Tag Archives: chastity

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

By guest writer Kathy Clubb.

World-renowned speaker, Jason Evert, was in Melbourne last week for a series of talks on the true nature of love. Jason has spoken to more than one million people about the virtue of chastity and has been a keynote speaker at five World Youth Days. He has written several books, including “Theology of the Body for Teens” and “How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul,” and has studied counseling and theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was my great pleasure to meet him and ask him a few questions about how a return to chastity can put the brakes on the abortion culture.

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

Kathy: Jason, can we win the battle against abortion without preaching the chastity message?

Jason: No. In order to be fully pro-life, we have to first teach them to be pro-love. I discovered that when doing sidewalk counselling in front of an abortion clinic for three years and I had an inescapable feeling of being late. “Now, why am I meeting this woman forty-five minutes before her abortion? You know –  why couldn’t I have met her when she was 15? Because maybe if she’d learned about chastity then, she never would have dated this guy to begin with, and wouldn’t be in this difficult situation at the age of 25.

And so I realized that I was kind of throwing sandbags on the banks of a flooded river, instead of swimming upstream to where the dam was actually broken. I figured if we could seal off the dam, then there wouldn’t be any need for stopping the flood damage downstream.

Kathy: Is that why you started this whole ministry? Because of that feeling of being late at the abortion facility? Pro-life got you into this?

Jason: Hmmm, yeah, that was a major reason. The other part was leading high school youth retreats, and the kids would open up about how much they were suffering in this area of life in particular. And I was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Love and Responsibility” and began to see that this was the antidote to both issues: to the chastity issue and the fruit of it, which is the abortion culture. Because you don’t have anyone going to the abortion clinic who hasn’t struggled with chastity.

Kathy: It’s been said that the journey to the abortion facility starts years before the appointment on that fateful day.

Jason: And when a woman is coming in to get an abortion, it might not be her first. It could be her fourth. And if she’s not being evangelized at that moment, perhaps through a crisis pregnancy center: “You know, it doesn’t have to be this way – there are many different choices you can make in life, so you don’t end up in this difficult situation a fourth or fifth time.”

Because it’s so important for a pro-life ministry to be pro-life –  not only before the abortion, and also after the abortion in supporting her – but also years beforehand. We have to see this as a preventative measure.

And some people are doing wonderful work sidewalk counseling. I was working with a nun once, and she saved 19 babies in one day. So you can’t underestimate the importance of the work they’re doing. It’s not one vs the other; they are two wings of the same plane.

I was once standing outside of a clinic, and I befriended one of the security guards out front. And one day he confided in me, and he said, “You know, every day I show up at work, and I just hear voices in my head, telling me to kill. And I don’t know where that’s coming from.” And I said, “Let’s try to connect the dots here.” And he said he struggled with alcoholism, and his marriage was falling apart, and I said, “Let’s pray together “, and he said, “Please.” And so we prayed together right outside the abortion clinic.

And I came back a week later and he had quit. Because I had told him, ‘You’re basically working in the vestibule of hell, here. So it’s probably better to find another place to work – get those voices out of your head.’

But then, they kind of had it out for me at the clinic. One day I was out there praying, and I saw them pointing at me. And my friends told me they were saying that that’s the guy that was with Joe before he quit.  A week later we were out there and a police car pulled up. And they came to me, and they pointed down at me, and the police came to me and they said: “Okay, charges are being pressed against you because apparently, you stalked one of the directors of the clinic, and you tried to offer her a coffee and she turned you down. And you asked her on a date and then you chased her into the abortion clinic and you tried to steal her purse.”

And I said, “Oh really? I missed that. When did this happen again?” And they took me to court, and the judge said guilty. And we went to a retrial before another judge and that judge dismissed the case. And I said I don’t even like coffee. (laughs) They were out to get me – you know what it’s like. Ethics are not their strong suit.

Kathy: Why are the pro-life organizations, in general, failing to talk about chastity?

Jason: Largely because they’re so focused on the immediate triage of trying to save the wounded on the battlefield. They’re just trying to save the life of amputees on the battle-field who’ve only got five minutes to live. They’re doing such an important, last-minute effort to save what they can, that it’s hard sometimes to lift up their eyes to see the horizon. Sometimes they may stop and ask, what could we have done to prevent this carnage sooner?

But there’s no competition in the body of Christ. This is something that we need to do together. Pro-chastity speakers need to have a very pro-life heart to their message. And the pro-life movement needs to realize the importance of saving babies five years before they’re conceived.

