Chapter 6 – Chastity, Purity, Affection and Marital Love

The Sixth Commandment:

You shall not commit adultery.  (Ex 20:14)

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Mt 5:27-28)

Sexuality.  Is that a “dirty” word?  Certainly not.  The Sixth Commandment presents to us the natural and supernatural design of God for human sexuality.  Sexuality is intrinsic (meaning natural) to humanity and is inseparable from who we are.  Discovering and understanding God’s plan for sexuality as a whole will help us live out our sexuality in our lives.

We are Sexual Beings

It is not possible to separate sexuality from being human.  We were created with affections, desires and the ability to love.  These desires are good and holy but can also become distorted and sinful.

Love of neighbor is lived and expressed in many ways.  As human beings we love not only with a spiritual love, but also with human affection.  Our sexuality is ultimately one concrete and very human way of expressing and giving love.

Sexual love takes on various forms depending on who it is we are loving.  Though we may not normally speak in these terms, it’s accurate to say that our love is expressed through our sexuality to everyone we offer love.  Parents to children, friend to friend, husband to wife and neighbor to neighbor, love is expressed through our human sexuality.

Often times when we speak of “sexuality” we mean only one form of sexual love – that shared between husband and wife through the marital act.  But sexuality must be seen in a much broader context if understood properly and completely.

Let’s start with Jesus.  Did Jesus express sexual love?  Well, yes.  Of course we must be very careful to nuance this properly so we do not slip into some sort of heresy!  Jesus was a human and was a man.  Therefore, he loved as a human and as a man.  He expressed His divine love through His human and masculine heart to all whom He encountered.

Loving as a man or as a woman, through our masculinity or femininity, is normal and healthy.  Only when that human love becomes distorted and the other becomes an object of one’s disordered desires is sin involved.

With that said, it would also be wrong to withhold human love from those we are called to love.  This often happens when there is an inability to love in a healthy, human and affectionate way in accord with God’s plan and in accord with the virtue of chastity.  When a person’s affections and sexual desires are disordered they not only tend to see others as objects in a selfish way, they are also often unable to show good and healthy affection and human love as a man or woman should.

God made us male and female.  This complimentarity of the sexes must be appreciated, understood and properly lived.  A mother will show affection for her child differently than a father will.  Two female friends will relate to each other differently than two male friends.  And spouses will strive to love and respect each other as the completion of who they are through a total gift of self, including a total gift of sexual love.  The two shall be made one!  And this unity is made possible in large part by the natural design of the complimentarity of the sexes.

The Upper Limit: God’s Plan for Sexuality

The Universal Virtue of Chastity: In order to love in a healthy and holy way, the virtue of chastity is essential.  This virtue is not only something for those who are single.  It’s a virtue that is essential to all people, including spouses.

Chastity means that a person surrenders his or her sexual passions to the will and design of God.  It means that one’s sexual desires are ordered to the good of another and expressed properly within each relationship.

True chastity frees a person to love and express that love in a human way without objectifying the other.  Chastity means that one’s human sexual passions are not selfish; rather, they become selfless, seeking the good of the other and expressing the love of God to others through their human hearts.

Temperance is an essential help to chastity.  Temperance is all about self-control.  It’s also about “God-control” in the sense that it ultimately requires grace from God to become fully in control of one’s passions.  Temperance enables one to refrain from unhealthy desires that are contrary to the will of God, contrary to human dignity and contrary to one’s vocation.

But chastity goes beyond temperance also.  Chastity is not just about being in control of excessive and disordered sexual passions.  Chastity also draws a person to the heights of human love and the ability to live and express that love in a holy way.  It begins with self-control and ends with God living in and transforming our human nature into an instrument of His love of others.

Love of Husband and Wife:  Among the many unique forms of human love is the love of husband and wife.  This love is unique in that there is exclusivity, permanence, and fruitfulness at the heart of this love.  This love, made holy by a sacred covenant before God, is invited to share in the exclusive giving and receiving of the body in accord with the natural design of God.  Thus, the “sexual act” is a unique way through which human sexuality is expressed within the covenant of marriage.

Sexual love, within marriage, invites spouses to a self-gift expressed in physical intercourse.  Though this act can become lustful and distorted even within marriage, it is ideally a unique way of expressing the unconditional and total gift of self which is central to the marriage covenant.

