Over the past few weeks I’ve thought a lot about chastity. What is the Catholic definition of chastity?
We all know some valid dictionary definitions:
Refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morals or religion; virtuous
Not engaging in sexual relations; celibate
Free from obscenity, decent
Undefiled or stainless
It seems to most of us that chastity generally means the repression, suppression, or denial of the sexual aspects of ourselves in order conform better to an outward judge, whether that be our community, our religion, or friends, or families.
Yet, I recalled somewhere in the recesses of my memory some CCD teacher from long ago saying something along the lines of everyone is called to be chaste, only some people are called to be celibate. So, in that case definitions 1-3 didn’t hold water theologically, and definitions 4 and 5 were more metaphorical than literal or spiritual.
The Catechism however says:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being… Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.
People are shocked by that definition. Chastity doesn’t mean to deny our sexuality but to integrate it fully into our person. And through the successful integration therein we will find true freedom.
I was speaking with a friend earlier tonight about how the parts of ourselves that we don’t accept or don’t allow to be fully and healthfully expressed in ourselves are what hold us back from wholeness and freedom. In my case, I spoke of my trouble accepting my own anger. Growing up in a household where anger was frequently inappropriately expressed, I developed a tendency to try to push down this emotion until it came up inappropriately and thus create a self-fulfilling prophecy of being afraid of hurting others with my anger and doing so because I repressed it.
There are a couple of interesting facets to my example about anger. Firstly, the problem isn’t the emotion itself, it’s the inappropriate expression of anger. Secondly, I attempt to deny anger’s existence out of fear. Could this possibly be analogous to the way many Catholics deal with sexuality?
The Church’s call to be chaste is actually a call to deal with our sexual desire. To have the courage to lovingly look our sexuality straight in the eye and say, who are you? What are you trying to tell me about myself and about the essence of divinity? How can I find God through integrating you into my being? And how does this lead to freedom?