Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chaste and Graced

“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.”
-CCC 2337

Doesn't sound too repressive to me. What it sounds like is the oft-maligned and frequently misunderstood concept of that most beautiful gift that is ours by baptismal right: chastity.

It's not hard to see how a world so enamored by all things sexual could go wrong on this issue. We're obsessed with sex, or at least with what we imagine sex to be. A mystical, other-worldly bonding experience between soul mates, a casual and entertaining aerobic outlet, an exchange of services in return for desired goods...

The fact is, we, as a collective culture, cannot fathom the practice of living chastely, and so we scoff openly at the idea of chastity as a virtue. Chastity, some would argue, is a repressive medieval construct, the remnant of an abandoned social caste system which placed monetary value on a woman's virginity while simultaneously accepting and even encouraging promiscuous sexual activity in men. This argument against chastity fueled the sexual revolution of the 1960's and had women burning their oppressive undergarments in protest of a double standard that left them wanting, well, more.

And they were right to want more, however misguided their means to fulfillment may have been (and continue to be.) Sex is fundamentally good, as is the human desire for sex. But in our postmodern understanding of good as the mere absence of any privation, there is little room for an appreciation of delayed gratification. Goodness, (or pleasure, which our hedonistic culture recognizes as the greatest good) is a commodity to be sought after, a thing to posses. If sex is goodness and chastity is a privation of that goodness, well, where does that leave us?

This is why a message that champions abstinence and embraces chastity falls largely on deaf ears. So foreign is this concept to most modern minds that it makes about as much sense as encouraging people to breathe underwater: Yep, it's gonna hurt, and no, it's not the most natural feeling in the world, and it might kill you... but it's the way things were in the beginning, (or in utero, anyway) and with enough willpower -er- grace, you can do it! Or not do it, rather.

Attractive message, right? And we wonder why more 15 year old boys aren't lining up around the block to affix their signatures to abstinence pledge cards. The thing that's got to change, in our minds and in our hearts, is an understanding of what chastity is, not what chastity isn't.

Chastity is the fullest expression of the human person, an integration of the mind, body, and spirit that neither denies nor subjugates any part of that person. A chaste person is the most fully human person on earth, but what does it mean to be "fully human?" Does it mean denying the power and the beauty of sexual attraction between the sexes? Does it require a guilty repression of our God-given desires? Is chastity synonymous with asexuality? No.

No, no, no. The fundamental flaw of our misunderstanding of chastity lies here, in our insistence on separating the physical from the spiritual, a perpetuation of the dualistic myth of the human person as a soul trapped within a body, a ghost in the machine. Fully integrated does not reject certain aspects intrinsic to human nature: it does not reject any aspects intrinsic to human nature. We are created in His image and likeness, and only our refusal to accept His best for us has led us astray. Our falleness, our sin, is really more of an "operator error"; we've got all the working parts, but when things go wrong, we stubbornly eschew the owner's manual in our insistence on doing things "our way."

God: "This is bad for you, it will hurt you."

Us: "What do you know? You can't imagine possibly imagine what it's like to be one of us."

God: (pause) "Well, actually..."

Us: "Okay, but that's irrelevant. That was 2,000 years ago, times have changed! People have changed."

God: "And you think I did not anticipate whatever difficulties you might face, providing ample means of my grace to sustain you in your weakness?"

Us: "What could you possibly have given us that would provide the grace necessary to live chastely?"

God: "Myself."

Us: "And when we continue to fail in our pursuit of chastity?"

God: "Reconciliation."

Us: "Oh, so you're going to make this about sacraments?"

God: "What did you think we were talking about?"

Us: "Well, life, you know? Reality."

God: "Precisely."

"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness."
-2 Cor 12:9

1 comment:

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