She is full of pain and regret… They found her, they know what she did…what she has been doing for a long time. They think they know her…but they don’t. They blow her with accusations and condemnations…she is alone… They drag her through the streets…a monster…a wretched woman… “a terrible woman this is!…” They drag her…drag her through the sand and dust…she is full of scratches and bruises…her mind goes to thoughts of her childhood…whatever happened to that innocent child? Where did she go? She is now on her way to death…bleeding…embarrassed…condemned. “I was only looking for someone to love me,” cries that inner child within her… “I just wanted someone to love me!” She hears the jeering crowd…”Stone her! Stone the adulteress!” Her heart beating…sweat pouring down her face…struggles for breath…and then the question: “Master…this woman was caught in adultery…she ought to be stoned according to the law!” This woman…this woman…they don’t even know her name…a sinner…nameless.
Then, she turns her head to get a glimpse of the man…this man they call “Master”…he bends down…he is writing something…what is he writing? She listens through her tears and guilt…”will he also condemn me?” With a voice too beautiful for words…but at the same time with authority, she hears “He who is without sin, cast the first stone!” “What? What did He just say? Is he trying to help me?” All of a sudden, with thuds almost like thunder, the stones hit the ground…she feels faint…her body is shaking now…she hears the footsteps of the men moving further away…she hears the man walk step by step toward her…tears fall down her face…”why did he help me? Why didn’t he condemn me, like all the others?” Then He spoke…and his words were like a sword to her heart: “Where are your accusers? Has anyone condemned you?” With tears running down her cheeks…she knew they had all gone…she finds her courage turns her head to look at this man’s face…through a parched throat and barely being able to bring the words to her lips: “No, no one…” then, all at once, she sees her life flash before her eyes…she thought of all her sins, imperfections, mistakes…and she felt the guilt…the shame. Then, almost as if to stop her from her running thoughts, the man says, “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more…” His words cut her to the heart…inside the core of her being…like a gentle breeze she hears…”Daughter.”
Jesus…He knows us through and through. We have all at some point felt like this woman: condemned, abandoned and alone. We have all at some point given in to temptation of some kind…have we allowed ourselves to look into the eyes of the Saviour and hear the words: “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more?”
I am always fascinated by the fact that Jesus was able to see into the hearts of all people…He knew the weakness there…He knew their goodness. He saw the desires of those he met: the desire for knowledge and understanding in Nicodemus, the desire for consolation in Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the desire for companionship in His Apostles. But there is one character in the Gospels that I would like to focus on and that is the woman caught in adultery. What was her desire? What was she looking for when she looked into the eyes of the Saviour? She was looking for love. Sometimes we look for love in the wrong places…in the wrong ways. But God in his mercy knows our weakness and our needs and offers us the love that we are looking for…but we need to have the courage to turn our head and look into the eyes of the Saviour… just like the woman caught in adultery did.
Now…we have been talking about the seven deadly sins and how they can appear in our spiritual life. We have talked about spiritual pride, and spiritual avarice so far…now we are going to take the very delicate topic of spiritual lust. Keep in mind that we are going through the passive purgations…basically God is taking our weakness at the root…and so he is allowing a purgation to happen…painful but necessary.
When we think of lust…we often think of a person trying to gratify, or satisfy their sexual desires and drives but in a way that goes totally against God’s will and God’s purposes. St. John of the Cross points out that it is possible for people growing in the spiritual life to experience a type of spiritual lust in the midst of prayer because “there is a close link between the spiritual and the sensory, joy and delight in the spiritual can trigger sensory activity.” (The Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin pg. 340).
St. John of the Cross says, “It happens frequently that in a person’s spiritual exercises themselves, without the person being able to avoid it, impure movements will be experienced in the sensory part of the soul, and even sometimes when the spirit is deep in prayer, or when receiving the sacraments of Penance or the Eucharist…while in deep prayer, it will conversely passively experience sensual rebellions, movements and acts in the senses, not without its own great displeasure…Once the sensory part is reformed through the purgation of the dark night, it no longer has these infirmities…” (St. John of the Cross. Dark Night bk 1. Chapter 4 no.1 pg 367).
