In his third apostolic exhortation dated 19 March 2018 and published on 9 April 2018, titled Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis addresses the universal call to holiness, with a focus “to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time”. Although there are many practical and inexhaustible ways to answer this call to practice holiness, what I would like to suggest in my sharing is the practice of virtues, more particularly the virtue of Chastity.
In a society increasingly influenced by individualism and materialism where proof of one’s love is shown through one’s actions, many think that sexual intercourse is the ultimate proof of their love for their partner or spouse. However, this is a common misconception and this has been campaigned frequently in recent years with many well-known celebrities coming out to confess that they are saving themselves until after marriage.
A common misunderstanding about chastity is that it is abstinence from sex. The good news is that it is not. Abstinence is simply not having any sexual intercourse while on the other hand, chastity is about using our sexuality according to God’s will and the ability to order our sexual desires according to the demands of true love. While abstinence focuses on what you cannot do and is all about the physical, chastity is about what you can do and it involves your mind, heart, body and soul.
Chastity is such a wonderful gift and is definitely the way to go if you are searching for real love but many misconceive that chastity has nothing to do with real love at all. Well, I’m afraid to say that chastity has everything to do with real love. In fact, it is the truest expression of real love. According to Jason Evert, when you truly love someone, you will want to choose to “give or do what is best for your beloved and not just what feels good in the moment.” While it is easier to give in to temptations, you would choose to do what is right even though it is more difficult. You choose to practice self-control in order to protect the purity of the one you love.
Chastity is also the truest expression of real love because it makes you available both exclusively and inclusively, depending on the state of life (single, married or priestly and religious) you are called to. While it is true that the priestly and religious states of life require them to take vows of chastity, it does not mean that chastity is only meant for them. Chastity is for everyone! For single people, chastity is expressed by abstaining from all forms of sexual activity while for married people, it is practiced by remaining faithful to your spouse and to remain chaste also means you have chosen to love your spouse (as well as to your children) exclusively. For priests and religious, chastity is a call to love every child of God inclusively; there is no exclusivity in their expression of love for everyone.
If you find yourself struggling with the virtue of chastity, you might find it comforting to know that you are not alone. Even priests and religious do have sexual feelings and urges. Afterall, they are humans too. But they have chosen not to act upon those sexual feelings and urges. They have chosen to behave the way God created rational beings like us, humans, to behave: that is to be able to practice self-control over our own feelings, emotions and even desires. Rational beings were not created to behave like the appetitive beings like the animals. Appetitive beings behave according to their feelings, emotions and desires. When a wild animal is hungry, it simply finds food to eat; it is not bothered whether it is time to eat yet. And this applies to married people too. It does not mean that after getting married, you would not find yourself getting attracted to someone else. What it does mean is that you have to choose not to act on it. Committed people – singles, married, priests or religious – make a choice not to act on those sexual feelings and urges. Chastity is a choice!
For those of you who are trying to practice this virtue of chastity but have no idea how, perhaps going cold turkey might help. However, if cold turkey does not help, you might want to consider channeling the energy from those sexual feelings and urges to a hobby or some healthy lifestyle activities such as jogging or exercising. Of course, this is just one method of practicing the virtue of chastity by redirecting the attention that those sexual feelings and urges are craving. But importantly, like any other virtues and good habits, chastity requires practice; it requires patience to cultivate; it is not going to happen overnight.
Finally, we could also look at the saints to help us in our quest for chastity. We have a wonderful model in St Joseph, husband of Mary and father of Jesus, who exemplifies to us that freedom and mastery over our bodies creates the fullness of humankind; a truly holistic person who needs only the Lord to fulfill him. He exudes holistic strength everyday by not becoming a weak hostage to his passions. He sets an example for all of us showing us that by first developing our relationship with the Lord, only then, are we able to entirely give ourselves to another. We see in St Joseph the way he expresses his love for his family.
Although Jesus was not exactly his flesh and blood, meaning to say Joseph and Mary did not have sexual intercourse to conceive Jesus, he still loved Jesus inclusively. He loved Mary and Jesus exclusively in that he remained faithful to them. He exemplifies the gift of chastity by expressing his truest love for God through his practice of chastity towards his family. So, let us seek the intercession of St Joseph as we pray this prayer for chastity:
Father and protector of chastity,
glorious St Joseph
in whose faithful custody was entrusted the very Innocence,
Jesus Christ and the Virgin or virgins, Mary;
for this twofold and most loved token,
Jesus and Mary,
I pray and plead you to help me always
to purely serve Jesus and Mary
with an uncontaminated soul,
pure hear and a chaste body. Amen.
Ultimately, I encourage you to seek God in asking for His providence and graces to help you with practicing chastity; ask the Lord to show you what those sexual feelings and urges mean for you; why have you been gifted those gifts; how is God trying to use that gift to manifest His love; how are you to use that gift in building relationships with others.
Lastly, I just want to mention that the sexual act is such a sacred gift given by God to married couples that it elevates them to be co-creators with Him. Therefore, let us not desecrate this sacred gift by using it to fulfill our own sexual feelings, urges, needs and desires.
May the Lord be with you as you journey towards holiness.