In Praise of Religious Chastity (by a Lay Man)

A few months ago I read  The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by Fr. James Martin, SJ. (A book I heartily recommend, BTW.) Fr. Martin has a gift for talking about the faith in a way that even non-Catholics can understand and appreciate.

I was especially taken with his discussion of the evangelical counsels, and this passage on chastity in particular:

One of the main goals of chastity is to love as many people as possible as deeply as possible. That may seem strange to those used to defining chastity negatively ”that is, as not having sex. But this has long been the tradition of the church. Chastity is another way to love and, as such, has a great deal to teach everyone, not just members of religious orders.

Chastity also frees you to serve people more readily. We’re not attached to one person or to a family, so it’s easier for us to move to another assignment. As the Jesuit Constitutions says, chastity is “essentially apostolic.” It is supposed to help us become better “apostles.” Like all the vows, chastity helps Jesuits to be “available,” as Ignatius would say.

So chastity is about both love and freedom.

As a lay man working in the Church, this resonates deeply with me, even though  God did not call me to this kind of love. Instead he called me to love a particular woman and particular children in a way above and beyond anyone else. Of all my earthly concerns they come first. Period. Finite.

And that means having to say no to things that, if I had the freedom to love as a religious, I could say yes to; indeed, there have been times in my catechetical work that I wished I had taken a vow of chastity! Whenever an invitation to speak comes along or the notice of another interesting workshop to attend, part of me wishes I had the freedom to go without thought of my wife and kids. But that would be trying to live a different vocation — indeed, it would be a betrayal of my vows.

So I have a great appreciation for religious chastity and those who practice it, even though I was not called by God to be one of them. They live God’s love in a way I do not, with much more freedom to exercise that love. Without them, love would be diminished in the world. So thank God for chastity!