If we are to be holy, we should guard our eyes very carefully.
This is taken from the reflection on Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
John Paul II acknowledged that these are severe words. But he asked, are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their power to save us? (see Theology of the Body, Oct 8, 1980). These words have power to save us because the one who speaks them is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
Lust obscures God’s original plan
Most people see in Christ’s words only a condemnation. Do we forget that Christ came into the world not to condemn, but to save? (see Jn 3:17). Christ’s words about lust call us back to the original truth of the body and sexuality. As part of the heritage of original sin, lust obscures in each of us God’s original, beautiful plan for the body and sexual love – but it hasn’t snuffed it out. John Paul II insisted that the heritage of our hearts is deeper than lust and the words of Christ reactivate that deeper heritage giving it real power in our lives (see TOB, Oct 29, 1980).
Imagine the human heart as a deep well. Starting from the top we have to pass through layers of muddy waters. But if we press through, at the bottom of the well we’ll find a spring that, when activated, can gradually fill the well to overflow with pure, living water.
Lustful Look at the Human Body
If we think a “lustful look” is the only way a person can look at the human body, then we subscribe to what John Paul II called “the interpretation of suspicion.” Those who live by suspicion remain so locked in their own lusts that they project the same bondage on to everyone else. They can’t imagine any way to think about the human body and the sexual relationship other than through the prism of lust.
When we hold the human heart in a state of irreversible suspicion because of lust, we condemn ourselves to a hopeless, loveless existence. As St. Paul warns us, we must avoid the trap of “holding the form of religion” while “denying the power of it” (2 Tim 3:5). “Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel called, and called with efficacy” (TOB, Oct 29, 1980). In other words, the death and resurrection of Christ is effective. It can change our lives, our attitudes, our hearts. Yes – Christ’s death and resurrection can change the way we experience sexual desire, away from lust and toward the truth of divine love.
The Interpretation of Suspicion
Much is at stake. As John Paul II stated, “The meaning of life is the antithesis of the interpretation ‘of suspicion.’ This interpretation is very different, it is radically different from what we discover in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount.” Christ’s words about lust “reveal …another vision of man’s possibilities” (Oct 29, 1980). Christ’s words reveal the possibility of loving as God loves – not despite our sexuality but in and through it.
John Paul II observed that this demands “perseverance and consistency” in learning the meaning of our bodies, the meaning of our sexuality. We must learn this not only in the abstract (although this, too, is necessary), but above all in the interior reactions of our own “hearts.” This is a “science,” the Pope said, which can’t really be learned only from books, because it’s a question here of deep knowledge of our interior life.
Deep in the heart we learn to distinguish between what, on the one hand, composes the great riches of sexuality and sexual attraction, and what, on the other hand, bears only the sign of lust. And although these internal movements of the heart can sometimes be confused with one another, we have been called by Christ to acquire a mature and complete evaluation.