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Spiritual Lust


The third capital sin that is illuminated by the Mystical Doctor is spiritual lust.  “Spiritual persons have numerous imperfections, many of which can be called spiritual lust, not because the lust is spiritual, but because it proceeds from spiritual things.” (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 4, No. 1)  Impure sensual movements and lustful feelings may occur when one is at prayer or receiving the sacraments.  This “spiritual lust” is due to one of three causes.

The first and most common cause of spiritual lust is “the pleasure human nature finds in spiritual exercises.” (Ibid., No. 2)  During prayer and other spiritual activities the communication of God’s grace generally overflows the higher part of the soul (the spirit) into the lower part of the soul (the senses).  The higher part receives spiritual renewal, refreshment and delight (spiritual consolations) according to its nature, and the lower part receives feelings of sweetness, gratification and pleasure (sensible consolations) according to its nature.  If the senses are too active and unmortified, they will respond to this overflow of grace with impure sensual movements and feelings of lust.  Until the soul enters the Dark Night of the Senses (second conversion) she is still living “the life of the senses.”  During the Dark Night, the senses and spirit are purified and pacified through dryness and darkness, humiliation, pain and shame.  Then the soul will begin to live “the life of the spirit,” that is, a more spiritual than sensual life.  She will receive the inflow of God’s grace in peaceful contemplation without those sensual disorders, generally speaking.  Some spiritual persons, however, are so sensitive (or wounded) that they will continue to experience quite often the hindrance and disturbance of spiritual lust until they are completely healed and purified through the Dark Night of the Spirit (third conversion) or in Purgatory. 

The second cause of spiritual lust is the devil.  When the soul is at prayer or receiving the sacraments the devil will try to interfere by suggesting impure thoughts or images in the mind or imagination.  Likewise, the enemy will try to distract and disturb the soul by arousing lustful feelings.  His goal is to hinder the flow of grace into the soul.  So, go by what you know is true, not by what you feel.  Ignore the devil and follow through with your spiritual activity.  He cannot hinder you from receiving the grace that God is giving you when your will is firmly set on doing God’s will.  It is only a temptation.

The third cause of spiritual lust is the fear of it.  Instead of becoming frightened or discouraged by spiritual lust, which only makes it worse, the spiritual person should go to God with complete trust in His mercy and grace, and deal with it like any other temptation.  “God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13)  The “way of escape” is different for different temptations.  To escape the temptation to spiritual pride we oppose it directly with humble thoughts and prayer.  To escape the temptation to spiritual lust we run from it and ignore it in our thoughts and prayer.  If our will remains firm in doing God’s will we do not sin but grow in grace even though the temptation remains for some time.  God will lift this cross if we “endure it” and reward us with a special grace.

Spiritual lust, as defined at the beginning, may also show up between spiritual people of the opposite gender.  When a spiritual person is attracted to another spiritual person of the opposite gender, this attraction may be purely spiritual, only sensual, or both.  If the attraction is purely spiritual, then the love of God will grow as the affection grows, and whenever the affection is remembered the love of God is remembered.  In fact, “the affection gives the soul a desire for God” because it is a spiritual affection or spiritual love. (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 4, No. 7)  This is how we know that the attraction is purely spiritual:  “The good increases with the good” in the Love of the Holy Spirit. (Ibid.)

If however, the attraction is only sensual, the effect of spiritual lust, then the opposite occurs.  As the affection grows stronger and heats up, the love of God grows weaker and becomes cold, and the more the affection is thought of, the less God is remembered.  The converse will also be true.  The more the love of God increases, the more the affection decreases, and the more God is thought of, the less the affection is remembered.  This is how we know that the attraction is only sensual:  As the one increases the other decreases.  Since the love of God and sensual lust are opposites, the one that is predominant will eventually extinguish the other.  “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. (Gal. 5:17)

This also applies if the attraction is both spiritual and sensual, meaning, there are two affections, one being spiritual love and the other sensual lust.  If the sensual lust grows stronger and prevails, it will eventually extinguish the spiritual love of God and neighbor.  Likewise, if the spiritual love of God and others is predominant and grows stronger, the sensual lust will dry up, decrease, and disappear (be put to rest).


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