“There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.”- St. Josemaria Escriva
The number one, soul-destroying problem men face is attacks on sexual purity. Immodesty is ubiquitous, pornography is easily accessible, and every form of media, including advertising, is filled with sexualized images. I could cite all kinds of shocking statistics showing the increasing rates of pornography addiction, the number of sexualized images teen boys sees by the age of 18, and much more. But I don’t think I need to do that. We all know it’s a problem that men struggle with, now more than ever in our depraved culture.
I want to discuss this problem briefly, and then offer some rules for combating lust as a Catholic man. First, the tough stuff.
Take it Seriously
“Lust indulged became habit, and habit unresisted became necessity.” – St. Augustine
Because moral standards are so low these days, we become numb to just how bad things have gotten. St. Therese of Lisieux, who lived in the late 1800s, said her father would not let her or her sisters leave the house if the sleeves of their dress were above the elbow. Now, young women regularly attend mass in mini-skirts that leave nothing to the imagination.
Just because standards of modesty are lax now, though, does not mean we should take purity less seriously. Purity is a matter of spiritual life and death. While the world will tell you lust is harmless and natural, it is playing with soul-destroying fire—it is the ultimate slippery slope, the ultimate powder keg waiting to explode.
Entertaining and enjoying a brief thought or glance can very easily lead to doing an internet search for pornography. One little indulgence in pornography can very easily turn into an addiction. And before you know it, your life is spinning out of control and you can never get enough. While it doesn’t happen to everyone, there is a very real danger of becoming the next Ariel Castro.
In short, never just mess around with pornography or even lustful thoughts. It can destroy your marriage, your family, your spiritual life, and ultimately send you to hell.
Don’t Make Excuses
“Don’t say, ‘That’s the way I am—its my character.’ It’s your lack of character. Esto vir!—Be a man!” – St. Josemaria Escriva
Men, I want to challenge you not to make excuses when it comes to lust. Yes, it is undoubtedly a struggle to maintain purity in the modern world. Yes, the vast majority of women wear next to nothing these days, especially in the summer. Yes, pornography is easily accessible on your smart phone. Yes, almost every movie has a sex scene. But guess what—those things aren’t valid excuses for entertaining lust.
Today’s men are constantly looking to pass the buck on their sexual struggles. The Catholic Gentleman doesn’t make excuses, though. Take responsibility, man up, and confess your sins to a priest when you fail.
The Good News
Now that I’ve beat you over the head, so to speak, there is some good news. And that is that there is a big difference between looking and lusting. While the ideal is perfect custody of the eyes, this is something we have to learn over time. Until we have mastered our eyes, however, we shouldn’t feel guilty about their being drawn to skin. In other words, it is very difficult to keep your eyes from being attracted to a flash of skin as a girl walks past in barely-there shorts. That is our natural concupiscence at work, and it isn’t a sin. What is a sin is that second, lustful glance—that willful choice to entertain and enjoy sinful thoughts.
Other than staring at the floor (maybe that’s a good idea sometimes!), it can be almost impossible to never see any immodesty. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up if you we look and see things we wish we wouldn’t have. Don’t be overly scrupulous about seeing things you can’t control.
A Few Helps
While we all have our own spiritual walks and methods for combating temptation, here are a few time tested methods from the saints.
1. Run away – “In temptations against chastity, the spiritual masters advise us, not so much to contend with the bad thought, as to turn the mind to some spiritual, or, at least, indifferent object. It is useful to combat other bad thoughts face to face, but not thoughts of impurity.” – St. Alphonsus Liguori
2. Ask for graces to be pure – “Holy Purity is granted by God when it is asked for with humility.” – St. Josemaria Escriva
3. Be humble – ”Humility is the safeguard of chastity. In the matter of purity, there is no greater danger than not fearing the danger. For my part, when I find a man secure of himself and without fear, I give him up for lost I am less alarmed for one who is tempted and who resists by avoiding the occasions, than for one who is not tempted and is not careful to avoid occasions [of sin]. When a person puts himself in an occasion, saying, I shall not fall, it is an almost infallible sign that he will fall, and with great injury to his soul.” – Saint Philip Neri
4. Consecrate yourself to Mary – This is my own suggestion based on the lives of a number of different saints and my own experience. Give your purity our Blessed Lady. Ask her to safeguard it for you. On rising in the morning and before going to bed, say one Hail Mary for purity in your thoughts and choices.
5. Be radical – “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Jesus (An example from my life: I chose to stop going to the beach due to the immodesty everywhere.)
Every man struggles with purity, and it is harder than ever in our overly sexualized culture. The last thing we should do is be lax about it—it is far too serious a matter to take lightly. It’s literally a matter of spiritual life and death.
While we shouldn’t drive ourselves to despair with scrupulosity, we should strive to maintain our purity with everything we have. How do you combat lust? Do you take it seriously in your own life?