The Unpopular Virtue
“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other.” -C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
Chastity didn’t seem so unpopular when I first had “the talk” in 6th grade at St. Michael’s School. I had grown up with the same kids since kindergarten, and we all seemed to be on the same page. Sex was gross. How could anyone even think about “doing it” with someone who wasn’t their husband? At that point, I was convinced I never even wanted my husband to see me naked.
Regardless of how I felt then, people told me that my feelings would change when I got older and began to date more seriously. So I decided to buy myself a purity ring. Whether it was simply an excuse to splurge on my first ever Tiffany’s ring or I already felt a conviction at the age of 12, I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I wore that ring every day for the next 14 years…
It wasn’t until college when I began to lose sight of the true meaning behind my vow of chastity. Throughout my relationships, instead of thinking “how can I help this person get to heaven?” or “how can I see this man as a child of God?” I began to use my virginity as a facet that (I presumed) made me more desired by men. I would wear clothes that were a bit promiscuous and flirt with guys to get attention. I thought that “being a tease” was harmless— after all, I wasn’t having sex.
It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco and started teaching Theology of the Body to 7th and 8th graders at St. Dominic’s Church that I realized I had it all wrong…
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “to love is to will the good of the other.” This “true love” requires a deliberate choice to disregard any selfish feelings or ulterior motives, something I had not been doing. I might have been protecting my own purity by not having sex, but I sure as heck wasn’t protecting theirs. In a way, I was doing the opposite. I was encouraging these men to think and act lustfully, in the way I was dressing, texting, and “teasing.” And then it hit me–I was Eve in the garden. Sure, Adam ate the forbidden fruit too, but wasn’t Eve the one who gave it to him?
In today’s day, it seems like men often get blamed for things. Now don’t get me wrong, a man and a woman can equally be the temptors. But it is our responsibility as women to protect our men, and help them get to heaven. Instead of thinking “how far is too far?” we should be thinking “how can I show sincere affection without initiating arousal (which leads to lust)?”. By dressing conservatively and willing the good for our boyfriend/fiancé/husband, we can do just that.
Quick disclaimer: This isn’t to say absolute purity is a walk in the park. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged, or even married, it is only possible to avoid lust with God’s grace. Not to mention, the closer you get to receiving a sacrament (in this case, marriage), the harder the devil works to get in the way.
I felt, firsthand, the “full court press” of the devil leading up to my wedding day last month. As our desire to be married continued to grow, my now-husband and I couldn’t help but be frustrated that we had to postpone our long awaited wedding day due to Covid19. The 3-block walk home from his apartment to mine in San Francisco always felt like an eternity. It’s too cold to walk home. After all, we would be married by now if it wasn’t for Covid. And if we’re going to be sleeping in the same bed in one month, why can’t we now? Every night, we would have to battle the never-ending temptations and justifications. Thank goodness we have a loving and forgiving God to bring us back on course whenever we stray:
“God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them. Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult … We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts.
You must ask for God’s help.
Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up and try again.
Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”
– C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
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