Sex, God, and Lies
The Struggle to be Chaste
struggle for chastity
is not so much a contention of
the body with the mind, as matter of the cooperation of the one
with the other, and in a more profound sense, a matter of the subjugation
of the one by the other, the body by the mind — and so
we begin to understand that the battle waged is far more one of the
mind than of the body.
We are inclined to think
that the response of the body in our encounter with the desirability
of another is the cause of temptations and sins — when in fact
the source or the root cause begins, as every sin begins, in
the mind. The body is not sentient (and therefore not culpable)
but reactive. It responds physiologically to what is
first introduced to and apprehended by the mind, which elicits
an instinctive and very natural response from the body.
The point is that before the body begins to react,
it is first mentally stimulated — most often by images.
Produced by the media,
newspapers, magazines, the Internet, the cinema etc. these images are
carefully, and always artificially, manipulated to produce precisely
this effect. It is important to understand this. This concatenation
of events does not randomly occur, nor is it gratuitous: either in your
body, or in the media. There is a reason that your body responds
the way it does, and there is equally a reason why the media
focuses upon that basic human response.
and big money — and an even bigger lie
Open any magazine or newspaper
and in short order you will be introduced to the most absurd and patently
artificial postures of women — and increasingly, men — in scant or suggestive
attire. You will see flawless (and largely undernourished) women assuming
the most suggestive postures and stances, making unmistakably lewd gestures
that you would never encounter in real life, or if you did,
would likely prompt you to laugh at its absurdity.
What is the not-so-subtle
suggestion, the implication of the image or photograph? It is this:
“You’re only seeing
part of it, you rogue ... can you imagine
all of it? And can you imagine
what all of that could do for you
...? And its only a few buttons away ... at such and such
Boutique and only for this incredibly low
price in our unprecedented one day sale!
Given our fallen nature
and our subsequent inclination to sin, what do you suppose such images
are intended to stimulate? Our intellect?
Through Adamic Sin we are predisposed to concupiscence, or inordinate
sexual desire, just as we are predisposed to corrupt virtually any
intrinsic good through disordered indulgence, or excess. Sex is not
sinful, and sexual desire is not sinful. Do you think that the Saints,
both married and unmarried, did not experience sexual desire?
What is important is not the impulse, over which we exercise
no willful control — but how we deal with the impulse, how
we respond to it beyond the initial physiological reflex it arouses.
What is more, that such impulses are capable of being elicited
from us, and are experienced within us — that we begin
to instinctively respond physiologically to the stimulus — is no reproach
to us, nor to our moral or spiritual integrity. It is part and parcel
of our fallen humanity in which reason is diminished in its capacity
to rightly order sensibility. We hear this echoed in St. Paul:
which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that
I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I
that do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law,
that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with
me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to
the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting
against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law
of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who
shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Wall Street understands this. Marketers understand this.
Pornographers and smut-dealers understand this. Isn’t
it time that you understand this? Their lie is that they are so clever,
their anorexic models so convincing, and your own susceptibility to
both so overwhelming that you have little choice in the matter, and
must both physically and morally collapse under the collective weight
of their blandishments and your weakness. Couple this with the enticement
and deceit of the
of all lies”,
and you find your own predicament, and the human condition at large,
a bit more lucid.
A Long, Hard Journey
The journey, it is clear,
from sexual pre-occupation and inordinate desire, to chastity,
is very, very, long and arduous. In fact, we begin to realize that chastity
is not so much a virtue that will one day be finally acquired,
eventually attained to, as it is a virtue to be constantly
and diligently embraced, enacted.
Certainly, if chaste means “free
of sexual desire”,
then it is either unattainable or altogether a fiction.
This is not to say that there are individuals who experience
no sexual desire whatever, but given St. Paul’s own problematic, and
that of humanity in general, such an absence would seem to be more of
the nature of a pathology than a virtue.
How then, in the midst of the turpitude and moral morass by which we
are surrounded, do we embrace chastity, enact it, and in that
perpetual choice become what we understand to be chaste?
We become chaste by involvement
with others and through learning to love rightly.
It is a long process of the purification of memories, memories of
sin in which we had once delighted, through which we found pleasure,
satisfaction, and what we experienced, however transiently, as momentary
“fulfillment”. It is also an active and vigilant practice of self-discipline,
a self-discipline that enables us to be judicious and wise as to what
images we allow to penetrate our minds, what literature we read, what
movies we watch, by our conversation, or at the very least, the tenor
and nature of conversations in which we participate.
We all know our points of weakness and our susceptibility to temptation.
This recognition and the acknowledgement of our weakness is the first
crucial step toward chastity. Knowledge alone, however, does not suffice.
It requires cooperation with grace and the resolve to resist our own
inclinations and all that would lead us to mindless sensual indulgence.
We must recognize that we have a deeply personal responsibility
in the struggle for chastity. We must never succumb to the
feeble excuse, the lie really, that, “I can't help it — therefore
I am not morally responsible for it. I am, after all, just human.”
