Due to various historical factors, some attitudes have given rise to idea that "chastity" is a burden, a prohibition of freedoms, or a tether of suppression. This, however, is the furthest definition from God's true intentions for chastity. We are ALL called to live out the virtue of chastity - whether one is single, married, belonging to a religious order, or the ordained priesthood. What is it and why is God's true intention not suppression, but rather FREEDOM?

What is Chastity?

First, chastity is not the same as celibacy. Chastity is more than just abstaining from sexual activity outside of marriage. The sexual act should always be reserved for the marital union, as it brings forth unitive and procreative fruit that blesses the marriage. Chastity is a positive virtue that involves the integration of one's sexuality within the perimeters of love, self-giving, and respect for the dignity of oneself and others.

Chastity involves purity of heart and intention, as well as a commitment to living according to the truth of one's identity as a beloved child of God. Chastity involves self-mastery and self-giving authentic love, whether in marriage or celibacy. It involves selflessness, commitment, and a deep respect for the dignity of every person.

I keep coming back to the beauty of stewardship. Our bodies are not our own. My mom always reminded us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This image came alive to me when visiting the Holy Land and seeing the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Inside the holy walls is a great building where you can visit the holy tomb. You can climb stairs and reach out your hand to touch the spot where the cross was on Calvary. You can touch the anointing stone. You can stand where Mary and the other women wept. The sacredness is palpable. To preserve the integrity and safety of these sacred spaces, the door is locked every night in a door-closing ceremony.

This is how I envision chastity and how we must protect ourselves and others - protecting what is sacred in the gift of our sexuality both for ourselves in not using our own bodies in selfish ways, but also not looking upon others as objects of sexual desire. We are living in an age where we see sexual exploitation everywhere. Media entices both men and women to believe that seduction is the way to another's heart.

The stewardship of our senses is a tall order in today's world. We are continually bombarded with sexual images. We don't even have to look for them. Pornography is an attack against chastity, and it has far-reaching effects. For some people, the impact of seeing graphic images may be short-lived, and they may be able to recover relatively quickly with appropriate coping strategies and support. Others may experience more profound and long-lasting effects, such as symptoms of trauma, anxiety or depression, which may require professional help and a longer period of healing. Pornography reduces the one viewing it to using other people for their own selfish pleasure. It reduces the person on the screen to be just an object of someone else's lust. Any acts of selfish sexual pleasure follow this same cycle - user and the one being used.

Chastity Offers Freedom

Second, chastity protects sexuality as a true gift; it offers freedom because there are no regrets. With chastity, one is pursuing a mastery of self and aligning one's will to God's will. Living a chaste life honors God's intentions for the body and protects others and ourselves to be free from regret and shame. I was assigned to read Theology of the Body in one of my college classes. I must have read it three times, but it was because I would read a paragraph and then have to read it two more times because I really didn't understand it. The words of St. John Paul the Great were beautiful and like nothing I've ever read. It spoke of the beauty and mystery of men and women and the freedom of the stewardship of the body and soul - to love our brothers and sisters in Christ so much that we would never want to do anything to objectify them or view them in ways that aren't of a pure heart.

There is true freedom with looking upon each other with pure eyes and love. If you are finding yourself in a position where you can't get out of the cycle of pornography or perhaps you might be in a selfish relationship, there are some great resources. Books by Matt Fradd speak on breaking the cycle of pornography. The Chastity Project with Jason and Crystalina Evert has wonderful resources for all states of life, young and old. Cognitive behavior therapies have really helped people as well.

I remember hearing a story about Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who was a well-known speaker. Whenever he checked into a hotel, he would ask the front desk to turn off the cable in his room because he didn't want to have that temptation. He knew the enemy, and he chose to protect himself in that way. Matt Fradd gave an example of a young man who was tempted by a seductive billboard on his way to work. He chose to go another way and protect himself from that temptation. We need to know the enemy, and we need to know ourselves so that we can live life with true freedom.

Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Maria Stewart — SFA Theologians Guild Member