Man’s greatest strength is his greatest weakness. He can relentlessly pursue a goal with a tunnel-like vision regardless of the hazards. For instance, discovering the New World in the 1400s and 1500s and flying to the moon in 1969 were great enterprises conceived and carried out by men. The loss of lives was a distinct possibility in each venture but the ambition of the explorers and astronauts remained.
But what can be used to achieve noble ends can also be leveraged against man’s greatest good; namely, his own soul. Women sometimes have a hard time understanding that men are visual. He can lock into an image. One glance of a woman immodestly dressed can cast an image in his mind, an image that may linger in the company of his thoughts for a long time if it goes unchallenged.
Due to the power of sexual sin, Jesus speaks in such aggressive terms when teaching about lust and adultery. He said that it wasn’t enough to abstain from adultery. Men are to refrain from deliberately thinking about it and desiring it. With this, Our Lord went on to mandate a kind of spiritual and moral violence against oneself. He said if an eye causes you to sin – pluck it out! If a hand causes you to sin – cut it off! Here, he uses graphic imagery to convey the need to hate sin, particularly lust. It is not enough to love virtue and moral purity. One must hate lust, hate premarital sex, and hate adultery; so much so that the follower of Christ must be willing to sacrifice even those good things in his life that may occasion sin.
This is why Fulton Sheen once said that a man must pray and reason to purity. He must think about the paths he must travel and what sacrifices he must make in order to travel those uphill paths to purity. Below are seven considerations to make that uphill climb a little easier.
1. First, there must be an incentive to hate sin and make the necessary sacrifices to attain sexual purity. Christians have forgotten how to hate evil.
A man must trace out in his mind the logical consequences of his capitulation to lust. Whether it be an immodest image of a woman or a real life temptress, considering the repercussions of one’s infidelity or lust is a must. Too often men do not think of sexual sin as a dead-end road. They do not ponder that infidelity can involve considerable pain for family members who are affected it. The damage infidelity can take years to repair.
2. Secondly, and even more important, men seldom consider how offensive sexual infidelity is to God. With every lustful thought or sexual indulgence outside of marriage a real Divine Person is offended. Furthermore, his soul is blemished and stained; making him more unfit for his communion with God.
And if he wishes to enter into God’s kingdom, that sin must be purged. Such purgation always involves suffering. St. Paul even reminds the Corinthians not to deceive themselves, that no fornicator will inherit the kingdom of God. Not to inherit the kingdom of God is a mortal sin. And as St. Bonaventure said, to commit mortal sin is to make your soul God's grave. We can forfeit eternal life if we so choose. We must think about this as a real possibility. To downplay play this reminder as being “negative” or “prudish” is to downplay the teachings of the New Testament and the Saints.
3. This leads to our third consideration: During the temptation, be severe with yourself. As stated above, remind yourself about the cost of lust and its false promises. Keep in mind that lust or sexual temptation promises more than it can deliver. Other than female slaves and prostitutes, there is not a respectable woman in the world that is willing to cooperate with every sexual desire a man might have. For most men – even married men – easy access to sex-on-demand is readily out of reach.
The appetite for food, on the other hand, can be much more easily satisfied. When a McDonald’s commercial stimulates our hunger, for instance, a man can drive down to the nearest McDonald’s and buy some cheap food. But when sexually explicit images awaken a man’s libido, it cannot be readily satisfied. This is why discipline is needed.
Just as important as being severe with yourself before the act or misdeed, it is equally important to be mindful of God's mercy and His peace if, in fact, we should fall; that is, after the act or misdeed has been committed. If you fall from grace by giving into lust – in whatever way – do not berate yourself.
Peacefully pick yourself up, confess your sins, do penance and make the proper amends not to do it again. Remember God’s mercy is greater than your sin.
4. Fourth, frequent the Sacrament of Confession as often as you can. God’s strength is to be found there. And if you should know the priest in the confessional booth, and you have to face him time and time again, such humiliations are good for the soul.
5. Fifth, remember you, even as a layman, are a priest of God. When tempted, offer that sexual inclination on the altar of your heart. There must be a sacred context to the pain of self-denial. Either unite yourself mystically to the Mass or assist at the Mass in person so that Christ can absorb it in His Holy Sacrifice. Sexual thoughts cannot be wished away. They have to be crowded out with something to replace them. Use your priestly calling. As St. Paul said, put to death the deeds of the body and offer your sacrifice at the altar; if not at the altar at your local parish, offer it to God at the altar of your heart!
6. Sixth, and related to the previous consideration, meditate on the Passion of Christ. This is a great source of strength and it will help you “crucify” your own flesh, so to speak. Remember what St. Paul said: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) Unite yourself to Christ’s Passion in your daily meditation. Your self-denial can be a pleasing form of worship to the Lord. Again, to quote St. Paul: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
7. Lastly, invoke the Blessed Virgin who exudes purity even from heaven. Ask her to share her virginal purity with you. She will be more than happy to help you overcome a sin that snatches so many souls from her Son. Ask her to guard your purity. In fact, I would argue she is the shortcut to sexual purity. With her on your side, the devil will be put to flight.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.