Custody of the Eyes
This is going to be one of my more unpopular posts but something that deserves discussion since it's an area of moral weakness for most men, and perhaps a few women as well. The summer always exacerbates it and I no longer choose to vacation at the beach because of my failure to master it.
Yeah, I'm talking about taking custody of our eyes. At some point long ago in my Christian life, I gave up trying and had given myself over to doing the "second look" routine (you guys all know what I am talking about). I just figured "I am wired this way" and gave up the battle to be chaste in my viewing of the fairer sex. I would say a quick prayer of "I'm sorry" but invariably would find myself continually repeating the same sin. Even despite a conversion experience in my young teen years and all the teachings on lust and lusting, etc etc, I still developed the inability to take custody of my eyes from an early time in my life. I am not talking about lecherous staring necessarily, but that second look back in the rear view mirror after driving past a comely young women, created in the image of God. Was I really interested in those nice shoes she was wearing? One sin leads to another and eventually you are not even aware that you can't look at a woman "wholly" without evaluating her "parts" individually. I'm sorry to be so frank folks, but I'm just being real with you here.
Even despite being a devout Christian, this is a sin that takes root and begins to deceive until the point where you are no longer aware that you are sinning anymore. Eventually you just give up, give yourself over to it and the possibility of living a chaste life eludes you. At least it did me. Being married didn't make it easier. I found it made it worse! (you know longer had to imagine)
Over the past three years, I have developed a real sense of how the sin of unchastity, (lusting with the eyes) can really foul up my relationship with God as well as my spouse. I am not being scrupulous either! Some may say: "Oh, he's Catholic now so he has that guilt thing going." No, actually, I am trying to get as close to Jesus as possible and His word tells me that looking after women with a lustful eye is not the wisest or quickest route to heaven. Is it a serious sin? Well, Jesus said it would be better to go to heaven missing one eye than to go to hell with both, if it is your eye that causes you to sin. Even before Jesus walked the earth, He spoke through His servant Job in these words: Job 31:1 – “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look upon a virgin?” King David's roving eye towards Bathsheba led to his moral collapse.
Christians throughout the past two millennium have taken His words seriously and have committed themselves to purity and "custody of their eyes." The term itself is from one of the Church Fathers and makes me realize that the Church has always meant business when it came to moral purity/chastity*. So why did I think I could just give up because: "I am just wired this way?" St. Augustine, no stranger to issues of chastity, made a rule for priests that has been followed by certain religious orders for 1600 years.
"Although your eyes may perhaps fall on a woman, they must never be fixed on her. For in passing here and there, you are not forbidden to see women, but to desire them or wish to be desired by them is wicked. On either side bad passions are stirred up, and that not merely by touch or by thought, but by sight alone. And say not that your minds are pure if your eyes are not kept in modest restraint, for the immodest eye is the messenger of the impure heart. And when such hearts exchange thoughts by looks though without words and by fleshly concupiscence allure each other with evil desires, then chastity flies from the soul, even though the body is free from outward stain. And when a man fixes his eye on a woman, or takes pleasure in being locked on by her, let him not imagine that his sin will pass unnoticed."
I have found tremendous grace and strength over this sin through sacramental confession and frequent reception of the Eucharist (though I still stumble). I can't explain it exactly, but I have a renewed desire to have a pure heart towards God and others.(On more days than I used to anyways) Also through the teachings of JP2's Theology of the Body, I have become acutely aware of how I rob women of their God-given dignity when I unrobe them with my gaze. The thought now pains me when I realize how long I had disobeyed God to the point of no longer even being aware of it.
I don't watch R rated movies or most TV programs because it's nearly impossible (at least for me) to not sin against my wife by looking at other unclothed women. Are there any guys out there who can go home from the movies and not have those images in their minds during private moments with their spouse? (I think Jesus called this adultery. Matt 5:28-29)
Either single or married, same sex attraction or heterosexual. It doesn't matter. God has called us to walk in chastity and has given us the power and grace to do it! I close with this quote from a member of Courage, a Catholic ministry to Christians with same-sex attraction but it applies to all of us.
"It takes courage to be chaste, and still more courage to be a witness to chastity so that others who struggle will not struggle alone. But though it takes more courage to walk the steep and narrow road to Heaven than to take the broad and easy road to Hell, it will be much more pleasant to enjoy the banquet of heaven with the saints than to endure the torments of Hell. And so, though the way to sanctity is hard and I may stumble ten thousand times before I reach the top, it is the only road for me." R. Belgau
*Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.126 "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end."127 Catechism of the Catholic Church