Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chastity: A Communal (and Personal) Virtue


Chastity and the moral life: It involves a cultural effort

I must say, I really enjoyed the talk I went to last night which was titled "A Muslim Perspective on Chastity". Students for Human Life of St. Thomas invited Professor Adil Ozdemir to speak. He is from the Theology department and Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center. Professor Ozdemir is a Muslim scholar and is a practicing Muslim from Turkey. We all ended up having quite the discussion about Islam in general, and specifically practices and viewpoints on the human body, sexuality, marriage, and gender.

One particular point I see as very similiar between Islam and Catholicism is the emphasis that faith is an integral part of life and we witness to that reality of God with our lives, bodies, words, thoughts...In his words, "Everything you do is related to your faith." "Muslims are to fight the good fight against temptations, against the Devil." I would completely agree regarding the Christian duty. He also reiterated that faith is not private or personal, but rather communal. Our actions (or failure to act) affect others. The Holy Quran gives Muslims a law to be observed to live and co-exist in harmony in the relationships in life. So too for Catholics (and Christians) does the Bible give a law to be observed regarding our relationships.

Then, he went on to discuss the masculinity and femininity of our bodies. He said, "God created male and female from a single soul as different genders so that we can know and discover one another." He said that the majority of creation was made in couples/pairs (fruit, animals...). A male and female who join together to be married complement each other and he used the analogy of clothing to describe the intimacy/closeness of mates. A person's husband or wife should fit so tightly in love, care, compassion, and respect for his/her spouse that he/she resembles clothing on the other. And thus, modesty is required for both sexes (inside and outside of marriage) to be able to protect the nature of the other. Sex is only permitted inside of marriage (like the Christian/Catholic teaching) because it is meant as a gift to be given to those who have made a covenant for their lives. When people choose to have sex outside of marriage, it can have multiple repercussions that hurt themselves, but also friends, family members, their potential offspring, and society at large.

I think Professor Ozdemir hit upon a critical point here. Chastity is about a lifestyle and it is fully integrated into the person's life. It is important to mention that there is a way to repent from past actions that have not been in accord with God's will for us. In Catholicism, it is through the sacrament of reconciliation where we confess our sins and ask to be made anew, and Christ wipes away our sins. The Christian journey is not about being perfect, because if we were perfect, we would not have such a longing and need for Christ. If we were perfect, God would not need to outpour his mercy upon us. God rejoices when we return to him wholeheartedly. In Islam, Muslims rely upon Allah (God) who is "All-forgiving", they repent sincerely during their time of prayer, even for those sins they aren't aware they committed. What a beautiful act of humility! Professor Ozdemir said that God's forgivenss and love is so great that it is greater than the love and anxiety of a woman looking for her newborn child who was lost in the desert. God loves us that much and is so eager for us to return to Him.

What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say about chastity? Well a lot actually and it is worth reading the entire Article 6 on the "The Sixth Commandment". But just to quote a small portion:

"Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being...The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and teh integrality of the gift." (2337)

The Church sees chastity as an integral virtue, one that is meant to be part of our daily lives, and that does not ask for us to repress our sexuality, but rather to embrace it fully in our words, thoughts, actions, dress. When we do this, we are saying with our actions that each person has utter dignity and the act of sex itself is beautiful and should not be compromised by seeking that gift outside of its proper context in marriage.

The Catechism also teaches:
"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." (374)

"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.' Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life." (2525)

Chastity is a societal good! It can't be stated any clearer than that. When we recognize the dignity and goodness of each person (heart, mind, body, spirit) spiritual communion will be possible, and it may, indeed, be a foretaste of what is to come in Heaven. Cultures should help to build up a society that prizes chastity, and I'm sad to say that it seems in many ways that our society does not always value chastity. How many movies have you seen lately where the unmarried couple "hooked up" very shortly after meeting each other? Okay, now compare that to the times you have seen a movie that portrayed a couple waiting to give themselves to each other on their wedding night? The numbers are much more in favor of the first, I think. But it doesn't mean the fight is lost...why? Chastity "is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort" (1810). The Lord alone, who has more power than anyone or anything else, wants to give us the grace to be pure, if only we ask Him. And we ought to ask Him for this grace all the time, especially as young people who want to live purely.

Chastity is something I am very passionate about in my own life, and I know just how difficult it can be. I would recommend asking St. Philomena, Our Lady, St. Joseph, or St. Maria Goretti to be your intercessors for this intention. Look them up- they all modeled beautifully the virtue of chastity, and I go to them often to ask for this grace from the Lord so that I might embody holy chastity with my fiancé, my family, my housemate, my friends, and all that I encounter in my day-to-day life. There are also a lot of fantastic books on the subject, I would especially recommend "If you really loved me..." by Jason Evert, "Captivating" by John & Stasi Eldredge (for women), "Wild at heart" by John Edlredge (for men) and of course the "Theology of the Body" sermons by JPII if you're really adventurous.

I am so happy to know that Muslims share this foundational belief with Catholics about the beauty and good of sexuality and how we as a society ought to work for its promotion among all people so that we can truly achieve a spiritual communion and integration based on love, respect, and generosity.

To end in the words of one of my favorite Holy Fathers:
"Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happpiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness." -Pope John Paul II

Blessings on your day!!! Stay posted for my next blog post.

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