The virtue and vocation of chastity is essential to love in all its forms. Chastity means “the successful integration of sexuality within the person,” and thus the attainment of self-mastery and genuine freedom in the sexual arena of human action. It is “a virtue that allows us to do what is right, good and truly loving in the areas of relationship and sexuality.”
Chastity integrates our internal desires for sexual pleasure into our overall pursuit of moral excellence and holiness. Chastity may be “an unpopular word,” but as Pope Francis has indicated, love is chaste. “All of us in life have gone through moments in which this virtue has been very difficult, but it is in fact the way of genuine love, of a love that is able to give life, which does not seek to use the other for one’s own pleasure.”
Chastity is opposed to lust, which is an inordinate desire for sexual pleasure apart from the true meaning of sexuality and marital love. Whereas lust uses another person as a means for sexual gratification, chastity affirms the whole person, body and soul, over and above his or her sexual qualities. It helps us to recognize the great goodness and profound meaning of human sexuality and authentic sexual desire as ordered to the love of man and woman in marriage.
The chaste person also seeks to cultivate the virtue of modesty, which inspires one’s choice of clothing and behavior out of reverence for the dignity, even mystery, of oneself and others, a reverence which includes appreciation and respect for the human body. While living a chaste life is “a long and exacting work,” it is a path to human flourishing. Chastity calls us to rely on God’s grace and to persevere with fortitude in order to resist temptation and make the right decision in challenging circumstances.
All of us are called to live a chaste life. In marriage, chastity takes on the character of permanent, faithful and fruitful love, and includes the intimate physical, sexual expression of love. The good of sexual pleasure finds its proper place within the embrace of husband and wife. In their wedding vows spoken before God and the Church, a man and a woman freely and without reserve give themselves to each other as husband and wife. Marital love is all-encompassing, a total gift of self, open to new life.
As Sacred Scripture attests, this chaste and holy love receives its meaning from and is an analogy for God’s faithful, fruitful love (see Eph 5:32).
This article is an extract from the US Bishops’ Conference document on pornography, which you can view here.