The temptation toward lust, some may assume, is something that I don’t experience, because I am severely physically disabled and live a fairly sheltered life. But I’m human. Fully human in every way including sin.
Nobody is immune from temptation.
And what is a sheltered life these days? Images and stories that reduce the human body to an object of pleasure and desire come at us from all sides: TV, movies, music, magazines, novels, “self-help” books, billboards, and social media. Hormones and brain chemicals, which are designed to be triggered by external stimulus, may naturally respond. To what end? Temptations to stray from the true purpose, divine poetry, and profound power of sex are pervasive in the public square, leading many — perhaps an entire society — into the self-centered mentality of lust.
This public space that is my blog, however, is not where I’m going to delve more deeply into my own temptations and tendencies regarding sex. Believing in the sacred, I will embark upon this particular examination of conscience privately. Rather, let’s reflect upon the main question concerned in lust, which is not exclusive to sex. Human sexuality, after all, is an aspect of the whole of the human person. And we sin against the whole of the human person when we reduce that person to a mere sum of parts or to an object for our own self-centered purposes — whatever those purposes may be.
How do I view other human beings?
When I meet someone, do I wonder if I will find the person interesting or useful? Do I evaluate my relationships with other people by considering whether they make me laugh or think or cry? Do I continue conversing or having a relationship with people based on whether or not they inspire, enlighten, help, or encourage me?
Is it all about me?
Let’s be honest. We are human and, very often, what we do — even the way that we relate to other people — is rather self-centered. Who are the people that we make time for in our lives? Usually, they are the people whose company gives us some kind of pleasure, be that pleasure from familial affection, helpful support, entertaining banter or games, stimulating or enlightening conversations, or even the satisfaction of being a useful person in their lives. The people with whom I relate on a daily or weekly basis are people who feed me, take care of me, entertain me, inform me, or make me feel loved. But who are they without me? Yes, that sounds highly conceited, but it’s a real question. How often do I consider and interact with the people in my life while thinking only of them — of their needs and desires and not my own?
Self-centeredness doesn’t reach into divinity.
If I reduce another human being to their usefulness in my life, then I am guilty of lust. If I look at my relationship with another human being and think mainly of what’s in it for me, then I am guilty of lust. To view a human person solely as an object is a sin, for by so doing you are demeaning an image of God to nothing more than a thing. A useful thing, a pleasing thing, but still a thing that you can pick up for your own purposes and then put down.
That’s what sexual lust does. When a person looks at a human being as a sexual object, thinking about the pleasure that can be enjoyed through said object, that person is lusting. When the person then acts upon these thoughts and desires, with little to no regard for the entirety of the other human being, they are committing the sin of lust. There are very real and far-reaching powers involved in sexuality that reach deeply into a person’s soul, that are intrinsic to mind, body, and heart, so sexual lust can lead to acts that are grave or mortal sins — a total and willful turning away from divine will — profoundly injuring the wholeness of a person. It’s like playing with fire. If there’s no respect for the fire and only a desire for the heat, then someone is going to get burned.
Though not considered a mortal sin, I still commit sin when I view a friend as an entertaining joke teller and want only laughter and entertainment from a relationship with her, walking away when she gets serious or requires some assistance. I don’t allow her to be an entire person — and I reduce myself to a mere pleasure seeker, diminishing my own wholeness as well.
I’m often tempted to diminish people to their value in serving me. Not consciously, but subconsciously. Recognizing this will hopefully help me to become less self-centered and to grow in gratitude, patience, generosity, and self-giving love — real love.
Growing in real love is knowing real joy.
We need inspiring and supportive people in our lives, especially when we are at our lowest or weakest, but also when we need help to stay focused on the good, the true, and the beautiful. If this is a fact, however, then shouldn’t we also look out for people who may be in need of inspiration, encouragement, and help? To paraphrase a famous speech of the 20th century: “Ask not what your neighbor can do for you, ask what you can do for your neighbor.”[i]
Oh God, help me to look upon every human being as Your image, existing not for my own pleasure, but for Your infinite glory. Lord Jesus, help me to love others as You love me — mercifully, patiently, and generously, willing to suffer for the sake of the other with no thought for my finite self. May I respect the sacred beauty and power of the human body, including my own, living on Earth in harmony with the pure, sublime goodness of Your divine will. Amen.
© 2021 Christina Chase
[i] Pres. John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.