So was St. Paul. We must love both ourselves and others
responsibly. Love without responsibility is not love at all — it
is a euphemism for indulgent selfishness.
The Fire Within ...
We have two choices, then:
we can either subdue or we can sublimate our sexuality.
What we cannot do is avoid it.
We cannot avoid it because we cannot extinguish it. Even if we could,
we would not, for that reason, be more perfectly human, but rather
imperfectly human; we would not be possessed of a virtue, but
deprived of a perfection, the perfection of that being human
which is human being — we
would be in a state of
privation — but deprived of a perfection, the perfection of
that “being human” which is “human being” — we would be in a state of
privation — of a good (sexuality) that ought to be present
and is not. Sexuality, sexual desire, is a good. Why?
God created it, endowed us with it. And everything God created is good.
Instead of coming to terms
with our created sexuality, however, we mistakenly, and vainly seek
to extinguish sexual desire altogether through every conceivable form
of self-denial, abnegation: not eating, wearing sackcloth, punishing
our bodies, avoiding the other gender. Of course it is prudent to avoid
the Occasion of Sin — the person, place, or thing that is likely
to induce us to sin — but we do not subdue what we avoid; we merely
defer the conflict; still less do we sublimate the encounter through
We remain, all our lives, sexual
beings. In profound ways it is the source not only of the unspeakably
beautiful creative act culminating in children, but must at least
be conjectured upon as a mysterious part of that vital impulse expressing
itself through creative love: music, poetry and art.
This creative and irrepressible impetus to life and being, this capacity
to give life, cannot be confined solely and exclusively to the vocation
of marriage, excluding those who are single, Consecrated, or Religious
men and women (that is, belonging to a Religious Order). Grace
perfects nature; it does not destroy it. The tremendous creativity
we find in figures so disparate as the Franciscans Thomas of Celano,
Jacapone da Todi , Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, and the composer
Franz Liszt, to name a few, can only be expressed in terms of passion;
passion deriving from love which is always procreative and in the
being we understand as human — the human being —
a procreativity that, whatever its nature, finds its paradigm
in the procreative love that is inseparable from human sexuality.
We blench at this suggestion
as unworthy — that things noble, lofty, even holy, should proceed from
what we have reflexively come to esteem as base — the very thing
that alone yields the most beautiful and holy of creatures: our very
The most perfect moment
of union between the bride and the groom, husband and wife, the lover
and the beloved — the literal climax of love (love’s most exquisite
expression, utter consummation) in which lover becomes one with the
beloved — is disdained not just as base, but as abysmally base.
What madness is this?
What evil and distorted
inversion has caused us to esteem what is beautiful and holy as ugly
and profane — such that the foulest word in any language is synonymous
We speak of “making love, as though love could be made ... and
then do not recognize it apart from its epithet!
is not a “Four Letter word”... and neither is “CHASTE”
At this point, I think it
fairly clear that our disordered perception of sexuality has skewed
not only our understanding of God, but of ourselves
— and most importantly, the relationship between the two.
Even the notion of sin, in all its complexities,
is more readily understood by us in our relationship to God, than
sex — which, paradoxically, to so many
of us is fraught with sin, or what is worse yet, indistinguishable from
it! Were most of us asked what physiological feature in both men and
women is most susceptible to sin, and most likely to lead us to sin,
we would point, like ill-taught and unthinking children, immediately
to our loins.
The fact of the matter, however, is that in the way of preponderance
of sin, our sexuality would be fifth at best, the
first four, in order of gravity and number, would be:
in which every sin is first conceived,
mouth, through which most often it proceeds;
thence to the
ears that take either delight or offense,
and from the ears to
the hands that murder, maim, or otherwise
Is this to diminish the
gravity of sexual sin? Of course not. It is, however, helpful in placing
our perception of sexual sin into perspective. We must remember that
sexual sins are considered by the Church to be sins proceeding from
weakness — as distinct from sins proceeding from malice,
the latter, of course, being the more grave of the two.
But we must see that it
is equally indicative of our inability or unwillingness to come to terms
with the the other 8 Commandments that prohibit other
sins – sins not of a sexual nature – but upon which we are
seldom so fixated:
using the Lord's Name in Vain
Sabbath Day Holy
Failing to Honor
our Mothers and Fathers,
Our Neighbor’s Goods. (Exodus 20:3-17 and Deuteronomy
Of the Ten, why
the Sixth and the Ninth?
Of the 10, it is most often the 6th and 9th that we focus upon. Why?
This is an odd state of affairs. The first sin,
that of Adam and Eve, so often depicted in sexual terms, had nothing
whatever to do with sex — it was disobedience prompted by the sin
of pride. Succinctly put, they sought to be like God (even though they
were already created in His image, which is to say that they were
already like unto God — but not in plenitude, hence the pride,
and from thence the disobedience) As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church teaches us,
tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in
his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command.
