I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the line, our constitutional right to “the pursuit of happiness” has come to mean, “if it feels good, do it!” and too bad for anyone else who gets hurt in the process.
Lust is everybody’s favorite deadly sin. The fact that it’s called “deadly” makes it more delicious, somehow. Attempts at self-control are seen as unnatural, prudish, even dangerous to self and to others.
How far we have fallen.
Contrary to popular belief, Christianity rejoices in sexual pleasure, delights in it even. It is wrapped up in the first gift that God gives to Adam, the female who is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” It unites the couple in an ecstasy of self-giving and leads to the extraordinary gift of new life. Peter Kreeft has pointed out that
Lust, like any sin, must be seen against that background. Lust divorces the two things God designed to be together; it seeks the pleasure apart from the purpose.… Thoughts and feelings of sexual arousal are not lust; lust is willing the thoughts and feelings just for the pleasure, without the purposes of the marriage union.
(Catholic Christianity, p. 247; see also CCC 2351).
The world is right in one sense: sexual desire is God-given and, therefore, “natural.” But lust – the unrestrained obsession with self-gratification – is only natural in the sense that we all, since the Fall, are burdened by a thing called concupiscence: the inclination to sin. Because of concupiscence, our desires are in rebellion within us, moving contrary to reason and will. Thank God for his grace to overcome!
“From the sin of lust, O Lord, deliver me…”
This week we are offering up our temptation to lust, as we pray with the 5th penitential psalm, Psalm 102. Verses 3-11 seem particularly fitting to this intention. Before you pray, you might want to spend some time reading one or more of the following:
- Daniel 13, esp. vss. 7-14 (the story of Susanna, including a description of the way lust works in the mind and its fruits)
- James 1:14-15 (the progression of unrestrained desire to death)
- Romans 7:15-25 (St. Paul’s own struggle with concupiscence)
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (the relationship between self control and knowing God)
- Matthew 5:28 (the seriousness of nurturing lust in one’s heart)
- Romans 8:6 (choices have consequences)
If you want to read more about church teaching on concupiscence, start with Catechism Nos. 405, 1264, 2515, and 2520.
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Read my post on praying with the Penitential Psalms for Lent here.