As I see it, there are two ways to live and to love. One sees temptations as obstacles to virtue, demanding a constant need to say “no!” in order to obey all God’s seemingly burdensome laws. It is a life that is based upon “Thou shalt nots.” Every day is an exhausting struggle to avoid offending God. If we live like that, then it will be pretty hard to say no all the time.
Here is the alternative: Instead of living life trying not to offend God, live life trying to glorify him. Live each moment as an act of worship to God. Instead of seeing temptations of lust as obstacles to holiness, see overcoming them as the very means to holiness. Certainly this involves avoiding temptation and saying no to sin, but the motivation is the yes of true love.
As Mother Teresa said, “Intense love does not measure . . . it just gives.” Or in the words of Pope John Paul II, a young heart feels “a desire for greater generosity, more commitment, greater love. This desire for more is a characteristic of youth; a heart that is in love does not calculate, does not begrudge, it wants to give of itself without measure.” “There is no place for selfishness—and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” “Real love is demanding. I would fail in my mission if I did not tell you so. Love demands a personal commitment to the will of God.”
Therefore, the virtue of purity is not first a no to illicit sex but a yes to authentic love. It is not a prolonged series of noes but a continual yes to Jesus. Since we receive more grace each time we say yes to God, we soon see how possible and joyful this life really is. The Blessed Mother offers us the perfect example of how to live this, when in the Gospel of Luke she gives us the recipe for holiness: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The more we are able to imitate her yes, the more joy and peace we will find in our lives. When asked how we could become saints, Mother Teresa replied: “Whenever Jesus asks something of you, say yes.”
Living the virtue of chastity now means that you cherish your future marriage (or religious vocation) more than passing pleasures. It also prepares you to be a better wife or husband because you will learn how to express intimacy without always needing to be physical. It has been said that when a couple has healthy intimacy, the closer the two become, the more they become themselves. When a couple is experiencing unhealthy intimacy, they usually feel as if they are losing their identity.
The yes I have spoken of is possible with God, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Tap into that, and ask God for the grace to be pure. Have confidence, because with God’s grace anyone can achieve sexual purity.
As you work toward the virtue of chastity, know that the desire to become pure is not something that comes from your body. There is no chastity gland located near your spleen, secreting abstinence hormones. Chastity arises from the will and is awakened and made possible by love. Granted, there will always be a tension between the desire to please God and the desire to act on our impulses. In the words of Christopher West, “Winning this battle takes faith in Christ, dedication, commitment, honesty with ourselves and others, and a willingness to make sacrifices and deny our own selfish desires. But love is not afraid of those things; love is those things.”
One practical note: Take a look at what surrounds you. If you constantly have to say no to various temptations, this implies that you end up in tempting situations on a regular basis. There will always be temptations, but we should work to avoid the occasion of sin. If you listen to music with sexually explicit lyrics, watch MTV, spend time in risqué chat room conversations, look through swimsuit or Cosmopolitan magazines and so forth, you are pouring lighter fluid on the fire that you are trying to extinguish. As the Bible says, “Who will pity a snake charmer bitten by a serpent, or any who go near wild beasts? So no one will pity a man who associates with a sinner and becomes involved in his sins. . . . Flee from sin as from a snake; for if you approach sin, it will bite you” (Sir. 12:13–14; 21:2).
If there are bad influences in your life, replace them. Find better music and decent books to read. Also, increase your time in personal prayer, Scripture reading, and other devotions, and you will be surprised at how much easier chastity becomes. Never forget that purity is a gift from God; you have to ask for it.
. Mother Teresa, as quoted by www.motherteresa.com.
. Pope John Paul II, address, May 18, 1988, Asuncion, Paraguay. As quoted by Pedro Beteta López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation (Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers, 1997), 18–19.
. Pope John Paul II, address, November 22, 1986, Auckland, New Zealand.
As quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 19.
. Pope John Paul II, address, October 1, 1979, Boston, Massachusetts. As quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 19–20.
. Christopher West, Good News About Sex and Marriage, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2000), 29.