Lust as Disordered Desire (Or A Distortion of Means and Ends

Yesterday was the final session of the Novena of Grace to St. Francis Xavier at the church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul. As I noted in an earlier post, the general theme for the novena reflections was the Seven Deadly Sins. In this final session, Fr. Warren Sazama, the pastor of St. Thomas More, offered a reflection on lust.

He began with the dictionary definition, which speaks of lust in two different ways: first as an intense craving or desire, and second, as intense or unbridled sexual desire. Although Fr. Warren made some great comments about the sexual aspect of lust – distinguishing between the beautiful sexual love celebrated by our faith and the self-absorbed objectification of another that lust entails – it was the first definition that caught my attention.

Desires can be very positive. Although a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about desires, Fr. Jim Martin suggests that “Jesus sees something liberating in identifying and naming our desires.” St. Ignatius did as well. Gilles Cusson, in his book on the biblical theology of the Spiritual Exercises characterizes Ignatius’ spirituality as “the dynamism of desire.” Ignatius believed that our deepest desires are God’s desires for us, meaning that to live vital and passionate lives requires that we pay serious attention to our desires when we discern how we are intended to live and love in this world.

So the sin of lust is not a criticism of desire. Rather, the lust we label sinful is what we might call disordered desire. (Buddhists use the term “craving,” to capture the cause of our suffering, believing it is our clinging and craving for things outside of ourselves in the belief that they will satisfy us that is the suffering of our lives.)

Disordered desire keep us from being free. Disordered desires are those things – and they can be objects, experiences, activities, or even other people – who become the focus of our desires. When that happens they become our aim, rather than God.

Think about the language of St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation:

All of the things of this world are gifts of God presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more easily. We appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.

God is our end; the gifts are the means. Lust is a distortion of means and ends.