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A Reflection on Chastity

Matthew Harrison

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

augustineAs we celebrate the feat of St. Augustine this Friday, I couldn't help but thinking one of his most famous quotes: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." (I believe the context of the quote was Augustine's ongoing conversion and the difficulty he had in dismissing his mistress)
Chastity is a bit of a mystery to us today. The Church considers it a virtue, while secular society sees it more as something archaic and even negative.
Chastity is something positive. It is a virtue – it is something we must practice. This does not mean to build up the virtue of chastity we solely abstain from sex. That is part of it, but chastity also calls for a purity of mind, and this purity of mind works together with the physical component of chastity. For example, if we consume magazines, movies, websites, and other forms of entertainment that are filled with highly sexualized, objectifying and degrading images, than that is what our mind will feast on. This has a number of consequences: to begin with, our way of thinking is transformed. We begin to accept what is being portrayed as the norm. The dignity of the human person is disregarded, our creation in the image and likeness of God becomes an after thought, if considered at all. The more we accept it, and literally buy into it, the more it becomes produced, and the more widespread it becomes. As well, if these are the images that we have bouncing throughout our mind, we are setting ourselves up for difficulty when it comes to living the physical component of chastity. If we are not working to develop a pure heart or a pure mind, then our actions will reflect this.
Chastity is a challenge – but it is not impossible. We can begin by making wise entertainment choices, seeking out things that are realistic, that uplift the human spirit, that embrace truth, beauty, and goodness. We can surround ourselves with friends who also want to live in a chaste manner, people that can support you in your journey. We can dress modestly, recognizing that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and that our bodies are a gift and sacred. Perhaps most importantly, we can pray to our Lord for the graces we need, and we can regularly receive the sacraments; particularly the sacrament of confession as this will help us to purify our minds and our hearts and teach us the humility we need to accept our weaknesses while providing us with strength from the Lord.
Augustine of course did go on to embrace chastity. His comment is amusing, but it's a cry that I'm sure many a man and woman may have uttered! In fact, this Saint's very real struggle is can be seen as a great consolation. With time, it would seem, with dedication, with grace, he began to grow in purity of heart and mind, and have a deeper understanding of chastity is. As we recall St. Augustine this week, let ask for his intercession to live pure lives focussed on the goodness of God.

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