By Vir Christi
“The sin which causes most souls to go to Hell are sins of the flesh.” That awful sentence was spoken to Jacinta Marto by Our Lady of Fatima during one of Mary’s apparitions. In a world where sensuality and the appeal to sex are omnipresent, that sentence chills us to the bone. None of us wants to go to Hell, but how do we avoid lust when sexual temptation is lurking everywhere we turn?
What is Lust?
According to the Catechism, “Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (CCC 2351). So what does all of that mean?
Procreative refers to the openness to new life that any couple engaged in sexual relations must have, as that was the purpose for God giving human beings the ability to have sex in the first place. Infertile couples are not violating this standard, as the intent is there even though the necessary biological component is not. Unitive refers to how the intimacy brought about by sexual relations strengthens the marital bond between one man and one woman. In other words, sex outside of marriage which is not open to the conception of children is immoral.
(Note that the above means that, by definition, homosexual relations cannot ever be considered moral. They fail to meet both of the above standards.)
Lust vs. Attraction
Lust is not limited to serious sexual sins. Adultery, fornication, and pornography are obvious sins of lust. But other, smaller sins also fall under the umbrella of lust. Inappropriate touching and kissing, impure thoughts that are fed rather than dismissed, and dressing with the goal to drive others to arousal are also sins of lust.
Having an attraction to members of the opposite sex is not sinful. God created human beings as sense creatures, so it’s natural to have a response to the way a person looks, to how their cologne or perfume smells, or the way their voice sounds. The question that determines whether you are remaining chaste, or crossing the bridge into the sin of lust, is “What am I doing with this?” Are you lingering on it for an inappropriate period of time? Are you feeding desires that if voiced aloud would sound improper? Lingering on those thoughts is lustful. Letting them pass after briefly acknowledging them is not.
It’s Just My Sin: Why Should You Care?
People often make the mistake of thinking about sin as a purely individual matter. In particular, it is easy to fall into this trap with lust. That’s partly due to the shame we feel when we commit this specific sin, and partly due to the fact that because we only see ourselves involved in it, we never think of how it affects others. But all sin affects everyone else in the Church: we are the Body of Christ, so one member struggling with something means the whole body suffers.
Lust is often thought of as just a moment of weakness for one or two individuals. But it’s incredibly destructive to the fabric of society as well. Divorce, which wounds children and grandchildren in addition to the spouses, is frequently the result of one spouse (or both) not seeing each other in their totality. Abortion is a choice made to terminate a human life so that the sexual act can be enjoyed free of its biological consequences, and subsequently snuffs out countless future generations. Contraception is a common precursor to abortion, as it weakens people’s ability to make the connection between life beginning in the womb prior to birth as well as detaching sex from its reproductive function. Widespread manufacturing of contraceptives assists in creating a culture which holds life prior to birth in contempt.
How can all that (and more) be blamed on lust? Because every time someone commits the sin of lust, it distorts their view of the overall dignity of the human person. That distortion trickles down into other actions and choices that they make. In particular, it affects marriage and the family in a detrimental way. Think of it as poison. If a limb of a human body is poisoned, the limb suffers terribly because it’s where the poison originated, but eventually the entire human body suffers from the effects.
How Do I Avoid Lust?
People often make the mistake of trying to resist sin only in the moment, when preparation prior to temptation is more effective. Particularly with lust, given how our society is inundated with sexual imagery through the entertainment and fashion industries, the human senses are so overwhelmed in the moment that most of us fall when temptation strikes. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare against this temptation.
Firstly, take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation. People will often fail to confess something because they’re embarrassed by how it might sound. But the priest is bound by the seal of the confessional; he gets booted out of the Church if he says anything about what you confessed! Being held accountable for your faults is uncomfortable, but it provides a significant amount of healing. The priest can also give you advice for avoiding occasions of sin in the future.
Secondly, examine the environment around you. Are your friends encouraging you to holiness, or are they leading you into practices that are bad for your spiritual health? Actions in the spiritual life have a cascading effect: bad habits become faults, faults lead to venial sins, and regular unconfessed venial sins lead to mortal sins. Because of this, it’s important to pick friends who will be Simon to you when you fall under your cross (Matthew 27:31-33), and who will bring you to Jesus when you can’t get there yourself (Mark 2:1-12).
Be aware of the times and means by which you seem most inclined to fall, and identify the patterns. Are you more likely to commit a certain sin at night or in the morning? Is the temptation coming from your phone, or from your computer? Answering these questions can help you understand how the environment affects you with this temptation.
Dive aggressively into your faith. Build devotions to Joseph and Mary; they are excellent allies in the fight for chastity! Cultivate a sense of gratitude for all God has done for you; when you are aware of how much you owe God, it takes the focus off of you. It is dangerous to rely on your own strength to fight off a temptation by thinking, “I got this.” Instead, fly to Jesus. Having a spirit of gratitude will make you less likely to depend on yourself in those moments of temptation. It will also protect you from discouragement and help you rise when you fall. Fortify your soul with frequent Communion—daily Mass is extremely helpful in cultivating the virtue of chastity.
Remember the good that you’re striving to protect when you pursue chastity and avoid the sin of lust. You’re upholding the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of the gift of sex. Every chaste decision that you make highlights the holiness of sexual relations between married couples, and testifies to the intimacy that exists between Christ and His Bride the Church.
Vir’s heart has been on fire for the Church from day one, and he dreams of the day when Constantinople will be a city again. He has a competitive drive satiated by sports and board games, but is also just as happy to sit down and read a good book for hours on end.
Thank you for your insights, especially coming from the male perspective. I would not be surprised to learn that males are more prone to sexual lust. In any case, I find that use of reason also helps combat it. For example, it can well be supposed that unitive, procreative sex, blessed and encouraged by the sacrament of holy matrimony, is the highest sexual pleasure and thus to be sought.