Do you Believe in Love?
Christian Chastity as a Path to Inner Strength
Our sexuality is something deeply intimate, something connected to the core of our being. We hear and see about it, sometimes feel embarrassed about it, and are tremendously curious about it. Sexuality is part of God’s original gift to mankind, but something is off about it since the sin of our first parents – known as Original Sin. Maybe the Genesis story of the Original Sin reveals to us something about ourselves. The test described in Genesis seems arbitrary. Perhaps we see Catholic sexual morality in the same light. It feels like we are being tested, watched, so that we can be punished or rewarded in eternal life. But I am convinced that if God has asked us to live out our sexuality with some particular rules, they are helping to protect something very important for our very identity as Christians and as creatures. I want to make sure that at least once in your lives you hear the doctrine of the Church on this topic and that you can discover the beauty of the gift that God has given you and entrusted to your protection. Chastity is a positive virtue and can be your superpower.
We are affected by the culture in which we live. Much of this culture is pop culture. We are so inundated that the message of the Church is drowned out by what is more present to young people. We can compare the immediacy of Lizzo’s lyrics versus the timelessness of the words of Jesus: “Abide in my love.” (Jn. 15:9)
“In a minute, Imma need a sentimental man or woman to pump me up.” (Lizzo) What do we have in this phrase? We are looking at a very emotions-centered way of looking at life. I am looking for being propped up emotionally. There is no underlying emotional security and maturity. Rather, everything is focused on getting my next fix or hit of love. There is a sense of frenzy. Unbridled passion looks like what we are attracted to. There is a sexual focus and a vulgar immaturity. I had thought of playing the whole song, but when I looked at the lyrics, I could not bring myself to do it.
“Morality refers to the set of standards that enable people to live cooperatively in groups. It’s what societies determine to be ‘right’ and ‘acceptable’.” (Morin, 2022) This song, and indeed much of pop culture, tries to propose a view of morality as irrelevant.
So here, we have an understanding of love or its substitute as something ephemeral and passing. There is not a lot of reflection, which can be comforting, at the same time it is mind-numbing.
On the other hand, we have the way Jesus presents love. He says, “Abide in my love.” (Jn. 15:9) He brings to us a sense of peace and tranquility. Where Jesus is, there is balance, order and wholeness.
The sentimental view of love is nothing new. Its roots are probably best traced to the Romantic period of literature and music, but we can go back just a few generations to song like “Hooked on a Feeling.” There is an idea of a soulmate, the one person who was created to be with me forever. It seems like an exaggerated view. “Plato believed that love is the motivation that leads one to try to know and contemplate beauty in itself. This happens through a gradual process that begins with an appreciation of the appearance of physical beauty and then moves on to an appreciation of spiritual beauty.” (Ospino, 2022)
Neuroplastic changes related to addiction
A lot of people fall into a problem of addiction in some aspect of their sexuality. This can make chastity seem much further from their grasp. Four neuroplastic changes happen when there is addiction. Desensitization appears when the stimulus does not give satisfaction. Sensitization occurs when the person is overly attracted to one type of stimulus. Hypofrontality is a dysfunction in the prefrontal circuitry. The brain recognizes that it is bad but is unable to inhibit the behavior. Finally, the malfunctioning stress system looks frantically for a fix. “These phenomena are at the core of all addictions.” (Wilson, 2014)
One thing that jumps out at me is that a lot of the pop culture concept of love looks dangerously like addiction. We live in a world where we are seeking sensation, even when we know that this is killing us. This poisons our relationships and sets us up for deep disappointment and hurt. Think of one relationship where you were deeply hurt. Does any of this sound familiar?
God presents to us a very different image of love. He wants us to live love within the context of chastity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a good definition of chastity.
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 man's 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. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2337)
Chastity is not reduced to abstinence. Rather, it is an attitude that integrates the whole person. It is key to wholeness and happiness.
Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally. (Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 11)
Pope John Paul II looks at morality as a mode of communication. We tell the truth when we are doing what is right and we lie when we act immorally. There is a bit of philosophy of language in his way of looking at morality.
Five Gospel Teachings about Love
Leave your gift at the altar (Mt. 5:24)
Don’t carry past relationships with you. What your ex-boyfriend did to you should not spoil your current relationship. Obviously, we have to learn from the past, but we cannot carry around baggage that poisons our vision of love. This is at the source of much sexual sin. Maybe we have even programmed our minds because of past sexual sin and have learned bad ways to love. We have to throw off these bad habits, step out of the darkness and into the light. God is waiting for us. In the Gospel, Jesus is talking about how grudges make us incapable of true worship.
Pearl of Great Price (Mt. 13:45-46)
Be aware of what is worth selling all else to buy. Sometimes, we hold on to small treasures and lose the great treasure that is waiting for us. We can get caught up in petty, insignificant relationships, in such a way that we are never able to love fully and deeply. Pope John Paul II famously remarked that the problem of pornography is not that it shows too much, but rather that it shows too little. There is a sensual, one-dimensional presentation of a person as an object of lust, rather than an exploration of the richness of gifts and talents that this person can bring to a relationship.
Better Part (Lk. 10:42)
Only one thing is necessary, and his name is Jesus. Until we are ready to risk loneliness, risk solitude, we are not in the proper condition to find happiness and proper companionship. Because if we are not prepared for solitude, we risk running into a relationship simply so that we do not feel alone. But this is a terrible reason to foster a relationship. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (Jn. 14:6)
Often, we might look at Christian sexual morality as a series of don’ts and prohibitions that are somewhat arbitrary. We might think that God says: “Ha! I am going to prohibit masturbation to see who can obey. And I will condemn those who don’t.” But everything that God commands us is for our good, for our happiness, and for our salvation. St. John Paul II spoke about the nuptial meaning of the body.
