Peter Kreeft in his book Back to Virtue writes:
The most important thing to know about lust is how to avoid it. Since it is the most popular sin, both the most attractive and the most widespread, any workable advice on overcoming it would seem pretty rare and valuable. “Try a little harder” is about as effective as an ice cube in a furnace. What else is there?
First, remember a principle of God’s grace which we saw in exploring pride: God often withholds from us the grace to avoid a lesser sin because we are in danger of a greater sin. To avoid pride, he sometimes lets us fall into lust, since lust is usually obvious, undisguised, and temporary, while pride is not. So to conquer lust, we should focus less on lust and more on pride. Only when we are truly humble does God give us the grace to conquer lust (168).
Kreeft could not be more right. I wonder if part of the reason it seems that so many clergy struggle with lust is that they of all people are in the most danger of falling into spiritual pride and self-satisfaction. We are practically God’s fellow workers, after all. We are theologians, given the task of imparting wisdom to God’s people. I remember someone telling me once about a seminary prof or chaplain (not of our communion) who grew bored with hearing confessions of students who were struggling with lust, because it was so common. This was precisely his conclusion: that because of their “profession” as it were, because they were especially prone to thinking highly of themselves on account of their spiritual learning, God allowed them to be afflicted with a “lesser” sin in order to keep them humble. Clergy, of course, are not supposed to struggle with such things. They are supposed to be above such moral inadequacies, so it is thought.
I like Kreeft’s advice: if we want to conquer lust (which will not be completely the case until the Resurrection), focus less on lust and more on pride. Remember your place, O Theologians: it is still under God. We are not his equals, much less above him. “Humble yourselves, under the mighty hand of God,” which is to say, realize that you are never without need of God’s help. You are never “just fine” on your own. It is never safe to think that you are oblivious or immune to such attacks from the devil. If anything you are never in more danger of falling into lust than when you begin to think that you are doing “just fine.”
Of course, it would be just as foolish and dangerous for us to use Kreeft’s good advice as an excuse to indulge in what we know is born of lust and contrary to God’s will. “If God is allowing me to fall into this sin to keep me from falling into a more dangerous one, then I suppose I shouldn’t argue with him on the matter.” I doubt Kreeft would agree with this attitude. Certainly we ought to take every precaution against lust, just as we ought to do so with any other vice. “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” says the Apostle Paul.
Let us also never forget that we live under God’s grace, that by faith we stand forgiven and just in his sight, though we fall short in mortifying the sinful flesh. Satan certainly does not want us to delight in God, in His Word, in prayer, in what is good. He wants us to fail so that we will be riddled with guilt, wallowing in despair of God’s mercy. It is only by God’s grace and help that we will be able to conquer this and every vice.