In college, I saw the movie “300” with some friends. It was pretty gruesome and had plenty of questionable scenes, but all in all I don’t regret watching it. There is one scene that really hit me and still impacts me today.
The plot of the movie is about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C when a small group of 300 Spartans fight against the Persians. It’s intense. The Spartans set up a crazy good force that seems to be impenetrable. However, there is one small back passage that isn’t guarded and the Persians find the weak spot and overcome the 300 Spartans. The scene that sticks with me is their final demise because of that one small entry point – something so small leading to utter destruction.
The story stays with me because it reminds me how similar it is to our own story in the battle for purity and holiness. We are so small and insignificant, but with the right fortress (God’s grace) and strength (virtue, prayer, Sacraments) we can stand against the attacks of the enemy (Satan). But there are countless ways we can leave a back door open if we aren’t careful.
When it comes to chastity, I think there are a lot of half truths the enemy would like us to believe so we always keep a tiny crack open for him. Here’s my take on what Satan would like us to believe about chastity so he can sneak up on us and disrupt God’s plan for our lives. (Scroll to the end for a list of recommended readings.)
- “Chastity means abstinence.” Each and every baptized person is called to chastity. Whether you’re having sex or not, God wants you to give Him glory in all you do. “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of body and soul” (CCC 2332). We are sexual beings, but we are called to live that out in varied ways depending on our vocation. A single person is called to abstinence since they haven’t made a vow to love and serve one person in marriage for life. Because of that they don’t make that promise with their bodies through intercourse or other sexual acts. A married person lives chastity by loving his or her spouse faithfully. Their sexual love is exclusive and open to life. There’s a whole lot of chaste people making babies on this planet!
- “Chastity is prudishness.” Not to be confused here with the actual virtue of prudence (defined in the Catechism as “the virtue which disposes a person to discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it.”) Prudishness on the other hand is more like being overly cautious and easily offended by anything sexual. The prudish person is afraid to say the word butt because someone might think of one. Prudishness makes us cover up great works of art like Michelangelo’s David. Prudishness is not virtuous. It’s more of a hyper-scrupulous fear and avoidance of anything sexual. Chastity on the other hand, is none of these things. Chastity is a positive – a plus sign. It isn’t afraid of sexuality, instead it protects what is good and ordered within a healthy sexuality. The YouCat says that “a chaste love is a love that defends itself against all the internal and external forces that might destroy it.” Chastity is a safeguard to all of our relationships so they can be lived out as they should. Chastity seeks to protect marriages from lust and pornography. Chastity is a safeguard against fornication in single people. It protects friendships from emotional promiscuity. Chastity is wise and loving and anything but prudish.
- “Chastity is bondage.” The logic here is that any rule or guide that says we can’t do something makes us less free. The thought is if chastity says we can’t have sex whenever we want, then chastity is a form of bondage. That logic makes me question: does gravity bind us or free us? Am I more free to move and live with gravity or without it? It’s a trick question because gravity has rules – what goes up must come down, right? We are bound to that (and if we think we aren’t, throwing a brick above your head wishing it to float will teach you otherwise). I’d argue that the law of gravity makes us more free – we can do what we ought because things around us stay stay where they are supposed to be. Gravity keeps things in their place so that I’m free to use them properly. My coffee cup stays on my desk next me because of it. I’m not worse off because my mug won’t float at random. The law of gravity is actually my friend because it keeps my delicious hot coffee from splashing in the air. Chastity does the same. It keeps the gift of sexuality in its proper place so it can be enjoyed as it should. Chaste love is more freeing than unchaste lust. It’s like my coffee – it tastes so much better keeping it right where it’s mean to be.
- “Chastity means no fun in the bedroom.” Most chaste married people would make a strong argument against this one. Peter Kreeft describes chastity in his book Catholic Christianity as “the one word that refers to all sexual virtue as opposed to sexual vices…for chastity includes good sexual intercourse between spouses. It means purity: pure sex, unadulterated sex, right sex, not crooked sex.” The beauty of the chaste couple and married love is freedom. Freedom to express love through the free gift of self in a way that is total, fruitful, faithful, and open to life. That leaves a lot of options for fun in the bedroom if you ask me. I think the deeper issue here is being so used to the lust and deviant sexuality we see in our world today – it’s sold as the ultimate excitement and warps us into thinking chaste love must be puritanical boredom. Chaste love is anything but. We need to ask then, do we even know what a chaste love looks like? Have we formed our conscience in the bedroom? Have we worked on our selves and asked the hard (and maybe awkward) questions about sexuality and grace? If not, today is a great day to start.
- “Chastity isn’t possible or practical.” Chaste living takes work. The Catechism says it “includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.” That doesn’t mean it’s impossible or impractical. You know what else takes work and self-mastery? Almost every other worth while thing in life. Running. Chess. Boxing. Music. Crafting. Art. To be the best, you have to work hard and overcome your weaknesses. Almost everyone will agree with that. But for some reason when it comes to virtue and holiness the world hears it’s work and walks the other way. The truth is that it is possible and practical because we are made for it. We are made for pure, unadulterated, full, fulfilling, lasting, intense, selfless love. Chastity is the virtue that makes it happen. Work? You betcha. Worth it? Oh yeah.
Life is a constant battle – we don’t stop the process of conversion until we breath our last. On my death bed, I want to look back and know that I fought for holiness bravely and without excuses. Chastity included. When these lies sneak up, I remember the Battle of Thermopylae and I fight hard. I hope you do, too.
Looking for more resources and Catholic teaching? Here are some of my top recommended readings on Theology of the Body, living chastity in your vocation, and love.