Sexual love within marriage must be total and fruitful.  Therefore, the marital act is one of the most unique and sacred human expressions of love God gave us.  The marital act is reserved solely for the covenant of marriage by its very nature in that it seals and renews the marriage covenant of a total and permanent gift.  It also must, by its very nature, be open to the possibility of new life in accord with the natural design of God.

The Bottom Line: Abuses of Sexual Love

There are many ways that sexuality is abused.  The principles and ideals above should be the measure for all sexual activity and affection.  When sexuality fails to live up to these ideals, sin is committed.  Below are some specific examples of how sexuality is abused and, therefore, how the Sixth Commandment is broken.

Adultery: Adultery is the willful breaking of the marriage bond through one or both spouses by engaging in sexual intercourse with another.  It is a full expression of lust since adultery cannot be an expression of authentic pure love.  Sexual intercourse is intended by the design of God to be embraced exclusively within the context of the marriage covenant.  Jesus took this further (as we will see in the next section on the Ninth Commandment) when he said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Adultery causes grave damage to marriage and family life and introduces disorder into society.  Sexual intercourse is such a powerful act that it is not possible to maintain a strong marriage and commit adultery at the same time.   Adultery, by necessity, does grave damage not only to the souls of those committing it, but also to the marriage being offended.

Fornication: Not every sexual act outside of marriage is referred to as “adultery” strictly speaking.  When neither person is married the sin is properly called “fornication.”  Fornication could be a onetime act with someone who is not well known, or it could be a more habitual sin committed between persons who have a regular relationship.  The bottom line is that the sexual act is for marriage.  Sexual intercourse outside of this context is always a grave evil.

Free Union: A free union could be considered a sub-set of fornication.  This would include the persons who have a loving relationship but are not yet married.  They may be thinking of marriage but have not made the permanent commitment.

In this case, if they enter into sexual relations either once or on a regular basis they are living a lie.  The sexual act is a way of sealing the marital covenant that has already been made.  It’s not to be used as a sort of “testing ground.”  You cannot test marriage and all that makes up marriage.  When this is attempted the person is saying two contradictory things.  First, by the act of sexual intercourse one says, “I give myself to you completely and faithfully forever and am open to new life.”  But the lack of a marital commitment says, “I’m not sure I’m totally and permanently committed and am not ready to raise children within this context God designed.”  Therefore, sex even between those who love each other is gravely sinful if outside the marriage covenant.

Divorce:  The sad reality of divorce must be understood from various points of view.  This is especially necessary so that those who have gone through a divorce can properly sort out what happened so as to bring healing to their lives.

First, it’s proper to say that divorce is sad.  People do not enter into marriage with the intention of one day getting divorced.  No matter the reasons for a divorce it most likely is a very painful experience.

Let’s start with a proper understanding of separation so that we can put divorce in perspective.  The Code of Canon Law states this regarding legitimate separation of spouses:

If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay. (Canon 1153 §1)

What does this tell us?  It tells us that the Church fully understands that, in some cases, it’s better for spouses to separate.  Separation is certainly different than divorce in that separation acknowledges that the marriage bond still exists.  The intent here is to simply offer the context that, in some cases, it’s better that married couples separate at least for a time.  With that said, sometimes separation leads to civil divorce.  Volume Two of this series, My Catholic Worship!, gives more details on marriage, divorce and annulments which will not be repeated here.  Please see that book for more information.

Regardless of the circumstances and regardless of who is or is not at fault in a divorce, it must be said that divorce itself introduces hurt and disorder into people’s lives as well as into society.  It hurts the spouses, the children, extended families and many others.  It’s simply honest to state this fact without placing any blame or guilt.  In fact, one spouse may be completely innocent of any wrongdoing and may have done all that he/she could to make the marriage work.  But it takes two to make it work, so when one or both fail in their responsibilities it’s important to honestly acknowledge that this is not the ideal and that it is painful.  Of course God can do all things and can even bring hope, healing and blessings out of any painful situation.  Therefore, when divorce does happen it’s essential to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to rely upon the Church for clarity and healing.

Divorce itself may or may not be a personal sin of the individual spouses.  Most likely, one or the other has sinned in some way but it’s very possible that the other has not.

