Chastity could use a good PR firm these days. On a daily basis people are bombarded by images of the human body and sexual references in order to sell products. Advertisers know this. Sex sells. Soon the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will be hitting the newstands. What is chastity and why does it have such a bad reputation? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a good definition: "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy." (ccc 2339) The catechism also notes: "Self mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed efforts at all stages of life." (ccc2342)
Again, too often chastity is presented in a negative light, as a negation or deprivation. Actually, the opposite is the case. As the Catechism states, either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. In Love and Responsibility Pope John Paul II addresses this very issue:" Chastity is very often understood as a blind inhibition of sensuality and of physical impulses such that the values of the body and of sex are pushed down into the subcouncious, where they await an opportunity to explode. This is an obviously erroneous conception of the virtue of chastity, which, if it is practiced only in this way, does indeed create the danger of such 'explosions.' This mistaken view of chastity explains the common inference that it is a purely negative virtue. Chastity, in this view, is one long 'no'. Whereas it is above all the 'yes' of which certain 'no's' are the consequence." Aside from being a positive virtue, chastity is extermely important because, as the Pope states,"the virtue of chastity, whose function is to free love from utilitarian attitudes, must control not only sensuality and carnal concupiscence, as such,but-perhaps more important-those centres deep within the human being in which the utilitarian attitude is hatched and grows." This is why the church is opposed to contraception. It is not just the sex. It is the barrier to becoming a "gift" to the other which is the root of the evil, which combined with utilitarian attitudes that develop deep in the center of the human being when they have given themselves over to the "contraceptive mentality." Pregnancy is no longer viewed as a gift to be received lovingly from God, but rather something which must be avoided at all costs. Don't people see how this can lead to materialism, selfish attitudes, loss or respect for other persons.
Chastity is hard. St. Augustine once commented, "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" But if it is presented as a positive virtue which frees one from slavery to the senses and utilitarian attitudes, then we become free to love. Free to give ourselves to another. Isn't this more good new from Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body!
Happy Feast of St. Scholastica