The revelation, and at the same time the original discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body, consists in this: it presents man, male and female, in the whole reality and truth of his body and sex ("they were naked") and at the same time in full freedom from any constraint of the body and of sex. (Pope John Paul II, 16 January 1980)
When Christ proclaims that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he is proclaiming that we are called to be like him. “Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22) This was always one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite texts from the Second Vatican Council.
“Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one who penetrated in a unique unrepeatable way into the mystery of man and entered his ‘heart’.” (John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 8) One of the great gifts of Catholic morality is that it helps us to discover God’s true plan for our lives and for how we are to love.
Abide in my love (Jn. 15:9)
Heaven is going to be a place filled with love. We are called to a personal relationship with God. Redemption is even a new creation which allows us to enter into this deeper communion with him. Against a worldly, secular presentation of fleeting, superficial lust, we are called to respond with a deep abiding in love, resting in love. What happens in our souls is expressed by our bodies, reflecting our state of life and our response to the universal call to holiness. (cf. Lumen Gentium, Chapter V)
Catechism on some sexual sins (CCC 2351-2356)
Lust, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, and rape are all listed and described as sexual sins. Homosexual acts are described as “intrinsically disordered.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357) These are never a true expression of love and are rather an expression of selfishness. God could never allow us to do something that hurts ourselves and others.
“Adultery, divorce, polygamy, and free union are grave offenses against the dignity of marriage.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2400) These are things that break down marriage and do not allow the spouses to enter into full flourishing of their Christian lives.
Value of temptation according to St. John Chrysostom
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”… For since Jesus did and underwent everything with a view to our instruction he likewise consented to be led there and wrestle against the devil in order that every baptized person who, after baptism, has to endure greater temptations may not be troubled as though this outcome were unexpected, but may continue to endure everything nobly as though it were happening in the natural course of things. For indeed, this was the reason you took up arms, not to be idle, but to fight.
For this reason God does not prevent temptations from coming, either. First of all to teach you that you are now much stronger; next, that you may remain humble and not be puffed up by the greatness of your gifts since the temptations have power to repress you; then, in order that that wicked demon, who remains for a while doubtful about your desertion of him, may be well assured by the touchstone of temptation that you have utterly forsaken and fallen from him; fourthly, that you may in this way be made stronger and better tempered than any steel; fifthly, that you may obtain a clear demonstration of the treasures entrusted to you. For the devil would not have assailed you unless he had seen that you had been brought to greater honor.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 13 on Matthew)
Towards a More Integrated Personality
What are we really looking for when we go looking for love? What is common between the love for a spouse and the love of your parents? We are seeking a sense of connection. Sin always tries to break that connection. Even when it feels good, we are harming the connection that is meant to be achieved through true love.
An integrated personality is “the moral condition of a person whose various faculties and powers are united into a harmonious whole, resulting in easy and effective adjustment to the changing circumstances of life.” (Hardon, 1999) When we are in a healthy moral state, we achieve a sense of wholeness. Much of our seeking the virtue of chastity is linked to this sense of wholeness.
“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.” (Evert & Fradd, 2020) We all want to be truly connected to others. This is what people are really searching for when they fall into addiction. The problem is that false connection never leads to the satisfaction they are seeking. This series of sins of selfishness culminate in a supreme act of self-seeking that is known as mortal sin. “Mortal sin is never an isolated event. It’s always the end result of a litany of missed opportunities to make better decisions.” (Evert & Fradd, 2020)
“Some men enter marriage or the priesthood, assuming that their vocation will have the power to magically erase their woundedness. But more often than not, these vocations only magnify one’s brokenness. For this reason, one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself (and your future spouse) is the gift of wholeness and healing.” (Evert & Fradd, 2020) It is true that many of us are broken and that God can use our brokenness, but he also wants us to work on being healed from our brokenness.
Families are in crisis because marriage is no longer respected as the fundamental building block of society.
The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 66)
The Romantic period has left us with a concept of love that does not hold up under the pressures of real life and modern life. There should be a little bit of romance, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is one soulmate that God has prepared for all of eternity. Our vocation is to holiness and for many of you to marriage, but God gives you plenty of space and freedom to choose whom you want to marry. Personally, I am naturally a hopeless romantic, so I think I am blessed with my calling to celibacy.
“Relationship between God and people of faith can be understood as an attachment bond, in which God is a safe haven, a secure base, and the ultimate source of comfort and care.” (Johnson & Sanderfer, 2016, p. 30) What people experience in a healthy relationship is but a shadow of the tremendous love that they can participate in through grace. Grace is the participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity. It is the greatest experience we can ever make as creatures and is a foretaste of heaven. For this reason, Christ invites us to abide in his love. He wants us to be happy forever. Chastity can be your superpower. Use it.
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 1)
Evert, J., & Fradd, M. (2020). Forged. 33 Days Toward Freedom.
Vatican II. (1964). Lumen Gentium. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
Vatican II. (1965). Gaudium et Spes. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
Francis. (2013). Evangelii Gaudium. Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in the Modern World.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Post-synodal Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World.
John Paul II. (1980). General Catechesis 16 January 1980.
John Paul II. (1979). Redemptor Hominis. Encyclical Letter on the Redeemer of Man.
Hardon, J. (1999). Modern Catholic Dictionary.
Johnson, S., & Sanderfer, K. (2016). Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples.
Morin, A. (2022). Morality. Definition, Formation, and Examples. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-morality-5076160
Ospino, L. (2022). Platonic Love. The Concept of Greek Philosopher Plato. https://greekreporter.com/2022/09/07/platonic-love-greek-philosopher-plato/
Wilson, G. (2014). Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.