Polygamy:  Polygamy is the act of attempting a semblance of marriage between three or more people.  Polygamy is a sin in two ways.  First, it’s a sin against the dignity of marriage in that it undermines the natural design of marriage being between one man and one woman.  Polygamy is also a sexual sin when sexual relations take place.  Marriage is the only proper context for sexual relations and marriage is only marriage when it takes place between one man and one woman.  An attempt to enter into a different form of marriage is a sin against nature and when it involves sexual activity it is a sin against the Sixth Commandment.

Contraception:  This is a very real and, for many, a very difficult part of the Sixth Commandment to consider.  Methods of contraception today are very advanced and very prevalent.  Perhaps in part for that reason, the Church teaching on contraception is ignored by many if not by most Catholics.  Therefore, it is important to offer a clear and concise explanation so that this beautiful teaching will be embraced by all.

By “contraception” we mean the following: Any intentional form of excluding or hindering the possibility of conception from the sexual act of married couples.  Read that definition a few times before you read on.

To understand why contraception is a sin it’s important to reiterate the purpose of sexual intercourse.  Sexual intercourse is an action that God gave to married couples to achieve two things: unity and children.  First, unity takes place through sexual intercourse in that it is one natural way that couples express their love and renew their marriage covenant.  It is a way of renewing their commitment of being a complete gift to the other.  Therefore, intercourse is not just physical, it is also spiritual and emotional in that it solidifies and continues to fortify the marriage bond.

Secondly, sexual intercourse must always and everywhere be open to the possibility of new life.  This is an essential part of the act of sexual intercourse.  By “essential” we mean that God designed intercourse in such a way that if couples intentionally exclude the natural possibility of begetting children from any act of intercourse, they are sinning against the Sixth Commandment and against nature itself.  This is hard to accept for many but it’s true.

With that said, it is abundantly obvious that there are only a limited number of years and only certain times each month when a woman can get pregnant.  Thus, it is also part of the natural design of God that most of the time intercourse takes place, conception will not happen.

Embracing this natural design of God is good and proper.  In fact, if a couple discerns that it is best to avoid pregnancy at the time, they are encouraged to use methods of Natural Family Planning to scientifically discover when the woman is and is not fertile.  Having sexual relations during the infertile periods and refraining during the fertile periods is permitted and, in some cases, may be best.

The main problem comes when something is done (contraception) to hinder the natural cycle of a woman or to interrupt the act of sexual intercourse so as to avoid pregnancy.  This is a sin against nature itself and a sin against this Commandment because it intentionally excludes one of the essential parts of sexual intercourse, namely, openness to conception.  Again, when the wife is past childbearing years or is not ovulating then God Himself has excluded the possibility of conception from that act of intercourse by His natural design.  God is free to do this, we are not morally permitted to render the fertile periods infertile by our own will and actions.

Some medical/medicinal forms of contraception also add another problem in that they can have the effect of making implantation of the embryo difficult which is ultimately an early act of abortion.  For this reason, some forms of contraception are worse than others.

The bottom line is that sexual relations should be embraced and lived in the way God designed it.  It must always and everywhere fulfill the following: 1) Be only between spouses; 2) Have the intent of unity and the renewal of the marriage covenant; and 3) Be open to the natural design of God for the begetting of children without hindering that natural design.

Natural Family Planning (NFP), as mentioned above, is a legitimate way for spouses to be open to using the natural design of God regarding a woman’s fertility.  But it must also be said that even with NFP, there can be a danger not of contraception, but of a “contraceptive mentality.”  A contraceptive mentality is different than contraception in that it does not directly hinder the natural design of God for sexual intercourse.  Instead, this is a mentality in which couples use NFP to an extreme and negligent way by deciding to avoid pregnancy for selfish reasons.  For example, God may actually be saying to spouses, “I want to bless you with another child.”  And the couple fails to listen to this and, instead, decides that another child is not what they want.  Therefore, they continually use NFP as a way of avoiding pregnancy.  This is not a sin against the sexual act itself since they are using NFP.  Instead, it’s a sin against marriage and the will of God.  This is tricky and requires honest discernment on the part of spouses.  It’s “tricky” in that there are times when God may very well be saying to a couple that it’s His will they use NFP to avoid pregnancy at the time.  This may be for serious emotional, mental, financial or other reasons.  It may be that the couple is simply not ready to care for another child at that time.  This is good to discern and, in this case, it is good to use NFP to avoid pregnancy.  The key is to continually remain open to what God is saying and to continually strive to discern His will for their family.

