Sunday, September 8, 2013

Analyzing the Seven Deadly Sins, Pt. 1: Lust

The seven deadly sins, as we now know them, can be thought of as seven of the most terrifying and fearsome enemies on the spiritual battlefield.  Though originally listed as eight sins in the monastic writings of Evagrius Ponticus and St. John Cassian (sloth and despondency were separate, for example), we now generally know them as seven - lust, greed, wrath, gluttony, sloth, envy, and pride.  Each one is a ferocious foe, and I know that for myself, these sins have wounded, terrified, and overcome me often.  Therefore, over the next little while, I will be taking the time to analyze them each, and offer some help in combatting them.

The first sin that is to be analyzed is lust. In my own observation, lust seems the most obvious of the seven deadly sins, and also the one that can overcome the unwary Christian soul like a flash flood.  But it is insidious too, not only attacking like a blitzkrieg with its temptations, but also worming its way underneath the skin, planting seeds of temptation everywhere, sometimes leading the soul down little steps towards it before finally administering a fatal wound.

Lust, as St. John Cassian relates, must be "fought in both soul and body,"1 as it is often "aroused apart from any desire of the will,"2 hence the intense frustration and despair that can result in the Christian when one is confronted with it.  One day, the Christian is going along fine in their spiritual life, before a simple image or phrase weakens and batters the fortress of Christ within the heart.  Many times, the Christian soul falls into some kind of mortal sin, giving up in the wake of the relentless assault on the senses that they find themselves either subjected or in some cases drawn to. 

For souls prone to falling into sins of lust, our age is a brutal one.  In some ways, the effects of lust are almost inescapeable these days - "Sex has become one of the most discussed subjects of modern times.  The Victorians pretended it did not exist; the moderns pretend that nothing else exists."3 (Ven. Fulton Sheen)

The topic of sex, for better or for worse, absolutely dominates many a conversation, and for someone prone to falling into sins of lust already, daily life can become quite hellish.  It is not that one needs to be some kind of nymphomaniac in order to feel like this - many simply succumb to sins of lust because of the overwhelming advertisements in imagery, in attitudes and fashions, in language and all the rest that so constantly blare in the face of the individual.  This all awakens the passions of the individual that seem to be already latent, like burning embers suddenly re-ignited.  "The impure spirit has a strong influence only on the passionate,"4 (Seraphim of Sarov) and as many souls fall into this category, they are therefore "more susceptible to occasions of this sin than straw is to fire."5 (Dom Lorenzo Scupoli)

Lust offers a quick solution to the already-numbed out soul of modern man living in the post-Nietzschean era - instead of facing the existential crisis of human existence in any small manner, instead of facing reality, hardship, suffering, fear, woe, or anything else, man can temporarily "forget his emptiness in the intensity of a momentary experience."6 (Ven. Fulton Sheen)

Like its sister sin, gluttony, lust allows a soul unable to confront the reality of life with a brief escape.  Indulge in lust, and all of life's troubles and worries disappear for a moment - only to reappear again unchanged, and with one's soul in a state of peril.  Like many sins, lust is often not fallen into because it is somehow awful and hurts; no, it offers us something, and we think we benefit from it.  I assume it is like taking drugs - no one would do drugs if there was not some kind of benefit that, at the time, they thought outweighed the risk.  In this case, lust offers that high, seemingly without any responsibility, worry, or effect.

The reality, of course, is much different.  Indulging in lust of any kind has a kind of hollowing-out effect on the soul - it sells the person out for all they are worth, simply in order to feel good for a little while.  Such is the desperation of our age, and the human condition.  We want to feel good at any cost, and to openly deny oneself the pleasures of lust for a higher cause is looked upon as some form of insanity.

Surely, lust is not an easy sin to combat, especially in our age.  Our passions are easily inflamed, and what was once a thorny and dark path that we refused to walk down suddenly becomes a slippery mudslide into a trap.  Sins of lust are often addicting - witness the lives of those who indulged in pornography for years, only to find their brains engraved with the "devil's iconography." (Fr. Seraphim Rose)

Witness the broken marriages due to adultery, the broken hearts due to one-night flings and selfish relationships, the broken souls of those caught up in addictions to masturbation and pornography; the effects of lust are obvious.  To be sure, it is one of the most blatant and forward of all the enemies of the Christian that populate the spiritual battlefield of today (and frankly, of history as well). 

