Monday, October 15, 2018

Understanding chastity and celibacy, and the power of this gift.

This blog post first appeared as a contributed article in the Catholic News (Oct 14, 2018 edition).  I’ve since added one paragraph to the article pertaining to chastity within marriage, expanding my reflection.

There is a very prevalent but very weak appreciation of chastity and its close cousin, celibacy.  And I say this not just in reference to the laity, but sadly, also in reference to the many religious and clerics who have taken the vow of celibacy for life.  Just as a strong and deep understanding of chastity as the Church teaches can lead to one being generous, selfless and giving in many ways, the very opposite, which is a weak and shallow understanding and appreciation of it can lead to its antithesis – where one is stingy, calculative, selfish and inward looking, and fearful (which is the antithesis of loving).

The world has been scandalized ad nauseam by the horrendous revelations of the reports of how religious, clerics and some bishops have lived double lives and had been involved in many cases of sexual misconduct in various dioceses all over the world, leaving many to ask how could men (and even women) who have pledged a life-long commitment to chastity succumb to such a depraved pit in their conduct of their moral lives?  Did they not have a conscience that was speaking volumes to their hearts?  How could they fall in this way, and in such staggering numbers?  

The answer surely cannot be a facile one.  However, it cannot be denied that one of the strongest reasons would have to be that there was a very simplistic and insufficient appreciation of what chastity was, and the great potential that it can have for the world when one embraces it with the mind of the Church.

Whether one is secular (read worldly) or whether one is religious, living a chaste life is not something that is easy and readily welcome.  Why? Because in our DNA as human beings, we are wired for Godliness.  God’s divine attributes are that of being life-giver and creator, and in our sexuality lies the germ of this attribute.  God, as Genesis tells us, made us in his image, and as such, our sexuality has inside of it, an aspect of godliness that God has shared with us.  

Sexuality isn’t a bad or dirty thing, despite what many may think.  It is truly a beautiful and precious gift from God to us.  If it weren’t a powerful energy inside every human person, the human race would not be populating the world the way it does.  

Having said that, when one accepts the call to live chastely and be celibate for life, it is not that one is praying that he or she be somehow neutered and asexual.  It is not a call to not love oneself.  But one will not love oneself if one doesn’t first endeavor to love God first.  If we don’t nurture a pure love of God, we will only end up loving ourselves, and in the wrong ways.  

How then ought one to broach chastity and celibacy?  It has a lot to do with purity of heart.  It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus teaching his disciples to be celibate and chaste.  But he does instruct them on the great need to live with a purity of heart.  Having a heart that is pure is what makes one able to ‘be holy as God is holy’, and to be ‘perfect as God is perfect’.  

How does God love?  He loves the very being of the person.  He doesn’t allow the actions or the words of the person blur or stymie his intention to love.  Our love for others, unfortunately, is very often predicated on the recipient’s kind and positive actions, demeanor, tone of voice, physical appearance, etc.  The more the other person doesn’t meet with our expectations, the less we are likely to love him or her.  That’s not the way God loves.  Because God’s love is pure, he is able to love despite one not being ‘loveable’ according to our standards.  To be pure of heart then is to want to love as God loves, and to see others as God sees them.  In this way, we will also love them for their sake, and not ours.  A misuse of this will be when we use others for our sake, and this is where impure intentions and impure hearts lead to impure actions.

Chastity and celibacy when healthily understood and lived out cannot but result in a person who is outward looking and life-giving in many ways.  A person who taps on this grace-energy doesn’t become less energetic and lethargic, but truly full of vigour and is able to channel his or her energies in a proper and respectful way.  

Chastity must not be limited and restricted to those who are celibate.  Many people have the wrong notion that chastity has no place in married life.  When chastity is observed and respected in married life, spouses will not be taking each other for granted, and use one another for their own ends and purposes. A chaste married life is not a sexless married life.  Neither is it an oxymoron.  It is characterized by a marriage where the spouses do not objectify each other, and intimacy isn’t something that is ‘on demand’. This is when intimacy in married life can truly be a holy celebration that it is, especially when a sacrifice is required on the part of one of the spouses.

Understanding this still doesn’t make chastity and celibacy easy by any means.  It will always be something that sees one pushing against the goad, but it then becomes absolutely necessary that one constantly seek God’s grace to be chaste in all aspects of life – to have chaste hopes, chaste dreams (both day and night dreams), chaste desires, and above all, chaste intentions. Indeed then, blessed will they be – those who are pure of heart.  

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