A Love-Hate Relationship with Sexual Freedom
Our culture has a love-hate relationship with the ideas of sexual liberation that spewed out of the sixties and seventies. By promising instant gratification and sexual self-realization, the sixties and seventies crafted a narrative in which the purpose of sexuality was totally separate from procreation. This liberation has created our present-day, cycle of infidelity, divorce, and ruined childhoods. Almost everyone recognizes this mess and laments it, but few know how to end the cycle. Since many people fail to see the connection between the sexual liberation they think they love and the destruction they hate, they fail to recognize destruction in what feels so natural, enjoyable, and love-filled. Instead, they embrace sexual liberation until it is too late. Even then, many naively believe a lifestyle of giving into impulses is a good preparation for commitment.
Sickness in the Heart
While secular culture encourages promiscuity by bombarding us with temptation, it is our inner lack of direction that makes the messages of popular society so appealing. As Christ says, “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him, but the things which come out of a man are what defile him”(Mark 7:15). Our inner-defilement lies in our self-image and our lack of true self-love. Christ tells us in Matthew 22:39 to love our neighbor as ourselves. Disguised as self-love, the actual message of our culture is self-hate. Anorexia is a symptom of a culture that actively teaches men and women that body image is everything. When we see ourselves as a tool and nothing more, we are bound to see others in the same light. The sexual marketing that litters our world feeds on low self-esteem. Chastity helps to cure our sickness by forcing us to confront ourselves and others in a non-sexualized way. It can restore faith in the possibility of others making more than a short-term commitment.
The Church Needs Teachers
Increasingly, the Catholic Church is in need of people who can explain what chastity and purity mean to a very hostile and ignorant audience. Most people I have met think chastity is about fear, punishment, and rules, but Catholics practice purity not only because they fear God’s punishment but also because it makes sense to human reason and logic. Obviously, the teachings on sexuality are not intended to make our lives miserable but to make them better and more fulfilled. As the Catechism says, “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). Our world preaches the importance of spiritual connection with our bodies, but modern attempts to achieve this unity often fail to address our sexuality. Chastity prevents the splintering that happens when our sexual appetites control our spiritual being and cloud our spiritual vision. On a practical level, chastity is necessary to our health and well-being even as is moderation in food and drink. Like other virtues, it puts one of our appetites in its proper place with its proper restrictions.
The Search for the Click
The logic of the world is in favor of our current sexual liberation. Indeed, popular wisdom tells us to experiment sexually until we find the right click with the right person. If we go into marriage without this click, we face a dark future of frustration and unhappiness. This is an example of how a partial truth—the importance of chemistry in a relationship—can make a lie appear credible. Many young people go on a quest to find this perfect click; rather than coming to a quick conclusion, this ambition often becomes a life-long journey. More often than not, the people I meet have experimented until they are incapable of feeling that click. The pursuit of the perfect sexual partner is a veiled excuse not to commit just as any pursuit of perfection on this earth. Steve Jobs said “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” We should indeed find work that inspires us, but we should avoid the trap of thinking there is always something better waiting for us. This mentality creates disillusionment and dissatisfaction.
Contrary to what Steve Job’s says, our heart is not always the best guide since it will tell us one thing one day and another thing the next day. In the Book of Numbers, God tells Moses to instruct the people to “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, and not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go after wantonly” (15:39). A heart unguided by the commandments of God is a dangerous thing.
Marriage as a Reflection of Union With God
We live in an age in which people are encouraged to be constantly love-experimenting. We are encouraged to move from one partner to another, one experience to the next, yet Christ’s starkly forbids experimentation when he says “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mark 10:9). Christ clarifies that unity takes place when a man is “joined to his wife” and the two “become one flesh” (Mark 10:8). Sex is meant to create unity and togetherness in marriage. The Catechism explains that the indissolubility of God’s Covenant with Israel mirrors the indissolubility of marriage: “seeing God’s covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love, the prophets prepared the Chosen People’s conscience for a deepened understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage” (1611). Ultimately, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the Church in which no half-way exists. In the end, most people would reject a half-way commitment or a commitment peppered by pornography and infidelity. Christ’s words seem harsh but they are no more than what a human being naturally craves and sees as normal and good.
The Logic of Chastity
Even the disciples in Mark’s Gospel pondered whether anyone could live Christ’s teaching on marriage and considered the possibility that marriage was “not expedient” (19:10). However, denying impulses is not a form of bizarre, medieval torture. It is a logical and holy decision. It is also not an impossible injunction although to the majority it seems to be. Discipline and moderation are logical in all aspects of life, but they rarely come naturally. We can toy with lawless living but chances are there will be consequences. Overindulgence always takes its toll on us. Chastity not only makes our lives more ordered, it also elevates our human loves.