Theology of the Body // Lust

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Matthew 15:18-20  Psalm 51

Lust is not something I’ve often heard addressed by speakers at women's conferences or retreats, or even blogs or books. Despite the many forms it could take on—unchastity in relationships or “hooking up,” fornication, contraception, pornography—it is a sin generally associated with men alone. As someone who has struggled with chastity and fought against lust throughout my single and dating years, and shared my struggles with other women, I can promise you that this is a sin that affects both men and women equally. Just like it affected both Adam and Eve.

Pope St John Paul II in his Theology of the Body says that lust (or concupiscence) is the fruit of the breaking of the covenant established by God and Man in Genesis. God’s covenant with our first parents is simple enough in its understanding—Adam “gets” God and God “gets” Adam, meaning that humanity and God existed in a total and perfect union with one another. Not only was humanity in perfect unity with God,  but because of this they were able to be in perfect union with the other members of humanity. But this covenant, this unity, was broken when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.

Immediately after eating the fruit of the tree, we see Adam and Eve experience shame of their nakedness. Not only does this indicate a losing of their original innocence,  but it also represents the change in the relationship humanity has with God and others. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover up their nakedness, and Pope St. John Paul II says that this is the moment lust entered the world. Our first parents could no longer stand completely naked without fear; they could no longer give their entire selves perfectly to the other. Where they once stood as subjects, loved for their own sake, they are now in danger of becoming mere objects to the other, something to be used instead of someone to cherish.

The sign of the original covenant between God and man was marriage. Marriage, an interpersonal relationship and the union of a man and a woman, was the physical sign of humanity's relationship with God. Lust also implies an interpersonal relationship, but this sin twists the relationship to show only the brokenness of this covenant.  Thankfully, what was twisted by sin can be untwisted by grace. Where lust causes disunity, the Lord can create unity once again.

While our gift of self may not be that perfect gift that He originally intended for us, and while our relationship with Him may have been damaged by choosing to sin, God redeemed our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. He made it not only possible but necessary for us to give ourselves as a gift to another. We are participants in the new covenant, and we were made for heaven. We were made to dwell in perfect union with God and our sisters and brothers for all eternity. To do that, however, we must follow Christ’s example. We must continually die to the desires of the flesh, and choose to act with sacrificial love.

Reflect: Do you treat others as subjects (loved for their own sake) or as objects (dignity found in their usefulness to you)? In what ways can you make yourself a gift to the people in your life? Do you see yourself as a subject or an object? How can you better see yourself as a gift?

Act: Intentionally incorporate one or more of your answers from the reflection questions into your week.