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Part 1: Lust
By Chris Sparks (Mar 6, 2017)
Let's talk about sin, shall we? The following is part one of our weekly Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins.
I am in the awkward position of having to write about the deadly sin of lust, offering some useful meditation for my fellow Christians, when that is one of the sins with which I most often struggle, and against which I most often lose.
Is it not hypocrisy, then, to condemn the sin and call all the brethren to chastity? I write this for two reasons: First, it is true that lust is a vice and chastity a virtue. Whether I myself am an exemplar of the virtue isn't at issue — the truth is the important thing and should be repeated by all who know it. Secondly, there's some value to C.S. Lewis's rule, explained in the preface to Mere Christianity and the sections on his schooling in Surprised by Joy: He didn't like to write about vices that he himself had never struggled against.
What, then, to say?
Perhaps first and most importantly, I'll repeat the wisdom of Pope Benedict XVI:
Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness. ... it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness.
For many people, the way of holiness in the face of lust isn't going to immediately be walking in perfect purity of mind and heart, perfect chastity in the face of the sex-soaked culture surrounding us. Rather, the way of sanctity will pass through the confessional, through repentance and contrition for our sins, through learning the difference between desire and lust, between perceiving the attraction of beauty and the dehumanizing objectification of another person.
Certainly, most humans have struggled with lust. Ever since the fall of man, our desires are disordered, our wills weakened, and our intellects darkened. God has blessed the rare person who doesn't ever face the temptations of lust or fall to them! Indeed, St. Faustina Kowalska reported in her Diary that the Blessed Virgin Mary procured for her perfect purity only after much prayer (see entries 40 and 1097).
When we talk about the sin of lust, we come face to face with one of the besetting sins of our time. We live in the midst of a post-sexual revolution culture, a culture often committed to anything but traditional Christian sexual morality, a culture utterly uninterested in supporting or encouraging people who seek to walk in the path of Jesus when it comes to sexuality and marriage.
Saint John Paul II reportedly said, "Chastity is the work of a lifetime." For many of us, it may take longer than that. The work of purification may extend into purgatory, as well. So we must never give up hope, never stop trying to set aside the vice of lust in favor of the virtue of chastity; never stop repenting of our sins and trusting in the mercy of God; never stop persevering in our quest to see our fellow human beings as beloved children of God, rather than mere objects of our lust; never stop choosing the way of the Gospel over the ways of the world.
And that way is explained in the Catechism:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. …
Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.126 "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end."
… Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God's commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. "Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity" (2337, 2339-2340; see also 2337-2359)
As we seek to walk this path of self-mastery and personal conversion, we must always walk in hope and trust in the help of God's grace, even if we fall. Saint Faustina recorded the following words of Jesus: "My child, all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully as your present lack of trust does — that after so many efforts of My love and mercy, you should still doubt My goodness" (Diary, 1486)
So let us turn with trust to Jesus for the grace to be made pure, praying for each other so that the whole Body of Christ may be made clean. Let us get back up after every fall, take ourselves to the confessional to get cleaned up, and work to avoid near occasions of sin. And never, ever cease trusting in the mercy of God!