Basically, St. John of the Cross is saying that it is possible for someone to experience a physical arousal in the midst of spiritual activity. This is a very painful and difficult purgation which can have three causes:
- The body and soul has a unity that is so complete that the spirit is delighted and overflows into the sensory part of the soul and thus the individual experiences sexual arousal.
- The devil puts impure images in the person’s mind in order to arouse the passions in order to disturb the soul and draw them away from prayer…this is when we need to pray that Our Lady steps on the evil serpent! Remember the evil one wants you to stop praying…Don’t stop praying…this is a time for battle!
- Fear of such temptations can often stir them up due to a repressed sexuality. Someone can actually fear union with another person…or even fear temptations to impurity.
When going through temptations, it is easy to blame ourselves and condemn ourselves and maybe even feel condemned by others just like the woman caught in adultery. Throw yourself into the arms of the merciful Saviour who loves you more then you know. When this temptation of spiritual lust happens, God is wanting to elevate the virtue of chastity in the person. Once the person experiencing these temptations takes the necessary steps toward healing, there will be major transformation in their life! Relationships and friendships will be more generous and self-giving rather than selfish and greedy.
St. John of the Cross also points out that when people are going through the purgation of spiritual lust, “attractions” to other people, may be a form of lust, not necessarily romantic, or sexual…but “possessive” in nature. He says, “This lustful origin will be recognized if, on recalling that affection, there is remorse of conscience, not an increase in the remembrance and love of God…The affection is purely spiritual if the love of God grows, when it grows, or if the love of God is remembered as often as the affection is remembered…” St. John of the Cross. Dark night. bk 1. ch. 4 no. 7 pg 369.
It is good to have relationships and friendships. Some of the greatest saints of all time had great friendships: Francis and Clare, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila…their friendships brought them closer to Christ. They wanted each other to attain heaven! And so they helped each other on the way to heaven…that is a good friendship when we can help each other get to heaven. We must turn to the saints in simplicity and ask for their help.
Sexual temptations and trials such as Spiritual lust are not uncommon in the lives of the saints. For example, St. Catherine of Sienna comes to mind, who experienced extreme lustful temptations. She asked our Lord: “Lord where were you when my heart was so tormented?” He responded: “I was in the center of your heart.” All people who suffer from lustful temptations, remember that Jesus is in your heart fighting the battle. He is right there! Don’t lose heart! Just keep turning to Jesus and everything will be okay. I also think of the great St. Augustine who struggled a long time with temptations against purity and chastity.
What can be done if someone finds themselves struggling with spiritual lust:
- Keep praying! DO NOT stop praying, especially to Mary, St. Joseph and the Saints.
- Stay close to the Sacraments…bring this temptation to Confession as painful and embarrassing as it feels. It is good to have a frequent Confessor who knows the pain that you are undergoing…and who can provide some wise counsel and advice.
- Having good and frequent Spiritual Direction can also help assist you through this. Keep in mind that you are worth the time to heal!
- The worse thing to do is to be afraid. Keep your focus on Jesus in prayer and ignore the arousal.
- Prayer and fasting go together! With the help of your spiritual director/confessor you can come up with a plan for fasting (what is possible for you keeping in mind your physical, emotional and mental health) from things you desire and crave. Fasting is an excellent way to let go of the instant desire to satisfy our senses and embrace sacrifice. Fasting will make you stronger in times of temptation.
There is so much that can be said about living a chaste life that I am really only scratching the surface. I really hope to have posts in the future taking this topic further. Expert, I am not (wow I sound like Yoda) but I would like to address topics in the future related to chastity that hopefully will help you in your journey! Just let me know what you think in the comments box!
So overall…we turn to Mary, the chaste, pure Mother of God and St. Joseph who is the guardian of virgins and guardian of those who are chaste to pray for all people that we will keep our bodies and souls pure as temples of the Holy Spirit.
God bless you for reading such a long post!