I currently live in Vegas where lustful thinking isn’t just encouraged, it’s expected. Everywhere you look, there is a picture of some scantily clad woman luring you to some “gentleman’s club.”
Years ago when we were stationed in California, my husband had to go TDY to Vegas. TDY just means business trip in military lingo. It was only a one day trip and it was on a Wednesday. Some friends of ours offered to watch our kids and let us have a mini-vacation together. So, I packed my bags and we whisked off across the desert to Sin City.
After my husband was through with work, we decided it would be fun to go to a show. I really wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show, but since it was a Wednesday, shows were limited. My husband called the box office and asked what was available. The lady told him there were three options: O, Ka, and Zumanity. He asked what they were about and she said, “O is about water, Ka is about martial arts, and Zumanity is about animals.”
Since O was too expensive, I told my husband I was most interested in Zumanity. He bought the tickets.
As we were standing in line to get into the show, I looked around at the decorations and posters on display. I turned to my husband and said, “I’m not so sure that this is about animals.” I was right.
It was the most uncomfortable hour of my life–ever. I was not prepared for an entire production on lust. You can call me a prude, but it was disturbing to me to see people not clothed pretending like this was all supposed to “just be art.” It wasn’t art. It was live porn. I hated every minute of it and my husband squirmed in his seat the entire time. To this day, I still don’t know why we didn’t have the courage to walk out. At one point, I looked around at the audience and it was clear that my husband and I were the only ones not enjoying it. I didn’t like ogling the performers on stage. I felt sorry for them that they were putting themselves out there just so people could immerse themselves into a world a lust for an hour or so.
After the show, my husband and I walked to the car in utter silence. Neither of us knew what to say. At last I broke the silence and said, “That show made me feel like I need to go to confession.”
“I know. Me, too.” replied my husband. For the rest of the night I felt tainted and disappointed in myself.
So, what is lust according to St. Gregory?
“Lust also is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, Why enlargest thou not thyself now in thy pleasure, when thou knowest not what may follow thee? Thou oughtest not to lose in longings the time thou hast received; because thou knowest not how speedily it may pass by. For if God had not wished man to be united in the pleasure of coition, He would not, at the first beginning of the human race, have made them male and female.”
Laymen’s terms: Lust is in the habit of saying to our hearts, “Why in the world would you not give into sexual pleasure, when you don’t know the future? Don’t waste time longing for something. Just take it, because it may pass you by. If God didn’t want man to engage in sex than he wouldn’t have made us sexual creatures that desire each other.”
I think the important thing to remember here is that lust looks inward, not outward. It does not look to give, but to take from another. Lust says, “This person is pleasing to me. I want them for my own pleasure.”
Love says the opposite. Many people confuse lust with attraction. Of course, we have to be attracted to someone in order to want to start a romantic relationship with them. Attraction is often what brings people together. Your attraction, though, can still be ordered towards love. By this I mean, that you can still respect the person you are attracted to, still want what is best for them, and desire goodness for them.
We look around at our world today and it seems that there is story after story of someone giving into lust. Look at Hollywood and the many recent disclosures of sexual abuse by those in power over those who are vulnerable. Lust overtook and it didn’t matter what happened to the one being abused. All that mattered was that the abuser got what they wanted–pleasure.
Look at our politicians. Every time I turn on the news it’s another story of lust ruling the day. St. Gregory says that with lust comes, “blindness of mind, inconsiderateness, inconstancy, precipitation, self-love, hatred of God, affection for this present world, but dread or despair of that which is to come.”
Deep down we see how this is true. Lust is self-love. “I want what I want.” There is no consideration for the other, all that matters is the pleasure and so whatever means is necessary to obtain the ends is justified in the lustful one. You can see this rampant in the pornography world. Take a breeze through the comments section sometime of someone speaking out on porn and you will quickly feel deep sadness in your heart.
“I’m not hurting anyone.” BLINDNESS OF MIND
“They want to be doing this, so what’s the big deal? I’m actually giving them a paycheck. It’s consensual.” INCONSIDERATENESS
“I love my wife, but looking at porn is not that big of a deal. I love her and not the people on the screen. She just needs to stop being so sensitive.” INCONSTANCY (You cannot claim to love someone while deliberately causing them pain. Your words and actions are not consistent.)
“I’ll decide to just look for a moment and then I realize two hours have passed. PRECIPITATION
“You’re just a prude and I’m not doing anything wrong. Sex is good and we should enjoy it.” SELF-LOVE
“If God didn’t want us to like porn than he was pretty stupid in making us sexual creatures.” HATRED OF GOD
“I’m gonna live it up. I like porn. I like strip-clubs. If I want to do it, so what?” AFFECTION FOR THE PRESENT WORLD
As always God gives us a virtue to counter the vice. In this regard it’s chastity. When the Catholic Church speaks of chastity so many people think that what that means is that the Catholic Church hates sex. This is down-right absurd, but when people don’t want to hear truth, they make stuff up. If you read St. Pope John Paul II’s writings on sex and the body, you cannot possibly come away with the idea that the Church thinks sex is bad.
Chastity says that sex is so important, so valuable, so sacred that it should never be used as just a means to gain pleasure. Chastity requires of us sacrifice, temperance, discipline, and fortitude. The world encourages selfishness, indulgence, and a “hold-nothing-back” attitude. One seeks to love the other in the equation. The other seeks to love self. Chastity is hard, but I’ve never really met a person who was deeply wounded by someone acting within the virtue of chastity. I’ve met scores of people who have deep wounds because someone gave into lust. That should tell us something.
I think what bothered me so much that night watching that Cirque show was the fact that these people were not really seen as human beings. They were parading around on stage and only the body parts were seen–not the person. Many in the crowd were there lusting after them, but not loving them and that should never be our default setting. Sex is good. It is so good and special that it should never be used as a form of public entertainment. It is so good that we should not watch it on a screen, but engage it in with our spouse whom we love. It is so good that it should always be a gift of self to our spouse. Our attraction for someone should never make us lose sight of the dignity of the human person. We must always remember that fellow human beings are our brothers and sisters in Christ and it is our moral duty to do what is best for them and not for ourselves.
Authentic love is not a vague sentiment or a blind passion. It is an inner attitude that involves the whole human being. It is looking at others, not to use them but to serve them.”
–St. Pope John Paul II