Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Sexual Temptation: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice
Below is a repost from October of 2010. Originally, it appeared as three separate posts.
I remember one day teaching the Old Testament at an inner-city Catholic High School in Washington, D.C. My sophomore students and I were discussing one of the many love stories in the book of Genesis. In any case, during our discussion I cautioned my female students not to date or marry any boy who frequents pornography or is addicted to it in any way. In addition to being morally wrong and a sin against God, the reason for this admonition is due to the fact that the habit of watching porn creates an insatiable sexual appetite and unrealistic expectations for the male consumer. Moreover, and just as important, pornography depersonalizes women; it puts all the emphasis on bodily pleasures and hence undermines the value of a woman’s integrity and personal needs.
As soon as I said this, a hand shot up. It was a female student who was known for being “pure and innocent.” She said, “Mr. Tremblay, if we were to take your advice, there would be no boys to date.” After further discussion, I was made aware that most of my male students watched pornography on a regular basis. If that were not enough, I was told that they, quite often, talked about it with their female counterparts. In response to this realization, I dropped the Old Testament lesson plan and talked about holiness and chastity for the next 2-3 days.
I recount this story because just recently, my spiritual director, a Catholic priest, related to me that over 50% of the confessions he hears from men have to do with pornography. Many of these men are married and practicing Catholics.
One of the obvious causes of this seductive habit is the easy access to images of women in our technological and media driven society. The internet, television, and even the magazine racks in a grocery store, are loaded with explicit pictures, detailing every curve and feature of the female body. A man has to constantly exercise custody of his eyes and even more so, he must be disciplined with his thoughts. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, a man arrives at purity more through prayer and reason. Praying is essential and without prayer purity is all but impossible. But praying is not enough! A man must reason his way through the images and impressions which are daily impressed upon his mind. Indeed, he must put these images in the proper context in order to diminish the intense but superficial appeal. In practical terms, how is this done?
For starters, Jesus indicated that these temptations warranted an aggressive approach; and this begins with attacking the problem at its source: namely, dealing with thoughts of a sexual nature that are both involuntary and voluntary. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
“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 addiction 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."
For men, chastity requires the constant practice of putting sex in its proper context. Women do this more instinctively. For them, sexuality has a connection to life and the pain that is involved during child- bearing. Even with the use of contraception, the possibility of getting pregnant looms in the back of a woman’s mind. She is the bearer of life and the one who is most closely connected to that life. Compartmentalizing sex and divorcing it from its consequences is rarely an option for her. Even after a long and arduous day, sex can be just one more chore for her. It rarely serves as an escape from life’s demands as it can for a man. No, all of her ducks, so to speak, have to be in order. Any rifts between her and her husband need to be resolved before she considers sexual intimacy. Therefore, sex for a woman is naturally interwoven with childbearing, relationships and the larger context of life. As such, she is more apt to see the God-given purpose of sexuality more than her male counterpart.
What is said about women cannot be said about men; especially when he is left to his own natural instincts. For a man who lives without the aid of divine grace; for a man who does not daily exercise the virtue of chastity in ways that our Lord prescribed; sex is something that can easily stand alone. In a worst case scenario, a man can behold the beauty of a female body without giving the slightest thought to her personality. It is a brutal fact but it is true that a man can have sex with a woman he hates and still enjoy it. Such a fallen disposition explains why certain men are capable of rape and why even more men consume pornography on a large scale. It stands, therefore, that not only is the invocation of God’s grace necessary for him, but sexual wholeness requires repeated acts of the will and the use of his reasoning ability to put sex in its proper life-giving and love-giving context.
One would think that marriage would alleviate the sexual tensions men experience in our media-driven culture. But the fact is that the sin of watching pornography is confessed in Sacrament of Reconciliation, in large part, by married men. One reason for this is that man is conditioned by our culture to have a sexual appetite that is disproportionate to what most women are willing to deliver. When a man’s libido is constantly provoked by sexual images on the television, from the magazine racks at the grocery store and even on the billboards on the highway, it creates unrealistic expectations he may have for his wife.
And keep in mind that a good wife is a good mother; and a good mother- especially with a lot of children –is constantly on the go and emotionally invested in a number of different household projects…not to mention a job she may have in addition. As the demands on her are increased, so too is her need to emotionally disengage herself from those demands. Then, and only then, can she be able to think about sexual intimacy with her husband. With that said, it is understandable why a man who constantly absorbs sexual images and a wife/mother who constantly absorbs all the demands placed on her may experience discord and frustration with each other.
In addition to reasoning his way through sexual temptation as stated in part two of this series, the man has to play the part of the priest- the high priest of the family, so to speak. Each time his libido is awoken from the bombardment of images, and each time his wife is too exhausted to even think about sexual intimacy, the husband finds himself at a crossroads. He can relieve his tension a number of sinful and unhelpful ways or he can offer to God spiritual sacrifices. In a spiritual sense, he has to take his sexual urge to the altar of his heart and sacrifice to the Lord what he is tempted to satisfy unlawfully.
What is not commonly understood by men, however, is that with each time a man consents to die to himself in this regard, he grows holier, stronger and more pleasing to God. He is, without realizing it, born to new life. Dying in this way, he makes much spiritual progress. Without this frequent meditation, a husband may grow to resent his wife and, as I said, the seduction of pornography and adultery may get the better of him.
St. Paul says, "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire..." Again, it is this manly and "violent" approach to lust, and vice in general, that leads to peace of soul. Indeed, with sexual temptations, man must be proactive and aggressive. After all, the choice is a matter of heaven or hell, salvation or damnation, eternal life with God or eternal despair. Our Lady of Fatima assured us that more souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh, i.e. sex. These considerations, in addition to the benefits of offering spiritual sacrifices, should also be the content of men's meditations. Indeed, every man should think about how chastity pleases our Lord and how lust provokes His displeasure.
In response to sexual temptation, a passive approach will not suffice for a man. Being too passive, a man runs the risk of making sex his master instead of his servant. And as some of you know, the obsession with sex can be a cruel master.
Posted by Joe at 11:08 PM