Two common definitions of chastity involve either some idea of abstinence or plainness of style. In both cases, chastity is typically defined as a noun. But no matter how I see the meaning of the word chastity, I am hard-pressed to view it as an action or state of being. To view it as a noun, I feel a sense of ownership, like the word itself has its own entity or is a part of something, adding up to the whole of that being.
Chastity is more than a way of life; it is respect of that [chaste] life.
How did I arrive at that conclusion after years of understanding that chastity means abstinence? It is from that one morning meeting talking about Benedictine spirituality.
In Benedictine spirituality, chastity is defined as having a “right relationship” with people in consideration of God, others, and self. In other words, it is how you love God, others, and yourself. Love is a powerful and often misinterpreted word. It can be used to deceive or it can unite.
Probably my favorite line in the Old Testament reads: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; wisdom and instruction fools despise” (Proverbs 1:7). Often considered the basis of religion, to me it’s my relationship/my love of God. Respecting God is the beginning of understanding what he wants for me; to ignore Him would be foolish. Not only in Scripture does God teach us, but He also showed us in person by sending His only Son to us. God wants us to love Him by living through the examples Jesus left for us. He loved his Father by reciprocating that love to others through respect.
As a FOCCUS couple with my wife for our church, the stats on divorce, pre-marital co-habitation, and pre-marital/casual sex in today’s society doesn’t surprise me, but it does concern me. I find that the cause of these stats stem from selfishness—the loss of respect for others. Chastity is more than abstinence until marriage or a religious vow. It’s about the right relationship of love and respect; the two cannot survive without the other in terms of sex. I could go on forever on this topic alone, but let’s just say that I believe sex to be a beautiful gift from God, extended through the Sacrament of Marriage, as the ultimate sign a couple’s love and respect for each other; not as a casual affair just to satisfy one’s own needs.
So how can I love God or another person if I don’t love myself? The answer is: you can’t. Why do you think psychiatrists charge what they do an hour? Many people face this self-deprecating dilemma every day. Believe me, I’ve been there. It’s impossible to show love and respect to others, let alone to God, if you don’t love and respect yourself. As I said before: Chastity is about having that “right relationship,” based on love and respect for God, others, AND self. It’s not one out of three or two of the three. It’s all three together.
[my next blog: Benedictine Spirituality from a lay person: Poverty (part 4 of 7)]
Featured image: Piyaphon/freedigitalphotos.net