“Tear it out,” “cut it off,” and “throw it away!” Such are the expressions used by our Lord when speaking of sexual temptations. They certainly do not conjure up thoughts of mildness and gentleness. Instead, it would seem that in order to avoid the sin of lust, repeated and forceful blows are required. Elsewhere, Jesus used the graphic imagery of a millstone being tied around the neck of a sinner and thrown into the sea. These violent images not only illustrate the serious nature of sin, but also the aggressive response that is needed.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” This lends itself to yet another point made by Bishop Fulton Sheen: Jesus was not against violence. No, on the contrary, he requires it! But the violence he requires is one which is exercised on oneself! As a matter of fact, Bishop Sheen goes on to say that the reason why crime was on the increase in the streets of America during the years following the Sexual Revolution, was due to the “violence” (i.e., self-discipline and mortification) people failed to practice in their daily lives. A virtuous society in which children can play safely in their neighborhoods results from a practice of pulling out the beam in one's eye before he attempts to pull out the speck in his neighbor’s eye. The benefit of considering our own sins and faults first and foremost is that we exercise leniency towards others while demanding more from ourselves.
Here, we are only speaking of a general disposition of mind; an attitude towards our own sins and temptations which have been softened considerably by our culture. Jesus is relentless towards sin but relenting towards the sinner. In His teachings, He bids men to be unrelenting towards lust and nipping it in the bud even if it should only lurk in the imagination. But if the sinner should fall, he is to avoid berating himself. Instead, as St. Francis de Sales says, the penitent must peacefully ask God for forgiveness and begin yet again on the path of sexuality integrity and wholeness. Indeed, the man who, after committing a sexual sin, gives into dejection or despair only compounds the problem. To put this mindset into a nutshell: a man should be combative and hard-hitting against lust itself, but he must be equally peaceful towards himself with the understanding that God’s grace and mercy will see him through to the end.
After considering the general disposition of the mind, we can move on to particular practices such as prayer and reasoning through sexual temptation.
Just as the attraction of sweets needs to be put in context in order for a diabetic to persevere in his restricted diet, so too does the sexual appeal of a woman need to be put in a broader context for a man. Let me explain: The diabetic, when presented with a sweet dish, must reason his way beyond the delectation of the food. He must also consider the implications of an irregular insulin level and the physical effects such as nerve damage or the swelling of the extremities. Without this broader context in mind, there would be little incentive or rationale to eat properly and stay healthy. The context of lust and pornography is no less necessary for men. He has to, in his own mind, follow the logical conclusions or the likely consequences of what he is tempted to do. One can even argue, even in the absence of sexual temptation, that the ripple effects of lust, adultery or any immoral sexual activity, ought to be reflected on with the end result vividly in mind; the end result being the pain that it causes to loved ones and the harm done to the family…not to mention the spiritual cost it has on one’s relationship with God.
When a man sacrifices his relationship to God and his family for the sake of some fleeting sexual pleasure, he has made the object of his sin a kind of god- be it a woman (other than his wife) or pornography. Indeed, he has forfeited the day to day benefits of a peaceful conscience to the scattered and occasional moments of sexual pleasure. Each time he indulges, he creates for himself a sexual appetite that can never be fully satisfied. Sex, like a narcotic drug, becomes an addition and hence a master over his thoughts. He becomes a slave to a mere creature; an unmerciful creature which demands more and more from him. With this ball and chain wrapped around his thoughts, a man ceases to see the world, himself and God as they really exist. After all, a vice rarely exists by itself; rather, they exist in families. That is to say, lust will reproduce other sins and even more blind spots; before he knows it, there will be a series of self-made problems to resolve.
Every man- the saint and sinner alike -should meditate and mull over Proverbs 13:19, which reads: "Lust indulged starves the soul, but fools hate to turn from evil." With the above considerations in mind, and with sincere effort and an abundance of divine grace, we can be like those who conquered the evil one in St. John's First Letter: "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one."
Other considerations on sexual temptation in the next blog.
To read the first blog on "Sexual Temptation: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice" please scroll down