In the second of the seven sections of the Theology of the Body, we see what happened when sin invaded that communion of persons in love between Adam and Eve, and between them and God. They distrusted God, and that lack of trust that was their disobedience led to the rupture of those two communions. The result of that rupture was that man became subject to lust; there was a war in his heart. The choice of loving, the desire to give themselves to one another in love which God had put in their hearts and lusting, the taking of another [person], appropriating another's values for one's own interests. That war between lust and love has gone on in man's heart throughout history. We discovered that Christ is calling man back to this purity of heart, to the communion of person's. What happens when lust breaks this communion? Man begins to desire woman just for his own benefit, and that can even invade the marriage.
Christ says, "Whoever lusts after a woman has committed adultery with her in his heart." In a very controversial part of that series of catechizes on lust, Pope John Paul II said that even a husband can commit adultery with his wife if he lusts after her in his heart. That led to a lot of criticism. Critics asked how could someone commit adultery in the heart with someone with whom he couldn't even commit adultery with in the body; in other words, by lusting after his wife.
And Pope John Paul II said, listen, Christ said that when a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he has already committed adultery. That is what can happen, even in a marriage if husband and wife start to take each others gifts, rather than see their marriage as this continual call to greater self-giving and self-acceptance of the other. When that happens, the marital love starts to be corroded, which is one of the causes of so many divorces in our day. Pope John Paul II was completely right.
Looking at this in a practical way though, what can a man and a woman, with a heart that is prone to lust, do to recover the type of purity of heart to which Christ calls them? Pope John Paul II, in his third section of Theology of the Body avails himself of many of St. Paul's letters to try to give man and woman practical advice of how to achieve this goal.
Why did John Paul II refer to St. Paul so much? Well, St. Paul lived in an era that, while he was preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles throughout modern-day Turkey and throughout modern-day Greece, even in Rome, he noticed that the Gentiles, because of the way sex was treated in the Roman Empire, oftentimes were very guilty of the type of lust of the heart which Jesus had come to try to cure.
And in his pastoral letters to each of those church communities, when he was tackling those problems that they were experiencing, he wanted specifically to address this lust in the heart, because just as we talked about last time, lust can change the entire intentionality of the human person, all his actions and relations with others, from giving of himself out of love, to taking out of lust. And so St. Paul, when writing his pastoral letters, would obviously have tackled one of the causes that could lead man to become exactly whom God does not want him to be.
Pope John Paul II frames his entire discussion on the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Ch. 8 (Romans 8:5-10). Let's hear what St. Paul writes: "For those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh but those who live according to the spirit, set their minds on things of the spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace. For this reason, the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot. And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the spirit since the spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to him, but if Christ is in you, then you have His life within you. The spirit is life because of righteousness."
Pope John Paul II takes St. Paul's contrast of life according to the spirit and life according to the flesh, and uses it to frame his entire discussion. What Christ asks of all of us, who have been redeemed by Him, is to receive that gift of redemption and live according to the spirit of Christ. We are in that spirit by our baptism; we are called to structure our own choices in accordance with it, against the will of the flesh. When St. Paul uses that word "flesh," he does not mean "body." St. Paul has another word for body, and the body is made good by God, although it is tempted. When he uses the word "flesh" he is describing precisely what St. John talked about when he described the three-fold lusts; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
There needs to be a redemption of that because this is the war that goes on in man's heart between lust and love. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, describes what the consequences are of these two pathways, this choice that man has between whether he is going to live according to the spirit, or whether he's going to live according to the flesh.
This is what St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia who were suffering under that temptation to live according to lust (Galatians 5:19-20). "Now the works of the flesh are obvious. Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I'm warning you, as I warned you before: those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things."
This is a huge contrast that St. Paul makes and you notice a couple things in what he said. First, the works of the flesh are not exclusively what we would call carnal works of disordered sexuality. There are some of those: fornication, impurity, and licentiousness. But then because lust transforms the entire personality of the man, it also lends into all types of other sins: idolatry, sorcery, enmity, jealousy, anger, factions, envy; all things such as these.
