Sunday, August 8, 2010

Means for Practising Purity

Council of Trent

Avoidance Of Idleness

We now come to the remedies which consist in action. The first is studiously to avoid idleness; for, according to Ezechiel, it was by yielding to the enervating influence of idleness that the Sodomites plunged into the most shameful crime of criminal lust.


In the next place, intemperance is carefully to be avoided. I fed them to the full, says the Prophet, and they committed adultery. An overloaded stomach begets impurity. This our Lord intimates in these words: Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Be not drunk with wine, says the Apostle, wherein is luxury.

Custody Of The Eyes

But the eyes, in particular, are the inlets to criminal passion, and to this refer these words of our Lord: If thine eye scandalise thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. The Prophets, also, frequently speak to the same effect. I made a covenant with mine eyes, says Job, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin. Finally, there are on record innumerable examples of the evils which have their origin in the indulgence of the eyes. It was thus that David sinned, thus that the king of Sichem fell, and thus also that the elders sinned who calumniated Susanna.

Avoidance Of Immodest Dress

Too much display in dress, which especially attracts the eye, is but too frequently an occasion of sin. Hence the admonition of Ecclesiasticus: Turn away thy face from a woman dressed up. As women are given to excessive fondness for dress, it will not be unseasonable in the pastor to give some attention to the subject, and sometimes to admonish and reprove them in the impressive words of the Apostle Peter: Whose adorning let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel. St. Paul likewise says: Not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire. Many women adorned with gold and precious stones, have lost the only true ornament of their soul and body.

Avoidance Of Impure Conversation, Reading, Pictures

Next to the sexual excitement, usually provoked by too studied an elegance of dress, follows another, which is indecent and obscene conversation. Obscene language is a torch which lights up the worst passions of the young mind; and the Apostle has said, that evil communications corrupt good manners. Immodest and passionate songs and dances are most productive of this same effect and are, therefore, cautiously to be avoided.

In the same class are to be numbered soft and obscene books which must be avoided no less than indecent pictures. All such things possess a fatal influence in exciting to unlawful attractions, and in inflaming the mind of youth. In these matters the pastor should take special pains to see that the faithful most carefully observe the pious and prudent regulations of the Council of Trent.

Frequentation Of The Sacraments

If the occasions of sin which we have just enumerated be carefully avoided, almost every excitement to lust will be removed. But the most efficacious means for subduing its violence are frequent use of confession and Communion, as also unceasing and devout prayer to God, accompanied by fasting and almsdeeds. Chastity is a gift of God. To those who ask it aright He does not deny it; nor does He suffer us to be tempted beyond our strength.


But the body is to be mortified and the sensual appetites to be repressed not only by fasting, and particularly, by the fasts instituted by the Church, but also by watching, pious pilgrimages, and other works of austerity. By these and similar observances is the virtue of temperance chiefly manifested. In connection with this subject, St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: Every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things; and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. A little after he says: I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest, perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. And in another place he says: Make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence.

Christopher West and Company Vs. ‘Custody of the Eyes’

Life site news

July 27, 2010 ( - In her Theology Master’s thesis, written for the DC Dominican House of Studies, pro-life personality Dawn Eden has critiqued Christopher West’s take on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which is also spread by the Theology of the Body Institute.

A dispute over West’s methods erupted in May 2009 after ABC aired an interview with the prominent Catholic apologist, in which he appeared to make several highly controversial statements. Although West later clarified and said the statements in question were taken out of context, one of West’s former professors, David Schindler, of the Pontifical Institute for Marriage and the Family in D.C., took the opportunity to express concerns about various aspects of West’s approach.

In her thesis Eden, like Schindler, specifies that she does not question West’s intention to be orthodox. Rather, she proposes corrective measures which she suggests would redeem the “unwitting flaws” in West’s catechesis, which “detract from his intended message.”

For Eden, one of the main contentions with West’s approach is that it opposes traditional conceptions of modesty and the recommended practice of looking away from immodesty (‘custody of the eyes’).

Eden notes that the Catholic Church has traditionally stated that chastity education should include instruction on avoiding occasions of sin. “West states, by contrast, that mature purity is found only in those who are willing to ‘risk’ concupiscence so that they might reap the benefits of ‘union with Christ and his Church.’"

Citing examples from West’s writings, Eden explains that, “By ‘risking,’ he means specifically that men who struggle with lust should practice looking at beautiful women so that they might learn to raise their thoughts and feelings from lust, to joy at encountering the image of God in female beauty.”

In her thesis titled, "Towards a 'Climate of Chastity': Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity," Eden argues that such advice runs contrary to traditional Catholic teaching. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Sirach, Eden points out, men are encouraged to look away from shapely women.

Furthermore she points out that Pope John Paul II, who originated the Theology of the Body, has pointed out that after the loss of original grace, man and woman have a “specific necessity of privacy with regard to their own bodies.” Eden states that John Paul’s “understanding of modesty—seeing it not merely as a reaction to the potential lustful ‘look,’ but as a requirement for a ‘truly human culture of morals’—is absent from West’s TOB.”

One of the central arguments West uses in making his point about the necessity of taking the “risk” of “trusting our own freedom to control concupiscence and to choose the good,” is the story of “two bishops.” Eden’s thesis quotes West relating the story:

The following story illustrates what mature Christian purity looks like. Two bishops walked out of a cathedral just as a scantily clad prostitute passed by. One bishop immediately turned away. The other bishop looked at her intently. The bishop who turned away exclaimed, “Brother bishop, what are you doing? Turn your eyes!” When the bishop turned around, he lamented with tears streaming down his face, “How tragic that such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.” Which one of those bishops was vivified with the ethos of redemption? Which one had passed over from merely meeting the demands of the law to a superabounding fulfillment of the law?