When I begin to contemplate the remedies and weapons available against this deadly sin, I am reminded of an affecting story I once read.  It says: "A certain youth sought to renounce the world, and having many times left the world for the monastery, thoughts came back to him speaking to him about worldly things, for he had been exceedingly rich.  Leaving one day, he walked around and stirred up a lot of dust, for he would turn back again and again.  He suddenly undressed, threw away his clothes and ran naked as fast as he could to the monastery.  The Lord revealed this to a certain Elder, saying, 'Arise and receive my sufferer.'"7

In the story above, despite its mention of material wealth, I see the struggle with lust encapsulated.  Again and again, we might often fall into the addictions of lust or its temptations and lures.  But in the end, it is the pull of God's grace and the sinner's "yes" to that grace that triumphs.  We see a kind of violence in the depiction - the youth strips himself utterly (in this, I see it meaning that he strips himself of the cares and attractions of this world), and runs to his Father's house to seek solace there.  We see this kind of action recommended to us precisely in the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, who admonishes us to run to God when we are confronted with temptation as a child would run to its parent for protection from a wild animal.

It seems to me that it is an act of the will to embrace the grace of Christ rather than to fall into sin that saves us when we are assaulted by this enemy.  Christ constantly offers us His hand, telling us to "Watch and pray, that [we] may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing enough, but the flesh is weak." (Matt. 26:41).

1 - Institutes, "On the Eight Vices"
2 - The Call of Silent Love, 13:A:2
3 - Peace of Soul, VIII
4 - Spiritual Instructions, 29
5 - The Spiritual Combat, 19
6 - Peace of Soul, VIII
7 - qtd. in Little Russian Philokalia - Vol. 5: St. Theodore of Sanaxar, pg. 90

22 comments:

  1. This may be useful: http://angelicwarfare.org

    This is for the Cord of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, it may be sufficient to simply use the prayers the confraternity invokes.

    Quote: The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is a supernatural fellowship of men and women bound to one another in love and dedicated to pursuing and promoting chastity together under the powerful patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
    :End quote.

    I have also read the Cord of St. Joseph is also useful in this struggle for chastity.
    http://catholictradition.org/Joseph/joseph23.htm

    Another cord that I am aware of and that I wear myself, the Cord of the Precious Blood:

    To purchase sacramentals (the sisters in New Hampshire have them at a lower cost than the N.Y. monastery.)
    http://www.srspreciousbloodnh.org/Devotionals/Sacramentals/tabid/80/Default.aspx

    You can enroll in the Confraternity of the Precious Blood here:
    http://www.confraternitypb.org/joinus.html

    And last, here is a link for the Archconfraternity of St. Philomena, where you can send for a free wrist cord when joining the confraternity:
    http://philomenafamily.org/?page_id=46

    The St Philomena Foundation also offers a waist cord, asking for a $2 donation but not obligatory.

    May these prove useful to all who seek strength of will over our recalcitrant flesh :)

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    1. I think this article is a courageous one to take on, given that our culture seems to take this sin to a higher level every year and that so many Christians have fallen prey to it and no longer even consider some things a sin. Great article.

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    2. I am going to check out the sites listed, thanks!

      Jason +

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  2. Sounds pretty spot on to me. Would also say I learned a couple new things two.

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  3. Jason,

    I read your blog frequently, and absolutely love it. You don't know how many times I have read one of your blogs and emailed my friends a link to it. As a young male college student, it is hard to live life as a good Catholic should. Your writing keeps me intellectually engaged, and you never sugar coat the Faith. Thank you for all you write. It has helped my soul immensely in the fight against sin. I mean it! I will pray for you, and ask that you pray for me and for my vocation

    Eric

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    1. Eric,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment - it means so much to me read comments like this. I am gladdened that you have been able to glean some good fruit from this blog - if it helps you in your spiritual life and brings you closer to Christ, then this is wonderful.

      I will pray for you as well. Actually, just going off to evening prayer right now. Be assured of my prayers, and thank you so much for reading.

      Jason

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  4. Jason;

    It's apparent the the Holy Spirit is truly working through you. This article was well researched and most beneficial. Many thanks for the sacrifices you make in maintaining this website. I have been forwarding your link to as many as possible. I'm confident in stating that articles such as this are playing an important part in the mission to save souls.

    May God continue to bless your worthy efforts.

    Chris Vegliante
    Killingworth, CT

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    1. Chris,
      Thank you for your kind words. I hope this blog continues to do whatever good it is doing out there...thanks for your readership and passing it along.

      God give you peace.

      Jason +

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  5. I have been battling lust since returning to the church in 1986 after 16 eat absence. I was one who embraced hedonism & "If it feels good do it" philosophy for many years. I have also been a habitual sinner with alcohol, cigarettes & drugs. I gave up with the help of God's grace the alcohol, cigarettes & drugs. Breaking free from lust is much more difficult. Heroin addicts who have sobered up form heroin & battle with lust say the high the get from fantasizing about lust, the pursuit them the act is greater than sticking a needle in their arm. I agree with that. I have talked to many priests about this and they say its the most confessed sin amongst men. One priest stated that 30% of the men in the pews struggle with lust issues.
    The good news is that Jesus gave us the means to break free from pseudo-sex & live healthy sexual lives that God meant us to live.

