Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The Battle for Purity

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Ten Steps when faced by temptations to Unchastity

Some of these steps are adapted from the book ‘Christian Totality’ by Fr. Basil Cole OP and Fr. Paul Connor OP

Short term immediate reaction:
(1) Do not panic in your first awareness of the temptation –panic gives more power to the Tempter.

(2) Make an immediate (but brief) internal ‘no’ to the temptation.

(3) Make a short prayer for protection against the temptation.

(4) Distract your mind by thinking about something else.
Think about either something you find interesting (a good movie or novel), or absorbing (work problems), or pious (the sufferings of Christ on the Cross). i.e. do not panic yourself in fighting the impure thought (trying to ‘not think about it’ just makes you think even more about the very thing that you are trying not to think about!).
Thus, instead of fighting the thought, gently move your thoughts to another topic.

Longer term reaction, after the temptation has passed:
(5) Try to forget about the temptation,
or else it will lead to a recurrence of the same thought.
This also helps to avoid scruples in this regard. Simply move on to other things. Confess your degree of consent to the temptation, i.e. was it brief and passing consent, or more prolonged; was it consent in thought, or in word, or in deed. Then, after confessing it, forget about it and know you’re forgiven.

(6) Learn to re-channel your energy in activity
–otherwise sexual tension can increase.
Therefore do exercise; work; play.
Boredom is a great opening to impurity. Boredom, in this context, means a lack of feeling satisfied.
Healthy busy-ness in work can be an important way to avoid impurity.

(7) Learn to avoid occasions of sin –by experience.
E.g. Late night internet; lying in bed when not asleep.
Such ‘occasions’ are different for each person –you are not the same as your friend.
E.g. movies, beer, beachwear. Question: How do YOU respond to these situations?
Know yourself –know the situations and times that you tend to be tempted. Plan to avoid to these situations.
Remember that temptations can help us grow in grace, by overcoming them. But do not seek temptation.

(8) Work on the ‘allied’ virtues -as listed below
The virtues all inter-relate. Thus, even if you seem powerless before your struggles against purity, you can still work on these other virtues and thus indirectly grow in purity. i.e. do not despair.

(9) Self-Esteem
Compulsive masturbation can often be linked to a lack of self-esteem –the individual somehow feels more ‘sexual’ and mature this way. Working to feel more content about oneself in other aspects of life can help build a self-esteem that is not just the hollow myth vainly fostered by pop psychologists.

(10) Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin -Last but certainly not least!
Prayer helps us grow in our love of God and grow in our sense of being satisfied by his love for us. Loving God helps direct our desires to their ultimate and all-integrating end. A pure love for God only has affections for people (and things) in as much as such affections are part of our pure love.
The Blessed Sacrament is the earthly physical focus for our love of God, and it is our earthly physical focus for directing our devotions to counter disorder in our physical passions.
The Blessed Virgin is she who loved and loves purely, and can help us to do the same.
A daily half-hour of mental prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is a pivotal aid in purity.

Chastity –the Allied Virtues that we need cultivate:
c.f. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

(a) Temperance –chastity is part of temperance (temperance is also called ‘moderation’).
Learning moderation and self-mastery in other pleasures will help us in our self-mastery in purity.
E.g. food, alcohol, conversation (don’t always engage in conversation for the sake of your own pleasure, but speak so as to listen and help others).
Regular (but moderate) fasting is a very important part of this.

(b) ‘Play’ –this is an important a virtue! Esp. Exercise and sports
There is such a thing as too much play, but there is also such a thing as a lack of it.
The lack of play in our lives can sometimes be due to pride (we foolishly think that we are strong enough to not need to relax). The soul’s rest is in pleasure (ST II-II q168 a2). God intends us to rest the body and spirit in licit pleasures. When we deny ourselves licit pleasures and joys (and friendships) we then get more tempted to illicit pleasures. Note two excesses:

(a) A pampered body (with excess pleasure and no disciplined exercise) leads to impurity.
(b) Boredom is a great opening to impurity. Boredom, in this context, means a lack of feeling satisfied. Therefore, Plan to give yourself things that entertain and please you!

(c) Industriousness –keep at your work.
Keeping active in our work gives us a healthy satisfaction. A person satisfied in his work will be less prone to seek illicit satisfactions in impurity. A lack of work (like a lack of play) can lead to boredom and then to impurity.

(d) Humility –know your limits. Know when to flee temptation.
E.g. Know which movies may affect you more than they affect other people. PLAN: when you are in a calm sense of mind, in your stronger self, THEN plan for how you will avoid impurity. I.e. plan how to avoid what are occasions of sin for you. If you habitually lack humility in other things you are more likely to fall in impurity.
Remember that God allows us to be tempted to humble us. Impurity –“this vice is for the greatest part a just punishment of pride” (L.Scupoli, The Spiritual Combat, ch19). Therefore, let such temptations increase your humility, and know your dependence on grace. You are weak, just like your neighbour, humble yourself before God and man.

(e) Sobriety vs. drunkenness.
Learn due ‘measure’ in what is appropriate for you (not what is appropriate for others).
Drunkenness is an obvious pathway to impurity: it lowers our capacity to fight temptation, and lets the passions gain dominance over our rational faculty.

(f) Abstinence vs. gluttony. The virtue of refraining –a virtue we can then apply to sex.
Asceticism in food and drink leads to self-mastery, leads to knowledge of how to LICITLY use pleasures.

(g) Purity –meaning chastity in its outwards signs of kisses, embraces, touches, looks.
If we are not pure in these things then chastity in the heart will be impossible. This calls for prudence, self-knowledge, reflection, and an awareness of what is appropriate in different contexts.

(h) Modesty of dress.
If we seek to look provocatively attractive to others it’s difficult to think of ourselves in a pure manner.
Our immodest dress will lead others to have sinful thoughts. This calls for prudence, advice from others, and an awareness of how others react to us.

(i) Charity
This is a theological virtue, and is directly infused in us by God, but we can enable it to increase by removing the obstacles to it.
CCC 2347: the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendships, a pure focus for love, and spiritual communion, whether male or female (but note the obvious question of prudence in intimate friendships with members of the opposite sex, e.g. it’d be unusual for a man to seek an intimate friendship with a woman who was someone else’s wife).

Final thought:
WOMEN too. Unchastity is often preached about as if it only affected men, but it affects women too. Do not be overly embarrassed to confess it, to examine your conscience about it: examine your thoughts, affections, flirtations etc.
Note also: GUARDING YOUR HEART. Unchaste affections for someone you are not free to date is a form of unchastity.