1. Always Flee
The Spiritual writers tell us that every deadly sin can be faced and conquered. For every deadly sin, we can cultivate the contrary virtue even while facing circumstances which provoke these sins. For example, to conquer anger, we can seek out the person that annoys us and intentionally speak kindly to them.
This holds true for every deadly sin except lust. This sin, because it comes from the generative power in man, as Scupoli writes, must always been avoided at all costs (The Spiritual Combat, ch. 19). There is never a time when a man should willfully put himself near any hint of temptation against purity. It is not conquered by facing it, but by flight. No man should ever presume himself strong enough to face this sin and survive. This holds for both a married man and a man who is not married. The lives of saints are replete with stories in which men took drastic action to avoid lust, or else perished. Scupoli writes:
Do not presume on your own strength despite the fact that after many years spent in the world you have remained firm against the force of concupiscence. For lust often achieves in one instant what whole years could not effect. Sometimes it will make long preparations for the assault. Then the wound is more dangerous when it comes least expected and under a disguise (The Spiritual Combat, ch. 19).
Therefore, immediately stop watching movies that have this suggestive content. Immediately turn away from all immodesty forced in front of you. Your spouse is the only one you should ever look upon–and even then, only with moderation. Always flee from this sin and be more willing to die than expose yourself to it. If you are forced by some necessity to be exposed, then keep your eyes down as much as possible and speak abruptly without forsaking charity. The spiritual writers are very clear on this: do not allow a false obligation to courtesy make you put down your guard with others.
2. Accountability and Frequent Confession
Once you have acknowledged that you are powerless against lust and must always flee, you have to get another man to be your accountability partner. This man’s job is to keep you accountable to your good resolutions to conquer lust. He is someone to challenge you to fight manfully against this sin, and also someone to call upon when you are being tempted.
It is important to note that your accountability partner should not be your woman. Your woman needs to be able to rely on you to be the rock and confessing your sins to her (especially those of the flesh) only causes her grief and fear. Confess your falls to your brother, not your woman. Your bother will strengthen you, but your woman will be harmed by this.
Then you must frequent Confession. Confession absolves your sin, but also gives grace to overcome future sins. Thus also you must remember to confess mortal sins against lust even if you have not committed them since your last confession. Provided you are not falling into scrupulosity (see below), confessing your past mortal sins gives grace to not fall into them in the future. This is a lesser known teaching about the Sacrament and some priests who are not well-formed will actually try to prevent this. But understand that this type of confession (called a “confession of devotion”) is a great help for growing in holiness and overcoming lust.
3. Take refuge with the Blessed Virgin Mary
Our Lady is the Mother of Purity. Run to her when you flee of this temptation. Consider her Immaculate Heart and her Perpetual Virginity. She is your Mother. St. John Cassian says to think about your sister or mother when encountering this sin (The Institutes, Bk. VI). And who is more Immaculate or more our Mother than Our Lady?
When we run to Our Lady we feel ashamed of our weak nature in feeling the attraction to impurity. But instead of rejecting us, she helps us with the tenderness of a mother and gives us protection. If we have been unfortunate to fall into this sin, she keeps us from falling into despair and helps us return to the Lord.
Moreover, Our Lady is the most powerful human to obtain the grace of chastity to overcome this demon. What our own prayer cannot obtain, she obtains by her prayers. It shows the Lord humility when we ask Our Lady for help, because we acknowledge our unworthiness before Him. This humility fights against the pride of presumption when can cause a fall if you do not flee.
Finally, pray the Rosary. Mental prayer is essential for holiness but in particular this sin uses images to cause men to fall. The Holy Rosary is the easiest and most effective way to practice mental prayer. Take refuge in the mysteries of our Lord and our Lady and entrust yourself to her care.
4. Reject all scrupulosity
Prummer defines scrupulosity as “a state of groundless fear rather than the judgment of a sound mind” (no. 144). He identifies the signs of scruples: an excessive anxiety about previous confessions, protracted accusations of irrelevant details, stubbornness which refuses to accept the decisions of the confessor. Scrupulosity is really rooted in pride and it is cunning trick of the Devil to use sin as an occasion for this greater sin of pride. One must always maintain peace of mind, even after a fall into sin. Recognize your utter dependence upon God’s grace to overcome this, and pray in the words of Scupoli:
WHEN YOU REALIZE that you have been wounded by sin, whether through weakness or malice, do not lose your courage or become panic-stricken. Turn to God with a great and humble confidence saying: “See, O Master, what I am able to do. When I rely on my own strength, I commit nothing but sins.”
Meditating on this, recognize the extent of your humiliation and express to our Lord your sorrow for the offense committed. With an unperturbed heart, indict your vicious passions, especially the one that has occasioned your fall, and confess: “O Lord, I would not have stopped at this had not Your goodness restrained me.”
Give thanks to God, and more than ever give to Him the complete love of your heart. What generosity on His part! You have offended Him and, despite this, He extends His hand to prevent another fall (Spiritual Combat, ch. 26).
The Enemy wishes to make you fall, and then by scrupulosity to increase your pride and blindness and reliance on your self. Reject his machinations. If you fall, use the occasion for a greater humility and greater dependence upon God. Maintain your peace and run to confession.
5. Pray the violent Psalms and fast
Most unfortunately, the reform of the Liturgy of the Hours removed much of the violent imagery from the Church’s prayer book, the Holy Psalter. Our fathers used these verses to combat the very violent passions–especially lust–with a greater spiritual violence. The passion of lust is, in one sense, the most powerful temptation because it is imbedded in our nature to procreate. Thus all unlawful desire must be cut off violently without a moment’s hesitation, or else we quickly run the risk of consenting and falling into sin. Hear the words of the Doctor of Moral Theology:
It is necessary to remark, that, when the thought which excites the delight is against chastity, we are, according to the common opinion of theologians, bound under pain of mortal sin to give a positive resistance to the delectation caused by the thought; because, if not resisted, the delight easily obtains the consent of the will. ”Unless a person repel delectations,” says St. Anselm, ”the delight passes to consent, and kills the soul” (S. Ans. Simil., c. xl.). Hence, though a person should not consent to the sin, if he delight in the obscene object, and do not endeavor to resist the delectation, he is guilty of a mortal sin, by exposing himself to the proximate danger of consent (St. Alphonsus, Sermon XVIII Sun. after Pentecost).
Therefore, let a man employ the weapons of prayer given by the Prophet:
In thy mercy thou wilt destroy my enemies. And thou wilt cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant (Ps. cxlii. 12).
Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and be ashamed very speedily (Ps. vi. 11).
And I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind; I shall bring them to nought, like the dirt in the streets (Ps. xvii. 43).
In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land: that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord (Ps. c. 8).
For more, see the Seven Penitential Psalms.
With this, you must fast. This is because lust is in the concupiscible appetite, which is your faculty which desires bodily goods–both the marital debt and food. Thus when we abstain from food, we are subduing the same faculty that is tempted in lust. Therefore fasting is essential to acquire chastity over your concupiscible appetite. Chastity is vital whether you are married or not, so let every man rise to the fight and conquer this demon which grips our world today. Victory is possible, as all our Fathers attest. Do not lose hope and rise again and again to the battle until your enemy is crushed. All nations compassed me about; and in the name of the Lord I will destroy them (Ps. cxvii. 10).
Timothy S. Flanders