Chastity and the Spiritual Life: Some Strategies
by Father Basil Cole, O.P.
Father Basil Cole, former director of the Rosary
Center, makes good use of the new universal Catholic Catechism in explaining
the role of Chastity in the Christian Life.
If we date the Sexual Revolution in the United States from the 1920s, we
can more or less understand the on-going Consequences of the Moral De-construction
of our Civilization. Presently, One (1) conviction flowing from this Revolution holds most Americans
in its grip is: one is not normal unless Sexual Experiences are freely entered into from an Early Life. The conviction that there
are no limits to Sex-on-Demand has produced:
Teen-Pregnancies and Single Motherhood,
AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases,
Sterility and the like.
To counter these Consequences of what has now come to be known as
Sexual Addiction in many cases, Secular Society has suggested either the short phrase
Just say no!, or handed teenagers a Contraceptive
and said Be safe! Sex Education 'Value-Free' is never
"Chastity Education", notwithstanding the sometime dithering stands of the Clergy.
Effects of Lust
Saint Thomas warns that an Excess of Venereal Pleasure plays havoc with our Thinking and Choosing, and so, with
Personal Integration and Social Relationships. Tradition lists these effects of a Lustful Life-Style:
A Darkening of the Mind,
Excessively Spontaneous Judgment and Action (Rashness),
Hatred of God,
Excessive Love of this World and Aversion for the next.
In short, a Killing of any Taste for Truth
and for Honest Love of God, Self and Neighbor
(ST, II-II, 153, 5).
Chastity, on the other hand lets us control our exposure to Venereal
Pleasure reasonably, according to our State-in-Life, and thus eliminate these possible Negative Effects.
The Pure of Heart and the Love of God
In another Era, the Virtues of
Chastity and Purity were sometimes taught to Catholics (and Protestants) as a
Virtue of Fear: Fear of one's
Sexuality and Fear of God's
Wrath. With the publication of the new Catechism of the
Catholic Church, (CCC) a New Springtime for Theology has emerged. To effectively Love the
Lord Jesus, one must practically Cultivate this unpopular
Virtue. We see this clearly in the new Universal
Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC)
2518 Pure in Heart refers to those who have attuned their
Intellects and Wills to the demands of God's Holiness, chiefly in Three Areas: Charity; Chastity or Sexual Integrity; Love of Truth and
Orthodoxy of Faith. There is a connection between Purity of Heart, of Body, and of Faith.
But becoming Pure in Heart relative to the Virtue of Chastity
does not mean looking at one's Sexuality with Anxiety, or
worse, Negatively. The Catechism
of the Catholic Church, (CCC) explains it this way:
2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the Human Person, because of the
Unity of Body and Soul. It especially concerns Affectivity, the Capacity to Love and to Procreate, and in a more general way our
Aptitude for forging Bonds of Communion with others.
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his Sexual
Identity. The Physical, Moral and Spiritual difference and Complementarity are oriented towards the Good of Marriage and the flourishing
of Family Life. The Harmony of the couple and society depends in part on the manner in which the Complementarity, Needs, and Support
between the Sexes are lived out.
2335 Each of the two sexes is an Image of the Power and Tenderness of God,
with equal Dignity though in a different way. The Union of man and woman in Marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creators
Generosity and Fecundity ...
Chastity Must Be Seen in Relation to Marriage
The Church teaches us that we can only understand what
Chastity is and how it is Integral to the Whole Life of Virtue by seeing it
First-and-Foremost in Relationship to Marriage. It is First a Training Ground for the
Unmarried so that they can learn to give themselves later on in a Marriage where the Partners will be
True to the Ends-of-Marriage: Fidelity, Indissolubility and Openness to Children:
2337 Chastity means the Successful Integration of Sexuality within the
Person and thus the Inner Unity of Man in his Bodily and Spiritual Being. Sexuality, in which Mans belonging to the Bodily and
Biological world is expressed, becomes Personal and Truly Human when it is Integrated into the Relationship of one Person to another,
in the complete and lifelong Mutual Gift of a man and a woman.
Thus the Virtue of Chastity combines the Integrity of the Person and the Integral
Wholeness of the Gift.