Kathy: Can you see a place in every organization for this message?

Jason: Oh, it’s essential. In my chastity talks, I’m holding up an ultrasound of my unborn son and it’s giving the message to the kids when they’re 14 or 15: ‘Hey, this is what ultrasounds are showing.’ You know, they have images of children who appear to be laughing in their mothers’ wombs! And I explain this to the kids. And you know, I’m not beating them over the head with some anti-abortion message. This is just pro-life, this is something that we’re for, not something we’re against. It’s very organically woven into the presentation and it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to indoctrinate them on some pro-life position. It’s just a picture of my kid in my wife’s womb. And how do you argue against that?

Kathy: From what you know, are couples who were chaste before marriage more likely to be open to life during married?

Jason:  I think there’s no doubt about it. Because the Catholic Church’s teaching isn’t so much, okay, good Catholics use NFP, bad Catholics use contraception. Good Catholics realize that children are the supreme gift of marriage. So if we have a serious reason not to have kids, we can fall back on NFP, but the default position is not NFP. The default position is an openness to life. Because children are the supreme gift.

If you were going to get married and you went to the reception, and you saw all these presents laid out, and one said, ‘The Supreme Gift’, you wouldn’t be like, I’ll open that in five years time when we know each other better. You’d think, no, we want to receive that gift as soon as we can. So the disposition to do the will of God with your body is something that naturally flows into wanting the will of God for your family. The Church will never tell you how many kids to have, but God will.

It’s a very dangerous thing to put that part of your life completely under His Lordship, because, you know – what if He’s asking more than we want to give because that’s typically exactly what He does? He stretches us far beyond what we expected, but when we look back when it’s all said and done, it’s like, ‘My goodness, if that had been left in my hands, how differently things would have unfolded.’ If I took control over my own fertility in such a way that was able to completely eliminate [the prospect of children]… it’s almost like we would get addicted to the ease. It’s like, oh wow – this is so easy having them all at school and not worrying about having another little one waking me up at night. This sin brings its own punishment.

Kathy: I was at a retreat one day, and it was Thanksgiving after Communion, and for the first time in my life I thought, ‘Oh, I think I might be done with having my family now.” And I got a very firm feeling from God – that we must never say never – and I had twelve children already! And He still seemed to be showing me that we must never say never. Then I had another child after that.

Jason: Slacker! (laughter) Didn’t Catherine of Siena have 20 or something?

Kathy: 26 or something, I think?

Jason: Good thing her mum wasn’t selfish and only had 25!

Kathy: Do you find this is the same for non-Catholics as well, though? Do you find that it goes together for everyone, or is it more of a Catholic thing because we have a comprehensive teaching?

Jason: No, I think they go hand in hand because it’s the proper use of our human sexuality. And if we know how to use sexuality properly prior to marriage, then it follows very naturally and seamlessly into marriage. And likewise, the abstinence required during natural family planning means that that’s ok – it’s an expression of love.

It’s not about withholding love, it’s about expressing love in different ways. And for someone who doesn’t know chastity prior to marriage, then chastity within marriage is a tough go. A lot of times, marriage will do what it’s supposed to do: it will bring your faults up to the surface. And I know a lot of couples who were not chastity prior to marriage, and then they try to practice NFP chastity in marriage, and it brought up a lot of stuff that it had covered up prior to marriage. Because I think chastity in marriage is more demanding than chastity prior to marriage.

Thanks, Jason for dedicating your time and energy to creating a culture of life and true love.

For more information, visit Jason Evert’s website, Chastity Project, for great articles and resources on the virtue of chastity, talking to children about human sexuality, transgenderism, the porn epidemic and much more. You can follow Jason and his wife, Christalina here on Facebook.

Originally posted at The Freedoms Project.

Catholicism is Impossible

“Baby Jesus” by Jennifer Hickey

Earlier this week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook, written by Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity on Patheos. In the blog she describes some of the challenges surrounding the use of NFP, particularly the issues that arise when the risk of an unintended pregnancy are so high as to be unacceptable, but abstaining from sexual intercourse is not conducive to mental and emotional health. A priest told her in essence to try her best, and if she failed to know that she really was trying and to leave it in God’s hands. She describes the mind games encouraged by this situation, saying:

“What it meant was that I was in a position where I couldn’t have a realistic discussion about what I actually wanted in my sex life… but provided I was responding to seduction, swept away by my passions, or just doing it because I felt pressure it wasn’t really my fault.”

