I’ve chosen Laetare Sunday to write about lust, because sex is a joyful gift from God. In the entrance antiphon (Isaiah 66:10-14) we rejoice with our mother Jerusalem, and are called to nurse at her glorious breasts.
This is what good sex is all about—closeness and fertility and comfort and new life and nourishment.
It’s part of a bigger context of marriage and raising children. This incredible process needs daily mutual self-sacrifice and a huge amount of work.
Sex is also the place where men and women are least alike. That’s because each of us has just one half of a reproductive system.
This radical difference causes conflict between men and women. Our relationship has been degraded by the Fall into what the catechism calls, “domination and lust” (s.1607).
Lust is the pursuit of sexual pleasure for its own sake. It separates the few seconds of orgasm from everything that gives that orgasm meaning—a sad and lonely misuse of a beautiful gift.
Sexuality is supposed to be expansive and outward facing, helping to make us greater than we were. Instead, lust makes us less than we were.
“sexuality is supposed to be expansive and outward facing, helping to make us greater than we were. instead, lust makes us less than we were”.
Each time we fail, we shrink further and further into withered little prunes who are unfit for the great self-sacrifices demanded in marriage and parenthood.
Lust turns a human being into a predator—someone who treats other people as products for their consumption. All you can do with a predator is avoid it, cage it, or kill it.
Lust dominates our society. So we have infidelity, adultery, a billion dollar porn industry, rape, and prostitution. We have unstable partnerships, desperately lonely men, terrified women, and abused children.
Lust and anger are good buddies. The body can’t always tell the difference between sexual arousal and other forms of arousal.
Our new friends the incels (“involuntary celibates”) run on both lust and anger. They believe they are entitled to female company entirely on their own terms, and when it’s not forthcoming, they are enraged.
I’m almost sorry to have to spoil such a beautiful day in the church’s calendar by talking about the sexual chaos we all live with. So let’s cut to the chase.
God has placed before you life and death, and he allows you to choose. Either you rule your body, or your body rules you.
The concept of chastity tends to make people think of coldness and loss. But chastity is actually one of the warmest, most dynamic and life-giving virtues there is.
Chastity is the process of ordering your sexuality to your state in life. If you’re single, then no genital expressions of sexuality. If you’re married, then due genital expressions of sexuality and openness to life.
If you’re doing it right, it makes you the happiest person on earth. The happiest people I know are entirely voluntary celibates.
The second happiest people I know are faithful married couples who give way to each other daily in respectful, reciprocal love.
Chastity is a work in progress. The biggest mistake people make is thinking they can become chaste quickly, and getting mad when they can’t.
As with all mortal sins, you might need professional help. Decades-long habits of masturbation and porn, prostitution, or infidelity are not going to be solved by saying one weird novena.
Sometimes God gives an immediate grace of perfect chastity to saints with a huge job to do in the history of the church. You’re probably not one of these people.
“You can and will fail repeatedly in your quest for chastity, everyone does. You’re probably not a weirdo …”
The catechism also warns us that no-one can assume they’ve achieved chastity once and for all (s.2342).
An elderly Catholic archbishop might easily run off with a lady half his age. Or a gentleman, for that matter.
You can and will fail repeatedly in your quest for chastity, everyone does. You’re probably not a weirdo, but if you are, maybe go and see a therapist.
God is teaching you through these failures how to grow in humility, patience, and perseverance.
He wants you to get to Heaven. You won’t get there if you’re proud, or impatient, or can’t stick at anything.
So this means frequent confession, lifestyle changes, and some sacrifices. You cannot shock the priest in confession. He’s heard it all before, and possibly done worse himself.
This Lent, keep trying to turn that beautiful gift of sexuality outwards, rather than inwards, and use it rightly. Allow it to make you greater than you are, and not less.