Chastity is for lovers. That isn’t solely the title of my book, but a truth I believe with my whole heart. It is a virtue for all of us — single, married, priest, or nun — that creates conditions in which we can do what we were designed to do: love God and each other.
Chastity doesn’t separate sexuality from the rest of the stuff that makes us human, but helps us to arrange our lives in such a way that sexuality isn’t misused (See CCC 2337). It requires us to subordinate desire to reason — to discern before we act on an urge instead of acting because of an urge.
We live, however, in a culture that isn’t conducive to chastity, a culture for which restraint is incomprehensible — a culture that creates conditions in which we believe we can and should get what we want when we want it, without consequence. In other words, we live in a culture that teaches us to subordinate reason to desire — to act on all the urges ever.
That means that very few parts of our lives require what chastity requires of us. Which means chastity, for some of us, is difficult. But practical ways exist to get better at practicing it — exercises that cultivate skills that are transferable to chastity. Here are five of them:
1. Listen to the songs that do nothin’ for ya.
The urge to skip a song or switch radio stations is strong when a song comes on that does nothin’ for ya. Listen to it anyway. Sitting through it instead of finding one of your favorites fortifies your ability to exist with a desire, without satiating it. Contrary to what the culture that surrounds us says, our lives don’t end when we don’t act on urges. Not acting on this small urge will make not acting on bigger urges easier.
2. Do the chore you hate the most. Immediately.
Vacuuming is the household chore I hate the most. Which is exactly why it’s in my best interest to vacuum as soon possible. Doing the chore you don’t want to do fortifies your ability to transcend the sin of sloth, which is “a sadness arising from the fact that the good is difficult,” according to St. Thomas. I know perfectly well that it’s good to vacuum: clean floors trump dirty ones. But vacuuming is difficult: it requires me to exert myself when I don’t wanna. The sloth that stops us from doing chores we hate is the same sloth that stops us from practicing chastity. If you can transcend it in chores, you can transcend it in relationships.
3. Fulfill your worst responsibility first.
As professionals or as students, we each have a set of responsibilities to fulfill. Among them are responsibilities we’d rather avoid. As a journalist, I don’t enjoy calling the subject of a story to divulge that I’ve discovered the criminal record that he or she forgot to mention. It’s super awk. Sometimes people yell at me. Which is exactly why I should do it as soon as I can. Starting your day by doing what you have to do but don’t wanna, no matter how awkward or scary, fortifies your ability to do the right thing, despite discomfort — such as telling a guy or girl that you’re saving sex (or sex from now on) for marriage.
4. Let somebody else have the last piece of pie.
Or the last red velvet Oreo cookie when they come out next month. Or the last handful of kale chips, if that’s your family’s thing. Whatever. The point is that letting somebody else have the snack you really, really want fortifies your ability to forego what you want for the sake of somebody else’s good. If you can sacrifice for the good of your beloved’s palate, you can also sacrifice for the good of your beloved’s mind, body and soul, which we all have to do to authentically love.
5. Make an intimidating commitment.
For all of 2015, I will not ever eat dessert. Dessert is my favorite meal, so this was a daunting commitment to make. But I did it because promising to do what you think you can’t fortifies your ability to accept that you are stronger than you thought you were. We are created able to practice chastity, which the culture that surrounds us calls impossible. Committing to do what intimidates (but is good for) you will remind you that you that you can do this.