Lust is an inordinate desire of unlawful pleasures. It is a vice most widely spread in the world; one that is most violent in its attacks, most insatiable in its cravings. Hence St. Augustine says that the severest warfare which a Christian has to maintain is that in defense of chastity, for such combats are frequent, and victories rare.
Whenever you are assailed by this shameful vice resist it with the following considerations: Remember, first, that this disorder not only stains your soul, purified by the Blood of Christ, but defiles your body, in which the thrice Holy Body of Christ has been placed, as in a shrine. If it be a sacrilege to defile a material temple dedicated to God’s service, what must it be to profane this living temple, which God has chosen for His dwelling? For this reason the Apostle tells us: “Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth is without the body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” (1Cor. 6:18). Consider, secondly, that this deplorable vice necessarily involves scandal to numerous souls and the spiritual ruin of all who participate in your crime. This thought will cause the sinner to suffer the greatest remorse at the hour of death; for if in the Old Law God required a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Cf. Ex. 21:23-24), what satisfaction can be offered Him for the destruction of so many souls, purchased at the price of His Blood?
This treacherous vice begins in pleasure, but ends in an abyss of bitterness and remorse. There is nothing into which man is more easily drawn, but nothing from which he is with more difficulty freed. Hence the Wise Man compares an impure woman to a deep ditch, a narrow pit, to show how easily souls fall into this vice, but with what difficulty they are extricated. Man is first allured by its flattering aspect, but when he has assumed the sinful yoke, and particularly when he has cast aside all shame, it requires almost a miracle of grace to deliver him from his degrading bondage. For this reason it is justly compared to a fisherman’s net, which the fish easily enter, but from which they rarely escape. Learn, too, how many sins spring from this one vice; for during this long captivity of the soul how often is God offended by thoughts, words, and desires, if not by actions?
The evils which it brings in its train are no less numerous than the sins it occasions. It robs man of his reputation-his most important possession, for there is no vice more degrading or more shameful. It rapidly undermines the strength, exhausts the energy, and withers the beauty of its victim, bringing upon him the most foul and loathsome diseases. It robs youth of its freshness, and hurries it into a premature and dishonorable old age, It penetrates even to the sanctuary of the soul, darkening the understanding, obscuring the memory, and weakening the will. It turns man from every noble and honorable work, burying him so deeply in the mire of his impurities that he can neither think nor speak of anything but what is vile.
Nor are the ravages of this vice confined only to man himself. They extend to all his possessions. There is no revenue so great that the exactions and follies of impurity will not exhaust; for it is closely allied to gluttony, and these two vices combine to ruin their victim. Men given to impurity are generally addicted to intemperance, and squander their substance in rich apparel and sumptuous living. Moreover, their impure idols are insatiable in their demands for costly jewels, rich adornments, rare perfumes, which gifts they love much better than they love the donors, their unfortunate victims. The example of the prodigal son, exhausting his inheritance in these pleasures, shows how terrible is such a passion.
Consider, further, that the more you indulge in these infamous gratifications, the more insatiable will be your desire for them, the less they will satisfy you. It is the nature of these pleasures to excite the appetite rather than appease it. If you consider how fleeting is the pleasure and how enduring its punishment, you will not for a moment’s enjoyment sacrifice the unspeakable treasure of a good conscience in this life and the eternal happiness of Heaven in the next. St. Gregory, therefore, has truly said that the pleasure is momentary, but the suffering is eternal. (Moral. 9,44).
Consider also the nobility and the value of virginal purity, which this vice destroys. Virgins begin here below to live as angels, for the beauty of these glorious spirits is reflected in the splendor of their chastity. “Living in the flesh,” says St. Bernard, “and despising its allurements is more angelic than human.” (In Nat. Virg.).
“Virginity,” says St. Jerome, “is the virtue which, amid the corruption of this mortal life, best represents the perfection of immortal glory. It brings before us the happy condition of the celestial City, where there is no marrying, and gives us a foretaste of eternal joy.” (De Virginitatis Laude). Hence virginity is specially rewarded in Heaven. St. John tells us that virgins follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. (Cf. Apoc. 14:4). They have risen above their fellow men in their imitation of Christ. They will therefore be more closely united to Him for all eternity, and will find in the spotless purity of their bodies a source of ineffable joy.
Virginity not only renders man like unto Christ, but makes him the temple of the Holy Spirit. For this Divine Lover of purity abhors whatever is defiled, and delights to dwell in chaste souls. The Son of God, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, so loved purity that He wrought His greatest miracle to preserve the purity of His Virgin Mother. If you have suffered the loss of this beautiful virtue, learn from the temptations which wrought the evil to guard against a second fall.
If you have not preserved the gift of chastity in the perfection in which God gave it to you, endeavor to restore the beauty of the Creator’s work by giving yourself to His service with a zeal and fervor born of deep gratitude for forgiven sin, and with an ardent desire to repair the past. “It often happens,” says St. Gregory, “that one who was tepid and indifferent before his fall becomes, through repentance, a strong and fervent soldier of Christ.” (Past., p1). Finally, since God continued to preserve your life after you had so basely offended Him, profit by this benefit to serve Him and make reparation for your sins, lest another fall should be irremediable.
