Chastity: Cornerstone of holiness and happiness
Chastity is a way of life. Guidelines, codes of conduct, policies, and procedures governing interpersonal behavior may be useful in communicating acceptable workplace boundaries and defining legally abusive behavior. But the virtue of chastity cannot be reduced to a collection of rules and regulations. Chastity is the holy and habitual self-control of sexual impulses.
The mutual attraction of men and women is by God’s design. The holy desire for marital relations is a gift because it helps us to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Our inclination towards bringing new life into the world is impelled by a legitimate and holy delight in marital relations. Adam’s expression of joy in his wife Eve as his companion is unmistakable: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23)
This unity of man and woman in chaste love is affirmed by Jesus:
But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”So they are no longer two but one flesh. (Mark 6:10-8)
But Original Sin disfigures an otherwise holy attraction. After the Fall, Adam’s affection for Eve turns to blame: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) And the Devil continues to exploit man’s sinful inclinations with sexual temptations.
Chastity is God’s remedy, bringing us back to original innocence. Chastity describes the original and beautiful harmony of marital relations before the Fall and the proper use of sexual powers afterward. Chastity derives from the virtue of temperance. Temperance controls our desire for sensual pleasures. Chastity excludes or moderates the indulgence of the reproductive appetite according to right reason and according to one’s state of life.
By the light of faith, we discover chastity as a supernatural virtue. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”(1 Cor. 6:19-20)
A chaste life is a life of purity. Chastity excludes all voluntary physical reproductive sensual pleasures before marriage. Formation in chastity begins in childhood when parents teach their children mutual respect, modesty, and self-control. The formation continues through the tumultuous years of adolescence and into young adulthood. Self-denial, custody of the eyes, and physical restraint are the primary natural means of making progress in chastity. The virtue of chastity also purifies relations within marriage, protecting against abusive and selfish sexual activity.
Celibacy is a state of life that excludes marriage. For celibacy to be holy, it must be chaste and directed to the Kingdom of God. A priest or male religious is celibate because his spouse is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ and his children are the people he serves. His celibacy stands-—or should stand—in vivid contradiction to an unchaste culture. His celibacy offers hope to all suffering temptations against chastity. A consecrated virgin with Christ as her Spouse provides the same witness.
Indeed, everyone is called to celibacy at various times of their lives. The single state requires chaste celibacy.For those preparing for marriage, chaste celibacy-—the mastery of reproductive powers-—is necessary before the exchange of marriage promises. The gift of self in marriage is impossible without reasonable self-possession of one’s reproductive impulses.
Sometimes a life of de facto celibacy is necessary after marriage—periodically in times of sickness, or permanently upon the death of a spouse. And we need the example of chaste and celibate priests to give us the confidence that chastity is possible.
This does not mean that a practicing Catholic will never fail in chastity. The Devil cannot think or choose for us, but the Devil has access to our memory and imagination. He can even stir up our emotions. An impure temptation is not a sin. But we need the help of God through prayer and the Sacraments to resist temptation. We are all capable of failure, ignorance, and profoundly evil choices that rob us of grace and redirect our eternal destiny.
Deliberate violations of chastity are typically grave offenses. Jesus is clear: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”(Matthew 5:27-28) Selfish indolence, like the sloth of King David before his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, easily leads to a pattern of unchastity. But as for the Prodigal Son, there is always hope that those who fail will come to their senses despite a life of sloth, licentiousness, and ignorance.
When we fail in chastity or come to realize that we have been living a life unworthy of Jesus, there is no reason to lose confidence in attaining the virtue of chastity. Frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance restores innocence and helps cultivate chastity as a life virtue.
When confessing acts of impurity, it is important to avoid providing details that border on the prurient. But it is necessary to identify the nature and number (a good faith attempt) of the impure actions.
Immodest or provocative dress violates the virtue of chastity. Impure glances or a brief impure thought are slight sins but need to be resisted. An impure fantasy, with full consent, is a mortal sin. Viewing various types of pornography and other forms of impure entertainment is also gravely sinful. Mortal sins also include external expressions of unchastity such as masturbation, fornication, contraception, homosexual behavior, and adultery.
Restoration in the Sacrament of Penance and a resolution to live a chaste life bring true peace of soul. Chastity, repaired frequently in the Sacrament of Penance, is the cornerstone to a happy life and a happy marriage. The promotion of chastity is essential for a good and generous civil community and nation.
The goal of chastity is habitually to recognize and respect the image of God in others. Chastity not only is a virtue of self-control and self-respect, but it is also a virtue of mutual respect and responsible love. Chastity frees us to love the way Jesus loves, including the chaste and tender love He had for Mary Magdalene. It gives us the confidence to love others in honesty and purity, without the anxiety that comes with the slavery of a hyper-sexualized culture. Free from the obsessions of impurity, chastity also purifies one’s prayer life bringing us closer to God.
With the intercession of Mary most pure and with the grace of Jesus, it is truly possible to live a chaste, happy, and holy life.
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