For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
Growing up, my brothers and I had a favorite uncle by marriage. He always gave us money, took us to get ice cream, told great jokes, and did magic tricks. He went to Mass with his family each Sunday and paid for our cousins to attend Catholic schools. We thought he was fabulous. We wished our own boring dad was as cool as our uncle. It was only when we were older, after our aunt had divorced him, that we learned that he had been unfaithful and abusive. We felt terrible for our family members, deceived by him, and embarrassed by our own poor judgment. Our cousins confessed that they had always wished to have had a dad like ours: faithful, dependable, kind—and boring.
Pause, Pray, and Ponder
Our uncle had been able to compartmentalize his behavior. To us, he was the perfect “cool dad.” For them, he was a monster. Unsurprisingly, he never communicated with us or his own children after the divorce. He felt that he was the one who had been wronged. Surrounded by the darkness of evil, his desires had overwhelmed his ability to see the truth of his behavior.
At the Catholic school where I am a teacher, we often remind our students to Pause, Pray, and Ponder. Jesus did this, and we know that if we choose to follow Jesus’ example, we can see His path because He lights the way. The key is honesty, especially with ourselves. We have to consciously decide to turn away from the darkness of unchastity. The danger is when we are no longer able to distinguish between the darkness and the light because we have been blinded by our desires.
It’s easy in today’s culture to ignore the truth, give in to those basest impulses, and justify that choice. The world teaches us that suppression of desires—especially sexual desires—is unhealthy and oppressive. If we feel the need to do or be something, we must follow those feelings. The virtues of temperance and prudence, which serve to moderate our desires and allow us to make judicious choices for ourselves, are neither fashionable nor properly understood. Yet it is temperance and prudence that truly liberate us, rather than suppress or inhibit us. We are no longer slaves to unchastity. We are able to see what is truly best for us only when we choose to follow God’s plan for us.
Unchastity a Defilement
The danger of a rabbit hole is that it is dark, deep, and difficult to escape. Once we take the first step into the abyss of unchastity, it’s easier to continue downward than to climb out. It becomes more comfortable to justify our decisions as only affecting ourselves, or to rationalize that we are truly happy this way, even as we get dirtier from the mud surrounding us. Often, we try to compartmentalize our dirtiness by signaling virtue in other ways: donating to good causes, seeking justice for the oppressed, standing up publicly against discrimination. All the while, however, we live secretly like Lady Macbeth, who cries in her sleep about the stains of her actions: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say. … What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”
Unchastity, as Jesus says, is a defilement of our own causing. We often don’t want to admit our sexual misbehavior because it could destroy friendships and force us to face our own weaknesses, sinfulness, and embarrassment. Yet the only way to become clean is to leave the rabbit hole completely, admit our sinfulness, and become washed in the water of His forgiveness. Jesus is there, waiting to help, every step of the way. The beauty, joy, and peace of His chastity await.
Follow the Light
In fact, Jesus gives us clear guidelines all along His Way. His parables, His teachings, His examples, and His actions give us a living lesson on how to behave and thus find the joy that no earthly pleasure can give. He gives us nourishment along the Way—His Body and Blood to spiritually fortify us—and the Holy Spirit to guide us. We can choose to ignore Him and go out on our own—He loves us so much that He never forces us to follow Him. But ultimately, whether we are a Cardinal or someone’s uncle, we will only find misery and defilement in that rabbit hole of unchastity.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to follow the Light, reach for His hand, and come clean.