Besides these general remedies there are others more special, and perhaps more efficacious. The first of these is vigorously to resist the first attacks of this vice. If we do not resist it in the beginning, it rapidly acquires strength and gains an entrance to our souls. “When a taste for sinful pleasures,” says St. Gregory, “takes possession of a heart, it thinks of nothing but how to gratify its inordinate desires.” (Moral. 21,7). We must, then, struggle against it from the beginning by repelling every bad thought, for by such fuel is the flame of impurity fed. As wood nourishes fire, so our thoughts nourish our desires; and, consequently, if the former be good, charity will burn in our breast – but if they are bad, the fire of lust will certainly be kindled.
In the second place, we must carefully guard our senses, particularly the eyes, that they may not rest upon anything capable of exciting sinful desires. A man may inflict a deep wound upon his soul by inconsiderately turning his eyes upon a dangerous object. Prudently guard your eyes in your intercourse with the other sex, for such glances weaken virtue.
Hence we are told by the Holy Ghost: “Look not round about thee in the ways of the city. Turn away thy face from a woman dressed up, and gaze not upon another’s beauty.” (Ecclus. 9:7-8). Think of Job, that great servant of God, of such tried virtue, who kept so vigilant a guard over his senses that, in the expressive language of Scripture, he made a covenant with his eyes not so much as to think upon a virgin. (Cf. Job 31:1). Behold also the example of David, who, though declared by God to have been a man after His own Heart, yet fell into three grievous crimes by inconsiderately looking upon a woman.
Be no less watchful in protecting your ears from impure discourses. If unbecoming words are uttered in your presence, testify your displeasure by at least a grave and serious countenance; for what we hear with pleasure we learn to do with complacency. Guard with equal care your tongue. Let no immodest words escape you; for “evil communications,” says the Apostle, “corrupt good morals.” (1Cor. 15:33). A man’s conversation discovers his inclination, for, to quote the words of the Gospel, from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Endeavor to keep your mind occupied with good thoughts and your body employed in some profitable exercise, “for the devil,” says St. Bernard, “fills idle souls with bad thoughts, so that they may be thinking of evil if they do not actually commit it.”
In all temptations, but particularly in temptations against purity, remember the presence of your guardian angel and of the devil, your accuser, for they both witness all your actions, and will render an account of them to Him who sees and judges all things. If you follow this counsel, how can you, before your accuser, your defender, and your Judge, commit a base sin, for which you would blush before the lowest of men? Remember also the terrible tribunal of God’s judgment and the eternal flames of Hell; for as a greater pain makes us insensible to a less, so the thought of the inexhaustible fire of Hell will render us insensible to the fire of concupiscence.
In addition to all this, be very guarded in your intercourse with women, and beware of continuing alone with one for any length of time; for, according to St. Chrysostom, the enemy attacks men and women more vigorously when he finds them alone. He is bolder when there are no witnesses present to thwart his artifices. Avoid the society of women who are not above suspicion, for their words inflame the heart, their glances wound the soul, and everything about them is a snare to those who visit them with imprudent familiarity. Be mindful of the example of the elders (Cf. Dan. 13), and let not old age render you less prudent. Do not trust to your own strength; and let not a habit of virtue inspire you with presumptuous confidence. Let there be no improper interchange of presents, visits, or letters, for these are so many snares which entangle us and reawaken dangerous affections. If you experience any friendship for a virtuous woman let your intercourse be marked by grave respect, and avoid seeing her too often or conversing too familiarly with her. But, as one of the most important remedies is avoiding dangerous occasions, we. shall give an example from the Dialogues of St. Gregory to show you with what prudence holy souls guard this angelic virtue.
There lived in the province of Mysia a holy priest who was filled with the fear of God, and who governed his church with zeal and wisdom. A very virtuous woman had charge of the altar and church furniture. This holy soul the priest loved as a sister, but he was as guarded in his intercourse with her as if she were his enemy. He never permitted her to approach him or converse familiarly with him, or enter his dwelling, thus removing all occasions of familiarity; for the saints not only reject unlawful gratifications, but forbid themselves even innocent pleasures when there is the slightest indication of danger to the soul. For this reason the good priest would never allow her to minister to him, even in his extreme necessities.
At an advanced age, after he had been 40 years in the sacred ministry, he fell gravely ill, and was soon almost at the point of death. As he lay in this condition, the good woman, wishing to discover whether he still lived, bent over him and put her ear to his mouth to listen to his breathing. The dying man, perceiving her, indignantly exclaimed, “Get thee hence, woman! Get thee hence! The fire still glows in the embers. Beware of kindling it with straw!” As she withdrew he seemed to gain new strength, and raising his eyes, he cried out with a loud voice, “Oh! Happy hour! Welcome, my lords, welcome! I thank you for deigning to visit so poor a servant. I come! I come!” He repeated these words several times, and when they who were present asked him to whom he spoke, he said with astonishment, “Do you not see the glorious Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul?” And, raising his eyes, he again cried, “I come! I come!” and as he uttered these words he gave up his soul to God.
An end so glorious was the result of a prudent vigilance which cannot be too highly extolled; and such confidence at the hour of death seemed a fitting reward for one who during life had been filled with a holy fear of God. (Dial. 4,11).
(Sinner’s guide-St. Louis of Grenada)