The Church memorializes the beheading of St. John the Baptist on August 29. It is a liturgical event with a sad, timeless lesson: how a man – in the Gospel account, Herod – dominated by desires and pleasures of the flesh can destroy himself, his family, and his neighbors. Lust can shackle a man into living a sinful life. Consequently, it is important for men to identify lust and recognize its insidious forms.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, lust is a “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure,” perverting sex by making it self-serving and “isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (2351). Lust manifests itself in a variety of dark ways: masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, and rape (2352-2356). A man corrupted by lust acts as a slave to his passions and sexual appetites.
The slavery of lust destroys men over time in a myriad of ways – publicly, privately, and with undeniably devastating consequences. Publicly, consider the most affordable, accessible, and legally protected (in most cases) form of lust available to “satisfy” the senses of modern man. I refer to pornography, which enslaves all of its participants. Its actors contract sexually-transmitted diseases and endure psychological trauma. Vendors marketing and selling pornography, regardless whether on-screen or in print form, operate as hostages to market forces which violate human dignity. And the men purchasing pornography form addictive, drug-like habits.
Many men don’t know that pornography heightens their senses to the point that their brain releases an intoxicating chemical cocktail that burns the images into their memories. This pleasurable rush is meant to form a loving bond within an ordered sexual activity between husband and wife, but pornography can turn this chemical mix into a dark toxin that poisons our thoughts and affections first, then our families and the larger society and culture. We only have to turn on the TV, watch a PG movie, open a magazine or listen to pop lyrics to know that there is a lot of disordered sexuality floating in our cultural atmosphere.
The slavery of lust can also lead men to crime. Rape – an unwanted sexual act against another – victimizes with such force that it “deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right” (CCC, 2356). Rape injures for life. Thankfully, many Christians reside in a society today that stigmatizes individuals simply accused of rape. But will the same stigma apply tomorrow given the trajectory of our globalized culture, where sex trafficking and prostitution are rampant? Just think how lightly sins of fornication and cohabitation are treated today – as though they are normal steps to adulthood.
Sexual sin can also be private, such as masturbation. Most males give into this sin in adolescence, when immaturity and curiosity may be the driving factors, but too many continue this activity into adulthood and even bring it secretly into a marriage. Masturbation is almost always accompanied (or incited) by some form of pornography and when the two habits feed on one another, they have the power to separate a man from his better senses, his reason, his will to do good and to avoid evil. A man who masturbates is like a habitual gambler who would place all his treasured relationships in jeopardy – his marriage, his fatherhood, his self-image and the image of God within him.
Lust destroys slowly, eroding its victims over time from the inside out. It is a form of slavery that distorts a healthy, God-given desire for sexual pleasure into unhealthy actions that can injure men personally, their loved ones, and the community. Both in its public and private forms, lust will enslave men if left unidentified and unchecked. This week, let us learn from Herod’s sin and regret and pray for the Truth to set all men free from lust’s sad and sinful chains.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.