Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love
‘We seek to be chaste because someone we love needs us to be chaste.’ Heather King
Justice means giving to another what is due him or her. In the sexual realm, chastity serves justice by freeing humanity to be good and faithful gifts to others; that involves keeping our sexual promises with those we most love. Therein lays our happiness, and another’s. The person undivided by lust of any kind exercises justice by employing one’s self-gift to confirm, not confuse or diminish another’s gift. In so doing, we discover ‘human freedom’ (CCC#2339).
Such freedom is miles away from the enslaving drive to withhold from the beloved or to partake of one not our own. That applies to real people as it does to a host of sexy, romantic illusions that captivate us; the screens that ensnare us with stories and pictures of lust have rendered most of us adulterers of heart. Jesus cites such interior compromise as a sin on par with obvious sexual acts in Matt. 5:28. Rather than grant us sinners a ‘pass’ when it comes to our sexual musings, He applies the sin of adultery to any way we objectify others and make them players in the bedroom of our hearts.
So when a woman is caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Christ by a group of law-abiding elders in order to ‘out’ Him as either a libertine or a hardliner (JN 8: 1-12), we need to listen. How does Jesus serve justice?
In order to answer this, we must take seriously how chastity serves justice and conversely, how sins against it are always profoundly unjust. Take adultery: the Mosaic law is utterly clear that to withhold from God and/or one’s spouse and to partake of another not one’s own is always profoundly unjust, so much so that it warrants a sentence of death (Lev. 20:10). Pieper is right: ‘every external act has social consequences’, including illicit sexual ones; we are now accustomed to so neutering sexual sin that ‘we fail to see its impact on the order of our communal life and the realization of the common good.’ We have all witnessed the wounding of families, communities and nations (Bill Clinton, anyone?) due to sins against chastity.
Like Jesus, Pieper also applies sins against chastity to ‘lust of the eyes’ when he refers to ‘the roaming unrest of spirit’ that drives us to relinquish ourselves to the world and its idols. Unable to live peacefully in our own flesh, we adulterous ones stuff ourselves selfishly with the flesh of others; here we must make real people unreal by separating them from love and honor. Ultimately, we lose touch with reality altogether. Persons who suffer most are not ourselves but loved ones who have experienced the gradual loss of us ‘to the seductive power of stimuli from an artificial civilization, in which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed’ surround our broken sexuality (Pieper).
Persons familiar with the dehumanizing impact of their sexual sin do well to reckon with the injustices we have incurred. At once withholding and violating, we have damaged others. Sin brings death and warrants death. Further, our enemies are merciless and want nothing more than for us to live accused until death destroys us forever. Many of us have descended into despair, which has driven us into the oblivion of greater sins.
Here we must allow ourselves to be dragged by our accusers before the feet of Jesus. (We resume our glance on Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman.) Knowing the merciless hearts of our accusers and His, He refuses to dialogue with them. (a good rule btw for all confronted by the clever and mean-spirited)
Rather, He bends down and considers the many ways these ones avoided dealing with their own sins and so failed to welcome the mercy they needed. Realizing the folly of the unjust passing judgment on the unjust, He asks: ‘If anyone is without sin, cast the first stone.’ Waiting guilty on the firing line, we hear only the sound of stones falling in the sand. When we look up we see only Jesus standing straight in order to look deeply into our eyes and say: ‘Where are your accusers?’ ‘Gone’, we admit. Then neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ His voice is as firm as His eyes moist with mercy. We straighten up as He did, at once peaceful and provoked to leave our sins at His feet. Merciful Jesus serves justice.
‘Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expressed God’s way of reaching out to the sinner by offering him a new chance…God does not deny justice. He rather envelops it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.’ Misericordiae Vultus
‘Grant us mercy, O God. Our sins and our accusers are many, the damage deep. May we never minimize its depth; may mercy alone silence and surpass it.’