“But Simon, what is chastity? The definition that the Catechism gives makes almost no sense to me! The language is really complex and confusing.”
To his disappointment, I had to admit that the definition of chastity the Catechism gives has never been a simple, clear definition for me either. However, all that means is that I have had to work harder at defining chastity in a way that makes sense to me and the average Catholic.
In my own words, I have come to define chastity as the virtue that orders our sexual desires toward the good of the other. St John Paul II says, “Only the chaste man and chaste woman are capable of true love”. The human heart longs for real love, but sadly, so few understand that chastity is the key that unlocks the door to real love. We cannot experience the love that satisfies without chastity.
So, what is chastity? Here are 7 keys to understanding what chastity is and how to live it out.
- Chastity, above all, is a ‘Yes’ to Love: Chastity is not a ‘no’ to all things sexual and pleasurable, it is, above all, a resounding yes to love. Chastity sets a person free to love and free from the compulsion to lust. Only the chaste person has the ability to recognise the difference between love and lust and exercise the necessary self-mastery over their passions to say ‘no’ to lust in order to say ‘yes’ to love.
- Chastity Affirms the Goodness of the Sexual Urge: Contrary to what many people outside – and sadly inside – the Church think, the Catholic Church does not dismiss or demonise our sexuality or sexual desires. In fact, the Catholic Church, more than any other institution, affirms and upholds the goodness of our sexuality. Rather than viewing our sexual desires as something to run away from or repress, the Church reminds us that, above all, the sexual urge is a call to love and communion. The virtue of chastity helps us to rightly order the inherent goodness that exists within our sexuality.
- Chastity Honours the Objective Meaning of Sex: In his Theology of the Body, St John Paul II speaks of the “Language of the Body”. The Language of the Body highlights that a person either speaks the truth or a lie with their body when they engage in a sexual act. Sex speaks an objective language. It communicates to the other that I love you freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. The sexual act is where the words of the wedding vows become flesh. The husband and wife are communicating the same words they spoke to each other on their wedding day, yet in a more perfect way with their bodies.
- Chastity Safeguards the Context of Sex: Sexual love is synonymous with marital love. The only context within which free, total, faithful and fruitful love can fully be expressed is within the sacrament of marriage. For this reason, chastity demands that a person abstains from sexual union unless they have committed themselves to one person in the sacrament of marriage. This is not to say that the sexual urge should be dismissed or demonised unless a person is married. The urge is a reminder that we were all created for love and communion, but chastity is the virtue that makes us free to refrain from communicating a lie with our bodies by engaging in sexual activity outside of the marriage bond.
- Chastity Honours the Person: Chastity, above all, orders our sexual passions toward the good of the other. It demands that a person be loved and never used as a means to a selfish end. Masturbation, pornography, meaningless hookups, fornication and rape are all sins against chastity because they fail to honour the goodness of the sexual urge, the objective meaning of sex and the right context within which sex has meaning. However, chastity goes one step further and asks spouses – who are in the proper context for rightly ordered sexual union – to ensure that they are not simply using their spouse to scratch an itch for an orgasm but are being motivated by a desire to give of themselves in love to their spouse.
- Chastity demands Sacrifice: Love and lust both demand a sacrifice, yet love sacrifices oneself in order to love another, and lust sacrifices the other for the sake of one’s own sexual gratification. The Catechism states that chastity and “self-mastery is a long and exacting work” (CCC 2342). Chastity is difficult and demands death to self, but only so that we may be free to love as Christ loves.
- Chastity Makes Us Sexually Free: Jesus did not come to give us coping mechanisms for our lust. He came to give us a new heart. One that is no longer in bondage to lust but has been unbound, delivered, and set free to love as Jesus loves! Jesus has come to redeem our brokenness so that we would no longer be constantly resisting disordered desires to lust, but are free to love in sexual freedom. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).