Sex, God, and
Lies: the Struggle to be Chaste
The Struggle to be Chaste
struggle for chastity is not so much a contention of the body with the
mind, as matter of the cooperation of the one with the other, and in
a more profound sense, a matter of the subjugation of the one by the
other, the body by the mind, and so we begin to understand that the
battle waged is far more one of the mind than of the body.
inclined to think that the response of the body, either before
the desirability of another, or through the natural impulses of its
own and the reflexive relationship between the two is the cause
of temptations and sins, while in fact the radix malorum, the
root cause, begins, as every sin begins, in the mind. The body is not
sentient (and therefore not culpable) but reactive. It responds
physiologically to what is first introduced to and apprehended
by the mind, which elicits an instinctive and very natural
response from the body. The point is that before the
body begins to react, it is first mentally stimulated
most often by images.
by the media, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, the cinema etc. these
images are carefully, and always artificially, manipulated to produce
precisely this effect. It is important to understand this. This concatenation
of events does not randomly occur, nor is it gratuitous; either in your
body, or in the media. There is a reason that your body responds the
way it does, and there is equally a reason why the media focuses upon
that basic human response.
Big business and big money
and an even bigger lie
magazine or newspaper and in short order you will be introduced to the
most absurd and patently artificial postures of women and increasingly,
men in scant or suggestive attire. You will see flawless (and largely
undernourished) women assuming the most suggestive postures and stances,
making unmistakably lewd gestures that you would never encounter
in real life, or if you did, would likely prompt you to laughter before
is the suggestion, the implication of the image or photograph? That,
"You're only seeing part of it, you rogue ... can
you imagine all of it? And can you imagine
what all of that could do for all of you
...? And it's only a few buttons away ... at such and such
Boutique and only for this incredibly low price in
our unprecedented one day sale!"
fallen nature and our subsequent inclination to sin, what do you suppose
such images are intended to stimulate? Our intellect?
Sin we are predisposed to concupiscence, or inordinate sexual desire,
just as we are predisposed to corrupt virtually any intrinsic
good through disordered indulgence, or excess. Sex is not sinful, and
sexual desire is not sinful. Do you think that the Saints, both married
and unmarried, did not experience sexual desire? What is important
is not the impulse, over which we exercise no willful control
but how we deal with the impulse, how we respond to it beyond
the initial physiological reflex.
What is more, that such impulses are capable of being elicited
from us, experienced within us; that we begin to instinctively
respond physiologically to the stimulus, is no reproach to us nor to
our moral or spiritual integrity. It is part and parcel of our fallen
humanity in which reason is diminished in its capacity to rightly order
sensibility. We hear this echoed in St. Paul: "
good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not,
that I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more
I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law,
that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with
me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to
the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting
against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law
of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who
shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans
Wall Street understands
this. Marketers understand this. Pornographers and smut-dealers understand
this. Isn't it time that you understand this? Their lie is that they
are so clever, their anorexic models so convincing, and your own susceptibility
to both so overwhelming that you have little choice in the matter, and
must both physically and morally collapse under the collective weight
of their puissance and your weakness. Couple this with the blandishment
and deceit of the
"father of all
and you find your own predicament, and the human condition at large,
a bit more lucid.
it is clear, from sexual pre-occupation and inordinate desire, to chastity,
is a very, very long one. In fact, we begin to realize that chastity
is not so much a virtue that will one day be finally acquired,
eventually attained to, as it is a virtue to be constantly
and diligently being embraced, enacted. Certainly, if chaste
means "free of sexual desire", then it is either unattainable or altogether
a fiction. This is not to say that there are individuals who
experience no sexual desire whatever, but given St. Paul's own problematic,
and that of humanity in general, such an absence would seem to be more
of the nature of a pathology than a virtue.
chaste by involvement with others and through learning to love rightly.
How then, in the midst of the turpitude and moral morass by which we
are surrounded, do we embrace chastity, enact it, and in that perpetual
choice become what we understand to be chaste?
It is a long process of the purification of memories, memories of sin
in which we had once delighted, through which we found pleasure, satisfaction,
and what we experienced, however transiently, as momentary "fulfillment".
It is also an active and vigilant practice of self-discipline, a self-discipline
that enables us to be judicious and wise as to what images we allow
to penetrate our minds, what literature we read, what movies we watch,
by our conversation, or at the very least, the tenor and nature of conversations
in which we participate.
We all know our points of weakness and our susceptibility to temptation.
This recognition and the acknowledgement of our weakness is the first
crucial step toward chastity. Knowledge alone, however, does not suffice.
It requires cooperation with grace and the resolve to resist our own
inclinations and all that would lead us to mindless sensual indulgence.
We must recognize that we have a deeply personal responsibility
in the struggle for chastity. We must never succumb to the feeble
excuse, the lie really, that, "I can't help it therefore I am not
morally responsible for it. I am, after all, just human." So was
St. Paul. We must love both ourselves and others responsibly.