I recognize this mind game in my own life. To pick one example, let’s say I have composed a particularly biting and sarcastic email, deliberately not giving myself time to think, stifling that nagging feeling that maybe I should reconsider or at least wait a few hours, and pushed the send button before I could come to my senses. Later on in the throes of regret I told myself it was “in the heat of anger.” It wasn’t. I wanted to be cruel, and I encouraged and hid behind a feeling of anger to make that cruelty possible, and now I allow myself enough regret to make me feel I am not so uncharitable after all.

She goes on to say:

“–the attitude that I generally find in Catholic chastity culture… external circumstances are always the Cross that God is calling you to bear. Internal weakness, on the other hand, is natural. Everybody stumbles. It’s a dirty little secret that almost nobody actually practices the teaching. It’s understood that you are going to succumb to passion, that “frequent recourse to the confessional” will be necessary. That if you’re actually rigid enough to follow the teaching as you profess it, well,  probably that would be harmful. But nobody actually does that.”
I do not know if the author actually believes this statement of the “dirty little secret” of NFP, i.e. that no one actually practices it strictly. The comment boxes, both on the particular Facebook thread I read, and on the article itself, contained both rebuttals and affirmations of it. In any event, I don’t want to turn this into an NFP blog. For what its worth, my wife and I practice NFP, it doesn’t seem to cause us too much stress (Deo Gratias), and I don’t think I have ever come across this “Catholic chastity culture” she references, so my two cents on the topic would likely be neither here nor there.

Rather, I want to address the unspoken assumption at the heart of some of the comments, and of much of the debate around (insert hot button topic of sexual ethics in the Church today). NFP is one such arena, but I have personally heard this argument used more frequently in regards to debates around homosexual behaviors and lifestyles, and reception of sacraments by divorced and cohabitating couples. Very few are even talking about what I consider to be the real epidemic, that of pornography within the Church. The argument goes something like this:

“Sure the Church teaches X, Y and Z. But that is not what people actually do. Lots of great Catholics do exactly the opposite and they are still good people, and it’s just a shame that they can’t be more open about it until the oppressive, backwards Church changes her teaching to reflect how people actually practice.”
The problem is that this thinking is 100% wrong-headed. It is exactly backwards.

Whenever I hear this argument used, i.e. that the Church should adjust her teaching to practice, because her ethic is just too hard for people to live up to, I can’t help but think they have understated their case. God’s commandments are not too hard.

They are impossible.

Of course NFP is hard (for a lot of people, not for everyone). Chastity in general is hard. And, as Dorothy Sayers would remind us, lust is not the only deadly sin. There are, in fact, six more, though we often tend to ignore them. Temperance is hard, industry and frugality are hard, generosity is hard, honesty and patience are hard, mercy and justice are hard, and of course, don’t even get me started about humility and charity.

Let me repeat the title of this blog: “Catholicism is impossible.” We get hung up on pelvic issues, (NFP, contraception, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, but always on the one that other people are committing) possibly because these are so noticeable, possibly because we are just obsessed with sex as a race. We talk about everyone else’s sleeping arrangements and never notice our own sins of gossip and slander. We neglect to mention the extortion, usury, greed and envy that are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We don’t bat an eye over the gluttony and sloth wreaking havoc on our health and happiness.

Have you read the Sermon on the Mount recently?
Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Or to pick another example:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:22-27
Since when has ease or convenience ever been one of the Gospel’s selling points? This is the standard we are called to live up to.

Everyone has a secret failing. For some, NFP is hard. Probably for most. Those for whom it is easy do others a disservice when they act or speak as if it should therefore be easy for everyone, or as if it was easy because of their own merits or strength. Continence, which means perfect control over the appetites, is a gift of God, given to all eventually if they struggle long enough (everyone is continent in Heaven) but very few seem to receive it right away.

