If you would like to read the first part, you may find it here.
Celibacy, Abstinence, and Chastity
While celibacy, abstinence, and chastity are often lumped together, they are quite distinct, and these distinctions need to be made known if we hope to engage in any meaningful conversation related to sexuality. In short, celibacy relates to the state of being unmarried, abstinence relates to behavior, while chastity is related to the desire in a person’s heart to strive to uphold what God has authored in the realm of sexuality. These are so different that it is true to say that a person can be celibate but not chaste or chaste but not celibate, that a person can be abstinent but not chaste or chaste but not abstinent, and that a person can be celibate but not abstinent or abstinent but not celibate. Given the mass confusion over these words, and the false equation of abstinence/celibacy with chastity, it is obvious that there is room for people to grow in their understandings of all three of these words.
IMposed or PROposed
Just as important as distinguishing between celibacy, abstinence, and chastity, however, is to realize that only celibacy and abstinence can be externally imposed. Chastity, on the other hand, being about the disposition of our heart, cannot be imposed from the outside. Chastity, ultimately, is about our free choice to strive to humble ourselves to the authorship of God, specifically with regard to sexuality. That includes an acceptance of the physiological complementarity of males and females and the fact that humans are a sexually dimorphic species, created as either males or females. This is part of the “successful integration” that is spoken of in CCC 2337. Further, chastity is proposed by the Church for us to respond to, with the Church knowing that the greatest peace, hope, love, joy, and freedom is found when we align ourselves and our heart’s desires, in the greatest possible way, with the God-authored order of creation. Ultimately, chastity is God’s proposal to all humankind made in perfect love which, when freely chosen, makes it possible for us to truly love maximally, in the way that God hopes for us, which is without impairment on account of attachments to ideas/practices that counter His Divine Authorship.
Unfortunately, however, because many assume that celibacy, abstinence, and chastity are all pretty much the same, those who hear of chastity tend to believe that chastity is an imposition. The truth of the matter, however, again, is that in so far as human beings have free will, chastity is not an imposition but a proposition. Consequently, however, when the Church proposes that we open our hearts to striving to grow in chastity, it is revealed that it is people who choose to reject that proposition of the Church, and it is not the Church rejecting the people. Granted, people’s rejection of the proposal of the Church could be due to poor catechesis which might entrench a false idea of what chastity really means. However, people’s rejection of chastity, even if it is properly understood, could also result from their attachments to their own authority above the wisdom of the Church. This is important because so often the Church takes heat for “rejecting people” when, in fact, for many people, it is the other way around. If only there were more radiant examples of the peace, joy, hope, love, and freedom that could be experienced whilst pursuing the virtue of chastity! Perhaps then, as well as presenting continued opportunities for people to learn about chastity, we could start shifting the cultural climate within our church and perhaps the world.
Which Way to “Call”?
I suggest that we stop “calling” people to celibacy and/or abstinence. Yes, that is correct: stop. “Calling” people in those ways reflects too low of a focus, too low of a threshold. The fact is that both celibacy and abstinence are often linked to this world of flesh, interpreted to be about what people can’t do, which can, especially in these days of glorified disorder, can create a breeding ground for resentment. The truth is that chastity, understood sufficiently and when striven for, can lay foundations of hope for a future yet to be written – one in which there is redemption, restoration of heart, and a welcoming into God’s Kingdom as a result of moving forward, not “holding back.”
Another reason to stop “calls” to celibacy and or abstinence is that “calling” people to those things may be determined to be against the criminal code where “conversion therapy laws” have become enshrined. These types of laws are revealing themselves to reach far beyond attempting to illegalize the horrible practices of trying to “turn someone straight” or trying to make a person “turn from being transgender” – both things that neither I nor the Catholic Church tries to get people to do – but can easily be accused of doing (and even an accusation could start a costly and lengthy legal process).
Yet another reason to stop “calls” to celibacy and abstinence is that these types of “calls” simply don’t work. They can only be successful for as long as a person desires to “comply” with another person’s idea – and can often be perceived as a “countering of one’s nature.” Thus, an approach rooted in this lower call to merely “manage behavior” is not a good plan in the long term, in any context. In this, again, the ground becomes prepared for resentment, and laying the groundwork for resentment is not the best way to inspire people to follow the truths upheld by the Church.
