My column in this space, two years ago this month, identified lust as a form of slavery that distorts human sexuality. To the stunned surprise of this columnist, readers responded in large numbers to its message from places as near as Philadelphia and as far as the Philippines, and many places in between. They shared with him how that column’s words helped them discuss with others what still needs to be said with clarity and conviction: forms of lust – particularly masturbation, pornography and rape – shackle marriages, families, and communities because, left unidentified and unchecked, they enslave all parties involved with unhealthy addictions, destructive passions and traumatic crimes.
Sadly lust continues to enslave countless men and women. An escape from such sinful chains, however, is within reach. Chastity, proposed particularly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to all humanity, provides an independence that offers genuine hope together with a responsible love.
The Catechism defines chastity as the “integration of sexuality within the person” that “includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery” (CCC, 2395). To many of us, its most observable form is consecrated life led by priests as well as men and women of religious orders vowed to celibacy. Yet all men and women, in all walks of life and of all sexual attractions, are called through Baptism to lead chaste lives modeled after Christ (CCC, 2347-2350, 2394). Engaged couples, for example, can participate in a very beautiful form of chastity characterized as a “discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God” (CCC, 2350).
Knowing the rigors required not just to find but also maintain it, the Catechism speaks about chastity in ways that also make it as much a journey as a destination, a path as well as purpose that embraces senses subject to “laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfections and too often by sin” (CCC, 2343, italics original). The Church shares with that single teaching a treasure of knowledge obtained over millennia by observation: stumbles can serve as stepping stones to salvation. Human purpose transcends animal passions by finding purity a prize to be won through discipline, intellect, and will tempered by reason (cf. CCC, 2518).
Make no mistake – the freedom of chastity, like all genuine freedoms, requires perseverance through disappointments, commitment when faced with falsehoods proclaimed as truth, as well as protection renewed by each generation. It is a battle for purity in a war that is both personal and cultural in character (CCC, 2344). Chastity, in short, summons us all to pull from the deepest reservoir of our very selves to live with honesty and integrity in a world where feeling good finds first favor.
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus said (John 8:31-32). This week, begin to see chastity both as a purpose in life and promise for life. Declare it always worthy of protection. And, with Christ your surest guide, may you and those around you begin to escape the slavery of lust and move toward a future in the freedom of chastity.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.