Chastity: Seeing Others Through Christ’s Eyes
Poverty may be the most radical call of the monastic religious vows, but chastity is the vow most under attack today. Rare are contemporary examples of chaste cinematic heroes, men who actively live a life with an ordered sexuality. An unmarried character who is not in an active sexual relationship finds himself at the receiving end of jokes and concern for his sanity because he is not having sex. We the audience are encouraged to laugh or worry along with his friends. Pornography, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality are not only encouraged, they seem required. Why even bother with chastity?
The Challenge of Chastity
We forget, in our sexually oversaturated world, that chastity is not some psychological defect nor is it a repressive restriction of the prudish. Chastity is the proper state of human life; it is what should be expected of everyone, in the same way that we expect honesty and respect from others. St. Thomas Aquinas includes his discussion of chastity under the cardinal virtue of temperance, meaning that chastity concerns moderation in our sexual appetites. Sex is a good thing, and all good things are best in moderation. Everyone is called to be chaste, not just priests and religious.
Chastity isn’t celibacy. It’s using sexuality in its proper context. It isn’t a list of nos; it’s a way of saying “yes” to what God wants of us. The requirements of chastity vary depending on one’s state in life. For example, a chaste single person should abstain from sex while a married couple should embrace their marital union. We are even biologically wired for chaste sex, sex that seeks to bond the spouses and remains open to life. To attempt to override this crucial aspect of our biology is, frankly, unnatural.
Chastity is an essential aspect of life for all Christians, but it is especially important for men. Men are the guardians of our world, as Adam was of the Garden. We cannot be the guardians of our world if we are unchaste, if we do not discipline ourselves in the face of sexual temptations. When we approach a woman in lust, a woman entrusted to our care by our Heavenly Father, we are abusing another person. The damage of our abuse does not stop when we leave that particular woman. It infects how we view other people and undermines our other relationships, either romantic or otherwise. Acting in lust is not manly; it is evil.
Mary’s Chaste Spouse
What does St. Joseph have to teach us? When Joseph was married to Mary, the most pure, most chaste person who ever lived, save only Christ, he did not view her as a collection of body parts; he saw her as a whole person, as a beautiful daughter of God. Church Tradition tells us that Mary was consecrated as a virgin in her youth and that Joseph married her knowing this. He married knowing she and he would not unite sexually. Like Tobias taking Sarah as his wife, Joseph took Mary “not for any lustful motive, but” rather “in singleness of heart” (Tobit 8:7). No other woman is as pure as the Blessed Virgin Mary, but that does not mean we should not treat all women with the same purity and respect Joseph showed Our Lady.
If you struggle with impurity, you are not alone! Oppressive forces surround us, an enemy great in number. Impurity stalks every man since Adam after the Fall. In my own life, I have struggled with impurity, with temptations to see women through the lens of lust, rather than with the clear sight of Christ. My struggle lasted throughout high school and into college. The blessings of a strong spiritual formation, a solid Catholic education, devout parents, and a good teen ministry program at my parish, as well as the grace of the sacraments and good, virtuous friends, kept me from surrendering to the enemy. They helped align my sight with that of Christ.
Whenever I get the chance to talk to students about chastity, especially high school seniors about to head to college, I urge them to stay close to the sacraments, to return repeatedly to confession even when they feel exhausted by their sins, and to surround themselves with good, virtuous friends. No soldier fights a war alone. We need our brothers and our commander, the Lord God of Hosts.
That, then, is my advice to men who wish to follow Christ in holy Chastity. Turn to Him! Don’t give up! Don’t surrender to the forces that want nothing more nor less than our spiritual destruction. When we fall, Christ, chaste despite being stripped and exposed to the mockery of the crowd, will heal us if we rest in His open arms and next to His Sacred Heart.
There are few things more authentically masculine than the embrace of men who have fought together against a common enemy; so is our embrace of the crucified Christ.
Editor’s note: This article is part three of the four part series, “Becoming True Men of Christ,” which will run each week. You can receive email notifications or sign up for our feed on Facebook and Twitter.