“There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast. And that crusade is a matter for you.” - Saint Josemaria Escriva.
It could be said today that resisting the raging torrent of impurity is an act of heroic virtue in itself. On every corner we seem to be infected with a fresh dose of the sickness: unashamed sex on our screens, brazen immodesty in the way that both men and women dress, the easy availability of quick hookups, and a pervading sense that unabated carnal desire is the new normal - a testimony to the all-consuming pursuit of the flesh which seems to have overtaken the world.
Modern man is in danger of being defined by a spirit of lust and governed by passions. Barely a conversation can be held without it sooner or later (usually sooner) devolving into some sexual reference or innuendo. The generational mind has been polluted with this topic to the point of obsession and addiction; a topic once held as far too sacred to be even mentioned in public.
How does the Catholic man respond?
Of course, as Catholic men, fleeing occasions of impropriety or lust should be our primary concern. We see the truth in Saint Philip Neri’s maxim,“In the warfare of the flesh, only cowards gain the victory; that is to say, those who fly.”
All the decorum of the past has been lost. This means that a Catholic man in the modern world cannot rely on simply evading the things that might cause him to succumb. It is an unwelcome fact that impurity and immodesty are so ingrained in the culture as to make complete avoidance unlikely at best, and impossible at worst.
The practical solution then seems to be deliberate avoidance of occasions of lust as far as is possible and then to develop long-term the strength of will to resist or “look away” from the things that might cause the passions to become inflamed.
Custody of the Eyes
Developing the habit of “custody of the eyes” is one of the most vital and meritorious practices for the modern man to cultivate. This means that our will-power must be sufficiently strong to immediately look away when anything that increases desire comes into our frame of reference.
This might sound dramatic, and more than a little bit prudish, but it is only prudish in the eyes of a world that largely doesn’t believe in sin itself, never mind our own weakness in this regard and our inclination to fall at the slightest exposure to temptations.
Each time we wilfully indulge our eyes or senses - however briefly - with lustful company, images, or words, the spirit of lust gains strength within us, and becomes more entrenched, growing increasingly difficult to destroy. Alternatively, each and every time we resist, look away, overcome, turn the mind to other things, say the name of Jesus and Mary, we weaken greatly the spirit of lust, and foster instead the contrary virtue of chastity. With repeated acts of this kind good habits will gradually be ingrained and the battle will be won inch by inch and, eventually, the enemy driven out completely.
The Battleground of the Internet
The internet offers a whole new host of problems in this regard. Widespread and private access has resulted in a whole new temptation which the past generations did not have to contend with. A simple approach to this seems to be, “know thyself”. If you are at the beginning stages of the fight against impurity, where the will is weak and there still remains some attraction or allurement to these sins - rather than the fear and disgust which they should evoke - it becomes better to avoid the temptation entirely.
That being, place the laptop or computer in the living room, or in some communal space. Or perhaps cut the internet out for good? Take away the temptation ruthlessly, rather than falsely believing you are strong enough to withstand it.
The word “ruthless” is pertinent here. Constantly be aware of the lies that the world believes; that these sins are in some way normal, inevitable, and that “everybody does them”. They are not normal, have never been normal, and are very much conquerable if resisted.
To “know thyself” requires a great level of caution for all, regardless of one’s past or any other factor. There should be nothing but a healthy caution with the internet, knowing fully that the temptation is far too insidious to be taken lightly. And even without directly seeking out the kind of content we are discussing; it can be only a click or two away from a slightly racy news article or simply stumbled on very much by accident.
This makes it very important - and not at all over dramatic - to never be careless on the internet. We should make it a goal to limit the use of the internet to only necessary and beneficial purposes.
Solve and Resolve Through Divine Grace
The most instrumental and necessary factor in overcoming lust is Divine Grace. That is all. Not cold showers, a change in diet, intense exercise, or any other of the myriad tactics employed - to a greater or lesser success rate - by some men. It’s not that practices like this are bad, or do not work; it is just the case that cultivating and maintaining chastity is only possible by Grace.
Therefore, the single and most important factors in overcoming lust are prayer and the sacraments.
Firstly, regular confession and Holy Communion, coupled with petitions to God for an increase in the beautiful virtues of Purity and Chastity.
Devotion to Saint Joseph, as a great saint of purity, should also be fostered by all. Just saying the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the saints are incredibly powerful when a temptation to lust occurs. Saint Alphonsus Liguori says:
“It is well known, and is daily experienced by the clients of Mary, that her powerful name gives the particular strength necessary to overcome temptations against purity.”
Other Saints to invoke are Saint Maria Goretti, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, and Saint Winifred.
Above all, we should maintain a keen devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, through praying the Rosary daily and attaching the petition of “an increase in purity and chastity” to the beginning of each decade.
Certainly the spirit of lust is no match for the Holy Rosary, and any soul serious about conquering this snare could do no better than fiercely clinging to this weapon and using it with fervour. This powerful quote has proven true throughout the centuries and, indeed, in my own life in a multitude of issues:
“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.” - Sister Lucia dos Santos of Fatima
Henry Walker is 24 years old, a traditional Catholic and a freelance writer, focusing on the Mass, Catholic devotions and his encounters with the Faith from a personal standpoint. He originally hoped to be a journalist, but ended up (somehow) pursuing a career in Engineering. As a single Catholic man, born in the nineties, he wants to share with other young men what he has come to discover as the greatest treasure and blessing: the Catholic Faith! Aside from this, he likes to keep fit: box, run, and climb beautiful mountain ranges