After pride, lust is the vice that the devil prefers to use to lure people away from God. Lust blinds the mind of a person, and since it is the mind that enlightens the will, once blinded, it no longer has the ability to lead the will away from the irrational urges of the body. Lust is an undiscerning passion that acts on fantasies, thoughts, and desires. Lust always leads to irrational, reckless, ruinous, and self-destructive behavior.
In one of her apparitions to three young children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary told the children, “More souls go to Hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any other reason.”
Of the Ten Commandments, the first three pertain to the love of God, while the final seven pertain to the love of neighbor. Two of the final seven are directly related to lust: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
Fr. John A. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines lust as follows:
An inordinate desire for or enjoyment of sexual pleasure. The desires or acts are inordinate when they do not conform to the divinely ordained purpose of sexual pleasure, which is to foster the mutual love of husband and wife and, according to the dispositions of providence, to procreate and educate their children.
One or more of the following attributes can be found in a person who succumbs to lust: uncontrolled curiosity about sex; carelessness in conversation with others; carelessness in reading and in viewing pictures, shows, movies, and videos; failure to control the imagination; failure to avoid people and places where temptation can arise; seeking out comfort and ease; failure to use the necessary means to control the flesh; and overfamiliarity with matters and events having to do with sex.
The person whose primary fault is lust uses it to indulge in his* own desires, serve his own self-interests, and satisfy his own pride. Over time, he becomes adept at manipulating others by using intimidation, guilt, charm, condescension, and humor. He eventually finds himself in a situation where his lust has permanently harmed his relationships with the people who mean the most to him, most notably his spouse or significant other.
Eventually the lustful person’s heart becomes hardened. He no longer has the ability to see people for who they are. Instead, he sees them as objects and playthings whose sole purpose is to satisfy his irrational and insatiable desires. His capacity to love has been replaced with the maddening and persistent urges of his body and spirit. He is trapped in a prison where his mental and physical appetite for sensual pleasure is never satisfied.
There are two key virtues that act as the antidote to lust – chastity and mortification. For the person whose primary fault is lust, both of these virtues are critical to the management and control of his lust.
It is impossible to practice chastity without the grace of God. There is no guarantee that God will automatically give us the grace to lead chaste lives. The only grace that we are guaranteed to receive from God is the grace to pray. Our Lord said, “Ask and you shall receive,” which implies that if we don’t ask for His grace we may not receive it. We must have the humility to ask for the grace to practice the virtue of chastity or we will suffer the consequences of lust.
It was St. Alphonsus Liguori who said, “When an evil thought is presented to the mind, we must immediately turn our thoughts to God – but the first rule is, instantly invoke the names of Jesus and Mary and continue to invoke them until the temptation ceases.” This is one of many ways we can pray for chastity.
One form of prayer is to voluntary abstain from or to deny yourself something that you enjoy or desire. The practice of voluntary self-denial is known as mortification. When a person voluntarily abstains from things that he likes, such as food and leisure activities, he strengthens and trains his will to say no to things that are pleasurable (which include lustful desires and behavior).
The practice of Christian mortification was endorsed by Christ Himself when He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23) It is impossible to maintain a fruitful and ongoing relationship with Christ without the consistent practice of self-denial. This is what mortification is all about.
In addition to prayer and mortification, in order to manage and overcome the primary fault of lust, a person must:
• Develop a deep personal love of Christ;
• Swiftly flee from occasions of sin;
• Be hard on his body by practicing acts of self-denial;
• Keep busy;
• Focus on living for others rather than for himself;
• Develop a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the mother of purity); and
• Receive the sacrament of Penance at least once a month, and attend Mass and receive Holy Communion as often as possible (more than once a week).
If you have a person in your life whose primary fault is lust, a suggested course of action would be:
1. Pray for him daily.
2. Offer up daily acts of mortification for him.
3. If it becomes necessary, separate yourself from him until he agrees to change his behavior. Before you reconcile, he must agree to a daily prayer ritual where both of you pray together that he will be given the grace to conquer his primary fault of lust.
4. Regardless of what happens between the two of you, continue to offer up daily prayers and acts of mortification for him. God allowed him to come into your life because he needed your spiritual assistance.
Next week I’ll cover the primary fault of Envy.
*Although both genders – male and female – are susceptible to lust, to make this article easier to read, I chose to use he, him, and his, to refer to individuals who engage in lustful behavior.