Masturbation:  Though masturbation is more common than many would like to admit, it is always a violation of this Commandment.  It’s important to state that up front.  Masturbation is an abuse of the natural sexual desires.  Sex is made for marriage and only marriage.

With that said, it’s only honest to point out that many struggle with it.  It’s a struggle most likely for two reasons.  First, because the sexual appetite is very powerful.  Second, because masturbation is a very easy way to try and satisfy that powerful desire.  It’s important to point out that masturbation is only a way to “try” to satisfy that desire.  Sure, many find a certain satisfaction in it since it causes many natural endorphins to be released and can cause a certain natural and physical satisfaction.  But it never has the ability of truly satisfying and satiating the natural desires.  Again, sex is made for marriage and only in marriage can it find its fulfillment.

Pornography:  Pornography is an abuse of sexuality on many levels.  First, it’s what we call an “objectification” of the person being exposed.  Even if that person freely consents to exposing him or herself, it’s still an abuse of their innate beauty and dignity.  In fact, in many ways we can say that what’s wrong with pornography is that it shows too little rather than too much.  In other words, it fails to reveal the true beauty and dignity of a person choosing, instead, to reveal only that which appeals to the carnal and disordered fleshly appetites.

Pornography is also abusive in that it does grave damage to the one looking at it.  A person who looks at pornography stirs up many passions that are meant for marriage.  In stirring them up in this disordered way, they allow their sexual passions to become even more disordered.  This disordered “toying with” one’s sexuality can become an addiction and can lead one into a habitual practice of trying to satiate these disordered desires.  In fact, modern brain science has shown that an addiction to pornography is similar to an addiction to other drugs in that it releases many of the same chemicals in the brain that drugs do.

Prostitution:  Prostitution is quite straight forward and it should be clear why this is a violation of this Commandment.  It gravely violates the sacred dignity of the prostitute and does her/his soul much harm.

Rape:  Again, it should be obvious why this is a horrible and grave violation of this Commandment and the dignity of the one being abused.  One key to point out is that any sexual act should be done freely and lovingly between spouses.  Rape not only objectifies a person, it also abuses them violently and offends the freedom they have.  Therefore, it’s not only a grave sexual abuse, it’s also an abuse against the free will of the one abused and could be seen as a violation of the Fifth Commandment also: “Thou shall not kill.”

Homosexual practices:  This is a very sensitive topic in our day and age and, therefore, must be addressed with clarity and compassion.  There are many things to consider with homosexuality and sexual activity between those of the same sex.  Note the distinction between “homosexuality” and “sexual activity between those of the same sex.”  Having homosexual desires and tendencies is not a sin.  Acting in a sexual way with another person of the same sex is a sin.

We begin with a short reminder that sexual intercourse is naturally designed by God to be used between a man and a woman after they have entered into the covenant of marriage.  Homosexual marriage is contrary to the nature of male and female and contrary to the natural design of God for humanity.

This is becoming increasingly difficult for some to accept.  Why?  Perhaps because there are an increasing number of people who are starting to express the conviction that they are homosexual.  This is a dangerous road to go down because by believing this (that I am homosexual) it causes a person to take their identity in their sexual desires.  This is a very important point to understand.  Sexual desires are most often quite unreliable as a guide to use to define one’s life.  When one says, “I am homosexual,” they often mean that they have a desire to be with someone of the same sex either sexually or simply to fulfill a human need of love and companionship.  This is often also translated into a justification for same-sex sexual activity.

But what we ought to take our identity in is that we are sons or daughters of God.  Therefore, it’s only proper to say, “I am a man and a son of God,” or “I am a woman and a daughter of God.”  Our identity must be in who we are, not in what our sexual appetites are drawn to.

Regarding sexual appetites and desires, they are unreliable in that they are easily swayed and confused.  But this brings up the question as to whether or not homosexual desires are natural or learned.  Do they come from “nature” or from “nurture” as the question has often been phrased?  This is a question that cannot be answered.  Many will say they are simply born with these desires and, therefore, they should be able to act on them.  This seems to be the growing belief of modern society.  Others will say that homosexual desires come as a result of various social and personal conditions or as a result of various personal choices made in the past.