And those are works because man has done them. St. Paul contrasts those works, with what he says are the fruit of life according to the spirit. A fruit, because it is a combination of God's love and our love, the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and our faithful response to it. And listen, these are the types of things that each of us wants to experience in our life, in our loving relationships with others and with God: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control. And so, for man to live according to the spirit, he needs to allow the life of the spirit to invade his heart and to become his own.
If the heart is pure, all things are pure. Let's read what St. Paul wrote in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:15): "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure. Their minds and consciences are corrupted." At the foundation of man's heart, he is either a lover or a lust(er); he is a giver or a taker. If he truly is a giver, all things are pure to him, but if he is a luster, all his relationships, indeed his entire life, will be corrupted.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, calls us to put to death that life of the flesh, just as Jesus said in terms of sexual sins. "If your eye is your problem, pluck it out and toss it away; better for you to enter into life with one eye, than with both eyes to enter into Gehenna. Or, if your hand is your problem, cut it off and toss it away; better for you to enter into the life maimed then for you to enter into Gehenna with both hands." Christ is calling us to be brutally honest. Not to take literally what he says, to take out knives and start to use our fingers in ways like that, but what He specifically calls us to do is if we are being led by our heart to these sins of the flesh, to brutally cut those out for the sake of saving the entire body, for saving the entire life.
St. Paul says the same thing in his letter to the Romans. We are debtors of the flesh, this means not to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh you will die but if, by the spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. St. Paul was very clear in this letter to the Romans that living according to the flesh is mortal and he tells us we will die.
That is what ultimately is meant by a mortal sin; when we use our freedom, rather than to love, to take advantage of somebody else for our own benefit. This brings us to the central point that Christ uses throughout the Sermon on the Mount which is the point of human freedom, God created us free. Free, ultimately so we could love. No one can ever be forced to love; you can't go up to somebody with a gun next to his head and say, "Do you love me?" Even if he were to say yes, it wouldn't be true.
That love is an authentic response and in order to be able to respond in love, man needed to be free to do it. But in freedom, man also has the capacity not to love; to lust, to take advantage, to use somebody else. And that choice, when man makes it, leads to death in this life and in the next.
The choice is ours. Jesus knows that it's a hard choice for us to make but what is very important is that Jesus, through His redemption, has made it possible for man to choose well. And He has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we might choose well. The greatest action that we can do as a Christian is to say fully "yes" to the action of the Holy Spirit, much like Mary did in Nazareth when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and Christ's own flesh took on her flesh.
So in our saying "yes" to the Holy Spirit, Christ redeemed the body, Christ redeemed the flesh, which will become our own too over time. Pope John Paul II, in focusing on St. Paul's letters, basically follows the idea of his inspiration from the Holy Spirit, to write to the Gentiles caught under the concupiscence of the flesh 2000 years ago, telling them how to overcome it in a practical manner.
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4: 3-5) gets even more specific on how that needs to be done. In the fourth chapter, he says, "This is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from unchastity, that each of you knows how to control his body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathens that do not know God."
St. Paul says very clearly that God's Will for us is holiness; He wants us to be a saint! But in order for that to come about, the first thing we need to do, he tells us, is to abstain from all unchastity; to kick out, to evict lust from our hearts and hold our body in holiness and honor. Holiness is not just a thing about our wishes and about our spirit and our soul. Holiness is supposed to be something that thoroughly invades our entire personality shown through the body.
So we need to hold that body in holiness; we need to hold it in honor. Pope John Paul II explores what St. Paul means by this "holiness in honor" on the basis of another letter St. Paul writes to the Corinthians. Out of all the communities to which St. Paul would write Corinth was probably the one caught most under the concupiscence of the flesh. They were the most licentious community in all of Greece.
