Jesus continues to speak up for the dignity of human beings in today’s Gospel as he continues with his second and third antithesis. The third regarding, Jesus’ teaching on divorce, I reflected upon in my May 25th, 2018 entry and refer you to that post, Marriage is a Sacred Bond, if you would like to read it. I will focus today on the second antitheses: “Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-28). Again, by disciplining our mind we can have more control over our actions.
Too many people today believe that our sexual urge is too powerful to channel and direct in chaste ways. In fact, to even attempt to do so, some would say is damaging to our development. The Church has lost some credibility in this area in directing and guiding us because of those within her number who have not only abused children sexually, but those who have turned a blind eye to warning signs, as well as those bishops who have covered up the abuse.
Each of these points do not change the fact that Jesus still calls us to embrace our sexuality, yet channel it positively through the respecting of others as people endowed with dignity. Our sexuality is a powerful gift that has the potential to participate in creating new life, and it is not to be misused to objectify women, children, or men, as has been done throughout the ages and into our own day.
To be able to discipline and channel our sexual desire in healthy ways, we have to begin by choosing better what we put into our mind. If the majority of our reading, music, what we watch, what we think and fantasize about, are erotic and evocative, then yes, being chaste is not a realistic goal. Since we live in a culture that is hyper sexualized, such that there is large support and normalization of acting out sexually at a younger and younger age, enticing advertisements on TV, the computer, billboards, pornography, every day shows, movies, and music, this is no easy task. To counter this momentum, I am not suggesting that we literally have to tear out our right eye as Jesus offers in his hyperbolic word display. But we do need to follow Jesus’ guidance so to help us recognize the seriousness of an undisciplined approach to our sexuality.
We need to realize that we can be disciplined with our thoughts and actions. If Jesus’ starting point is that we are not to look at another with lustful thoughts, then that is where we ought to begin and realize that this is possible with his help and a change of lifestyle. We need to resist seeing each other as objects for our own fantasy and pleasure, and instead look to one another as people endowed with dignity so as to be respected and not objectified.
The normalization of lust, pornography, objectification of another must be countered with healthier and chaste ways of living our lives. We figuratively tear out an eye or cut off a hand that leads us to sin by recognizing that any of these three or any variation of them are not acceptable thoughts or actions to entertain. Nor are we to fall into the puritanical, opposite extreme, that our sexuality and all things human are bad. Suppressing our sexuality is not a helpful practice either. God created us good, and our sexuality is good when we integrate it into the wholeness of the physical and spiritual aspects of our humanness.
Living a chaste life is possible by recognizing that we and other people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We need to put into practice the cardinal virtue of temperance, which is the disciplining of our mind such that we weed out at the roots those thoughts and actions that will lead us to sinful actions. While at the same time we replace them by making a firm decision to live chastely.
We then communicate that decision with friends and family, we surround ourselves with those people who will support our decisions and respect our boundaries, we need to establish a healthy and moderate diet, and be engaged in an exercise program that will help us on the physical level. We also need to seek the help of Jesus, especially through his presence in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, develop a consistent prayer life and participate regularly in worship in a community. It is also helpful to be engaged in acts of service, in healthy activities through work, hobbies, and interests.
In these ways, we will be better able to build chaste relationships that are more stable, have more meaning, and are mutually encouraging as we support one another to live lives of holiness and participate with Jesus in guiding one another to actualize the fullness of who God is calling us to be. We can best resist lust by learning to love one another.