Likewise, those for whom patience comes naturally should no go around telling everyone else that patience is easy. The same for every other virtue/vice.
But those who think that the Church should change her teaching to reflect practice have mistaken what the Church’s teaching is. It is not an arbitrary decision that some actions are okay and others are not. When the CDC tells us not to smoke tobacco it is not because a bunch of old white men in D.C. decided that they hate tobacco and are choosing to punish those who like it with cancer. The Church makes statements about what she believes to be fact: e.g. homosexual activity is not in keeping with the best nature of man; usury is not in keeping with love of neighbor; contraception is harmful to marriages and societies; gossip is harmful to communities and souls, and so on and so forth. We may agree or disagree, but let us not have any muddled thinking that these teachings ought to be based upon what people actually do. If people actually were chaste, just, temperate, merciful, humble and charitable, we would not need teachings. We need these teaching because we are, in fact, unchaste, unjust, intemperate, vengeful, proud and selfish. We need to teachings to tell us when we have fallen short, and to warn us to try harder.
I will share with you my own discovery from that process of trying harder, that if you try to battle a besetting sin long enough you will find that two things are true:
  1. You are not really trying as hard as you think you are. You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood, you have not quit your job, moved towns, smashed your computer, engaged an accountability partner, changed your route to and from work, sold your car, cut off your hand or gouged out your eye. Until you have done those things, you aren’t really trying.
  2. Even when you do really try with every fiber of your being (that in itself is a gift) you will find it is impossible. Sure, you may rope yourself off from the sinful act itself but the desire is still there. Part of you still wants it. It is not a sin in itself, but it is not perfect continence either.
We must strive for perfection, not in the hopes that our striving will accomplish it, but so that our striving and failing may reveal our weakness and frailty to ourselves. Then we will pray as we ought, “Lord, I can do nothing on my own. Have Mercy on me, a Sinner, and save me by your power.”
 
When the humility, weakness and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus enters our souls and shapes them into His helpless image, (swaddled in a feeding trough, or nailed spread-eagled to a wooden beam, both show the same vulnerability) then His power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Merry Christmas! God Bless us All!

Man and Morality: The Truth that Sets us Free

The human person knows by nature that there is a certain code by which he must live.  Man also knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wants to be happy.  As fallen human beings, we often sense a strain between the natural law and our innermost need for happiness.  In the world today there are many moral theories that try to address this issue by divorcing freedom from truth, separating the actual acts of the human person from his moral status, or even by justifying intrinsic evil because “one’s own conscience” condoned it, or because it “fits” with one’s developing culture.  All these issues show two very interesting and integral aspects of man’s character: 1) man is not at rest, but is anxiously seeking an answer to that voice calling, beckoning to him, whether he acknowledges God’s creative act in his life or not; and 2) man also necessarily recognizes (at least implicitly) that he is so aware of the necessity of fulfilling the natural law that he goes to great lengths to justify his position, clearly demonstrating that every person knows deeply in his heart that the need to live a good moral life is essential to our human nature.  But in order to assess whether living the natural law really inhibits man’s freedom, we must first consider: what is his human freedom for, and how does man’s conscience function to determine what he will freely choose?  Is moral truth merely relative, or does the conscience serve as a judge of a universal standard?  If God created man in His own image and likeness, surely the natural law written in our hearts points us to the fundamental reality: man was created for the purpose of happiness, which he may obtain, if he but use his freedom to live in accordance with the truth.

In the world today, there are many theological theories that distinguish a man’s actions from his moral status, “detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth.”[1]

As St. Pope John Paul II wrote,

Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation.  The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil.[2]

This kind of mentality sharply contradicts the human person, whom God created in perfect love and order with Himself.  He who is Truth, desiring our happiness, created man to be happy when he lives in the fullness of his purpose, choosing to act in accordance with the right order of the natural law.  Clearly, the idea that certain acts do not contribute to the person’s moral make-up because they are “pre-moral” is not in keeping with any of the teachings of Christ or the early Church: “The Apostles decisively rejected any separation between the commitment of the heart and the actions which express or prove it (cf. 1 Jn 2:3-6).”[3] As both soul and body, man must live out what he believes, and not just merely acknowledge it.  “In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.”[4]

