“The inordinate craving for, or indulgence of, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation.” – the Catholic Encyclopedia
What is so terrible about lust? Lust reduces something which was made for connection and creating new life, into a sterile, lifeless pleasure, devoid of all meaning. We are left with an empty shell of sexuality. It is a pleasure separated from the real good it corresponds to, and so it is a mere illusion, and produces only the illusion of happiness, an experience only skin deep. Seeking after pleasure for its own sake hollows out a person, as they live for images and not for reality.
It also generally involves reducing another person to an object of our own pleasure, and not regarding them in their full humanity. It thus hollows out the lustful person, and their image of the other also, so that the humanity and reality of both is denied. I should note however, that there are degrees of lust, and they dehumanize to different levels.
Lust is extremely powerful, because it feeds off of our most powerful natural desire – to love and to be loved, and to have children conceived out of that love – and because it is so much cheaper to satisfy lust than the real desire. Chaste love is heroic, putting oneself on the line, taking risks and making sacrifices; lust is lazy, cowardly, and stingy, refusing risk, vulnerability, and gift, in order to ultimately remain alone.
How do we fight lust? Fighting gluttony is an important part, as mentioned in my previous post On Gluttony, and fasting in particular is recommended. St John Cassian adds:
‘Bodily fasting alone is not enough to bring about perfect self-restraint and true purity; it must be accompanied by contrition of heart, intense prayer to God, frequent meditation on the Scriptures, toil and manual labour. These are able to check the restless impulses of the soul and to recall it from its shameful fantasies. Humility of soul helps more than everything else, however, and without it no one can overcome unchastity or any other sin. In the first place, then, we must take the utmost care to guard the heart from base thoughts, for, according to the Lord, ‘out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, unchastity’ and so on (Matt. 15:19).’St John Cassian, ‘On the Eight Vices’ (emphasis mine)
I would add, avoid the near occasion of sin, e.g. don’t go to a nude beach if you struggle with lust. I don’t think this was such an issue for the monks St John was writing for though.
‘If we are really eager, as the Apostle puts it, to ‘struggle lawfully’ and to ‘be crowned’ (2 Tim. 2:5) for overcoming the impure spirit of unchastity, we should not trust in our own strength and ascetic practice, but in the help of our Master, God. No one ceases to be attacked by this demon until he truly believes that he will be healed and reach the heights of purity not through his own effort and labour, but through the aid and protection of God. For such a victory is beyond man’s natural powers. Indeed, he who has trampled down the pleasures and provocations of the flesh is in a certain sense outside the body. Thus, no one can soar to this high and heavenly prize of holiness on his own wings and learn to imitate the angels, unless the grace of God leads him upwards from this earthly mire.’
Only God can deliver us from this demon. Only grace can grant to our nature its wholeness, and restore us to reality. Only the supernatural desire can overcome our most powerful natural desire, and order it to our good rather than our destruction.
God bless you.
P.S. Writing about vices is easier than writing about virtues, because virtues are living and vices are dead. Slavery can be summarised neatly, but to know freedom it must be lived. Chastity is so much more than a lack of lust, but it cannot adequately be spoken of. The best I can do for now is provide the above image.