West explains that “the bishop who looked away was continent, but the bishop who saw rightly was virtuous.”

Eden argues, however, that the story, as presented by West, is misleading. She writes that West says the story is “adapted from the story of Bishop St. Nonnus of Edessa and the harlot Pelagia” and he cites Helen Waddell’s account of Nonnus and Pelagia in The Desert Fathers.

However Eden points out that Waddell’s account of Nonnus and Pelagia differs significantly from West’s. “Pelagia, in Waddell’s account, does not notice that Nonnus looks at her on the street,” writes Eden. “Her conversion comes about afterwards, when she hears him preach.”

Eden adds, “Most significantly, when Pelagia then writes to the bishop and asks to see him, he agrees only on the condition that there be other bishops present. ‘[S]eek not to tempt my weakness,’ he writes.” Eden explains: “It is not surprising that West omits that last detail, as, by his own definition, it would mean Bishop St. Nonnus was insufficiently virtuous.”

Eden suggests that a possible motivation for what she says is West’s over-sexualization of Theology of the Body and shunning of traditional practices of custody of the eyes could be the fact that he lived with his parents in an overly-restrictive community which was condemned by the local bishop. Writes Eden, “West told the Washington Post that, after spending years living in the community and submitting to its leaders' control of his social contacts, his work, and his studies, he realized, ‘It's a cult. I've been living in a cult.’”

Eden presents her thesis as contributing to the necessary amendments to West’s popular presentation. She says she is hopeful about the six-month sabbatical that West has undertaken to (in the words of his institute) “reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body."

Through the eyes, disordered affections and desires are excited --St. Alphonsus.

Through the eyes “generally speaking all disordered affections and desires are excited,” says St. Alphonsus.

I present this article next to help us all, especially men, to learn this difficult virtue of practicing custody of the eyes, not only to preserve the virtue of purity but also to mortify curiosity that can lead to many other vices.

Visual temptations are very strong and difficult to resist; therefore, it is necessary to beware of them and take precaution not to be ensnared by them. Through the eyes “generally speaking all disordered affections and desires are excited,” says St. Alphonsus. St. Augustine explains that bad “thoughts follow the look; delight comes after the thought; and consent [to sin] follows delight.” And we see that the very first sin that brought death to all began with an unguarded look: Eve “saw that [the fruit] was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and beautiful to behold, she took of the fruit, and ate.” (Gen 3:6). The devil certainly knew the power of temptations of sight and made use of it here. So we can see that the devil first tempts us to look, then to desire, and afterwards to consent. How important it is then to acquire the habit to restrain our eyes and be on guard when we are faced with any sight that we know would offend God.

Because of the enticing allure of visual temptations it is imperative first to avoid all occasions to sin and then if avoidance is not possible, custody of the eyes must be practiced. Common occasions of sin to be avoided today are: television programs, beaches during the daytime in summer, other public places where immodesty reigns, computer internet sites, certain persons who typically are a cause of sinful temptation, etc.

To practice custody of the eyes the advice invariably offered by the saints is to keep one’s eyes cast down when danger is present, or to stay out of view of the sinful sight, or not to fix one’s eyes on certain people, especially those of the opposite sex if we are vowed in marriage or some form of religious life. [If our eyes are not good and we wear glasses, it is also helpful to remove the glasses when immodesty is present.] When these temptations are present we will find it much easier not to fall into sin if we raise our hearts to Heaven asking our guardian angel and Our Lady especially to protect us and strengthen against the snare of sinful sights and from making sinful glances and gazes.

This advice was not followed by the two Judges in the book of Daniel who looked upon Susanna with lust and “perverted their own mind and turned away their eyes that they might not look to Heaven nor remember just judgments.” (Dan. 13:9).

Jesus tells us that “if your eye is an occasion of sin to you, pluck it out! It is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell-fire, “Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9: 46). Our eyes were given to us by God “to be directed to what inspires devotion, to sacred images, and to the beauty of creation, which elevate the soul to the contemplation of the divinity,” says St. Alphonsus, not to behold things that cause us to sin and offend God.

St. Dominic Savio would strictly control his eyes on his way to and from school so much so that his friends, who loved to look at exciting things along the way, learned that he never noticed those things. One boy angrily yelled at him: “What are your eyes for if you don’t use them to look at things like these?” St. Dominic replied: “I’ll use them to look at the face of the Blessed Mother if by God’s grace I am worthy of Heaven.” One day he also found his friends looking at indecent pictures. He went in the midst of them, grabbed the pictures and tore them up in their presence, saying: “How stupid can we be? God gives us eyes to look at his beauties, and you use them to stare at this filth made by corrupt men to harm your souls. Have you forgotten all you learned? Our Lord says we can soil our souls with a single evil glance, and you go ahead and gloat over these dirty things!”

The virtue of practicing custody of the eyes is indeed difficult. It requires a diligent and unyielding effort exercised with frequent recourse to Heaven, frequent confession in the Holy Sacrament to cleanse one’s soul and strengthen one’s resolve, and a perseverance that will never slacken until a firm habit has been established in controlling one’s eyes. Some men, and perhaps women too, find it next to impossible to restrain their eyes with the immodesty in the world; but for those who are committed to living a holy life and not offending God, there is always great hope using these supernatural means of recourse to Our Lady and the Sacraments accompanied by a planned resolve every day to conquer this sinful temptation more and more.