This becomes gravely relevant in considering that there are acts which, by their very nature, essence, and being, are contradictory to the human person, and are therefore intrinsically evil.  For example, God alone is the Author of Life, and therefore the only One to be worshipped.  The early Christians knew that the act of making offerings to a false god was thus intrinsically evil, and countless numbers refused even at the price of martyrdom. “They even refused to feign such worship, thereby giving an example of the duty to refrain from performing even a single concrete act contrary to God’s love and the witness of faith.”[5] This recognition of objective moral truth, upon which the natural law is written in the heart of the human person, is the essence of how a man brings his purpose to fruition by choosing the good for which he was created, and therefore achieving ultimate happiness.  Those who deny this fundamental need to recognize objective morality and intrinsic evil fall into the snare of self-deifying, where man becomes the author of his own morality and truth.  “Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others.”  But, “taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.”[6] Such prevalent thinking as this has “led to a denial, in opposition to Sacred Scripture (cf. Mt 15:3-6) and the Church’s constant teaching, of the fact that the natural moral law has God as its author, and that man, by the use of reason, participates in the eternal law, which it is not for him to establish.”[7] Man cannot be his own god, because he is a creature, created in the Divine Image.  Man, living the natural law by freely choosing what he perceives through the judgment of his conscience as objectively good and refusing intrinsic evil, can fulfill who he is in his person, bringing peace to his restlessness as he takes his abode in God for Whom he was created.

The Church, therefore, teaches strict adherence to the moral law because this is the foundation of who man is; to deny the moral law is not to meet man in compassion, but in actuality it is to deny man himself.  Thus, the Church reaches out with true charity, seeking the good of her children.  “The Church is in fact a communion both of faith and of life; her rule of life is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6).”[8] Man’s freedom is thus not to make up his own set of laws, but to fulfill that longing within him that urges him to do the good for which he was created.  “Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity.”[9] Thus, in obeying the moral law, there is this complete unity of faith and morals, freedom and truth, real life and compassionate love.  True Christian faith, “which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent,” is “rather…a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out.”[10] This vibrant relation with Jesus is the core and essence of morality for man.  Faith is not about a lonely soul estranged from the actions of the body: “faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).”[11] In Christ, we are freed from the addiction of sin, and the power to choose what is good is restored to us.  By perceiving the truth once again, our conscience can lead us forward to the happiness for which we long in achieving the fullness of a human person created in God’s image.  Then, we may truly act with freedom, according to Our Lord, for “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[12]

 

[1] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendour (6 August 1993), §4.

[2] Veritatis Splendour, §84.

[3] Veritatis Splendour, §26.

[4] Veritatis Splendour, §49.

[5] Veritatis Splendour, §91.

[6] Veritatis Splendour, §32.

[7] Veritatis Splendour, §36.

[8] Veritatis Splendour, §26.

[9] Veritatis Splendour, §42.

[10] Veritatis Splendour, §88.

[11] Veritatis Splendour, §88.

[12] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 8:32), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 30 July, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

The Little Saint of Great Mercy

Maria_GorettiToday we celebrate the feast of St. Maria Goretti, the Little Saint of Great Mercy. Her story reminds us that we are never beyond hope, that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. By forgiving her murderer and praying for his conversion, she not only kept herself from falling into sin; she reached out and helped a man who had been deeply corrupted, showing mercy to the person who, it would seem, deserved it the least. No one would have blamed her if she had been unable to forgive this man, whose evil actions led to her excruciating death and ultimately tore apart her family. But she not only forgave him; she desired his conversion, saying that she wanted him with her in Heaven. She appeared to him after her death, expressing her mercy toward him. And her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli, who had been utterly unrepentant and vicious even in his imprisonment, was converted overnight—a miracle whose impact would play out over the course of his lifetime.

Maria held fast to virtue even at the cost of her life, knowing that the joys and sufferings of this world are fleeting, that what truly mattered was preparing her eternal soul for Heaven—as well as Alessandro’s soul. She desired Heaven not just for herself, but for everyone, even sinners, even the very man who brutally murdered her. Even when he was at his very worst, she still understood that he was a human being, a child of God, meant for a life much greater than the one he was living. Not only that, she still believed there was hope for him, because she trusted in the boundless mercy of God.

Great miracles and graces have come as the fruits of Maria’s sacrifice. Let us call upon her for help in our own lives: to be fortified in virtue and purity, to be merciful and forgiving toward those who have wronged us, and to humbly appeal to God’s great mercy, which covers all our sins.

Heroic and angelic St. Maria Goretti, we kneel before you to honor your persevering fortitude and to beg your gracious aid. Teach us a deep love for the precepts of our Holy Church; help us to see in them the very voice of our Father in Heaven.

May we preserve without stain our white baptismal robe of innocence. May we who have lost this innocence kneel humbly in Holy Penance, and with the absolution of the priest, may the torrent of Christ’s precious Blood flow into our souls and give us new courage to carry the burning light of God’s love through the dangerous highways of this life until Christ our King shall call us to the courts of Heaven. Amen.


