Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Theology of the Body, Talk #3: What is chastity? Why is it good for human beings? What if I’m not attracted to living a chaste life?

Wow, these can be very difficult questions for young people to ask and answer!  They can be very difficult questions for any human person.  I’ll make an attempt to answer these questions.  Please remember, however, that this is only one way the questions can be answered.  If you want a better answer do some reading on your own from Pope John Paul II’s, Theology of the Body; or from The Good News About Sex and Marriage, by Christopher West; or If You Really Loved Me, by Jason Evert.  The list of great reading on the topic of chastity goes on and on.

Chastity is a virtue.  Virtues are good habits.  They come from two places: virtues come from God’s grace which is always flowing from the Person and work of Jesus Christ to humanity; and they also come from the repetitive good choices human beings make who are influenced by the Holy Spirit for help, power and strength.  Let’s take the example of a cross-country runner which is “a-moral” (that is, without moral implication necessarily).  I like to run but in the winter I really do not run at all.  After the winter is over and the spring comes I try to make my first run of the season in the nice weather.  It’s very, very difficult.  I can last about 5 minutes.  After the spring and summer I’ve been running for about three or four months.  I can run 30 minutes or more at that time.  When I practice and experience running over and over, I build up the habit of running and condition my body to run more and to run well, easier and better.  It is the same with the virtues.  Good habits are built and increase in us when we make good choices over and over again.  When we make one good choice that is difficult, the next time the choice comes around we can make it with less difficulty than before.  In habit and repetitive good decisions we become more and more free to choose what is good.  This strength, repetition and help always comes from God’s grace in us who is always the first one to act allowing us to respond to God’s inspiration.  Take someone who is trying to break the habit of looking at pornography (which definitely has "moral" implications!).  Maybe they have looked at pornography for one year.  The first time they turn away and stop that addiction (in this case a vice which is a repetitive bad habit) it is very difficult to do.  After three to six months of practicing turning away from pornography, it becomes easier and easier to do.  That person becomes more and more free to choose the good action and reject the sinful action.  Chastity works in this way and so do all the virtues.  (The theological virtues work differently in that they are directly infused into the soul, thanks God!  The theological virtues are faith, hope and love.  St. Paul, for example, was infused with all three of these virtues when thrown from his horse and immediately converted to Christianity after having led a life of persecution toward Christians (Acts 9:1-9).  At that time he did not really have any “good habits” that would dispose him to turn to a life of Christian discipleship.  But, after God infused these virtues into his soul he was forever changed.)

Chastity is the ordering of our sexuality toward it’s final end which is God and Heaven.  In response to that definition of chastity you might say:  “Weird Benjamin, why am I supposed to order my sex life to God and heaven?”  Well, since God created sex… “male and female He created them,” (Gen 1:27) “in the divine image He created them,” after He created us He said, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).  God has a plan for sex too!  This is interesting to think about since our “plans” for sex are sometimes disturbing and dark, vicious and evil.  In those times, when our sexual desires do not correspond to virtue and goodness, then we have a struggle, a battle inside of our self.  But really, how does a person “order sexuality toward God?”

Christopher West uses this definition for chastity: “the ordering of our sexual desires, thoughts and behaviors toward the truth of authentic love.” (Good News About Sex and Marriage. p. 66)  He goes on to say, “chastity is a great yes to the true meaning of sex, to the goodness of being created as male and female in the image of God.  Chastity isn’t repressive.  It’s totally liberating.  It frees us from the tendency to use others for selfish gratification and enables us to love others as Christ loves us.  The virtue of chastity is therefore essential if we are to discover and fulfill the very meaning of our being and existence.”  When a person makes a “chaste” thought, word or action they are loving like Jesus loves. But, why… why Benjamin is chastity so difficult?  What if I’m not attracted to living a chaste life?  What if I’ve tried and failed over and over again?

Stay tuned to the “Theology of the Body” Queen of the Holy Rosary Youth Ministry blog for next’s week answer…

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