By: Christopher West
The early Christian writer Tertullian observed that the devil seeks to counter God’s plan by plagiarizing the sacraments. That’s all he can do — take what God created for our true joy and fulfillment (the sacraments), twist it, put his name on it, and say “here’s what you’re really looking for. This will make you happy.”
Here’s an example: typical American college students quickly learn that the meaning of life is, to put it as they hear it, “get drunk and get laid.” Take a deeper look. This “path to happiness” is nothing but the plagiarization of two sacraments. “Get drunk”: Untwist this and we discover the Holy Eucharist where we are called to be “inebriated” on God’s wine, that is, God’s love poured out for us. “Get laid”: Untwist this distortion and we discover the holy sacrament of marriage where spouses give themselves to each other so intimately as to become one-flesh.
In the new evangelization urged by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we must find a way to demonstrate to the modern world that we’ve been duped by counterfeit “sacraments” — counterfeit paths to happiness. Imagine walking into a fraternity party where people are getting drunk and seeking illicit sex and proclaiming, “Excuse me. Um, do you know what you really want here? You want the Eucharist and Marriage and the Catholic Church has both in their fullness.”
You may laugh. And what I am proposing is somewhat humorous, but I’m also serious. If we are to win the culture war we must understand the enemy’s plan of attack in order to unmask it. The devil is not creative. He cannot create his own parallel universe of raw evil. All he can do is take what God created to be true, good, and beautiful and twist it, distort it. This means that behind every temptation the father of lies uses to lead us away from God, we will find something that God created to lead us to him. And behind every distorted desire in our own hearts that lures us away from God, we can discover a God-given desire that will lead us to him.
The Sexual Idol of the Modern World
We must learn to “read” the true desires of our hearts that lie on the other side of our distorted desires. For example, what’s behind the distorted desire, so prevalent today, to view pornography? For whatever my personal reflections are worth, it seems to me that when we untwist the desire to view pornography, what we discover is our desire for the beatific vision. “God himself,” as the Catechism says, “is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (CCC, n.221). This is what we long to see! And this is what we will behold “face to face” for all eternity in the consummation of the Marriage of the Lamb.
While pornography as we know it did not exist in St. Paul’s day, nonetheless he gives a perfect description of what I’m getting at in his letter to the Romans: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man… .Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:22-25).
The truth of God is precisely that he is an eternal exchange of love and we can only find our ultimate fulfillment in that love. The lie we have exchanged for this truth is that we can find ultimate fulfillment in sex. And so, believing this lie, our culture has come to worship sex. It’s become our religion. Yet, in seeking purity we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The pornographic does not define the body! As we allow the distortions of our culture and our hearts to be untwisted — redeemed — we discover that the body is “theographic,” so to speak. We discover, as St. Paul says, that the one-flesh union is a “great mystery” that points to Christ’s union with the Church. In seeking to overcome our culture’s distortions we mustn’t reject the body and sex. We must, instead, courageously reclaim what the devil has plagiarized!