Thus, instead of “calling” people to celibacy and or abstinence, we could propose to them something higher, something greater – something pointed directly at the spiritual realm, namely, virtue via the proposal to open their hearts to growth in chastity. This higher focus can truly transform the heart, for it truly is Jesus Christ who guides the heart of those who pursue the fullness of virtue and holiness. Furthermore, although merely suggesting (let alone imposing) abstinence or celibacy may become illegalized on account of “conversion therapy” laws, what Jesus Christ chooses to do with someone who surrenders their heart to Him cannot be illegalized.
Note also that when people open their hearts to striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, and therefore also to chastity, they are in the process of choosing to surrender their hearts to Christ. Thus, this should make it all the more obvious as to why the world does not point people towards striving for that goal. Likewise, this is all the more reason why testimonies of people who are striving for that, and who therefore have become open to growing in the virtue of chastity, are all the more important to share with the whole world.
The Greatest Gain
If people don’t taste the peace, hope, joy, love, and freedom of living chastely, they will be less likely to take a leap of faith to try to pursue it for themselves. Thus, every one of us must strive to be a radiant example of that virtue.
Are we living that virtue as best as we can? Probably not, but are we striving? Hopefully yes! If we are, then we are also striving to grow in the fullness of virtue, the fullness of holiness, and the fullness of Christ. Isn’t that what any authentic Christian should be striving for?
Shifting our focus to the universal proposition to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness (which includes chastity) can provide the greatest societal transformation overall because it brings about the transformation of hearts, and thus also the transformation of desired behaviors. This can bring people to reconsider their current mindsets, especially with regard to the degree to which they choose to invite Jesus Christ to become the center of their lives. Likewise, a shift toward striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness can help people understand that that pursuit needs to be a greater focus than whether or not they are “behaving perfectly.” This shift to virtue above behavior matters tremendously because Catholic-looking behaviors need not necessarily bring about a heart that is striving to grow in the fullness of virtue, but a heart that is striving to grow in the fullness of virtue will necessarily bring about Catholic-looking behaviors.
Ultimately, this is about prioritization.
An Opportunity for Honesty
Another important fruit of fostering a culture that celebrates striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness is that as people become more able to see the Catholic faith through this lens, those who resent the moral authority of the Church become more visible. Not only is this good for Catholics who are looking for other similar-minded Catholics (say, for a potential spouse and or to assist in the education of their children), but it also provides a great opportunity for resentful Catholics to be more honest with their communities about where they truly stand.
What do we risk by failing to engage in this language of striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness? Simply put, without it, we may fail to discern who authentically believes the Church is true – whether people are truly striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, or whether they are merely towing the line, possibly even collecting the paycheck/speaker fees while merely doing “Catholic looking things.” One “Catholic speaker” shared as much: after revealing that she didn’t accept the moral authority of the Catholic Church, I asked her why she was still Catholic. Her response: “I am so invested already.” This was followed by an admission that she would never admit this in public. What I want to know is this: how many more people think this way?
Additionally, considering that resentment breeds resentment, having dissenting Catholics be honest (and courageous) enough, amidst their own pursuit of greater self-honesty, to step away from their roles in Catholic institutions would be a positive step in resecuring the integrity of said Catholic institutions. That is, if a Catholic institution were to become fully invested in helping people come to embrace the Catholic faith for themselves, then it would be good for those institutions if their dissenting Catholic employees came forward on their own accord, with the news that they will be striving to find work elsewhere. Likewise, however, if a Catholic institution were to be more attached to polite relations than they were to providing a space where the Catholic faith could be taught in a clear way (without interference from those who are resentful towards the moral authority of the Church), then the idea that employees should consider working elsewhere might not be received as well, and that would point to perhaps even bigger questions.
