Lust offers a beguiling counterfeit, a way to have the illusion of “love” without the surrender of real love.
When I open my email, I am often hit with singles ads. Young women seeking to meet men post their photos with descriptions of their bodies. Will the lust they excite in their respondents help them forge real relationships?
The human desire for union with another is built into the very nature of what it means to be human. As Chesterton once said, “Everyone who knocks at a brothel door is seeking Christ.” Even those consumed by lust seek human connection, but in a seriously distorted way.
Pope John Paul II, in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, tells us that the body is not a disposable part but is integral to the meaning of the human person. He says, “the body is a primordial sacrament. . . a sign that efficaciously transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from eternity. . . . In fact, through his bodiliness, his masculinity and femininity, man becomes a visible sign of the economy of Truth and Love.” (p.203)
This communion can only be attained through the total gift of self in marriage in which unconditional love is achieved over a lifetime. The fulfillment it brings is a joy, but it does require a dying to self that selfishness finds distasteful.
Lust builds on that fundamental rift by focusing primarily on gratification of self. The body, apart from the person, becomes the vehicle for pleasure. Beyond certain parameters of physical preference, anyone’s body will do. Hooking up makes no pretense of love, and, perhaps the variety of partners and techniques adds novelty to what is an empty, loveless, and ultimately boring act.
Lust is a deadly vice precisely because it attacks the ability to love, which is at the very heart of what it means to be human. It attacks the ability to see what is truly good and beautiful, leaving only a voracious hunger in its place. A person driven by lust seldom thinks clearly, in spite of the cunning or guile he uses to get what he wants. In the end, lust leaves desolation and abandonment in its wake.
Love is the antidote to lust. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The order in which Jesus gave the commandments is not reversible. The love of God puts all things into their proper perspective and order. Only then can we love others and ourselves appropriately. Chastity, which bears no resemblance to its popular and comedic caricatures, is the school of self-mastery that leads to personal integration, freedom from slavery to the passions and the gift of self that truly fulfills (Catechism #2337-2339). Far from inhibiting the flourishing of life, the virtues of temperance and chastity direct the vital energies towards their fulfillment in communion with another person, body and soul. Only this kind of love can fill the void that lust leaves ever more empty.
Jeri Holladay writes from Wichita, Kansas, where she has been Director of Adult Education at the Spiritual Life Center of the Diocese of Wichita, Associate Professor of Theology, Chairman of the Theology Department and founding Director of the Bishop Eugene Gerber Institute of Catholic Studies at Newman University. She teaches moral theology and church history and is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.