"When it is present, they imitate it: and they desire it when it hath with drawn itself, and it triumpheth crowned forever, winning the reward of undefiled conflicts." Wisdom, 4:1-2.
Way back in the year 303 a mother and her daughter were kneeling at an Italian grotto near Catania in Sicily, the spot where the remains of the Virgin-Martyr St. Agatha were buried. The mother's name was Eutychia, a wealthy widow, who was suffering from a hemorrhage. The daughter's name was Lucy, who was beautiful beyond words, and who had vowed her virginity to God, despite the desire of her mother to marry her to a charming and accomplished young man. Both were praying that the Lord would cure the elder woman's ailment. Secretly Lucy was asking light and wisdom that her mother might see things her way. Long and fervently they had prayed when suddenly St. Agatha appeared to Lucy and told her:
"Your faith has come to your mother's aid. The Lord Jesus Christ will through you render Syracuse illustrious because by your virginity you have prepared for Him a pleasant dwelling in your heart."Both prayers of Lucy were answered. Her mother was healed in body and also in heart, consenting to Lucy's desire to consecrate herself entirely to the Lord, and dispose of her wealth to the poor.
Meanwhile the young man to whom she had been betrothed, in his anger and disappointment, reported to the pagan governor that Lucy was a Christian and an enemy of the gods of Rome. The Roman governor called our heroine before him, and was struck with her marvelous beauty.
"If you want to save your life, worship our gods," commanded the governor. "I do not worship devils," was Lucy's firm and calm reply.
Cleverly but vainly the governor tried to shake her constancy. When he asked her how she could answer him so clearly and fearlessly she told him that it was the "spirit of the Father" in her, explaining that they who lead a chaste and holy life are the temple of the Holy Spirit. A devilish and brutish plan leaped into the mind of the pagan governor. He would place this innocent girl in a house of impurity, where her innocence would be taken from her by force. Without flinching Lucy declared:
"If you order me to suffer violence against my will, I shall not only lose my chastity but will win a double crown.""Take her away," cried the governor, "take her away."
But the rough soldiers could not move her from the spot. Fuming and furious, and blind to the miracle, the governor ordered a fire built about her, but the flames did not harm her. Then he ordered a soldier to draw his sword and stab her. The pure blood of the virgin-martyr St. Lucy spurted over the shining whiteness of the marble floor.
In this traditional story of the martyrdom of St. Lucy there is an even greater contrast than that between her red blood and the white floor. It was the striking contrast between her snow-white purity and the bloody lust of her persecutors.
1. Lust, the third of the capital sins, means an immoderate love of fleshly pleasure. It is an unregulated and uncontrolled desire for impure satisfactions. It is a vice that creeps into every walk of life. The fact that people are married does not free them from the fetters of lust, or at least from the danger of lustful desires.
2. This sin is directly opposed to the sanctity of God, who created the human body for a holy purpose, and who makes the body of a Christian His dwelling place, as St. Lucy so firmly and clearly explained to her pagan judge.
Through the Sixth and the Ninth Commandments God has forbidden all forms of lust. The Sixth Commandment forbids all sins of impurity with another's wife or husband, which is the strict meaning of adultery, and it also forbids all other external acts of impurity with ourselves or with others. The Ninth Commandment forbids all interior sins, whether of thought or desire, which are contrary to chastity.
We sin against this Ninth Commandment when we purposely and knowingly cause or keep impure thoughts or desires. This applies not only when we have an impure thought and desire to carry out some impurity, but also when we take pleasure in a thought and do not desire its accomplishment, and even when we are conscious of such thoughts or desires and wilfully neglect or refuse to put them away.
3. Every sin of lust is a mortal sin, when committed with sufficient knowledge and with full consent of the will. Some sins of lust are more grievous than others, because they are more unnatural, more hateful and more condemnable. Impurity is a capital sin:
A. Because God has forbidden impurity of all kinds by His Sixth and Ninth Commandments as well as by frequent, direct condemnation of lust through the pages of Sacred Scripture.4. Rightly can we call impurity a capital sin, when we consider its dreadful and certain consequences:
B. Because God has punished in terrible and dreadful ways the sin of impurity. Read the story ofi. The deluge that covered the earth in Genesis, 7:11.C. Because it reduces man to the level of a selfish, unthinking beast, putting the lower brute passions above the higher part of man.
ii. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, 19:24.
iii. And the death of 24,000 Israelites in Numbers, 25:9.
