chastity

On Lust

“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.

The beauty of Mary

She was beautiful, even most beautiful, as Richard of St. Victor asserts, and also St. George of Nicomedia, and St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who, as many believe, once had the happiness of enjoying the sight of her beauty, and said that if faith had not taught him that she was a creature, he should have adored her as God. And the Lord himself revealed to St. Bridget, that the beauty of his mother surpassed the beauty of all men and angels, allowing the saint to hear him say to Mary: “Thy beauty exceeds that of all the angels, and of all creatures.” She was most beautiful, I repeat, but without injury to those who looked upon her, for her beauty put to flight impure emotions, and suggested even pure thoughts, as St. Ambrose attests: So great grace had she, that she not only preserved her own virginity, but also conferred a remarkable gift of purity on those who beheld her.

-St Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary

Chastity: The Way of Love

God speaks to us in unexpected ways. I was scrolling through Yik Yak (a seriously addictive app to waste your time on), and came across a post that said,

The first sentence of page 45 of the book closest to you describes your sex life.

I somehow missed the word sex, and thought it could be funny to see what it says. So I reached for the closest book to me, a small book of quotes called, Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Dorothy Day`, and turning to page 45, found written no sentences at all, but only the chapter title, ‘The Way of Love’. The description of my sex life is at once, nothing at all and ‘The Way of Love’. When I saw that the post was talking about sex life rather than just life, I realised it was God telling me, chastity is the Way of Love.

So, what is chastity?

Chastity is when sexuality expresses, serves and strengthens love. It views people as people, and not as opportunities for our own pleasure. People are not considered for what they can do for us, but for what we can do for them, and what we can do together. Sex is exalted as something holy, in which both individuals go out from themselves, belonging to each other, placing their centre outside of themselves.

It further demands, that the couple go out of the couple, in openness to welcoming humanity in, in the form of a brand new human being. Sex doesn’t concern only the two people engaged, but humanity itself. Sexuality doesn’t only desire union with one other person, but union with all of humanity. Contraception, then, introduces division to what is an act of union. It refuses the life inherent in sexuality, and so separates from the rest of humanity, and in refusing each other’s power to give life, the partners too are rejected, and cut off from each other.

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How are we meant to chastely not have sex?

That’s what chastity makes of sex. But another important part of our life of sexuality, is the way we don’t have sex. Biology tells us, sex is for life, and, in a manner, life is for sex (sex being considered in a wider sense). When sex is not for life, it becomes meaningless and destructive. When we pretend life is above sex, we reject humanity, we reject the flesh, and ultimately we reject life.

So how are we meant to chastely not have sex? Is it by completely desexualising everything but sex? No. It is by living in the awareness that each body, each person, is for love and not consumption. So when I notice how attractive a woman is, rather than trying to close my mind off from her, I am to centre my mind not on my desires, but on her beauty and loveliness as a living human being. Rather than desiring possession of her, I am to desire her fullness of life and love.

What about celibacy?

If “life is for sex” as I wrote, in any way, what are we to make of celibacy? Celibacy is not about merely removing intimacy, children and sex from a person’s life. Celibacy means, in giving up having children, loving all humanity as children. It means a non-particular love and intimacy with all the world, in order to help bring forth life for any and all. The bodily life and love of celibate people is put entirely at the service of all humanity, creation, and God.

My sex life: The Way of Love

Like most people today, chastity isn’t easy for me. I have to stay aware of myself, and keep myself in love. But honestly, chastity is much better than lust. When I’m being chaste, I can truly appreciate beauty, but when I’m lustful, I can only feel my own desire for what I don’t have, and that causes nothing but turmoil. Do I want to see bodies as alive or lifeless?

What helps me with chastity? Practising awareness/mindfulness is very helpful for learning self-control and understanding; meditating on the Body of Christ reveals to us how bodies are things of love and dignity; and the Blessed Virgin Mary gives us a perfect image of true beauty, love, and submission to God’s will.

 

It is when we are emptied that we are truly fulfilled.

 

God bless you!