+JMJ+ Welcome to part 15 of our current Catholic Book of the Month (month, months, whatever), Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre. I’m on a Quest to become a saint, using this book as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together! In part 15 we’ll look at lust, the disordered desire for sexual pleasure, and its remedy, chastity, to be chaste, to have a clean and pure heart, to be set apart for holiness. One who is not chaste is not going to be holy, not until one turns away from the sin of lust and toward the Lord by striving to be chaste.
Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels.*Psalm 51 (50), Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.
While the pleasure of marital union is good in itself, after the fall it becomes “disordered, inclined to sin, and difficult to control…lust is the desire to misuse or abuse” that union. (See Intro, page 437, ebook.) Jesus speaks of porneia (Greek for sexual immorality), too.
21 For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile a man.Mark 7:21-23, DRB.
(Porneia, fornication, sexual immorality, perversion, illicit sexual intercourse and the like. You’ll find writings now trying to argue that Christians have got this all twisted and that there’s nothing at all wrong with these things. Yeah, well, just remember, our ancient enemy hates us and will use anything he can, even the words of the Lord Himself, to destroy us. Don’t listen to him. Listen to the Lord.)
If you want to see how easy it is to control people via sex and lust, just look around. Most people outside the Church get this wrong. You’ll hear them say that the Church is trying to control those poor pitiful sheep who believe in her by making them feel guilty about sex. But the ones in bondage are the ones who have wrapped themselves in the heavy chains of unbridled lust and disordered desire. And they will scream in your face if you say anything about it other than to confirm and affirm them in their sin. Oh, and a surefire way to get the crowd to turn on you is to mention that that lust is a sin and that that desire is disordered.
In a first-century Jewish context, porneia can refer to any sexual act apart from the procreative union of a married man and woman. In other words, while the Ten Commandments explicitly prohibit only “adultery” (Greek moicheia), Jesus goes further: he describes all acts of porneia as morally “evil” acts that spiritually “defile” the human heart (Mark 7:23).Intro, 452, ebook.
He even condemns lustful looks (see Matthew 5:27-30). Jesus is quoting the commandment against coveting. Dr. Pitre gives a “more literal translation” here:
Everyone who looks at a woman in order to covet [Greek epithymēsai] her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28).Ibid., 454-455.
Note the words in his heart, the place of decision. He’s talking about decision, choosing to consent. He’s not talking about feelings here. Feelings arise and fall away, and who knows from whence they came and who can say whence they go?
The main thing to remember here is that lust and holiness are incompatible. The virtue of chastity must be cultivated and if one sits around focusing on what will lead away from that goal, one will never arrive at the goal. Put away such things. The more one focuses on lustful thoughts, the less one focuses on holy thoughts. One must decide which way one will walk. It is impossible to walk in two opposing directions at the same time.
A few years ago someone really said to me, “Why should I control myself?” I was so stunned by the question that I did not know how to answer. What seemed so obvious to me did not seem obvious to that person at all. Not only did it not seem obvious, but he clearly believed that I was deluded and pathetic for believing that I should control myself. Boggles the mind. But I was raised in a Christian home by Christian parents (Protestant, Methodist) and one might be tempted to think I am Christian now because they were Christian then. But this is to ignore the many years I spent searching for the truth before I came back to Christianity (in general, and Catholicism in particular after studying it). I could see with my own eyes that the way I was living wasn’t leading me closer to the Lord, much as I wanted to believe I was getting closer every day. Discovering the teachings of the Church shattered what was left of that illusion and has led me to see ever more clearly the true state that I was in and that the world around me is in now, too. It’s not good!
Witness all the people clamoring for the Church to change her teachings on sex. Really, these teachings are not so much as centered on sex as they are centered on the human person and what it means to be human. We are not mere animals, driven blindly by instinct. We are different from the other and lower animals, not because we have souls, but because we have rational souls. We can decide to behave differently. We can even work on our thinking. And more than all of this, we can pray to God for grace to transform us into other Christs. True, we’ll never possess His nature the way He does, but we can participate in it because He deigns to give us a share in it.
And this is a key: that the Lord will give us a share in His own Divine Nature and transform us, making us saints if only we will let Him do it. If only we will co-operate with Him. And how do we co-operate with Him to loosen the chains of lust and put on the mind of Christ, becoming holy and pure in heart and mind? By stopping every time we detect the lust arising within us. By turning away from the sin and toward the Lord.
Dr. Pitre points out the way we become entangled in the chains of lust (he didn’t put it exactly that way but that’s how I think of it) by pointing out how King David got entangled in lust and its consequences.
- Idleness, sloth (led to)
- Refusal to look away (led to)
- Covetous curiosity (led to)
- Adultery (which act, by the way, led David to plot the murder of Bathsheba’s husband).
See how the mighty have fallen and it began with such a little thing.
So what can one do in a concrete sense to combat the sin of lust, to become holy and chaste? First, realize that only God can give this gift, but we can help prepare ourselves for it in humility by:
- Manual labor.
By fasting, not giving in to the appetites of the body and senses (and, perhaps one could say, the appetites of the mind).
By meditating on the Word of the Lord, meditating on the Scriptures day and night.
By working, by keeping our bodies busy. And he’s not talking about mere busywork but good, honest work and discipline through which we learn self-control and self-mastery.
There’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page and scroll down for this series of posts.
Next time, gluttony and its remedy: temperance.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Lent, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
- *An ancient Hebrew expression indicating the deepest inmost feelings, the seat of compassion. More on this later. It’s quite the interesting rabbit hole but was taking me too far afield as I was writing this post.
Image: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Sermon on the Mount, by Carl Bloch, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Bible and candle, from a wallpaper site.
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