D. Because it is considered by all men as a most shameful sin. The very fact that the lustful seek darkness and secrecy is a proof of the shame and disgrace that attaches to this vice.
A. Unlike almost all other sins, which affect only one or the other power, such as the mind, the will, or some of the senses, lust ruins man's entire being, body and soul, and becomes the one constant thought and brutish aim of his existence.
B. Lust drives a man to every other kind of sin in order to satisfy his immoderate craving for sexual pleasure. It causes lying, slanders, stealing, murder, marital unfaithfulness, and disregard for lawful authority. Every day the news brings you proof, glaring, positive proof that lust is the source of a host of other sins.
C. Impurity ruins the dignity of the human being. Whoever does not look at the sexual appetite through the eyes of God's law, sinks to the level of a brute. And whoever gives himself to the practice of unnatural impurities such as homozexuality, sinks lower than the brute. Lust makes man a slave. It weakens will power and destroys health.
D. Impurity undermines human society by poisoning the very source of life, namely, marriage and the family. These are built, as society is built, on moral purity and strength. When impurity becomes nationwide, it destroys, as it did so terribly and so decisively ancient Rome.
E. Impurity causes the loss of more souls than any other kind of sin.
i. It is the easiest to commit, especially in our age of unlimited freedom and license.5. Lust shows itself in various ways:
ii. It is the hardest to abandon, because it affects the entire creature - his body and his soul.
iii. It blinds the intellect. The mind that is impure cannot concentrate and cannot think clearly, because impurity is constantly present and over-powering.
iv. It hardens the heart. The urge to immoderate sexual satisfaction becomes so strong that the normal, healthy emotions of the heart are smothered.
v. It creates a distaste for religion, a disgust for prayer, a weakening and final loss of faith, and impenitence at the last. Just as lust causes many to leave the Church, so it causes many to stay out of the Church. We recall the incident of the last century that took place in the parlor of Chateaubriand, the famous French author. His guests for the most part were unbelieving scientists, authors and painters. They spoke of religion only to say that it was impossible for an educated man of modern times to be a believer. Chateaubriand stood up and spoke:
"Gentlemen, place your hands upon your hearts. Would you not become believers, if you could live pure lives?"
In our day many would have to answer "Yes" to that question. They would become believers, if they could lead pure lives; rather, if they wanted to lead pure lives. Ask those who leave the Church, and if they are honest, most will declare that at bottom their stumbling-block was impurity.
vi. Lust causes some of the most loathsome, painful diseases, and has caused more deaths than all the wars of history. Look at the social and sexual diseases so common in our country today, sapping the strength of our manhood, destroying the health of families, causing untold misery and expense. Unfortunately this disastrous result of impurity is the only one considered by some individuals. It is not a sufficient deterrent to lust. Speaking of the impure man Job declares:"His bones shall be filled with the vices of his youth, and they shall sleep with him in the dust." Job, 20:11.
A. It is lust purposely and knowingly to cause or to keep impure pictures in the mind.6. There is only one way to overcome this capital sin of lust, and that is to develop the opposite virtue of chastity. Chastity is that virtue which keeps us pure in body and soul before God and man.
B. It is lust to read impure, sexy books and magazines or to watch such shows on TV.
C. It is lust knowingly to attend movies that are morally objectionable.
D. It is lust to hear and repeat sexy stories, and talk of sexual things for the pleasure of it.
E. It is lust to touch oneself impurely, or to cause impure feelings in oneself by reading, or by looking at impure pictures.
F. It is lust to touch another sexually, or to arouse impure feelings in oneself or in another by prolonged, passionate kissing, by touching another's body in improper places, or by impure conversation, conduct, or dress. Too many have the mistaken idea that the only serious sin of lust is going the limit.
G. It is lust to use any artificial and unnatural method of birth control.
It is a virtue that makes men like to angels. It is even called "the angelic virtue." It gives a soul great power with God: it keeps the mind clear; it warms the heart; it strengthens the will; it provides a fertile field and nourishment for all the other virtues. It even works miracles, as we saw in the story of St. Lucy, whom the soldiers could not budge physically when they were commanded to take her to a place of sin. Purity has a positive influence over human beings, even drawing the admiration of the impure. It gives a deep and lasting interior peace, and fills the heart with true love for God and man.
