You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matthew 5: 27-30
Reflection – (I am away at the Nazareth family camp this week, but left the blog on automatic post-pilot.)
The Sermon on the Mount continues, and the ‘hits’ just keep on coming! The light of faith shines very brightly in this passage indeed, perhaps so brightly that we might draw back a bit from it – it hurts a wee bit.
Now we have to be clear about this. Sexual desire, and the first movements of sexual attraction that are an essential component of our embodied selves, of what God has made a human being to be, is not what the Lord is talking about here. Man is attracted to woman; woman is attracted to man. If a man or woman who is attractive to you is before you, you are… well, attracted! This is not sin; this is human nature.
There is no lust inherent in this. Lust is when that basic attraction is corrupted into a desire to use, to possess, when the mind and the heart seize upon the person and reduce him or her to an object for pleasure. And the Lord is clear and uncompromising here, as He is in the rest of the Sermon: it is not simply when this terminates in exterior impure action that this becomes sinful, but already when it is an interior disposition of the heart.
Here, as with all of the sermon, the Lord is calling us to a depth of purification that can only be possible in the context of our whole relationship with Him in the Spirit. Yesterday it was all about being utterly purified of hatred and anger; today it is our desires being purified of lust. The light of faith does not just beat upon and illuminate our actions; it penetrates the very depths of our hearts and shows us what’s really going on in there.
But this would be too much for us if it was a pitiless light, a cruel and judgmental light. But the light of faith is the light of mercy, and the light of grace which does not merely show us what we are doing wrong, but shows us the way to righteousness. And this way is the way of prayer and fasting, almsgiving and mercy, and total abandonment to Jesus Christ.
In our hyper-sexualized, eroticized and at least mildly p0rnographic world the purification of desire is no small thing. Most men today, before they have had any capacity to choose and grow in the virtue of chastity, have already been corrupted by at least some exposure to indecent images. More and more men from a very early age have been ensnared by the siren imagery of the internet and have a serious problem indeed with lust in the heart.
There is a terrible defilement of innocence, a seduction of youth that is deliberate and determined in all this. And all of us are called to really engage the struggle for purity in a new intensity and focus; I don’t think it’s ever been more difficult, honestly.
At the same time, I believe God is never outdone in generosity, and the mercies of the Lord are inexhaustible, bottomless. So, if any guys are reading this and feeling heavy burdened by the struggle and perhaps the guilt of repeated failure—cheer up! God loves you, His mercy is upon us all, and His help is sure and secure. Keep fighting, and let us all pray for one another and for our culture, that purity of heart and chastity of body and mind may be restored and perfected for us all.