In our fallen world, no virtue is more detested than chastity. The secular world often praises the virtues of generosity, kindness, and patience – people who possess these virtues are “good people.” Chastity, however, is completely overlooked as a virtue, and is often simply mocked as something old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy during our “enlightened” age. The incredibly popular pastimes of pornography, contraception, premarital sex, crude TV shows – all of these are diametrically opposed to the virtue of chastity. These have led to greater evils in the world, such as abortion, human trafficking, and the AIDS epidemic. Our modern culture’s message of “Have fun and do what you want!” has had dire consequences. But in her wisdom, the Church continues to present to us the virtue of chastity: not as an outdated ideal, but as a loving, positive command to protect us from harm.
Chastity is the “virtue that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure according to the principles of faith and right reason.” Note that chastity is NOT synonymous with abstinence. Abstinence is refraining from partaking in sexual pleasure altogether; while it can be virtuous, depending on our state in life, it is not a virtue in itself. One who is practicing abstinence is not necessarily growing in chastity; chastity is purity in thought, word, and deed, and abstinence only concerns itself with the “deed” portion of that.
Our Lady of Fatima said that more souls go to hell for sins of the flesh (sins of impurity) than any other sins. Yet our culture is saturated in them! One cannot go to the mall without seeing a provocative poster, watch a football game that does not have a racy commercial, or listen to a radio program without crudity. The HHS mandate is purely an issue of whether or not Christian taxpayers should have to pay for the consequences of others’ unchaste behavior. Pornography revenues in the U.S. each year are more than the combined salaries of ALL professional football, soccer, and baseball players. The vice of impurity abounds, and so we should cultivate the virtue of chastity in our lives.
How can we grow in the virtue of chastity?
1. Prayer. We cannot resist temptation without God’s help. A popular devotion that has been promoted by numerous saints, including St. Anthony of Padua and St. Alphonsus, is the devotion of 3 Hail Marys for purity. The devotion is incredibly simple – pray 3 Hail Marys each morning and night, followed by “O my Mother, preserve me from mortal sin during this day/night.” In the words of St. Alphonsus, “A devout servant of Mary shall never perish.”
2. Avoid Occasions of Sin. If we frequently find ourselves falling after spending time with certain friends,watching certain movies, visiting certain websites, we have a moral duty to avoid them. When we pray the Act of Contrition, we firmly resolve to “avoid the near occasion of sin”, because willingly putting ourselves in a bad situation can be sinful in itself.
3. Observe the Principles of Chastity Based On Your State in Life. Chastity looks slightly different for singles, married, and religious.
If you are single and have a vocation to marriage, consider following principles of courtship. If a couple finds themselves being unchaste, they should discuss it honestly and set some specific ground rules. If you are called to marriage, you are called to help each other get to heaven, and the best time to start is before the marriage begins.
For married couples, the main focus of chastity is being open to life and not using each other purely for pleasure (no contraception or sterilization), as well as not seeking sexual pleasure outside the marriage act.
A comprehensive examination of conscience for chastity can be found here.
4. Persevere. If you find yourself falling frequently, do not get discouraged. Like any virtue, it takes time to build up our “spiritual muscles”. Beg Christ to heal you as he healed the woman caught in adultery and St. Mary Magdalene; go to confession, start again. No matter what your sins, you will receive forgiveness if you ask, and God will pour into you soul the grace to resist temptation.
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20