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Chastity Is For Everyone (Even Married People!)

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One of the highlights of my summer was going to a Mass of Consecration for a Virgin. My friend from college, Andrea, was making her vows as a consecrated single. It was definitely one of the most beautiful Masses I have ever been to: dozens of priests in attendance, a heavenly choir, and the beautiful witness of a virgin. In a white wedding dress, Andrea exuded a joy and peace that is only experienced when someone gives everything they have to follow Christ.

Her virginity is a beautiful reminder that sexuality is a gift. In her virginity, she offers the gift of her self and her whole body to God. In marriage, married spouses offer the gift of their bodies to one another as a Sacrament - a visible sign of God’s life-giving love. Far from being a rejection of sex, consecrated virginity is a sign of how sacred sexuality really is. You only give something you treasure to the one you love.

“If you truly want happiness and joy, you must belong to Christ.” – Archbishop Aquila at the Mass of Consecration of a Virgin. His words are for everyone in every state of life. Chastity is a virtue that helps everyone belong to Christ because chastity is ordered towards love, and God is love. You can be happy as a celibate because you belong to Christ. You can be happy in marriage because marriage is a Sacrament that helps us to see and feel Christ’s love.

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” CCC 2337

The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him.” CCC 233

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.” CCC 2339. This means if we are not slaves to our appetite for pleasure, we can be free to truly love.

If you are single, chastity is often associated with abstinence: refraining from sexual activity. Notice in the Catechism definitions, though, that there is no mention of abstinence. There is a lot of mention of self-mastery and integrity.

Because of the meaning of sexual union, chastity does require abstinence in the single life. Chastity strengthens the resolve of a single person to wait until marriage and be pure in mind and body in other ways. In religious life, chastity is offering your sexuality to God through remaining abstinent. It’s the same with consecrated virgins who live as lay people in the world. And each of these vocations also requires the temperance and self-mastery of the body.

Yet in married life, chastity still exists. Instead of abstinence, being chaste means giving the gift of true love to your spouse through sexual union. There will still be times of abstinence in marriage, whether because of travel, illness, using NFP, etc. and these times will also require integrity and self-mastery. Virtue doesn’t go out the window just because you are married.

If chastity exists in marriage, then it follows that there are also ways of being un-chaste in your marriage. These ways distort the good of sexuality and the truth of married love. Some of the obvious ways that go against chastity are infidelity and adultery. This includes strip clubs, pornography, and masturbation. But there are definitely ways of distorting the marital embrace by coercing your spouse to have sex when they don’t want to or using them merely as a means to please yourself. If it becomes more about performance than union, you might not be acting chastely in your marriage. If you are not able to exercise self-control over your sexual urges even in marriage, you probably need to work on growing in the virtue of chastity.

The good news here is that Christ came to redeem our sexuality. He elevated marriage to a Sacrament to give couples the grace to love like Christ loves the Church – meaning the capacity for self-giving love. The grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony can help couples be chaste in their love, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is there for when we mess up and need to return to grace.

No matter what your vocation in life, chastity is for everyone.

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Back in the 90s, when I was private secretary to Bishop Patrick Kelly of Salford Diocese, he would often say that we should not declare, 'Lord forgive us our faults and failings.' He said this because in his view [and I agree with him], "faults and failings are what happen with railways, not human beings. People commit sins, and we shouldn't be afraid to say the word sin!"

 

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