No Longer “Calling”
For the reasons described above (and more), I do not “call” people who self-identify and or define themselves as LGBTQ+ to celibacy or abstinence. Rather, I strive to propose chastity, first and foremost with my lived example of striving for that virtue myself. Despite failing to live that virtue perfectly, I still strive, and that is the victory; that is what brings about the transformation. Regardless, what I want people to know is that it is not counter to our faith to not “call” people to celibacy or abstinence. It is, however, counter to our faith to propose anything that might further entrench someone within a mindset within which chastity is countered or rejected.
Furthermore, on a personal note, I have always hated being “called” to celibacy and abstinence myself. The reason for that is because with same-sex attractions and transgender inclinations both being part of my story, I found those “calls” so hope-depriving and dreadfully “final.” Today, however, now that I am wholeheartedly striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and chastity, I know better, and I know, as a result of pursuing and experiencing holy and chaste relationships, that holy and chaste romantic relationships are possible, and so too is holy marriage to an opposite-sex spouse. This is something I desire, and the more I strive to grow in fatherliness, the more this desire strengthens.
Interestingly, so far it has only been dissenting Catholics who have ever tried to discourage me from pursuing the fulfillment of a fatherly vocation in this way. It is as though they cannot conceive what the pursuit of the fullness of virtue can do for one who truly strives to surrender to the Lord. Whatever their reason, I don’t let their perspectives weigh me down, but I do find their thoughts interesting pieces of “back-pocket” information.
With Regard to Laws
Given today’s “conversion therapy laws,” it may very well be illegal for anyone (in Canada, at least) to “call” people who self-identify and define themselves as LGBTQ+ to either celibacy or abstinence. That doesn’t worry me anymore, for now I understand that when people bring up those ideas, I know the conversation doesn’t end there. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to bring to light the truths about chastity and how it is proposed to all people, first and foremost through the joy-filled after-effects of that pursuit, but also alongside the use of the Catechism (paragraph 2337). I see it as an opportunity to not only share the Catholic faith, but to because I want everyone in the world to know the peace, hope, joy, love, and freedom that I have experienced in my own journey of growing in that virtue and in the fullness of virtue overall.
Also, from what I can tell, even with arguably the most stringent “conversion therapy” laws in the world, Canada has not yet made it illegal to propose an idea. Thus, proposing chastity, or openness to grow in the fullness of virtue, which is proposing an idea, is something that all faithful members of the Church should feel confident in doing. Of course, the extent to which a person is pursuing the fullness of virtue and holiness for themselves will impact the degree of confidence they have in inspiring others to pursue the same. However, with Christ, we know that he can use all of our efforts, no matter how far along we are on our own journey (thank God, literally!)
For these reasons, I propose chastity to one and to all and do so with a renewed vigor, and I encourage others to strive to do the same. If it is now illegal to propose ideas (such as the idea that the virtue of chastity is worth considering), then the cat is out of the bag, and true religious freedom in Canada is dead and at least everyone will know it. Granted, some will say that we still have the freedom to believe what we want, but that doesn’t mean that we will be free of consequences. To those people, I say this: “I live without resentment against those who think differently than me. Do you?”
Ultimately, if more and more of us become humbly emboldened in proposing the virtue of chastity (among other virtues) while backing up that proposal with the radiance of the attractive peace of Christ, then more and more people might be open to chastity for themselves. Thus, striving to grow in that virtue, among the rest, is really the type of vanguardism that is needed in our world at this time. The after-effects of such a concerted effort on our part may lead to a transformed world.
Even better than this, striving to bring the beauty of growing in the fullness of virtue is a lot more appetizing than continuing with the narrative that “LGBTQ Catholics” just need to suppress their behavior and “white-knuckle it” through life (possibly “in waiting” for the Church to change). I am so done with that, and shedding that poisonous way of thinking has been quite possibly one of the most important things I have ever done in my life. To that end, I find it heartbreaking that many Catholics simply want people to never come to understand the freedom that I have come to know in “life after LGBTQ+.”
However, I don’t live in the sadness of that knowledge, but only in the peace of knowing that it is Christ who is ready and waiting for everyone and anyone who might be ready to surrender to Him, and to the moral authority of the Catholic Church, the Spotless Bride of Christ.
I hope that this response helps lift the conversation to a whole new level.
God bless you all.