2360 Sexuality is directed to the Conjugal Love of man and woman. In
Marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a Sign and a Pledge of Spiritual Communion. Marriage bonds between Baptized
Persons are Sanctified by a special Sacrament.
Chastity's First Goal, but not its exclusive
one, is Marriage which renders its acts Human rather than merely Biological, so that each Partner can give oneself to the other. In a
certain sense, Preconjugal Chastity takes its purpose from what is to come later after the
Adolescent Culture passes. It looks to the following:
2361 By Sexuality a man and woman give themselves to each other through
Acts proper and exclusive to Spouses. These Acts are by no means simply Biological, but touch the Innermost Being of the Human Person
and are achieved in a Truly Human way only when they become an Integral Part of the Love by which a man and a woman commit themselves
completely to each other until death.
This does not mean to say that there are no Problems or
Struggles to acquire this unmodern Virtue.
Chastity Requires a Life-Long Struggle
2339 Chastity includes an Apprenticeship in Self-Mastery which is a
training in Human Freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his Passions and finds Peace, or he lets himself be dominated
by them and becomes unhappy. (Cf Sirach 1:22) "Man's Dignity therefore requires him to act out of Conscious and Free Choice, as
moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by Blind Impulses in himself or by mere External Constraint. Man gains such
Dignity when, ridding himself of Slavery to his Passions, he presses forward to his goal by Freely Choosing what is Good and, by his
Diligence and Skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end".
2342 Self-control is a long and exacting work. One can never consider
it acquired once-for-all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life (Titus 2:1-6). The effort required can be more intense
at certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.
2343 Chastity has Laws of Growth, which progress through stages
marked by imperfection and too often by sin. Man ... day by day builds himself up day by day through his many Free Decisions;
and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.
A Gift of God
2345 Chastity is a Moral Virtue. It is also a Gift of God, a Grace, a
Fruit of Spiritual Effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the Water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the Purity of Christ
As we acquire this Virtue, in preparation for Marriage or living the call to the
Celibate Life-Style, some wonderful effects begin to happen:
2347 The Virtue of Chastity blossoms in Friendship. It shows
the disciple how to follow and imitate Him Who has chosen us as His friends, Who has given Himself totally to us and allows us to
participate in His Divine Estate. Chastity is a Promise of Immortality.
Chastity is expressed notably in Friendship with ones Neighbor. Whether it develops between persons
of the same or opposite sex, Friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to Spiritual Communion.
What happens is that the strong desires for Sexual Union and their corresponding
Emotions need to become Integrated in the Human Person, or we then begin to relate
especially to members of the Opposite Sex in Exploitive Ways through the
Vice of Lust:
2351 Lust is Disordered Desire for or Inordinate Enjoyment of Sexual
Pleasure. Sexual Pleasure is Morally Disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its Procreative and Unitive Purposes.
From what we have seen so far, it would appear that the First
Pro-Life Virtue is Chastity, for it enables us to respect the Dignity of the
potential or actual Human Person and facilitates us to show Solidarity with others in Society and its Common Good by rendering what is
owed to people more serenely. Chastity, then, prevents us from
Exploiting People for our own Pleasures and other Hidden Agendas. For instance, if one has
Chastity, then there will be no desire for an Abortion which is a
Grave Violation of the Fundamental Right of a Human Person to exist
Teaching This Virtue: The Challenge of the Family
After seeing some of the Positive
Notions of the Church regarding
Human Sexuality and Chastity, we need now begin to see how one can on a
Practical Level become
fulfilled by this Virtue:
2340 Whoever wants to remain Faithful to his Baptismal Promises and
resist Temptation will want to carefully acquire the means for doing so: Self-Knowledge, the practice of Self-Discipline adapted to the
situations that confront him, obedience to Gods Commandments, exercise of the Moral Virtues and fidelity to Prayer (emphasis mine).
