with Him and others. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the Lord's mercy (be it praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet or reading Scripture) and honor and love your fellow man by staying faithful to God and the spouse He has given you.
I wish I could tell you there was more to Chris's story — perhaps a happy ending for Chris where he and his wife eventually reconciled. There was more to the story, but it didn't include the happy reunion we were all praying for. Still, in the midst of all the turmoil that Chris had brought upon himself, Jesus still forgave him and showed forth His abundant mercy. I don't know where Chris is today. It is my sincere hope he is following the Lord faithfully.
"Jesus, I trust in You" is a fitting prayer if we or our loved ones find ourselves in an hour of darkness brought about by infidelity.
To learn more about the sixth commandment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, articles 2331-2400.
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.