The Friday Five: What is Chastity Anyway?

This week we discuss the gift of chaste love ― What it is, what it isn’t and how we are called, as men and women, to live this virtue in our daily lives.

By: Elise Italiano, Director of Communications

teacher student class

When I was teaching Catholic morality, I would open my unit on human sexuality with the question, “What does the Church say about sex?”  Inevitably, my students would respond, “Don’t have it until you’re married.”

“That’s certainly part of it,” I’d say. “But considering the topic takes up hundreds of pages in the Bible, the Catechism, papal encyclicals, and the Theology of the Body, your summary is really theology on the cheap.”


First thing’s first. Sexuality involves more than the body. It involves persons ― body and soul. And contrary to our cultural narrative, it’s not about self-expression or identity. In fact, it’s not about the self at all.

Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others (CCC 2332).

The powerful symbols of the body hold the keys to the soul: We cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening some lasting wound in the spirit. ―Pope Francis


marriage 2

Chastity is not the same as abstinence.

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman (CCC 2337).

My parents did not abstain; that’s what an athlete might do with beer to shed a few pounds. My parents kept themselves pure and whole for one another – for the other – in his or her sexual being -which implies openness to generations past and to come. They wanted joy, not pleasure on the cheap. They wanted a feast filled with guests with something real and good to feast about, and not something sickly in a brown bag. They wanted more, not less. ―Anthony Esolen, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity


Though Billy Joel might have sung otherwise, chastity is about freedom, not restriction.

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy (CCC 2239).


The Church isn’t naive. Chastity is hard. It’s hard for single people. It’s hard for people who are dating. It’s hard for same-sex attracted people. It’s hard for priests and religious. It’s hard for engaged couples. It’s hard for married couples. Virtue is difficult. It takes hard work. Practice might not make perfect every time. But practice does make permanent.

Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life (CCC 2342).


The best news about chastity? We’re all in it together.

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 (CCC 2344).

Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology  (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, No. 15.

Let’s continue to work for a culture in which we love in a way that shows we live for more, and not less!

The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness. —Pope Benedict XVI

Find Elise on Twitter @eliseanne

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