I was once told that the easiest way to remember the sixth commandment is that it sounds like ‘sex.’ At the time I thought it was just another lame example from my religion teacher.
The funny thing is – I still remember it.
What wasn’t funny, however, is that at the time I somehow thought the ‘don’t commit adultery’ commandment had little to do with me, an unmarried adolescent. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The truth is that this commandment isn’t only for married people. It’s violated by all ages … including teenagers … almost daily.
What is the sin of adultery? Adultery is the sin of a married person who is unfaithful to his or her marriage vow. The common term used is “cheating” on one’s marriage partner. “But he who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself.” [Prov. 6:32]
Does this Commandment apply to anyone besides married people? Yes, it forbids fornication by unmarried persons, and all actions, alone or with others, of the same or different sex, that are contrary to chastity, decency, and modesty. “Fornication” means sexual intercourse between partners who are not married to each other.
We live in a highly sexualized culture. The minute preteen Disney Channel actresses leave behind their shows, they seem to leave behind their clothes as well. It’s hard to find a magazine cover, billboard, or commercial that isn’t visually offering a whole lot more than a product. Everywhere you try not to look, it’s sex they’re selling because they’ve learned one thing: sex sells.
You can’t walk through a mall and not see a scantily clad, airbrushed, food-deprived toothpick with implants plastered across the windows of a lingerie store. Even ‘clothing’ stores highlight their lack of clothing in their window displays. It’s like the models are saying, ‘Hey look, I need to take off my shirt while I stare blankly into the distance,’ or ‘I can’t seem to stand next to this car without my breasts falling out of my top!’
Those images aren’t really selling lace, or silk, or cotton . . . they’re selling sex. Countless souls who wander by are being led to believe that ‘sexy’ and ‘attractive’ are synonymous with nudity and cleavage.
True love is blind, right?
So why do those displays attract so many eyes?
One word: lust.
And lust, violates this Sixth Commandment of ‘thou shalt not commit adultery.’ In fact, few times in the gospels does Jesus speak with heart wrenching and startling emphasis as He does when He warns of the dangers of lust. Listen to this passage from St. Matthew’s gospel:
‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.’ Matthew 5:27-30
Of course, lust is just one of the ways we violate the sixth commandment.
One of the most predominant offenses against this Commandment is seen in the form of pornography. Porn is an offense against chastity and a perversion of the sacredness of sex. Porn is a mockery of the intimacy and beauty of Sacramental love. In fact, the very word pornography comes from the Greek pornographos which means ‘writing about prostitutes.’ That’s right, pornography is about prostitution. The concept of someone exposing themselves in such a way publicly or surrendering their dignity is linked with prostitution … which is obviously a sin on both peoples’ parts: the one ‘posing’ and the one viewing.
Pornography destroys a person’s capacity to give and receive love properly. It reduces the mystery of sex to mere use, turning something sacred and Godly into something profane and dark. As St. John Paul II said, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is use.’ Pornography is all about self-gratification; porn is about use.
Even worse is when people … out of a desire to make it less shame-filled and selfish … hail pornography as something good. People think acting like it’s not a sin will magically make it less sinful.
The Commandments, in general, aren’t intended to fill souls with shame or guilt. God’s truth shines light into darkness; God’s truth points you to true freedom.
No sin is bigger than God’s grace. If this is a sin that has enslaved you or a temptation that seems too much for you to handle … it’s time to reconcile yourself with God. You need the grace of the Sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to win this battle. God’s mercy is bigger than your sin, addiction, or struggle.
How might we have sinned against the Sixth Commandment? Let’s ask ourselves some questions.
- Have I looked at other people lustfully, that is, thinking about using them for my selfish pleasure?
- Have I looked at pornography?
- Have I dressed immodestly, in a way that could inspire lustful thoughts in other people?
- Have I told crude jokes?
- Have I treated another person, or my own body, as an object for my selfish pleasure?
- Have I been involved in any sexual activity, or any activity with the goal of arousal, with someone I wasn’t married to?
- Have I been selfish in my physical relationship with my spouse?
- Have I deserted my spouse?
- Have I been remarried outside the Catholic Church, after a divorce, without getting an annulment, while my previous spouse was still alive?
- Have I lived together with someone with whom I was in a romantic relationship, but not married to?
- Have I destroyed or damaged someone’s innocence by introducing them to immoral activities or materials?
- So what’s the antidote? What can help us not commit adultery? The antidote is to live the virtue of chastity. Chastity is misunderstood by a lot of people. Some people think chastity just means saying “no.” That’s not true.
- Chastity means saying “yes” to something better than lust. Chastity means having the interior freedom to live as God wants, without being slaves to sin and to our passions, in other words, our impulse, appetites, desires and urges. We have a choice. We can either control our passions and find peace, or let ourselves be dominated by our passions, and be unhappy. This is true whether we are married or not. God calls all of us to chastity.