Indeed it is through Chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the Unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity
2344 Chastity represents an eminently Personal task; it also involves
a Cultural Effort, for there is "an interdependence between Personal Betterment and the Improvement of Society
On the day-by-day level, it is important that young people develop a Living Relationship with
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
realizing that this Law of Life (Chastity)
is obtainable and not an arbitrary imposition upon them. Therefore, when Sexual
Temptations are prominent, they need to learn not to fear
Temptations but face them with Equanimity and Balance, based in part on what has already been said above.
Then following the 'Desert Fathers' admonition, "flight not fight", they need to say a firm
no to Thoughts and Images of Temptation,
followed by a short Prayer (anything longer may exacerbate the
Temptations), while channeling their Imaginations and
Minds away from the Thoughts by becoming occupied with
other contents, especially of a Humorous Nature. Then they need to forget that they were Tempted
without denying it either. Fortunately spontaneous Temptations are not
Sins but the stuff of Growth in Virtue.
Then, there is the more long-term approach of helping the young find their particular Vocation in Life and setting Higher Goals
(adapted from Christian Totality, Paul Conner and Basil Cole, Bombay, India):
The cultivation of Imaginative and Abstract Contemplation of God as well as realistic
admiration of Our Lady and the Saints. (The Church
directs Religious and Seminarians to grow in devotion to Mary during and
after their years-of-training).
Regular Petitions to God for growth in
Chastity at times when one is
The Reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and
Eucharist sincerely and frequently, including the wearing of a Scapular or Medal of
The effort to speak frankly with one's Confessor or Director.
Avoidance of Friendships based mainly on Sensuality and cultivation of Friendships based
on Cultural and Spiritual interests.
An Asceticism regarding Food, Drink and Entertainment which leads to a Healthy Mastery
of one's Mind and Heart,
Imagination and Memory.
A moderate Love of the Arts, Recreation and Hobbies.
Genuine Modesty in matters of Dress and Behavior - without becoming Prudish.
Asceticism or Mortification does not mean
crushing the legitimate love of Good Literature, Joke Books and Cartoons, Excellent Music, Sports, and the cultivation of True
True Detachment may mean Moderating these Created and Fulfilling Goods. However, one of the
Difficulties with much of Contemporary Lyrical Music is that it does not reflect this Gospel Call to
Chastity, but Lust. If young people
constantly listen to this Message, most assuredly they will believe it since Repetition is the mother-of-learning. Likewise, if older
people habitually watch Soft Pornography or even some Soap Operas
they will be imperceptibly influenced by their Subtly Immoral Messages.
In a certain sense, we become what and whom we admire and we admire what and whom we contemplate. It will be possible tomorrow for
the young to remain Faithful in a Permanent and Exclusive Covenant Communion with one
spouse and open to new life, only when Sexual Drive becomes an Integrated Part of
their lives today, by the Virtue of Chastity!
Saints Who Maintained Their Chastity to the Death
Saint Philomena, who the pope named as the Patroness of the Living Rosary and the
Patroness of the Children of Mary, is the only person recognized as a Saint solely on the basis of her powerful intercession,
although pertinent revelations regarding her life have been recorded. Her relics are now preserved in Mugnano, Italy.
Saint Agnes was a Roman girl who was only thirteen years old when she suffered Martyrdom
for her Faith. Agnes had made a promise, a promise to God never to stain her Purity. Her love for the Lord was very great and she
hated sin even more than death! Since she was very beautiful, many young men wished to marry Agnes, but she would always say,
"Jesus Christ is my only Spouse".
Lucy's name means "light", with the same root as "lucid" which means
"clear, radiant, understandable". Unfortunately for us, Lucy's history does not match her name. Shrouded in the darkness
of time, all we really know for certain is that this brave woman who lived in Syracuse lost her life in the persecution of Christians
in the early fourth century. Her veneration spread to Rome so that by the sixth century the whole Church recognized her courage in
defense of the Faith.
Aprocryphal Virgin and Martyr. Father was a pagan priest in Pisidian Antioch, Asia Minor
(modern Turkey). Her mother died when she was an infant, and the child was raised by a Christian woman. Her father disowned her, her
nurse adopted her, and Margaret consecrated herself and her Virginity to God.
Links to other Pages on Virtues
Three (3) Theological Virtues
Four (4) Main Moral Virtues
No Species exist for the
Three (3) Theological Virtues