Chastity Is Won By God Alone

As is my (rather nerdy) wont, I’ve been reading some bits from the Church Fathers. St. John Cassian has some remarkable insights into the pursuit of chastity in his writings. He teaches that in chastity above all other virtues, human effort alone can never bring about the virtue of chastity:

5. If we really desire to enter into this spiritual combat on the same terms as the Apostle (2 Tm 4:7), let us concentrate our every effort at dominating this unclean spirit by placing our confidence not in our own forces but on the help of God. Human effort will never be able to win through here. For the soul will be attacked by this vice as long as it does not recognize that it is in a war beyond its powers and that it cannot obtain victory by its own effort unless it is shored up by the help and protection of the Lord.

There’s a necessary humility in acknowledging our utter inability to live chastely, outside the grace of God. The first step, it seems to me, is to acknowledge our complete need for God in winning the battle. Thomas Merton wrote that “real self-conquest is the conquest of the self by the Holy Spirit.” This is most true in the battle for chastity. Continue reading

The Difficulty of Chastity and the Grace of God

All this however most certainly does not go to show that sensual excitability, as a natural and congenital characteristic of a concrete person, is in itself morally wrong.  An exuberant and readily roused sensuality is the stuff from which a rich—if difficult—personal life may be made.  It may help the individual to respond more readily and completely to the decisive elements in personal love.  Primitive sensual excitability (provided it is not of morbid origin) can become a factor making for a fuller and more ardent love.  Such a love will obviously be the result of sublimation.

–John Paul II, Love and Responsibility

I was thinking of this quote from Blessed John Paul II recently when I read something from a fellow who also lives with same-sex attraction and who readily admits to having a heck of a time following the moral teachings of the Church. I’ve come to really admire his openness and his heart, because he’s really “working out his faith, with fear and trembling,” and communicates with painful honesty about his desires to follow God in pursuing chastity, but finds it very difficult to remain chaste, something I understand.  It’s a very real emanation of St. Paul’s famous phrase that we do what we don’t want to do, and don’t do what we want to do.  I can tell from his writings that the man has a beautiful soul. Continue reading

Christ’s Love As Acceptance?

This is adapted from an email I sent to a fellow who believes, as a lot of people seem to do, that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality ignores the claim that Christ’s form of love should be defined as “acceptance.”  He also implied that Courage is doing great harm, and that Courage is full of “holier than thou” people.  Finally, the subject of his email said, “What Did Jesus Say About Homosexuality?,” inferring that because Christ never mentioned homosexuality in the Gospel’s record of His words, therefore it must not have been important to Christ.  This is a slightly edited form of my email reply to him:

I’m a member of Courage, and one who has experienced Courage as being one of the most beneficial gifts of God to me, so I’m happy to reply to some of your concerns you raise in your email.  You say that Courage (and presumably the Catholic Church) is causing “so much harm,” something which I couldn’t disagree with more.  Far from believing that Courage does harm, I am one who has been greatly blessed by its ministry.  You say that you hope that some day, Courage will do its “Christian duty” and spread Christ’s acceptance.  I’ll address the notion of acceptance a little later, but I happen to believe that Courage is doing its “Christian duty” by calling me, and my other brothers and sisters in Courage, to a life of chastity, since I’m convinced it leads to the abundant life.  I’ll try to answer a few of your thoughts below:

Have you asked yourself why you see the Courage position as being “holier than thou?”  All of us in Courage came to Courage because we realized that we couldn’t live on our own any longer, and that the way we were living didn’t bring us peace.  None of us were coerced into Courage, and none (that I know of!) joined Courage because we wanted the rest of the world to contemplate how “holy we are.”  That’s a strange assertion, since for most of us, the reason we came to Courage is because we became pretty clear of our need for God.  We sensed innately that we weren’t living holy lives.  I tend to think that people who say we’re “holier than thou” say that for one reason:  We’ve chosen to strive for a life of chastity, and usually the person who calls us “holier than thou” hasn’t made the same choice.  We’re not forcing our beliefs and decisions on anyone else, but the existence of people like us who’ve chosen chastity is somehow perceived by those who haven’t made the same choice as a self-righteous “holier than thou” position.   Is everyone who chooses chastity “holier than thou” simply by deciding that’s the best path to peace for them?  I mean, this seems very strange to me.  Why does our choice to follow what the Church says make us “holier than thou?”  We just happen to believe that what the Church teaches us is in our best interests!

In a related way, I sometimes think about how others must view my brother and his wife and their views on contraception.  I don’t view them as “holier than thou” because they don’t believe in contraception, but perhaps some people who choose to use contraception are offended that my brother and his wife don’t–and therefore, perhaps they’ll call them “holier than thou.”  I think the same thing anytime I hear anyone say that about Courage.  I find that it usually means that the person saying it doesn’t like that some people like those of us in Courage have chosen a path different than they did.  Especially when we believe that the choice of chastity leads to a better life than we had before. Those of us in Courage don’t choose Courage because of what other people think of us, and if some people think of us as “holier than thou,” it doesn’t mean that we are.  I think it really reveals more about what’s going on inside the person who’s wielding the term.

