Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Evangelical Counsel of Chastity, for Laity

Chastity is the love of God flowing through me, in my relationship to another human being. Chastity is the love of God flowing freely, overcoming obstacles, blockages and impediments of fear, pride and selfishness. Chastity is dynamic; it is meant to be grown with, and grown into. There is a drawing element of this dynamic, because relationships between people are the normative means by which God draws the Church together to thrive and grow. Chastity is directly linked to death, that is, the gospel death to self that leads to the fullest life possible, for ourselves, and for all.

This is what God has been teaching me for the last several years.

And learning it has been very interesting to say the least.

Chastity is not about a list of sexual don'ts. Moral law, and simply reason, tell us that. Our culture has lost a sense of that, and I think it is one of the effects of losing our reason that we have to talk about matters we can arrive at by reason and make religious talk out of it. (I wrote a post about that called Natural Law, Marriage, and the Normality of Ignorance.)

Note, of course, that chastity and celibacy are not synonymous. 

Chastity is a positive thing; it is about what we do. There is a sexual dimension to chastity, because being male or female impacts everything we are and do and all of our relationships. Chastity is simply relating with other people with the full extent of who we are.

Here's what the Secular Carmelite Constitutions have to say about chastity:

The promise of chastity reinforces the commitment to love God above all else, and to love others with the love God has for them. In this promise the Secular Carmelite seeks the freedom to love God and neighbour unselfishly giving witness to the divine intimacy promised by the beatitude “blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The promise of chastity is a commitment to Christian love in its personal and social dimensions in order to create authentic community in the world. By this promise the Secular Carmelite also expresses the conscious desire to respect each person as required by God’s law and one’s state of life, as a single person or married or widowed. This promise does not prevent a change in state of life.

The truth of this has been quite an ordeal for me to learn. Chastity has by no means come naturally to me. And I don't mean that I have had a particularly sordid past. In fact, considering the weird men I've known, my guardian angel must have some incredible muscle. Chastity has come hard for me because of being wounded with the loss of significant relationships at a young age. To prevent more hurt, I locked myself away. The only thing that flowed out of me was my hurt. The love God had made available to me in my baptism, I let sit. I clung tight to fear, to pride, to selfishness.

And I've written a lot about all those stories in this blog in the past. Here I want to write about what I've learned about chastity.

The beginning for me was realizing that I should not have to "pay a price" to gain friends. In other words, I realized purposefully being a fake to feel like I was fitting in or gaining a desired person's approval, was bad. The love of God is not flowing freely from one who is stifling or sacrificing one's soul to be liked.

I learned that the only way to learn to love other people is to trust deeply in God. To be open to give love means to be open to all manner of hurt from others, and of seeing my own limitations and sin. The way that none of this is devastating is to trust that God is Love. He is the cause of the love that flows through us, and His love is more powerful, more abundant than hurt or sin. Because I have so misunderstood God's love at times and have been so unwilling to feel the pain associated with it, I have begged God to take a spiritual power-washer and blast it out of me. But, no, He didn't. Instead He showed me that this love is my salvation, even when it hurts. Knowing that it hurts to love means getting a peak into understanding God's heart, who loves us with unimaginable passion, and who waits, longing for hearts who forget Him.

I have learned, too, that chaste love flowing through us reminds us of death. God's love shared, especially reciprocated, creates a bond. Bonds are what make us cry at funerals, or when friends leave, or when sickness slowly carries one away. Sometimes when I open my heart to another, I am very aware that in so doing I am creating another bucket of tears I will cry when we part. But that does not stop me. It can't -- not if this is how God builds His kingdom to which I have committed my life, and how we draws me and those other souls together into that kingdom where nothing is ever lost. This is the love that was manifest in Acts and in Paul's writings. Think of Acts chapter 20, where Paul is at Miletus telling the believers they won't ever see him again. It says: "They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship." This is kingdom-building chastity.

The evangelical counsels are all about pointing to heaven. Chastity sure does it for me. There really is no reason for love to exist if there is no God, and I know the only way I could have learned to love anyone is by supernatural intervention. I also know that no love born of God ends here on earth.

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