In answering this question we must strive to separate out a desire from our personal identity.  Even if a person is born with sexual desires toward the same sex, they are still innately either a male or female and a son or daughter of God.

When someone discovers a sexual attraction toward the same sex it’s important to surrender that attraction to the grace of God for self-control and healing.  By analogy, it would be similar to a husband or wife who suddenly “falls in love” with a co-worker.  They could argue that this attraction is so strong that they should be able to act on it because it is just natural and meant to be.  Of course this is not a perfect comparison but it does get at the idea that one’s sexual desires cannot be trusted and should not be the guide for life decisions.

With the above said it’s important to say directly that sexual activity between those of the same sex is naturally and intrinsically disordered and, therefore, always wrong.  Believing this will require that one move beyond what society holds up as acceptable as well as moving beyond what one’s sexual desires are drawn to.  It also is essential that we not enter into a condemning or harsh attitude.  It does no good to point the finger and condemn another.  Those with homosexual desires need to be treated with the utmost personal respect.  Some will conclude that respect means we condone that they act on these desires.  But the truth is that respect for the person means we seek to help them understand the truth of their dignity and the natural design of God in their lives.  The goal must be to embrace the natural plan and design of God and choose that.  If one’s sexual desires are not set on the opposite sex and, thus, they choose not to enter into a male/female marriage, then celibacy and chastity must be the goal surrendering sexual activity as a sacrifice to God. 

Practical Considerations

As with the other Commandments, let’s look at how the Sixth Commandment rises to the level of mortal sin as well as diminishing factors that cause a sin to be venial.

Grave Matter:  Serious violations against this Commandment have been identified above and include the following: Direct adultery, fornication, masturbation, pornography, polygamy, rape, contraception, prostitution, rape, free unions, homosexual sex, etc.  Any direct commission of these actions is gravely wrong and contrary to the natural design of sexuality.

Full Knowledge:  It is conceivable that one would lack the full knowledge of the gravity of one of these offenses for a variety of reasons.  For example, say a teen is told by a parent that going on contraception is normal and should be done.  The teen gets married and continues to presume that contraception is normal and nothing is wrong with it.  In this case, contraception is still a grave violation against the natural order but it’s possible that the couple will not be held fully guilty of grave sin because of a lack of knowledge.  The same confusion could be applied to some of the other sins mentioned above.  However, it’s very hard to accept that sins like rape could ever be thought of as OK.  That violent act should be known to be gravely disordered without ever having to be taught about it.

Complete Consent of the Will:  Sexuality is an area where grave actions may not always rise to the level of mortal sin.  The reason is that sexuality is a very powerful passion and has the potential of overwhelming someone to the point that they are not fully free to chose.  For example, the extreme availability of pornography can create such a severe temptation for men in particular that they may find themselves clicking on images even though they know they shouldn’t.  It often happens that, in a moment of weakness, a man (and also women) feels he cannot resist a temptation.  As always, this does not make the choice to look at pornography OK, but if he does so out of some powerful passion or past habit, he may not actually be guilty of mortal sin.  It should still be confessed but it’s important to understand that extreme temptation can actually have the effect of reducing one’s personal guilt.

However, this understanding could be a slippery slope if a man simply says, “Well, I shouldn’t look at this but I’ll do it because it’s just too hard to resist and God understands.”  Yes, God understands, but what He understands more than anything is that this is weakness that must be surrendered over to Him so that even the smallest of temptations are overcome.

Venial Sins:  When any one of the above factors is not fully met the sin is venial rather than mortal.  The best way to overcome all venial sins in this area is to prayerfully ponder the first part of this chapter on chastity and purity.  Strive for those virtues and let them order your sexual desires in accord with the holy plan of God.

The Ninth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.  (Ex 20:17)

While the Sixth Commandment forbids impure actions, the Ninth Commandment takes things even further.  Jesus said that, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  The Ninth Commandment is ultimately about every form of interior impure desire and every form of covetousness.

If someone fosters a desire for impure actions with someone, the Ninth Commandment is broken even if he/she does not act on these desires.  Furthermore, covetousness is a form of desire for that which is not yours.  In this Commandment, one sins if he/she willfully desires someone else’s spouse.

