Chastity, as we know, hasn’t had a good press over the last 50 years since the so called ‘sexual revolution.’ Indeed I would say much further back than that, chastity and purity of mind, heart and body within marriage (not least due to the advent of hormonal contraception) has become regarded as something rather quaint and perhaps laudable, an “ideal” only for the “squeaky clean” among us and therefore unrealistic. In his famous 1960 book “Love and Responsibility” (which has just been republished in an excellent up to date English translation from the original Polish, by Grzegorz Ignatik) Pope St John Paul II speaks of the lustful disdain and suspicion of chastity as a form of“resentment.” I think that’s a key word, for we know that when resentment kicks in with our emotions and relations to others, a less than fully dignified and respectful attitude towards them can develop, and we can even let disregard well up to something unworthy of us as sons and daughters of the Father baptised in Christ. As he so famously said, the opposite of love is not hate but to use; and you can’t get a more accurate description of pornography than that.
So it utterly delights me to see that the US bishops have approved by an overwhelmingly majority vote (230-4 with 1 abstention) the promulgation of their statement on pornography; “A Clean Heart Create For Me”. This outstanding piece of Apostolic teaching from a national hierarchy is fully contemporary both in its analysis of a serious socio-moral problem, but also in its use of language resonant with a pastoral tenderness and compassion that is realistic and challenging in its tone. I urge everyone to read it (it’s only 12 pages long!) It spells out not just the phenomenon of pornography and the reasons for its alarming epidemic proportions, but offers some great resources and helpful ideas for people affected by it – both those who use it, and family members affected by others use of it.
I heartily applaud the US Bishops for this very timely and constructive statement coming so soon out of the recent synods on the family. It has to be said, the grave issue of pornography got merely a passing mention in the synodal documents before and after. Even the Pope admitted in June of this year, when addressing a gathering of youth, that chastity can be an “unpopular” word that young people don’t like. But love is chaste, he affirmed. Love is respectful of people and doesn’t use people. “And you, young people, in this hedonistic world, in this world where the only thing that gets attention is pleasure, having a good time, living the good life, I tell you, be chaste. Be chaste.” The youth responded to his exhortation with applause. He continued, saying that “all of us have gone through times in life when this virtue is difficult. But it is the proof of a genuine love, a love that knows how to give life, that doesn’t seek the other for one’s own pleasure. A chaste love is one that sees the other’s life as something sacred, affirming, I respect you and I don’t want to use you.”
The Pope just like the US bishops acknowledged that it isn’t easy: “We all are aware of the difficulties in overcoming this diminishing, hedonistic concept of love,” he said, asking them to make the effort to live love chastely. For our homes and family life it means we all have to keep a careful vigilance on the kind of things we watch on TV and are at constantly at risk of seeing (even by accident) on the internet.
Chastity is not just a question of what we don’t do with our bodies and the bodies of others. It’s a complete frame of mind, a disposition of the heart towards which the will must must eventually conform no matter how hard or long the road. As the Archbishop of Aberdeen once so eloquently put it in an Advent pastoral letter of 1956:
“A mutual giving is worlds apart from a mutual taking. What people do not know when they go to the altar is that the best wedding party is a bevy of virtues: humility, detachment, self-control, the habit of giving; not to speak of a bevy of arts and habits, including the habit of laughter. Chastity cannot exist alone. She must have her entourage. From such pleasant company she can retire to her bridal couch and understand the words of the Sarum rite: “with my body I thee worship”. We must now examine our consciences on the matter of chastity. The vowed to celibacy may bethink themselves that their consecration must carry much more than a bachelor freedom from the cares and chores of domestic society: it involves a fathering and mothering in the mystical body of Christ. The married might ask themselves if a visit from the Christ-child to their home would find there faith and love and trust, and no child missing that God wanted to put into their arms.”
So take time this weekend to read “A Clean Heart Create for Me”; you won’t be disappointed. And pass it on to family and friends for we all undoubtedly sit near or even next to someone at Sunday Mass who will be seriously affected by this problem. I leave you with an extract from the paragraph addressed to parents on page 18 of the statement for which I am especially grateful to the bishops:
“You are the first guardians and teachers of your children and are called to be their models of chaste and fruitful love. The Church is so grateful for you who form, protect, and guide the domestic Church. As they grow up, children secure in their parents’ love for each other and for them will have a distinct advantage in navigating the challenges of the world. Children have the right to receive “an authentic education in sexuality and in love,” which includes education in chastity.”
The “pornification” of our culture is deemed to be a “pornutopia” of liberty. But it’s really just part of the eternal battle twixt good and evil where the Father of Lies disguises license and libertine atheism under a false freedom. This is “pornicious” and we must all play our part in destroying it especially in our devotion to the Holy and Immaculate one – Mary, the Singular Vessel of Honour.