Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 5: 27-32)
It is said that the third century theologian Origen castrated himself with the hope that he might be freed from sexual distractions. Perhaps some of us struggling with Jesus’ command in the gospel today have wondered whether Origen was on to something. Jesus says in the gospel that if your eye causes you to sin (a reference to lust) pluck it out, and if you hand causes you to sin (a reference to masturbation) cut it off. The Church, however, disapproved of Origen’s action long ago and would condemn today the removal of a body part because it seemingly causes temptation to sin. Although spiritual life has priority over physical life, there is a mutual interdependence of the body and the soul. As noble (or as crazy) as it may seem to remove an physical organ involved in spiritual temptation, such action would abuse God’s gift of the body and therefore result in injury to both body and soul.
Jesus’ command in the gospel today then must be considered hyperbolic. He is telling us to take some action to avoid sexual impurity by exaggerating the length to which we may go. In a similar vein a bit later in the gospel he enjoins those who have been injured to “offer no resistance to evil.” This does not mean that they may not defend themselves but that they should pursue reconciliation rather than revenge.
But how do we deal with sexual temptation that plagues us even in old age? We can enumerate a few principles. First, it is serious matter that distorts our love for God and neighbor. For this reason, Scripture continually exhorts us to pursue “purity of heart.” Second, over-emphasis on sin and prohibition has in recent centuries robbed sexuality of its goodness and beauty. However, the reaction of the last fifty years which has spurned efforts to achieve a pure heart has likewise impeded the pursuit of virtue. Third, achieving purity of heart means ridding oneself of the instincts to dominate, to possess, and to be gratified by animal pleasure. To begin the quest requires self-control including “custody of the eyes” over what ignites sexual passion. And fourth, ultimately only the Holy Spirit can render the heart pure so we must continually pray that this will happen.