On Chastity

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by Sacerdos  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 13, 2019   

A priestly reflection

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This is part three in a series on chastity written by a priest in the diocese of Helena, Montana, who has granted Church Militant permission to republish his post.

As we begin part three, I want to briefly touch on where I had left off in part two, and then discuss how to begin laying a good foundation for the practice of the virtue of chastity.  Then, I think I will prepare a further post looking a little more closely at how chastity can be acquired if you are a celibate man considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, if you are married or desire to marry, and then a few thoughts on men who struggle with an unwanted same sex attraction.

Part two of our consideration of the virtue of chastity ended with the assertion that continence is not the same as chastity, although it is an essential aspect of it. The point that I was attempting to make is that it is quite possible to believe that one is being chaste when in reality one is only practicing continence, and that only by a sheer act of the will. I was explaining that when one practices continence it happens quite often that the strength of the passions and the constant urging of the concupiscible appetite overwhelms a man, and reaching the end of the rope regarding the strength of his own will to be chaste, he falls. And repeated so.
Pride is not and cannot be the basis or the foundation for acquiring virtue.
There are two things about continence that ought to be known so that we can understand why will power alone is not sufficient to remain chaste, and why it cannot replace or have the same effect on the appetites as the virtue of chastity does. The first thing that ought to be known is that will power alone does nothing to tame the unruly nature of the appetites. Concupiscence, for the lack of a better way of describing it, needs to be domesticated.  And this can be done, just not by the will. When we get more into virtue of chastity itself we will look at why the use of reason needs to be brought to bear on the appetites and the passions associated with them.  It is by the use of reason that we are going to bring our appetites under control and subject them its (reason's) dominion. But more on that later.
The second thing about continence that I want to touch upon is why this form of trying to be chaste often fails, and it has everything to do with our pride. I would not suggest that this would always and everywhere be the case, but given our fallen nature, pride often becomes involved in any kind of effort or achievement that can be brought about by our determination and will, and when the achievement is a period of continence, well, we could be setting ourselves up for quite a fall.
Pride, even secret pride or a sense of satisfaction in something that we have achieved, even if it is a period of continence, is not and cannot be the basis or the foundation for acquiring virtue.  In order to acquire virtue we have to first pursue the one virtue upon which all of the others depend, and that virtue is humility.
The word humility comes to us from the Latin language and has its origin in the word humus, which means earth.  Humility then is the soil in which the other virtues are planted and in which they must grow and mature. Humility must be authentic and it must be sincere; it is found in prayer and it is grounded in the truth.
As we seek the gift of humility in prayer it would also be a good idea to ask the Holy Ghost for the gift of fear of the Lord.  The gift of the fear of the Lord is the gift that gives us an awareness of our own nothingness in the presence of the incomprehensible majesty of Almighty God.  In our prayer for humility we ought to remind ourselves and confess to God that we are dust and unto dust we will return; and because humility is related to the truth we also need to acknowledge that we are created and that God himself is our Maker.  Added to this we must take great care not to esteem ourselves more than we ought, keeping in mind that all that we are and all that we have, including natural gifts and talents as well as the many gifts of grace, are all just that, gifts.  We did nothing to merit them and they are nothing about which we may boast.  In fact, we need to impress deeply within ourselves the reality that the gifts that we have been given have not been given to us for our own sake, but for the sake of others.  We are after all parts of a body and members of one another with Christ as the Head.
More often than not we will begin to recognize the presence of humility in our lives by the appearance of the other virtues which completely depend on it.  It is at this juncture that we need to be particularly careful so that pride does not enter into the picture causing us to become enamored with ourselves at the risk of loosing it all.  We can never lay aside our self-abasement before the Lord, and we must be grateful and give thanks for everything.  There is so much more that can be said, but I am wanting to write about chastity, not elaborate excessively on virtue of humility.
In addition to humility there are a couple of other things that we are going to need to do in order to acquire the virtue of chastity and that is maintaining custody of the eyes and governing our thoughts well defending our heart against all impure thoughts.