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  6. You are right on about the addictive power of lust, it has enslaved my husband and broken a marriage, bankrupt a business and torn a family apart. I forgive, but do not condone.

    A very well written explanation of what is really going on in the world today and how damaging it is.

    Our children are unaware of the addiction as it is so cleverly hidden and I keep the sordid details to myself, but they still suffer from the break up of the family and the destruction of the family business which they helped build.

    The evil one scored big. I petition God to pour mercy on them daily. Thank you for the article.

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    1. I am sorry to hear about what porn did to your family. I have seen some marriages on the brink of total destruction get turned around when the addict made a sincere effort to go to any lengths to get right with God, make amends & start living a sanctified life. I pray daily for those who have suffered the effects of porn & are currently fighting the battle to break free from it. There is a great book, "Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction" that does have a chapter dedicated to the spouses of the addict to help in healing process.

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  7. I was once addicted to Porn and Masturbation and sex. I was falling quickly downward like the dream of John Basco. One thing saved my life MEDJUGORJE.
    It is still a daily struggle and especially in today's world and a big part of dealing with it is knowing that it will be a lifelong battle. If you know that just because you have a good day or week or month or year, does not mean that tomorrow you can't wake up and fall right back into it.

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  8. I would add that checking below you
    May find help as well

    Sanctuaryhouse.tumblr.com

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  9. It helps to pray daily and ask God for the grace to come to hate pornography. Say that small prayer every time you are tempted. Also, holy water helps in these times, a sacramental with power that will help in times of need. Also, change your habits, especially those which bring you close to where you fall prey, as like the computer, limit your time on it at home to only once a week, then with family around.

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  10. Even if sin is defined as a break of communion between God and women/men, sin occurs as a result of a human brokenness.
    Something bad happened that triggers any of the 7 deadly sins.
    Going to confession mend the relation between God and people, but does not include the retribution any more ( that seems to be of the past times, when the priest acted also as a judge).
    This is why many irregularities in the church were considered sins, while they were first and foremost human actions that required civil justice.

    From another prospective, a man-priest will never understand the feminine aspect of a sin, in other words, a man-priest will never be objective while listening a woman confession.
    As an example: the church has not define yet, by one word, the sin of a man who after procreating his child and placing the child in the womb of the woman, he, the man, kills his child by lack of food, care, medical support. In other words, there is no one word to describe the sin of a father who kills his unborn child in the womb of the mother. Someone suggested the word " abandonment" - but this word does not imply killing.

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  11. I am trying to ascent the Mount Carmel, for an union with God, so I need help from above and my human spiritual friends to find a way to liberate myself from the seven Deadly sins, and you are making it easy, so thank you a million times.
    Denise in Canada

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  12. When I have fallen I pray for those in the trade as well as others like myself who fall. I also try to picture those in the trade as sweat innocents as they were as children and how satan has snatched them from God and how we must help to bring them back rather that use them for sinful purposes! I still struggle but fight back with St.Michael and exorcism prayers, those allowed for laity. Although there just isn't one thing to do, all of us praying and working together with God's grace will achieve victory.

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  13. During confession a wonderful priest gave me a piece of advice, that is great for this temptation and all others. When you begin to go down the path of temptation towards sin, Ask Jesus to send you His Holy Spirit to fill you and to guide you to His way and His will. It works.

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  14. Thank You so much for all the work you put in to such articles. I am a young female, and am struggling to find a decent man who views lust as a dangerous road. I often feel alone among my peer group because both men AND women refuse to acknowledge casual sex as anything negative or destructive to the body and soul. Many do not believe they even have souls. Needless to say, the dating world has become especially frightening. It has been difficult to find someone who believes what I believe. I appreciate your article because it confirms my beliefs and deepens my understanding of human sexuality from a spiritual standpoint. I cannot view sexuality without spirituality. They are so inextricably linked.

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  15. Hang in there girlfriend! You are on the right path. God is saving someone special for you.

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  16. To those who may be interested read "Impossible Joy", "Lust Virus", "Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction." Even though the authors are not catholic there is great guidance in these books. Both authors were in bondage to lust until they found a way to break free.

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  17. Wonderful article. The phrase 'hollowing out of the soul' describes the terrible desolation I felt after every fall. I knew porn was the work of the devil... Imagine being awakened in the middle of the night just to seek it out! but I was unable to break the grip addiction to pornography had on me until I began doing the 15 Prayers of St Bridget. The very first day I made the commitment to pray the prayers for a year, I was freed from my terrible addiction. Praise be to God!

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