St. Paul talks in that letter about the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, and he uses an analogy of human experience, about holding certain parts of the body in greater honor. Pope John Paul II says that St. Paul uses the sexual analogy to describe the Church. But insofar as to what St. Paul wrote about the sexual analogy meant that through the analogy of the human body, we can learn much more of what he means about holding our body in honor.
In the twelfth chapter, in that first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:18-25), St. Paul writes, "But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them as he chose. If all were a single member what would the body be, where would it be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand,'I don't need you,'nor again the head to the feet,'I have no need of you.'On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable and those members of the body that we think less honorable, we cloth with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, whereas our more respectable members do not need this. God has so arranged the body, giving greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body but that the members may have the same care for one another."
What St. Paul is saying, by way of analogy with the Church is that by modesty we hold our inferior members, our sexual parts, in greater honor; that we cover them up and we treat them with greater respect.
That's the type of shame that has a good aspect to it. In the lust that has invaded man's heart, there is a two-fold shame. First, they were ashamed of each other; they were ashamed because they were lusting after each other. As a consequence, to prevent that type of sexual utilitarianism, Adam and Eve covered their sexual parts, less they be an object of appropriation for the other.
But there was also a positive side to shame which called man back to how God had originally made him, to that nuptial meaning of the body, in that they were protecting that nuptial meaning in the body by their covering up those inferior members.
St. Paul says that one of the practical consequences of treating the body in holiness and honor is to be modest with those sexual parts so that someone else cannot do them dishonor, and so that one person cannot do them dishonor in his own body by exposing them for the intentional gratification of other people. That is precisely what happens in pornography, and that is precisely what happens in all sorts of sexual exhibitionism which can happen, even when people wear clothes.
In each of these two last passages, St. Paul reveals that the Christian virtue of purity is the effective way to become detached from the lust of the flesh in the human heart. According to St. Paul, purity is a capacity centered on the dignity of the person's relation to the femininity or masculinity of the other person's body. Purity is a virtue, purity is a set of choices, a habit in the human heart that allows man and woman to treat their own body and the other person's body in holiness and honor.
Without doing so, man and woman can never become the saints that God calls them to be. And read what St. Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 6:15-20), "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ. Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them the members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, the two shall become one flesh. But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Therefore shun fornication. Every sin that a person commits is outside the body but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a great price. Therefore, glorify God in your body."
St. Paul describes two things: first, when we make love, when we become united in the flesh with somebody else, that's meant to be a covenantal experience of the communion of persons. And when we do that with a prostitute, we become one body with that prostitute. Think about what that means, with the use of the second part of that teaching of St. Paul: that the body is meant to be a temple of the Holy Spirit and anytime we live according to the flesh, while our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit it would be like desecrating the Church; desecrating a temple where God lives. None of us would ever think about committing a sacrilege like that, if we are faithful. But that is precisely what we do when we live according to the flesh. Christ, St. Paul, Pope John Paul II and I call us away from that.
Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit because Christ redeemed the body and made His Body the Tabernacle of God in the flesh. In order for us therefore to live according to the spirit, Pope John Paul II says there needs to be piety associated with this purity of heart. Piety is the virtue that helps us to treat the things of God as they deserve to be treated. Our body is not our own; it's meant to be treated as we treat God.
What an incredible mystery and what an incredible truth and summons that is! Purity is the glory of the human body before God. The positive good opened up by the overcoming of desire; that is what life in the spirit ultimately means.
Christ's teaching on the human body is a pedagogy, a series of truths on the basis of which Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body is made. Christ, in calling us to live according to the spirit, to shun immorality, to hold our body in holiness and honor, to glorify God in our body, to never look on a woman with lust in our hearts, is calling us to be the saints He created us to be from the beginning.
Fr. Roger Landry
This is the final part of the transcript of a talk by Fr. Roger Landry that has aired multiple times on EWTN and that has been posted to YouTube. Father Landry is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and executive editor of the Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River. His homilies and articles are found at catholicpreaching.com.