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

In Response to Wesley Hill on Suffering

Over at the Spiritual Friendship Blog, Wesley Hill, author of Washed And Waiting, has what I think is an excellent post on how our suffering can be united with Christ.  It seems to me to be a very Catholic view of suffering that Wesley Hill has stumbled on, particularly with the line of his I quote below.  For some reason, the powers that be there at Spiritual Friendship have chosen not to post my response, so I’ve posted it here instead, for my blog readers’ consideration.  Check out his post first–it’s quite good, and very exciting to hear such things from a Protestant.  It reminds of the way Elisabeth Elliott views suffering.

I appreciate your post. It seems very much in line with a quote of Thomas Merton that changed my view of living with same sex attraction. I think it resonates with what you wrote above, when you wrote about St. Paul, saying that “he gives his suffering a Christian shape. It becomes his sharing in the passion of Christ. Living out the condition of death is itself for Paul also a sharing in the risen life of Jesus. He dies not because he is “in Adam,” but because he is “in Christ.””

This quote from Thomas Merton says much the same thing:

“Suffering, therefore, must make sense to us not as a vague universal necessity, but as something demanded by our own personal destiny. When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ’s love, given to me by God the Father along with my identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ’s love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.”

I have found great comfort in Colossians 1:24 as well, in which St. Paul says, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction.” Of course, that’s not to say that in the Catholic view of suffering that Christ’s death on the Cross was somehow incomplete, but rather that God allows us to participate in his death on the Cross–in a very real sense–in which we actually participate with his redemption of the world (only possible because Christ is in us). For me, it gives a deeper meaning and purpose to suffering than merely being the means by which God strengthens our character.

Something St. Ireneaus wrote long ago has helped me think about this aspect of “joining in Christ’s suffering.” He wrote that in heaven, there “dwell powers and angels and angels and archangels, doing service to God, the Almighty and Maker of all things: not as though He was in need, but that they may not be idle and unprofitable and ineffectual.” Christ’s death certainly is sufficient–but I think, like the angels, God does not need us to join our suffering to His, but He allows that in our loves, out of love for our good. God wants us to willingly choose to join our sufferings with his, which I’m convinced is what it means to become literal “living sacrifices.”

C. S. Lewis’s thoughts on prayer from his poem “Sonnet” also have helped me think about how living with the pain associated with SSA can be joined with Christ’s suffering.

“…if His action lingers
Till men have prayer, and suffers their weak prayers indeed
To move as very muscles His delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our
Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.”

I have reflected often over the years on what Lewis wrote here, thinking that out of His love for our “small dignities” God might “enfeeble” His power, to allow us to participate in His Will. It seems to be, in some sense, what St. Paul is saying in Colossians 1:24.

Thanks for this post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Great post!

By the way, I gave a talk on that Merton quote, and how I view it as related to homosexuality, for what it’s worth. If you’re curious, you can view it here:

Also, you may find this letter on suffering by John Paul II fascinating, in light of what you wrote in this post. This too has shaped my view of the redemption of homosexuality in our lives.

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html