This is what man's first sin consisted of.
All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and
lack of trust in his goodness.”
(Part I Section II, 397)
In fact, the most persistent and pernicious sin of which the Chosen
People of God, the Israelites, were guilty was idolatry. For this reason
they wandered in the desert for 40 years. It was a sin that provoked
God, through their obstinacy, ultimately to banish them in the Babylonian
Exile for 70 years. Once again, it stemmed from the immediate sin of
disobedience to the First Commandment — not the Sixth or the Ninth.
There are 121 references to idolatry
and in the Bible, 40 relative to adultery,
and 36 to fornication. Why, then,
the inverse disproportion that we append to sins of a sexual
nature? The breach of each Commandment is equally repugnant to God,
so we have, on the one hand, no warrant to minimize one, and by the
same token, no warrant to emphasize another, either. Certainly some
appear to be more reprehensible than others, and most of us would likely
deem killing a more grave offense than, say, adultery or lying. In other
words, the proscriptions that we encounter in Exodus 20 do not appear
to be hierarchical. There is a reason for this. But we do not, it is
clear, acquire our focus on sexual sin from the Decalogue, nor, if we
examine it further, from the Books of Leviticus and Numbers, both of
which are replete with ancillary laws. Why are some apparently
more abhorrent to us than they are to God?
Again, what is the provenance
of our fixation on the 6th and the 9th Commandments? Both call us to
be chaste. Each is a clarion for
chastity. Could it be that the 6th and the
9th somehow incorporate all the others? Jesus summed up
all the Commandments in two,
telling us that our observation of the two was simultaneously our observation
of the others. Let us look at this more carefully.
and Coveting our Neighbor’s Wife
Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) distinguishes between the two.
I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her,
hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (St. Matthew
5.28) The connection between the two is more than a matter of mere hermeneutics,
the first follows upon the second, the 6th after the 9th, the desire
before the commission of sin.
Jesus does not:
It is not that Jesus is saying something “other” than we find
in the Decalogue; He has simply elucidated the obvious nexus between
them. They are one and the same sin. The bringing to completion in the
body what has already been consummated in the mind is, in the way of
sin, only distinguished chronologically: the one precedes the other,
and is no less grave and no less culpable than the other. In fact, Jesus
says, the latter, the physical consummation, is not even necessary to
the imputation of the sin of adultery! It is already committed in the
thinking, the desiring, the willing. The physical act itself is only
a matter of opportunity, of the body participating in what the mind
has conceived, willed, and already done! It is co-opting the body —
which is a physical, and not a moral entity — to be complicitous in
the sin, and the sin then corrupts the total being, body and
St. Paul speaks of,
against our bodies” (“he
that commits fornication, sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6.18) — an odd statement until we consider that not only
do we “use” the body of another to fulfill the sinful desires
within the mind – but our own as well! We subject our own
bodies to sin, by bringing them into complicity with the sinful
mind and making them instrumental in the sin — the sin erstwhile
only affecting, injuring, our own souls without bringing sin and injury
to the person desired. This is abuse of the body, ones own body,
by making it accomplice to the desire of the mind and resulting
in the abuse, injury, and corruption of others, of the world at large
— beyond the confines of ones mind.
In other words, sin begins in the mind and corrupts the soul, but goes
no further unless opportunity affords it. The injury caused is to oneself
solely (the offense always against God). The vitiating nature
of sin is confined to the abscess of desire: its purulence poisons only
the soul that conceives it. Through
(ab)using the body, however,
the destructive nature of the sin extends beyond this abscess, this
self-injury; it suppurates and, through the instrumentality of the body,
becomes injurious to others. It has already been destructive to the
soul. It will now become destructive to others.
This is of the essence
of the pernicious nature of sin. It corrupts by seducing to complicity
everything that it touches upon. That the sin of one man, Adam, should
touch upon every human
being, is, in this sense, completely coherent.
This effectively forms the matrix of the answer to our question: the
reason that we seize upon the 6th and 9th Commandments is that, in being
called to chastity, we are called away from that vicious concatenation
of sin and destruction that follows ineluctably upon the assent of the
will to desire unlawfully. Chastity calls us away from destructiveness.
In fact, it calls us to creativeness through calling us to
create ourselves in ever greater conformity to the image of God in Whom
our own perfection and felicity consists. It does not call us away
from desire; only unlawful desire, desire
that results not in something creative and beautiful, but destructive
and ugly; desire whose consequence is life and not death. The call to
chastity, in effect, is no less the call to abundant life than it is
the call away from suicide and murder — inasmuch as our pursuit of sinful
desires always entails the destruction of the self and the destruction
Every Commandment, we eventually find, implicates every other Commandment,
for Jesus said,
shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole
heart, and with thy whole soul, and with
thy whole mind. This is the greatest and
the first commandment. And the second is
like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor
as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth
the whole law and the prophets.”
(St. Matthew 22. 37-40)
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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