The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 47, No 6, Nov-Dec 1994

Theology for the Laity
By Father Basil Cole, O.P.

Fr. Basil Cole, former director of the Rosary Center, makes good use of the new universal Catholic Catechism in explaining the role of chastity in the Christian life.

If we date the sexual revolution in the United States from the 1920’s, we can more or less understand the on-going consequences of the moral de-construction of our civilization. Presently, one conviction flowing from this revolution holds most Americans in its grip is: one is not normal unless sexual experiences are freely entered into from an early life. The conviction that there are no limits to sex on demand has produced: abortion, teen-pregnancies and single motherhood, divorce, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, sterility and the like. To counter these consequences of what has now come to be known as “sexual addiction” in many cases, secular society has suggested either the short phrase “Just say no!” or handed teenagers a contraceptive and said “Be safe!” Sex education value free is never chastity education, notwithstanding the sometime dithering stands of the clergy.


St. Thomas warns that an excess of venereal pleasure plays havoc with our thinking and choosing, and so, with personal integration and social relationships. Tradition lists these effects of a lustful life-style: a darkening of the mind, thoughtlessness, excessively spontaneous judgment and action (rashness), inconstancy, exaggerated self-love, hatred of God, excessive love of this world and aversion for the next, in short, a killing of any taste for truth and for honest love of God, self and neighbor (S.T., II-II, 153, 5). Chastity, on the other hand lets us control our exposure to venereal pleasure reasonably, according to our state in life, and thus eliminate these possible negative effects.


In another era, the virtues of chastity and purity were sometimes taught to Catholics (and Protestants) as a virtue of fear: fear of one’s sexuality and fear of God's wrath. With the publication of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church a new springtime for theology has emerged. To effectively love the Lord Jesus, one must practically cultivate this unpopular virtue. We see this clearly in the new universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC)

2518 “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of Gods holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual integrity; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith.

But becoming pure in heart relative to the virtue of chastity does not mean looking at one's sexuality with anxiety, or worse, negatively. CCC explains it this way:

2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person, because of the unity of body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way our aptitude for forging bonds of communion with others.

2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. The physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented towards the good of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and society depends in part on the manner in which the complementarity, needs, and support between the sexes are lived out.

2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the creator’s generosity and fecundity...


The Church teaches us that we can only understand what chastity is and how it is integral to the whole life of virtue by seeing it first and foremost in relationship to marriage. It is first a training ground for the unmarried so that they can learn to give themselves later on in a marriage where the partners will be true to the ends of marriage: fidelity, indissolubility and openness to children:

2337 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.

Thus the virtue of chastity combines the integrity of the person and the integral wholeness of the gift.

2360 Sexuality is directed to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by a special sacrament.

Chastity’s first goal, but not its exclusive one, is marriage which renders its acts human rather than merely biological, so that each partner can give oneself to the other. In a certain sense, preconjugal chastity takes its purpose from what is to come later after the adolescent culture passes. It looks to the following:

2361 By sexuality a man and woman give themselves to each other through acts proper and exclusive to spouses. These acts are by no means simply biological but touch the innermost being of the human person and are achieved in a truly human way only when they become an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves completely to each other until death (Fam. Con. 11).

This does not mean to say that there are no problems or struggles to acquire this unmodern virtue.


2339 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. (Cf. Sir. 1:22) "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of slavery to his passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end." (Gaudium et Spes 17).

2342 Self-control is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life (Tit 2:1-6). The effort required can be more intense at certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.

2343 Chastity has laws of growth, which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. “Man ... day by day builds himself up day by day through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by “stages of growth” (FC 34).


2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift of God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ (1 Jn 3:3).

As we acquire this virtue, in preparation for marriage or living the call to the celibate life-style, some wonderful effects begin to happen:

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate Him who has chosen us as His friends, Who has given Himself totally to us and allows us to participate in His divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

What happens is that the strong desires for sexual union and their corresponding emotions need to become integrated in the human person, or we then begin to relate especially to members of the opposite sex in exploitive ways through the vice of lust:

2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

From what we have seen so far, it would appear that the first pro-life virtue is chastity, for it enables us to respect the dignity of the potential or actual human person and facilitates us to show solidarity with others in society and its common good by rendering what is owed to people more serenely. Chastity, then, prevents us from exploiting people for our own pleasures and other hidden agendas. For instance, if one has chastity, then there will be no desire for an abortion which is a grave violation of the fundamental right of a human person to exist (CCC 2274).


After seeing some of the positive notions of the Church regarding human sexuality and chastity, we need now begin to see how one can on a practical level become fulfilled by this virtue:

2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptation will want to carefully acquire the means for doing so: self-knowledge, the practice of self-discipline adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues and fidelity to prayer (emphasis mine). “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity” (St. Augustine, Conf., 10, 29, 40; PL 32, 796).

2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is "an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society” (GS 25 #I)

On the day by day level, it is important that young people develop a living relationship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, realizing that this law of life (chastity) is obtainable and not an arbitrary imposition upon them. Therefore, when sexual temptations are prominent, they need to learn not to fear temptations but face them with equanimity and balance, based in part on what has already been said above. Then following the desert fathers' admonition, “flight not fight,” they need to say a firm “no” to thoughts and images of temptation, followed by a short prayer (anything longer may exacerbate the temptations), while channeling their imaginations and minds away from the thoughts by becoming occupied with other contents, especially of a humorous nature. Then they need to forget that they were tempted without denying it either. Fortunately spontaneous temptations are not sins but the stuff of growth in virtue.

Then, there is the more long term approach of helping the young find their particular vocation in life and setting higher goals (adapted from Christian Totality, Paul Conner and Basil Cole, Bombay, India):

— The cultivation of imaginative and abstract contemplation of God as well as realistic admiration of Our Lady and the saints. (The Church directs religious and seminarians to grow in devotion to Mary during and after their years of training CIC 663 #4, 446 #3, 276 #5).

— Regular petitions to God for growth in chastity at times when one is not tempted.

— The reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist sincerely and frequently, including the wearing of a scapular or medal of Mary etc.

— The effort to speak frankly with one’s confessor or director. (See the “Declaration on. . . Sexual Ethics” # 12).

— Avoidance of friendships based mainly on sensuality and cultivation of friendships based on cultural and spiritual interests.

— An asceticism regarding food, drink and entertainment which leads to a healthy mastery of one’s mind and heart, imagination and memory.

— A moderate love of the arts, recreation and hobbies.

— Genuine modesty in matters of dress and behavior - without becoming prudish.

Asceticism or mortification does not mean crushing the legitimate love of good literature, joke books and cartoons, excellent music, sports, and the cultivation of true friends. True detachment may mean moderating these created and fulfilling goods. However, one of the difficulties with much of contemporary lyrical music is that it does not reflect this gospel call to chastity but lust. If young people constantly listen to this message, most assuredly they will believe it since repetition is the mother of learning. Likewise, if older people habitually watch soft pornography or even some “soap operas,” they will be imperceptibly influenced by their subtly immoral messages.

In a certain sense, we become what and whom we admire and we admire what and whom we contemplate. It will be possible tomorrow for the young to remain faithful in a permanent and exclusive covenant communion with one spouse and open to new life, only when sexual drive becomes an integrated part of their lives today by the virtue of chastity!

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