Guide to Goodness

Right Ordered Desire. Fruit of the Spirit: Chastity

Art by Melanie Boutiette Just Beloved

The fruit of chastity is grossly misunderstood in our society. Perhaps this is because we don’t talk much about its importance.  It seems to me that in our oversexualized world, the conversation about chastity is kept in the dark because it is so countercultural.  After reading this post, I hope you gain a greater appreciation of this fruit and how not being chaste negatively impacts our world, especially women.  Ultimately, I am hopeful that this conversation leads us to re-think and prioritize chastity and right-ordered desire in our lives.

Today, we explore the twelfth and final fruit of the Spirit, chastity.  What exactly is chastity?  While most people think of chastity as simply not having sex, as a hindrance to freedom, or simply old-fashioned and out-of-date with modern culture, chastity is the submission of physical desire to right reason, subjugating it to one’s spiritual nature. People might say, “it’s my body so let me do what I want with it.”  However, we are called to be morally pure or unstained.  As Christians, every baptized person is called to chastity according to their state in life.  This means indulging our physical desires only within the appropriate contexts—for instance, engaging in sexual activity only within marriage.

Desire is a good thing if it is ordered correctly.  And all of us are wired to desire the beautiful and there is no greater beauty on earth than human beings who are created in the very image and likeness of God.

Genesis 1:26

The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory.  Church tradition lists twelve:  charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness (benignity), goodness, generosity (longanimity), gentleness (mildness), faithfulness (faith), modesty, self-control (continency), chastity.  Galatians 5:22-23 Vulgate  As we mature in our faith, aligning our will with God’s, all the characteristics of our spiritual fruits, including the fruit of chastity, will grow.  “’We live by the Spirit’; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we ‘walk by the Spirit’” (CCC 736).

Let’s look at some of the benefits of learning, understanding, and living in the fruit of chastity:

  • There are 30 references to chastity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, stressing its foundational importance to our relationship with our bodies and God.
  • Chastity means giving ourselves to Christ completely, whether as a priest, religious or layperson.  All vocations are called to have chaste in their way of living.  Chastity also means indulging our physical desires within the right context such as being sexually pure before marriage and by remaining faithful to one’s spouse.
  • Why is chastity important?  Because sexuality affects our ability to form healthy bonds with other people.  It affects the unity of our body and soul, including our capacity to love and to procreate.  Chastity is important because this is how we live with our bodies ordered to God.  Before the Fall, all the physical senses were in complete harmony and controlled by reason.  Temperance is loving my body, keeping it clean and pure, moderating taste, exercising continence in touch, and remaining chaste in all the senses.  Infused with the theological virtue of love, we see the fruit of chastity.
  • The practice of chastity includes control of our thoughts and discipline of our senses, especially the eyes.  It is greatly assisted by modesty and purity.  The virtue of chastity on a fundamental level has to do with our integrity.  A chaste person integrates the life and love placed within and lives in unity and does not tolerate anything that would harm it.
  • Chastity overcomes the sin of lust.  Everyone could use more chastity in a world that is constantly displaying sexual images.  The Bible tells us that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit. The virtue of chastity can help calm our lustful desire for sexual acts and restrain our wandering eyes.
  • We can learn more about chastity through scripture:
    • Matthew 5:28 shares with us the standard of Jesus Christ himself:  “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
    • Mark 7:21-23 warns us:  “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile.”
    • 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

Resisting works of the flesh, immorality, jealousy, envy, anger.

Galatians 5:19-21

How do we cultivate the fruit of chastity? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Prayer and Effort.  Is chastity possible?  Yes, absolutely.  It may not be easy in our sex-soaked society, but with the grace that comes through the Mass, the sacraments and prayer, it is possible.  And, with grace comes not only chastity, but… eternal life.
  • Contemplate the Sixth Commandment.  “You shall not commit adultery”.  As noted above, Matthew 5:27-28 relate Jesus’ own words regarding this commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  If we really think about this, a fleeting thought or desire can cause us to sin.  This emphasizes the importance of being intentional about what we “feed ourselves” through the media and entertainment.
  • Evaluate Your Values. Finding peace in the decision to be chaste comes from alignment in values.  The most precious gift we have as Christians is our personal love relationship with Jesus Christ.  Is it worth jeopardizing this for a few minutes of pleasure?  What is your view on the sacredness of sex?  Do you find yourself being controlled by your impulses or living up to your human dignity as a person created in the image of God?  Refraining from sex with another person also upholds their dignity.  Sex before marriage feeds the natural tendency of each person to look at the other as an object of enjoyment rather than as a person that is equal and worthy of love.  It can feed selfishness in the relationship and can hide the flaw of lack of friendship which is so essential to a successful marriage.  By remembering these things, we can reframe our values, giving us peace.
  • Be Mindful of Motives.  A pure motive is not driven by sexual urges.  When it does, it become objectification, which has negative consequences for women’s emotional well-being.  Sexual pleasure in the right framework is a good thing if used in the manner God intended.  Certain offenses to chastity ate lust, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, and rape.
  • Look to Jesus.  He is the model of chastity.  Chastity involves apprenticeship in self-mastery.  It’s gradual.  Make the decision to live a chaste life and earnestly seek God’s help.  For it is from Him that you will find your strength.  It is His grace alone that will sustain you.  Take little steps each day to rid yourself of disordered or sinful passions.  Start a journal and document your progress and you’ll be amazed if you truly desire chastity!  Have an accountability partner or spiritual coach.  
  • Ask a Saint for Help.  Thousands of Saints have done this!  That’s why it’s also important to cling to a saint who struggled with the same things you’ve struggled with.  Their prayers will be most effective!  For me, in this area of my life, I like to ask for the intercession of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Upon further reflection of chastity, I hope you will see how this fruit allows us to live in integrity of Spirit and conscience.  We will live with right ordered desires and a pure heart.  Jesus – through the Beatitudes- tells us that being so is a blessing:  “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.”  With God’s grace, may we all be chaste.

Smitten with the fruit of chastity,

Cynthia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s