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Chastity is Internal

St. Agnes of Rome, to a rich suitor: “I am already the spouse of a Lover much more noble and powerful than you.” This was a reference to Jesus Christ. St. Agnes is a patron saint for chastity and her name appears in the Roman Missal.

Regular readers know that it particularly pains me when I see Catholic bloggers referring to people as “gay,” because our identity is in Christ, not in disorder. (See here.) It is clear that this argument about identity, that we are supposed to find our identity in what God has called us to be, is falling on deaf ears, for the most part. Perhaps it is time to bring up another point, and that is that chastity is internal. It is a virtue. A demand that the “gay” identity be defended is an argument against chastity.It is the same as arguing that it is okay for a person with same-sex attraction to put a condom over his heart in his relationship with Christ.

Chastity, from the Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John Hardon:

The virtue that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure according to the principles of faith and right reason. In married people, chastity moderates the desire in conformity with their state of life; in unmarried people who wish to marry, the desire is moderated by abstention until (or unless) they get married; in those who resolve not to marry, the desire is sacrificed entirely.

Chastity and purity, modesty and decency are comparable in that they have the basic meaning of freedom from whatever is lewd or salacious. Yet they also differ. Chastity implies an opposition to the immoral in the sense of lustful or licentious. It suggests refraining from all acts or thoughts that are not in accordance with the Church’s teaching about the use of one’s reproductive powers. It particularly stresses restraint and an avoidance of anything that might defile or make unclean the soul because the body has not been controlled in the exercise of its most imperious passion. (Etym. Latin castus, morally pure, unstained.)

Marc Barnes offers the latest example of insistence that the “gay” identity be embraced and, remarkably, he goes the extra mile by saying that Warhol’s identifying as “gay” was “a laudable feat.”

Now truly, Mr. Warhol was openly, undeniably gay, a laudable feat in a time less friendly to men with same-sex attraction.

Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, writes a response to him citing Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She also mentions identity.

Andy Warhol spent a lifetime creating works of “art” that consisted in “removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties.” And now he is a role model of intentional celibacy? Is this where promoting the “gay Catholic” label leads? If so, I can’t help but believe that Daniel Mattson is right when he writes that the claim for such a thing as “gay Catholic” identity does not do justice to the Church’s teaching of the fundamental identity of the human person as a child of God in Jesus Christ.

My take on this as a celibate person myself is that those who claim that Andy Warhol was a model of celibacy must have no idea whatsoever what it is to be celibate as a Catholic. None. Zero. Chastity does not deal only with external sexual acts. Chastity is a virtue that  includes fertility. Chastity from celibate Catholics is “a singular source of spiritual fertility in the world.”

In Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II quoted St. John Chrysostom in speaking of celibacy, so that we should know that celibacy is to be compared with marriage and not merely contrasted against what is evil.

Rightly indeed does St. John Chrysostom say: “Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be particularly good. It is something better than what is admitted to be good that is the most excellent good.”(38)

In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give Himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection.(39)

By virtue of this witness, virginity or celibacy keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment.

Celibacy is not merely refusing to engage in sexual acts. Celibacy, for the Catholic, is about a marital relationship with Jesus Christ. And so, I must,as a celibate person in the Church, defend against this insisted reduction of celibacy to a mere avoidance of sexual acts. In so doing, I defend fertility that is spiritual in nature, and in defending fertility, I defend the institution of marriage against reduction and impoverishment.

Whether they realize it or not, when Leila Miller, Mark Shea, Marc Barnes, et al, uphold the “gay” identity as “valid” because they believe celibacy is nothing more than a refusal to engage in sexual acts, they are essentially saying that it is okay for persons with same-sex attraction to put a barrier between themselves and Jesus that inhibits spiritual fertility just as a condom inhibits fertility in marriage. Whether they realize it or not, they also reduce marriage itself to a relationship that does not need Jesus at the center of it.

The truths of our Catholic Faith are not simply a list of rules to follow. Just as one’s charity cannot be measured in terms of how much money one gives to the Church, neither can chastity be measured merely by whether one has sex according to the rules of the Church.

UPDATE: I’m glad to see that Dawn Eden’s post was linked at Big Pulpit.



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