A Spirituality of Chastity
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”
The creation story of Genesis teaches us that all human beings are a unity of body and soul, matter and spirit, “earth” and “heaven” (Gen. 2.7). Our bodies share in the lot common to all animals God has created: we experience the world through our senses; we are easily energized by feelings of pleasure and elation, and wounded by pain and disappointment; and each of us experiences a desire for food and sex, instincts God has placed within us for our survival as individuals and as a species. In the Garden of Eden, all this sensory and emotional life was in perfect harmony with the mind’s perception of what was good in God’s eyes and plan. When sin entered the world at the Fall, however, a dark presence invaded the cosmos, rupturing man’s relationship with God, weakening his capacity to see what is good and love it, and introducing doubt, fear, and disharmony into his life.
The virtue of chastity is one among many virtues which reestablishes that inner-harmony which our first parents possessed, and God desires to renew in us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines chastity as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” This unity of body and spirit bears the marvelous fruit of peace and self-control, made possible through the action of God’s grace extended to us in the Cross of Christ.
Today’s world presents challenges to chastity on a level perhaps never seen before in human history. From the frenetic busy-ness of modern life, which can strain relationships, produce occasions of seeming anonymity, and cause loneliness; to the seemingly ever-lowering standards of decency fed by a media culture which spurns religious values; to the ready availability of online pornography: many today find themselves battling to live chaste lives as if swimming against a tidal wave of currents going in the opposite direction.
The Angelic Warfare Confraternity bears witness that there is hope, grace, and renewal ever at hand: that God’s mercy can never be exhausted, and continues to call each Christian to live healthy, pure and joyful lives before our God and Savior.
Since chastity is one virtue among many, it takes root in the same soil which nourishes the other virtues. The resources below, therefore, deal with various elements that assist chastity: foundational habits for the spiritual life; catechesis on the virtues, and on chastity in particular; how a balanced lifestyle contributes to psychological and emotional health; resources for overcoming compulsions and addictions to pornography.
It is the hope and prayer of Angelic Warfare West that you may be strengthened in your intentions to live chastity, to live out and discover the peace that comes by walking “in the Spirit,” and so truly learn the strength and peace that arise from chastity, growing into the person Christ desires you to be.
Confession is a powerful source of grace which Christ has given to his Church. Jesus awaits each of us to not only forgive sins in the sacrament, but to strengthen us to live virtuously. An examination of conscience prior to confession helps us assess our fidelity, or lack of it, to Christ’s two great commandments: to love God and neighbor.
Below are some resources to assist examination of conscience:
- USCCB: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/examinations-of-conscience.cfm
- National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/info/confession_guide_for_adults
- One-Page description of the “how-to” of the sacrament: https://multimedia.opusdei.org/pdf/es/confession1.pdf
Reading and Meditation on the sacred text is integral to Catholic life. This primary forum for this is liturgy, but since the late 1800s popes have strongly encouraged Catholics to familiarize themselves with the Bible by private and prayerful reading. If you are beginning, the Psalms and the Gospels are good places to start. The Letters of St. Paul are filled with solid doctrine and wise exhortation too. And the Old Testament is a treasure trove of God’s dealings with Israel in preparation for Christ.
These commentaries combine explanatory notes on the biblical text with application to Catholic teaching, spirituality, and life:
- The Navarre Bible
- Ignatius Catholic Study Bible
- Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (eds. Healy & Williamson)
The Ancient Christian Commentary collates Patristic commentary on every book of the Bible.
The Brazos Theological Commentary gives in-depth theological commentary and analysis, written by professional theologians.
Virtues (& Vices)
There are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. And there are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Joseph Pieper treats all of them in a thorough and profound way in his classic texts (below). Other introductions to the topics are given:
- Catholic Encyclopedia theological overview of the subject
- Brad Elliot, O.P., as a student brother gives an introduction to the concept of a virtue
- Thomas Pickett, O.P. teaches as a student brother on the virtue of religion, for St. Thomas Aquinas the “highest” of the natural virtues (first in a five part YouTube series)
- Fr. Jonathan Morris’ three minute introductions to the cardinal virtues
- Bishop Robert Barron’s summary of the three theological virtues:
- Fr. Nicholas Lombardo, O.P., gives a 2012 lecture on Aquinas’ view of the “passions”
- the wise Bishop Fulton Sheen on the “psychology” of temptation and its relation to the virtues and vices
- Joseph Pieper (more in depth):
Love & Chastity
“Chastity” falls under the virtue of temperance, and refers to the moderation of sexual appetite in accordance with our human dignity and vocation. It is thus inseparable from a larger vision of the human person grounded in love.