Love without responsibility is not love at all it is a euphemism for
The Fire Within
We have two choices, then: we can either subdue
or we can sublimate our sexuality. What we cannot
do is avoid it. We cannot avoid it because
we cannot extinguish it. Even if we could, we would not, for that reason,
be more perfectly human, but rather imperfectly human; we would
not be possessed of a virtue, but deprived of a perfection, the perfection
of that being human which is human being we
would be in a state of
privation but deprived of a perfection, the perfection of
that "being human" which is "human being" we would be in a state of
privation of a good (sexuality) that ought to be present
and is not. Sexuality, sexual desire, is a good. Why?
God created it, endowed us with it. And everything God created is good.
of coming to terms with our created sexuality, however, we mistakenly,
and vainly seek to extinguish sexual desire altogether through every
conceivable form of abnegation: not eating, wearing sackcloth, punishing
our bodies, avoiding the other gender. Of course it is prudent to avoid
the Occasion of Sin the person, place, or thing that is likely
to induce us to sin but we do not subdue what we avoid; we merely
defer the conflict; still less do we sublimate the encounter through
We remain, all our lives, sexual
beings. In profound ways it is the source not only of the unspeakably
beautiful creative act culminating in children, but must at least
be conjectured upon as the vital impulse expressing itself through creative
love, music, poetry and art.
This creative and irrepressible impetus to life and being, this capacity
to give life, cannot be confined solely and exclusively to the vocation
of marriage, excluding those who are single, Consecrated, or Religious
men and women (that is, belonging to a Religious Order). Grace perfects
nature; it does not destroy it. The tremendous creativity we find
in figures so disparate as the Franciscans Thomas of Celano, Jacapone
da Todi , Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, and Franz Liszt, to name a
few, can only be expressed in terms of passion; passion deriving
from love which is always procreative and in the being we understand
as human the human being a procreativity that, whatever
its nature, finds its paradigm in the procreative love that is inseparable
from human sexuality.
at this suggestion as unworthy that things noble, lofty, even holy,
should proceed from what we have reflexively come to esteem as base
the very thing that alone yields the most beautiful and holy of creatures:
our very children.
perfect moment of union between the bride and the groom, husband and
wife, the lover and the beloved the literal climax of love (love's
most exquisite expression, utter consummation) in which lover becomes
one with the beloved is disdained not just as base, but as abysmally
and distorted inversion has caused us to esteem what is beautiful and
holy as ugly and profane ... such that the foulest word in any language
is synonymous with it!?
We speak of "making
love", as though love could be made ... and then do not recognize
it apart from its epithet!
"SEX" is not a
"Four Letter word"... and neither is "CHASTE"
At this point, I think it fairly clear that our disordered
perception of sexuality has skewed not only our understanding of
God, but of ourselves and most importantly, the
relationship between the two.
Even the notion of sin, in all its complexities,
is more readily understood by us in our relationship to God, than
sex which, paradoxically, to so many
of us is fraught with sin, or what is worse yet, indistinguishable from
it! Were most of us asked what physiological feature in both men and
women is most susceptible to sin, and most likely to lead us to sin,
we would point, like ill-taught and unthinking children, immediately
to our loins.
The fact of the matter, however, is that in the way of preponderance
of sin, our sexuality would be fifth at best, the
first four, in order of gravity and number, would be:
heart, in which every sin is
the mouth, through which most often it
to the ears that take either delight or
from the ears to the hands that murder,
maim, or otherwise trespass.
to diminish the gravity of sexual sin? Of course not. It is, however,
helpful in placing our perception of sexual sin into perspective. We
must remember that sexual sins are considered by the Church to be sins
proceeding from weakness as distinct from sins proceeding
from malice, the latter, of course, being the more grave of
must see that it is equally indicative of our inability or unwillingness
to come to terms with the the other 8 Commandments that prohibit
other sins sins not of a sexual nature but upon
which we are seldom so fixated:
Refraining from using
the Lord's Name in Vain
Keeping the Sabbath
Failing to Honor our
Mothers and Fathers,
(Coveting your Neighbor's
and Coveting Our Neighbor's Goods. (Exodus 20:3-17
and Deuteronomy 5:7-21).
Of the Ten, why the Sixth and the Ninth?
10, it is most often the 6th and 9th that we focus upon. Why?
This is an odd state of affairs. The first sin,
that of Adam and Eve, so often depicted in sexual terms, had nothing
whatever to do with sex it was disobedience prompted by the sin of
pride. Succinctly put, they sought to be like God (even though they
were already created in His image, which is to say that they were
already like unto God but not in plenitude, hence the pride,
and from thence the disobedience) As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church teaches us,
tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in
his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command.
This is what man's first sin consisted of.