One important distinction to make here is the difference between a temptation and a willful covetous or impure desire.  A temptation is something we cannot avoid and is not sinful.  But temptations become sins when time and energy is given over to the temptation even in an interior way.

The key thing to understand is that we all struggle with what we call “concupiscence.”  Concupiscence is a term used to name the interior tendency we all have as a result of Original Sin regarding fleshly desires.  Because of our fallen human nature, we tend to look at others in a disordered and impure way.  Some may have built up strong virtues that help overcome these tendencies, while others may struggle daily or even many times throughout the day.

Concupiscence is also understood as the interior tension we find between our spirit and flesh.  Our spirit, when united to Christ, longs for holiness and longs to see all people in a dignified way.  Our flesh, on the other hand, seriously struggles to desire what God wants us to desire.  There is, therefore, an interior tension we find between our spirit and our flesh.  Our flesh pushes us to act contrary to what is good and reasonable, so as to fulfill certain disordered and selfish desires.  The greatest virtue we can foster to overcome these tendencies is purity of heart.

Purity

The Sixth Beatitude states, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  Purity of heart means that we strive to live our sexuality in accord with the truth of God.  Furthermore, it calls us to embrace all the many truths of God and all that is revealed to us by our faith.  Simply put, purity is about the truth of who we are and what God calls us to.  It’s living in honesty and integrity in accord with our nature, our dignity and the dignity of others.

Jesus Himself said, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  The Truth will set us free to love in the way God wants us to love.  We will be free from fleshly desires and be free to love as we are called to love when we embrace the full truth of our sexuality.  On the other hand, if we embrace the errors about our distorted and fallen human nature, we will become slaves of our flesh and slaves of concupiscence.

True purity of heart enables us to “see God” in the sense that we see clearly.  The confusion and distortion of our many desires is clarified and purified.  We suddenly learn to love God and, in that love of God, we also learn to love our neighbor as we ought.  We love others with a pure and holy heart.

The Catechism (#2520) identifies the following as qualities we will discover when we become pure of heart.  It states that we will prevail in purity by the following ways:

–by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;
–by purity of intention which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptized person seeks to find and to fulfill God’s will in everything (Cf. Rom 12:2; Col 1:10);
–by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God’s commandments: “Appearance arouses yearning in fools” (Wis 15:5);
–by prayer:

Modesty:  “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden” (CCC #2521).  Modesty is about being decent in every way.  It acknowledges that I can be a temptation for another and, thus, avoids acting as a stumbling block for another.  Modesty affects the choice of clothing and the guarding of one’s eyes.  It tempers unhealthy curiosity, enables one to refrain from voyeuristic explorations of an impure nature, and helps temper interests in salacious media, images and advertisements.

Social Climate:   One of the most serious attacks upon purity comes from a disordered culture.  Too often there are media images, advertisements, and weak social morals that bombard us constantly.  Society has a duty to promote decency and purity in all its forms so as to help individuals on their mission of purity.

Purity and respect for the dignity of the person must be central in our education systems and all forms of social communication.  Businesses should strive to promote chaste advertisements and entertainment.  And individuals should refrain from supporting those parts of society that are contrary to the purity of heart to which we are all called.

Other Considerations

Coveting can include more than just lust and impurity.  It can also move into many areas of desire.  A spouse could fall into the trap of seeing good qualities in another person’s spouse and desire those qualities.  Though this may not be immediately sinful, it could lead to sin when it becomes covetousness.  For example, say your neighbor or co-worker seems to have an ideal marriage.  You, on the other hand do not.  Instead of prayerfully seeking ways to improve your marriage you spend excessive time envying the other marriage and stewing over the desire for what they have.  If the other good marriage acts as an inspiration for you in your marriage, this is good.  If it leads to sadness, envy and jealousy, this can be a form of covetousness.

Though this covetousness can lead to adultery and impurity, it may not.  Even if it doesn’t lead to adultery, which is a breaking of the Sixth Commandment, it is a sin against the Ninth Commandment.

The Bottom Line and the Upper Limit

The bottom line is that sexual temptations are real and very powerful.  All of us must strive for purity of our thoughts and desires as well as in our actions.  When this Beatitude is our goal, we will begin to realize that we can love on a whole new level.  And we will begin to discover that we have much more energy for healthy love and wholesome living.


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