- the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully sets forth chastity as integral to our human vocation to honor God and neighbor
- Matt Fradd unpacks in a podcast some perennial wisdom from Thomas Aquinas and St. Josemaría Escrivá on methods to overcome concupiscence
- Dr. Edward Sri’s Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love summarizes many profound and useful insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility
- Prof. Deborah Savage gives an overview of the devastating effects of the sexual revolution on both men and women, and offers an at times profound reflection on the beauty of male-female complementarity as God intended
- for those either considering a consecrated vocation, or already living one, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa presents an accessible but perceptive theological and spiritual appreciation of the vocation of “celibacy for the kingdom”
- Bishop Fulton Sheen speaking to youth on “love and sex” many years ago
- USCCB: in this 2015 document the US Bishops addressed the destructive influence of pornography on consumers and producers, God’s vision of authentic love, and the ever-present possibility of healing from the wounds of sin and addiction
- Clinical psychologist and Catholic layman Dr. Peter Kleopnis authored Integrity Restored in 2014, and has since launched a website with as comprehensive resources as are available for overcoming pornography and sexual addiction:
- Covenant Eyes: a well-respected module that assists individuals in moderating electronic media use, especially avoiding dangerous online material
- Reclaim Sexual Health: developed by a lay Catholic couple from Canada, and offers a host of resources and tools—involving neuroscience, psychology, and Catholic spirituality—for overcoming sexual addiction; there is a cost to do the full online program, but it has been effective for many
- Fight the New Drug provides a number of resources for both understanding the nature of pornography’s effects on individuals and society, and some links to resources for recovery
- Psychology Professor Dr. William Struthers’ Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, illustrates in scientific and practical ways the nature of pornography addiction as specifically affecting men
- “Quit Porn for Good“: an article by Brett McKay, creator of the popular website and podcast, “Art of Manliness,” is a pretty good look at many of the basic principles of habit formation, specifically geared toward breaking the habit of pornography viewing and building better habits. Not written from an explicitly Christian or Catholic perspective, but wise nevertheless.
- “Pornography and Acedia“: an insightful 2012 article by theologian Reinhard Hütter in the journal First Things analyzing the relation of lust to the vice of “acedia,” or sloth
Essential to living a chaste life is cultivating a robust spiritual life, for which the foundation is prayer. The books and devotions in this area are legion. Below are a few classics, along with some contemporary popular material.
- St. Augustine, Confessions: one of the great Christian spiritual classics; the autobiography of a man famously libertine prior to conversion, whose profound conversion effected a life of great sanctity
- John Cassian, Conferences and Institutes: this early desert monk was a great influence on Sts. Dominic and Thomas Aquinas; his work can be “strong meat”—difficult at points—but profound and rewarding for those who penetrate its wisdom
- The Life of St. Antony: this account of the early Egyptian monk was written by the great St. Athanasius, and was a principal influence on St. Augustine’s own conversion; Antony’s life was a battle for holiness in the extreme isolation and conditions of the desert, highlighting by his gladiatorial-like combats with demonic powers
- The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (ed. Benedicta Ward): the simple and arresting wisdom of these early monks captures the very heights of glory to which we are called, in the midst of narrating—in an often humorous vein—the full array of human weakness and foible
- St. Dominic’s 9 Ways of Prayer: details the way St. Dominic would pray; among the nine ways study (the “8th way”) became a distinctive pillar of Dominican spirituality and life
- Thomas a Kempis The Imitation of Christ: one of the great classics of Christian devotion; meant to be read slowly, meditated on and digested paragraph by paragraph
- St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life: classic practical exposition of key pillars of the Christian life, written by a Doctor of the Church with a pen of gold
- St. Vincent Ferrer, Treatise on the Spiritual Life: the fiery Dominican preacher’s explanations of the dispositions, habits, and virtues involved in living a life of asceticism, zeal, and love of God
- St. John of the Cross, Collected Works: this master of Western spirituality sets forth the “three stages” intrinsic to all spiritual growth: the purgative; the illuminative; the unitive; his richly poetic language synthesizes the best of Catholic theology with a poetic sensibility, confident in a God who guides even while he disciplines, who draws one into the depths of his love, even while allowing much purification along the path
- Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation: this is LaGrange’s condensation of his massive and classic Three Ages of the Spiritual Life
- St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way: a treasure-trove of Christian wisdom, which this founder of Opus Dei compiled from his own journals and life experiences as a priest; one especially helpful chapter for chastity on “Holy Purity”
- St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary: Marian devotion is a powerful force in living chastity; de Montfort’s “true devotion” has been a source of inspiration and spiritual strength for St. John Paul II and many others
- Scupoli, Spiritual Combat: this 16th century Theatine wrote what is considered the classic guide to “spiritual warfare,” a realistic look at the struggle for virtue and the spiritual powers involved in it
- The Way of a Pilgrim: this classic of Russian orthodox spirituality follows the life of an anonymous man who journeys to different places in Russia meditatively reciting the “Jesus prayer,” which in its simplicity and power deeply forms him in the ways of God
- Dubay, Fire Within, Deep Prayer, and Prayer Primer: this Marist priest of the last century understood the centrality of prayer for a happy life, and described in remarkably accessible but profound ways its shape, difficulty, and beauty; a popular speaker in his lifetime, his work is a great resource for those seeking growth in the spiritual life
- Masini, Lectio Divina: Mario Masini’s description of the “lectio divina” (“divine reading”) draws off the entire Christian tradition—fathers, medievals, and modern—to describe this traditional form of meditation on the Sacred Text, rooted in the earliest monastic traditions, but practicable today by anyone who approaches the Bible with intention and a desire for God
- Bishop Sheen again, on the way his practice of a daily eucharistic Holy Hour transformed and was the center of his priesthood. The whole autobiography Treasure in Clay is a classic; this chapter, though, is on the power of the Blessed Sacrament to transform one’s life.
- Pearson, No Wonder they Call it the Real Presence. Eucharistic adoration is a kind of secret weapon of spiritual growth and strength. This book narrates a series of actual stories of people whose lives were transformed and renewed by the practice of Eucharistic Adoration
- Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism: Matthew Kelly’s 2012 book is simple and accessible, and lays out many of the “bare bones” basics of living the Catholic faith
- Foster, Celebration of Discipline: Richard Foster is not a Catholic, and thus some aspects of this book—in print and popular since the late 1970s—veer from Catholic theology; however the author’s descriptions of the basic Christian disciplines of prayer, fasting, study, and other habits, are deeply rooted in traditional Christian belief and practice, and at times quite profound, illuminating, and helpful