All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and
lack of trust in his goodness."
I Section II, 397)
In fact, the most
persistent and pernicious sin of which the Chosen People of God, the
Israelites, were guilty was idolatry. For this reason they wandered
in the desert for 40 years. It was a sin that provoked God, through
their obstinacy, ultimately to banish them in the Babylonian Exile for
70 years. Once again, it stemmed from the immediate sin of disobedience
to the First Commandment not the Sixth or the Ninth.
what is the provenance of our fixation on the 6th and the 9th Commandments?
Both call us to be chaste. Each is a clarion
for chastity. Could it be that the 6th and
the 9th somehow incorporate all the others? Jesus summed up
all the Commandments in two,
telling us that our observation of the two was simultaneously our observation
of the others. Let us look at this more carefully.
There are 121 references to idolatry
and in the Bible, 40 relative to adultery,
and 36 to fornication. Why, then,
the inverse disproportion that we append to sins of a sexual
nature? The breach of each Commandment is equally repugnant to God,
so we have, on the one hand, no warrant to minimize one, and by the
same token, no warrant to emphasize another, either. Certainly some
appear to be more reprehensible than others, and most of us would likely
deem killing a more grave offense than, say, adultery or lying. In other
words, the proscriptions that we encounter in Exodus 20 do not appear
to be hierarchical. There is a reason for this. But we do not, it is
clear, acquire our focus on sexual sin from the Decalogue, nor, if we
examine it further, from the Books of Leviticus and Numbers, both of
which are replete with ancillary laws. Why are some apparently
more abhorrent to us than they are to God?
and Coveting our Neighbor's Wife
Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) distinguishes between the two.
Jesus does not:
"But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after
her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart"
(St. Matthew 5.28) The connection between the two is more than a matter
of mere hermeneutics, the first follows upon the second, the 6th after
the 9th, the desire before the commission of sin.
It is not that Jesus is saying something "other" than we find
in the Decalogue; He has simply elucidated the obvious nexus between
them. They are one and the same sin. The bringing to completion in the
body what has already been consummated in the mind is, in the way of
sin, only distinguished chronologically: the one precedes the other,
and is no less grave and no less culpable than the other. In fact, Jesus
says, the latter, the physical consummation, is not even necessary to
the imputation of the sin of adultery! It is already committed in the
thinking, the desiring, the willing. The physical act itself is only
a matter of opportunity, of the body participating in what the mind
has conceived, willed, and already done! It is co-opting the body
which is a physical, and not a moral entity to be complicitous in
the sin, and the sin then corrupts the total being, body and
St. Paul speaks of,
"sinning against our bodies"
("he that commits
fornication, sins against his own body"
(1 Cor. 6.18)
an odd statement until we consider that not only do we "use" the body
of another to fulfill the sinful desires within the mind
but our own as well! We subject our own bodies to
sin, by bringing them into complicity with the sinful mind and making
them instrumental in the sin the sin erstwhile only affecting,
injuring, our own souls without bringing sin and injury to the person
desired. This is abuse of the body, ones own body, by making it accomplice
to the desire of the mind and resulting in the abuse, injury, and corruption
of others, of the world at large beyond the confines of ones
In other words, sin begins in the mind and corrupts the soul, but goes
no further unless opportunity affords it. The injury caused is to oneself
solely (the offense always against God). The vitiating nature
of sin is confined to the abscess of desire: its purulence poisons only
the soul that conceives it. Through
(ab)using the body, however,
the destructive nature of the sin extends beyond this abscess, this
self-injury; it suppurates and, through the instrumentality of the body,
becomes injurious to others. It has already been destructive to the
soul. It will now become destructive to others.
of the essence of the pernicious nature of sin. It corrupts by seducing
to complicity everything that it touches upon. That the sin of one man,
Adam, should touch upon every human
being, is, in this
sense, completely coherent.
This effectively forms the matrix of the answer to our question: the
reason that we seize upon the 6th and 9th Commandments is that, in being
called to chastity, we are called away from that vicious concatenation
of sin and destruction that follows ineluctably upon the assent of the
will to desire unlawfully. Chastity calls us away from destructiveness.
In fact, it calls us to creativeness through calling us to
create ourselves in ever greater conformity to the image of God in Whom
our own perfection and felicity consists. It does not call us away
from desire; only unlawful desire, desire
that results not in something creative and beautiful, but destructive
and ugly; desire whose consequence is life and not death. The call to
chastity, in effect, is no less the call to abundant life than it is
the call away from suicide and murder inasmuch as our pursuit of sinful
desires always entails the destruction of the self and the destruction
we eventually find, implicates every other Commandment, for Jesus said,
shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with
thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest
and the first commandment. And the second is like to this:
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments
dependeth the whole law and the prophets."
Matthew 22. 37-40)
Joseph Mary del Campos