Now, about acceptance.  What about Christ’s message of love suggests to you that his love can be distilled to “acceptance?”  I think that’s the most un-Christian definition of love, and has nothing to do with Jesus.  If Christ’s message was merely about “acceptance,” he wouldn’t have been crucified.  One story that comes immediately to mind is the story of the Rich Young Ruler.  Christ told him what he had to do to achieve eternal life, and when the Rich Young Ruler heard that he had to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor, he went away sad.  Christ wasn’t merely content to “accept” him as he was–he wanted him to be transformed by the encounter.  I used to be a non-denominational Baptisty sort of Protestant, and on more than one occasion during an altar call the choir would sing, “Just As I Am.”  But Christ isn’t content with “just as I am.”  He invites us “just as we are,” but Christ loves us too much to let us leave him “just as we came.”  He accepted the woman caught in adultery, and forgave her sins, but then said, “now go and sin no more.”  “Sinning no more” is the way we would live our lives if we truly knew who we were, and realized fully who made us, for what we were made, and where our true home is.  The words “go and sin no more” are more aptly phrased, “now go and live life to the fullest!”  Encounters with Christ lead to what St. Paul says is the transforming and renewing of our minds.  A love that accepts whatever is in anyone’s life, as if that’s the pinnacle of love, isn’t loving at all.  Christ’s love demands a response from us all, since He has never merely “accepted” us.  That’s like a father who’s content that his son or daughter never learns how to walk.  Christ is always pushing us beyond where we are because he wants much more for us than what we would choose on our own.  I have no use for Christ if his love is mere acceptance of me.

Now, as to the subject line of your email.  “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?”  Well, we could ask that about a lot of things.  Christ didn’t talk about abortion, and yet we have a moral view on abortion.  God didn’t talk about incest, and yet no one seems to question the wrongness of incest.  We can’t derive moral claims solely on “what Christ talked about,” since Christ didn’t talk about all kinds of things.  If we based all that is wrong for man based on what Christ talked about, there’s a lot that would fall through the cracks.

Christ did speak about sexual morality, however, and in Mark 6:6-8 he tells us what God ordained in the beginning:  “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”  Within this teaching, Christ tells us what God ordained–from the beginning!–for our sexuality.  It is not a gift to be used willy-nilly as we see fit (though most of us in Courage have misused the gift, just like most everyone else on the planet at one time or another!).  God created sexuality for men and women to be used solely within the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman.*  It is for this reason that all else falls short–from sex outside of marriage, to sex between members of the same sex.  We can extrapolate meaning about morality from what Christ did talk about–not all that is prohibited must have been talked about at one point by Christ.  An examination of the creative forms of evil that men think of to inflict on other men reveals that we make moral judgments on all sorts of things that Christ didn’t talk about.

But most of all, we in Courage actually believe that the Church’s teaching is good news!  To be shouted from the mountain top!  And we’ve used our rational minds to reach this point.  We’re not robots, and we’re not merely “yes-men and women”  to what the Church’s teaching is.  We really, really believe that chastity is the path to peace.  Perhaps some will call us holier than thou, but as for me, I just shrug that off as silly, since any amount of hanging around with us would reveal that we’re keenly aware of how unholy we are.

Anyway, God bless, and thanks for the email.

*In anticipation of the inevitable question about the Patriarchs of the faith who had more than one wife, here is St. Thomas Aquinas’s answer to this.

John Donne and John Adams on Chastity

My favorite living composer is John Adams.  I’ve had the privilege of performing several of his pieces, and even meeting the composer on a few occasions.  His music is the sort of music that a lot of soundtracks are based off of–the difference being that he’s the “real deal,” and the movie composers steal his ideas.  (For any music aficionados who might be reading my blog, and who are curious, here’s a perfect example:  the soundtrack to The Tree of Life by Terence Malick, composed by Alexandre Despat would never have been imagined or created without John Adams.  Adams’s Harmonielehre is the real deal, while Despat is merely the imitation).

A few years back, I had the good fortune to play one of the first performances of Adams’s Doctor Atomic Symphony, adapted from his opera of the same name.  In the symphony there is an amazing trumpet solo that I learned later was transcribed from an aria for baritone, where the libretto was based on Holy Sonnet 14 written by John Donne.

In John Adams’s own description of his work, “Doctor Atomic concerns the final hours leading up to the first atomic bomb explosion at the Alamagordo test site in New Mexico in July of 1945. The focal characters are the physicist and Manhattan Project director, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.”  The trumpet solo that I fell in love with was the finale of the first act, and featured Oppenheimer singing poignant words from John Donne, which apparently Oppenheimer was reading while the Manhattan Project was under way.

I find the text, and the music, a beautiful representation of those who desire chastity in their lives, and yet find the challenge insurmountable at times.

Holy Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.