Jimmy Akin explains the difference between admiring human beauty and having lustful thoughts, and when acting upon the latter does and does not constitute mortal sin.
Host: And Justin, thanks for holding through that short break there in Hamilton, Ohio, you’ve got us on the Catholic Answers app. Hello Justin, you get to go next with Jimmy Akin, welcome.
Caller: Hi, thanks for taking my call. My question is–so in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says if you look at a woman lustfully you’ve committed adultery in your heart, well, as far as applying that to modern times I try not to, you know, look at other women, I guess you’d say check them out. I’m a married man and I really try hard not to, but it’s just, it’s so hard not to. And my main question is that if I so glanced at an attractive woman but yet I don’t think of anything–I guess you’d say inappropriately–have I committed a mortal sin? Because I really struggle with scrupulousity a lot and I feel guilty, you know, that I don’t… it’s good I feel guilty, but I don’t want to feel guilty to the point where…
Jimmy: That’s okay, I think I have the sense of the question. Why didn’t you let me take a swing at it and you can tell me if it helps out, okay?
Jimmy: Okay. So let’s talk about what Jesus’s command here does not mean. It does not mean that you are not supposed to recognize beauty when you see it. You know there is such a thing as beauty, we can even analyze…you know what it involves. It tends, for example, to involve certain kinds of facial symmetry, and people who display those facial symmetries are considered attractive. And similarly there are other signs of health. Beauty tends to be associated with looking healthy. And then there are various cultural things that are also considered beautiful in one culture, but may be different in another culture.
In any event, beauty is something that exists in the human form, and God created it and that’s great. It’s one of the things, just like God made some people intelligent and God made some people beautiful and God made some people strong and God made some people swift and God made some people, you know, very dexterous, you know, able to to to use their hands very well–these are all different abilities that God gave different people, or different qualities that God gave people, and it’s great. These are all good things, and we’re not supposed to fail to recognize them when we see them. If someone’s smart you can say, “Hey, that person’s smart, great,” or if you see someone who’s strong you can say, “Hey that person’s strong, that’s great,” or if you see someone who’s beautiful you can say, “Hey, that person’s beautiful, that’s great.”
So we’re not supposed to not recognize it or not appreciate it, so it’s perfectly fine to note the qualities, the good qualities, that another person has and to appreciate them, and to even think about them, you know. I mean you might see someone and say, “Boy, I wish I was as strong as that person,” or “Boy, I wish I was as pretty as that person,” or “Well I wish I was as smart as that person.” Whatever those–the appreciation of the gifts that God has given other people is totally fine. So if you see a beautiful woman and you think, “Wow, that’s a beautiful woman,” that’s okay. You’re not committing a mortal sin. You don’t need to worry about that.
Furthermore, you don’t need to worry about, “Have I committed a mortal sin?” if you experienced just some feeling of a sexual nature. That can just be temptation. And so it doesn’t become a sin–mortal or otherwise–until you start to voluntarily respond and say, “I think I’m gonna indulge this, and I think I’m gonna start thinking about what it would be like to have sex with this person.” When you start getting voluntary about it, when you start going beyond appreciating the beauty, and deliberately engaging in lustful thoughts, well that’s where it does become sinful.
And even then it doesn’t mean it’s a mortal sin because people–and this is true of both sexes, but it’s especially true of guys at a certain point in their lives–it’s very easy to unintentionally slip into some thoughts of that nature, and in those situations there may be some sin, but it’s not a mortal sin because what’s lacking is full deliberation. One of the things that you’ll find when you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church is that in order for a sin to qualify as a mortal sin it not only has to involve grave matter; you also have to do it with full knowledge of the moral character of the act, so you know, got to know it’s got grave matter, and you have to do it with full deliberation anyway, saying, “I know this is gonna be a mortal sin and I’m just doing it anyway.” Well, if you’re just, if you just inadvertently slipped into thinking about something, even if it’s something you shouldn’t think about, well it’s inadvertent. It’s not something you did with full deliberation, and so it’s not going to be a mortal sin.
Now if you say, “I’m gonna just do this and I don’t care,” well then that may be a mortal sin, but mortal sin is not something that is something you slip into reflexively or, you know, partially, or, you know, when you’re kind of waking up from a dream or anything like that, so don’t assume that you’re committing a mortal sin too easily. It is possible to commit a mortal sin, but as you say, you don’t want to be scrupulous about it.
Host: All right, Justin?
Caller: All right, thank you very much, that’s very helpful.
Jimmy: Okay, awesome.