By Paul Kokoski
At Fatima our Blessed Mother told Bl. St. Jacinta Marto: "More souls go to Hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any other reason." Today we are living in an extremely sexually permissive society. Temptations to sins of the flesh are everywhere - from billboards, art, advertising, newspapers, television, music and the internet to the way people dress. Even human law encourages sexual depravity and lust by its legalization of contraceptives, prostitution, swingers clubs, homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Apart from abortion, pornography is perhaps the most pressing issue of our age. It is a big business that victimizes everyone including those who market and sell it. The internet especially makes it possible for pornography to enter every home with the potential of corrupting whole families, including children. It is degrading, ruins family relations and leads to everything from incest, adultery, prostitution and violence to human trafficking and murder.
Many have thus fallen victim to the onslaught of this hedonism. In order to conquer these temptations and reach heaven we must be constantly on guard to repel and overcome our tendencies toward lust.
What is the nature of lust? Just as God has willed to attach pleasure to our nutritive appetites for the purpose of man's self-preservation so He has attached a special pleasure to the act of sex for the propagation of the human species. This pleasure, though, is only permissible within the confines of marriage. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to abuse this desire. This tendency - which is more violent in some than others - is called lust and is condemned by both the 6th and 9th commandments: "Though shall not commit adultery" and "Thou shall not covet thy neighbors wife".
These commandments not only prohibit external actions but internal, fancies, thoughts and desires. Why? When we dwell on impure thoughts and desires the senses become excited and can be a prelude to actions against purity. Christ thus warned: "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."(Matt. 5:28).
Sins against impurity are often grave. To seek and to directly will evil pleasure is a mortal sin.
Acts that are unnecessary and which give rise to pleasure such as dangerous readings, shows, conversations, lewd dancing etc. are considered sins of imprudence. They are more or less grave according to the gravity of the disorder produced and of the danger of consent to the evil pleasure.
If, on the other hand, this pleasure indirectly follows from certain actions that are good or at least indifferent, and one does not give their consent to them, there is no guilt.
We are all called to perfection. Impure acts lead to tyrannical habits and incline the will further toward debasing pleasure. They dry up one's love for prayer and virtue and make one prey to selfishness. The mind becomes dull and weak because the vital forces are used up by the senses.
Soon, a taste for serious studies is lost; the imagination gravitates toward lower things; the heart gradually withers, hardens, and is attracted only by degrading pleasures. Even the physical frame like the nervous system is affected.
To withstand the dangerous passion of lust we need deep conviction, protection against dangerous occasions, mortification and prayer.
Deep convictions about the risk of eternal punishment are necessary to combat this vice. We are members of Jesus Christ through baptism and must, therefore, honor our body even as Christ's own body. Should we profane our body it would be a kind of sacrilege lowering us to the level of animals.
The world tells us today that continence is impossible and that it is detrimental to our health. On the contrary nothing is impossible if we know how to pray and fight. Further, not only are chastity and continence not harmful, they are commendable, even from a purely medical and hygenic point of view. As a matter of fact, there is no known disease resulting from the practice of continence, whilst many are found to originate in the opposite vice.
In light of our own frailty, we also need to avoid the occasions of lust. This is especially true with unnecessary occasions. When these occasions cannot be avoided, we must strengthen the will by interior dispositions that make the danger more remote. Thus St. Francis de Sales declared that if dances cannot be avoided they should at least be indulged in with modesty, self-respect, and good intentions. How much more necessary is this today, when so many indecent dances are in vogue!
Occasions that we cannot avoid in our daily encounters can be overcome only by mortification. The eyes, for example, should be especially guarded, for imprudent glances enkindle desires and these in turn entice the will. Hence Our Lord declared: "If your right eyes is an occasion of sin it must be plucked out" (Matt. 5:29), which is to say, forcefully withdrawn from the object that scandalizes us. Modesty of the eyes is imperative today more than ever, since one is more liable to meet almost everywhere with persons and things apt to be a source of temptation.
The sense of touch is fraught with even more danger. Hence, one should abstain from any bodily contact or caress that cannot but excite the passions.
The heart also must be mortified by struggling against whatever may be sentimental, sensual or dangerous in the domain of friendship. Love must remain chaste and supernatural.
Another form of mortification concerns the fulfillment of our duties of state. The various states of Christian life are the lay state (single or married), religious state, and the priesthood. Work and the avoidance of idleness keeps our imagination, mind and heart away from dangerous objects.
Most everyone, even those in the holy state of marriage, experience special difficulties in regards to chastity and purity. To overcome these, frequent prayer or oft-repeated elevations of the soul toward God, and the consideration of the great truths of religion are necessary. To these must be joined the frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially confession and Communion. In confession we receive counsel and the grace of absolution to strengthen the will against temptation. Holy Communion cools the fires of concupiscence, awakens the soul to the reality of spiritual goods, and thus withdraws it from attachments to degrading pleasures.
Getting to heaven is not easy today due to the onslaught of sexual permissiveness. The defenses against this requires courage, earnestness and repeated effort, but with prayer, the Sacraments, and a determined will we can surmount all obstacles.