Wandering eyes are a bad habit, and since it is a habit it can be broken.  There is no doubt that our eyes are fairly greedy.  In the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, I believe it is verse eight, Qoheleth says that the eye is not satisfied with seeing.  True enough.  The only way to truly break this habit is to simply stop doing it.  It may take some doing, but with a little determination it is possible to not gawk at everyone who catches our eye, and do not fool yourself giving yourself permission to look claiming you are somehow just appreciating the beauty of God's creation.  No you are not.

In fact, while we are on the topic of the eyes, it should also be mentioned that in general we really ought to strive to break the habit of paying too much attention to other people's physical characteristics.  This too is a terrible habit.  With prayer and practice we need to seek the grace to see other people as God sees them so that we are not so much aroused or repulsed by other people and their physicality.

Impure thoughts can be a tough one.  However, if we do not tackle this problem, as well as custody of the eyes, chastity will never be ours, and for the simple fact that through these two habits we will be continually stoking the fires of lust within us.  There are three things that can really help with impure thoughts.  The first is prayer, especially meditation on the Passion, the second is fasting once or twice a week, and the third is having a short prayer that can be used like a hammer to beat down unwanted thoughts when they arise or present themselves.

With regards to meditating on the Passion I cannot recommend enough The Dolorous Passion by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. Using small pieces of the Passion narrative, begin to incorporate these images into your mind, and not just that, but speak to the Lord about his suffering and what you are observing during his last hours in this world.  Use the Passion as a basis for an intimate dialogue with Christ. If you cannot do this everyday, then at least try to do so with frequency. Meditations on the Passion should play a significant role in our interior life anyway. It should be considered indispensable.
Meditations on the Passion should play a significant role in our interior life anyway. It should be considered indispensable.
Fasting is a very important element as we strive to acquire the virtue of chastity, and for the simple fact that eating and gluttony are related to the concupiscible appetite, just like lust. Remember that concupiscence inclines us towards that which is pleasurable. Since we are wishing to tame our concupiscence, to do so we must exercise moderation with regards to all things that we consider or are in fact, pleasurable. Fasting is a great way to exercise our use of reason by giving it dominion over the cravings of the body, and in this case, our hunger and desire to eat. Again, for fasting to be truly effective we cannot approach it as a contest where we exert our will over the desire to eat. Our fasting must be reasonable, intentional and it needs to be directed toward some good end. On days of fasting it is very important to set aside extra time for prayer. Begin the fast by offering it as a reparation for any sins of the flesh you may have committed, and remind yourself throughout the fast that your are cleansing your heart and bringing your appetites under the dominion of reason with the goal of acquiring virtue.

Finally, everyone needs that one short prayer or verse of Sacred Scripture that they can use as a hammer to beat down unwanted thoughts as they appear. The best prayers are of course are short prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. Joseph. Using these prayers though is also a habit that needs to be acquired.  Be patient with yourself.  If an unwanted impure thought draws you into its trap, make an Act of Contrition and move on.  Do not obsess over your failures or grow discouraged as this is pride, pure and simple. Remember humility, that you are dust and of course you are going to fall, no surprise here.  Get up and continue forward.  Things will eventually lighten up with time.

When impure thoughts take on a violent nature, like a strong persistent storm, and sometimes they do, then we need to take more severe measures to subdue them. These measures may include the discipline, a cold shower, a trip to the gym or a good run. Take your consolation in the fact that these violent thoughts are not yours until you will them and entertain them.  It is a real form of persecution and you must ride it out heroically.  It will pass.

In the next post I want to treat of all the little sins and bad habits that we may have acquired over the years and how they need to be dealt with if we are to acquire the virtue of chastity.  Yes, the past is important and so are little seemingly inconsequential things insofar as they dispose us towards the lust we are trying to master.

Again, as always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.
Originally published at Sacerdos.


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