7. Such a necessary, excellent, and beautiful virtue is certainly worth striving for. What are the means? You have heard them time and again from the Church, but perhaps in this serious time of Lent when we see our Lord suffering in body and soul for the impurities of the world, when we see Him stripped and beaten and bleeding, when we behold Him nailed to a tree for the lusts of men, perhaps at this time we will consider more seriously not only the wickedness of lust, but the wonderful beauty of purity.
A. The first step to purity is to really want to be pure. If we really want to be chaste over half the battle is won. The trouble is that many want to eat their cake and have it in this matter. They want to be pure and impure at the same time. Make your choice, a determined choice.8. With the inspiring example of St. Lucy before you, an example that has been repeated throughout the centuries, an example which you will find all around you, if you look closely and wisely, with her example and the help and protection of God, you can make yourself worthy of the praise of the Book of Wisdom:
B. Avoid the occasions. Avoid as you would a contagious disease those places, people, situations, which led you into sin in the past, or which tempted you severely, or which you have heard are usually the cause of sin.
They tell the story that Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight champion boxer of the world was being tendered a party by some New York admirers. The hall was filled. After the banquet they put on a floor show, a feature of which was a number of scantily dressed girls. At once Tunney, the champion, rose, reached for his hat, and declared for all to hear:"Gentlemen, I did not come to be insulted. These things are against all decorum and decency, and I will not be a part of them. You will have to excuse me. Good-night."He left the hall. Soon others followed and in a short time there was no one left to watch the shady show. Tunney never showed himself more of a champion than when he left this occasion of sin and delivered a telling blow for chastity.
C. Have a humble attitude in the matter, realizing that without God's grace you cannot be chaste. Realize and repeat the words of Wisdom:"And as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, except God gave it, and this also was a point of wisdom, to know whose gift it was." Wisdom, 8:21.D. Along with this humble attitude, have confidence in God. With God's help you can count on victory. Never forget the words of St. Paul:"God is faithful and will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength but with the temptation you may be able to bear it."1 Corinthians, 10:13.E. The soul who wishes to be pure must pray. God will give His help to those who ask it. It would be revealing to know how little, if at all, impure people pray. Here's a suggestion: have some short prayer for purity which you will say frequently and regularly. For example:
"Immaculate Heart of Mary, make my body pure and my soul holy."
A prayer to the Infant Christ, to St. Anthony, or to your patron or favorite saint, should be ever in your heart and often on your lips. Say that prayer often in your untempted moments, so that when temptation comes, your favorite appeal to God will rise at once from your heart and you will get the help you need. All too often we
throwaway our best weapon, prayer, just when we need it the most, that is, when we are tempted. A crucifix, a holy picture, your Rosary will be priceless reminders and helps in this regard.
Regular habits of prayer are helpful and necessary. Morning and evening prayers need not be lengthy, but they do need to be regular and fervent. If the couple who practice birth control would kneel down and pray together each evening, they would soon abandon their lustful practice.
If those keeping company would say a prayer together, they would not fall into sin so easily. If individuals would pray at those times and places when they know they often commit personal sins, solitary sins, they would soon overcome the habit. An excellent practice, used by thousands with effect, is that of saying three Hail Marys every day for the virtue of purity. Try it.
F. Another essential for purity is penance or self-denial. People who never deny themselves things which are lawful, can never develop the will power to say "No" to what is unlawful, especially when it is prompted by the powerful passion of lust. What penance are you doing during this Lent? If you are lax in penance, you are having trouble in being pure. Think of what the great saints did to remain pure. St. Paul did hard manual labor to overcome temptations to impurity; St. Jerome cut his breast with a stone and studied the difficult language of Hebrew; St. Anthony of the desert worked the soil and lived on bread and water; St. Benedict rolled himself naked in a thorny bush; St. Bernard jumped into an icy pond; St. Francis of Assisi toiled and prayed, and threw himself into a thorn bush. If saints went to such lengths to preserve holy purity, how can you expect to be pure unless you practice some penance?
G. Keep busy, first with the duties of your state in life, your job, your school work. Have something definite to do in your free time. On dates and in the company of others plan what you will do. It makes social life more interesting and more safe.
H. Receive the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion as frequently as possible. You cannot approach the table of the Lord frequently and remain impure. Either you will give up Communion or you will give up your sins of sex.
I. Choose the best, the healthful, the wholesome in the matter of reading, recreation, companions, sports and social activities. Drop the book and drop the companion who cause you impure temptations.
"O how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory." Amen.
Adapted from Lent and the Capital Sins
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1952)