Image: Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini, painting of Maria Goretti / PD-US

Purity of Heart

“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

For most of my life I thought that the “purity of heart” line from Matthew was just a reminder to practice chastity in romantic relationships. In fact, it seemed like that was the standard line of thinking for most young Christian people—that the word “purity” was synonymous with physical chastity. We were taught that we must remain “pure” for our future spouses, that we must not sully ourselves with sexual sin, and that we must be spotless and clean if we had any shot of happiness in our marriage vocations. It was lot of pressure and emphasized only one small piece of such a beautiful and penetrating virtue.

It wasn’t until I had matured and journeyed through different seasons of my my life that I started to understand a deeper meaning of what it meant to have a pure heartsomething that was entirely outside the call to physical chastity. In a much realer sense, it meant living life with pure intentions, without malice, and with as much authenticity as possible. I realized that in the Beatitudes, Jesus was speaking about so much more than just “saving yourself for marriage”.

As an adult, living with a pure heart means something much different than what was taught to me in Catholic school. Along with pursuing sexual purity, it also means striving to be the woman that God created me to be, wholly and without pretense. It means growing in virtue and avoiding sinful behaviors that end up fostering anger, hostility, or fear within me. I find when I try to live this way, I feel a much deeper sense of “purity” than anything that ever came from an abstinence talk.

Of course, that’s not to say that sexual purity isn’t relevant. Part of what it means to be chaste is to also have pure intentions in your romantic relationships—that is, not using others, not leading them (and yourself) into sexual sin, and generally helping them to grow in holiness. Those things are very important and absolutely necessary. But it’s also crucial to look at purity in a holistic sense instead of turning it into a list of sexual things we have or have not done.

If you struggle with physical chastity, focus on living other areas of your life with pure intentions:

  • Be kind.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be honest.
  • Stay true to your word.
  • Serve others.
  • Love genuinely.
  • Have integrity.

You’ll find that when you operate from a truly pure heart in these ways, physical chastity will come much easier. It will be a natural byproduct of living a virtuous life free from selfishness and bitterness.

Possessing a pure, untainted heart means radiating the joy and peace of the Gospel. It means truly and authentically living the tenents of Christianity, resting in God’s goodness and mercy, and extending that to those you encounter. Yes, the pure of heart shall see God. And when we live this way, we can let others see Him through our own as well.

“Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” – Psalm 51:10

Photo Credit: Wonderfully Made

Book Review: The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition)

The Thrill of the Chaste:Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On by Dawn Eden
Ave Maria Press, $15.95

One gets the idea that a fruit of the Spirit needs better PR when even practicing Catholics seem skeptical of the topic of chastity. Whenever I mentioned reading Dawn Eden’s newest book (an updated Catholic version of her first edition Protestant-leaning book), the title alone gave most people pause (“oh!”), or a reason to raise an eyebrow and smirk, or avoid my eyes like I was putting them on the spot. One friend quipped, “I think my mom would like to be in a book club with you!”

Fortunately for them, I gave a speedy synopsis with a smile and solid encouragement to read this book. Single, involved, discerning, consecrated or married – every human being can practice chastity happily, and for the sake of love.

Those who do not know Dawn Eden’s story are in for a treat – raised in the Jewish faith, an agnostic, a survivor of sexual abuse, and a journalist in New York City finds herself a Christian in adulthood, and later on, is received into the Catholic Church. She has dedicated her life to studying, writing and speaking on chastity, love and God – which is good for us, because we all need better advocates for it.

Chastity is not afraid of sex: chastity is a reverence of sex. Dawn’s own life gives witness to the fruits of this virtue, when actively sought. The book really gets interesting in the second chapter: entitled “Why It’s Easy to Blame Mom and Dad (And Why You Shouldn’t)”, we glimpse into a family affected by divorce.  Just as parents should not take credit for their child’s good behavior (because, ultimately, it is the child choosing goodness), children should not blame their parents for mistakes. Could parents have taught better, been better examples, said the “right” thing? Absolutely. This type of guidance is invaluable. But for the truth seeker, one’s parents cannot be the only light to goodness.

Behind the scenes of this book is one of the more interesting characters: Dawn’s mom. She and Dawn’s father divorced when she was 5, and she pursued a hedonistic lifestyle for most of Dawn’s formational years. She also, however, kept reverence of the Sabbath and attended synagogue with her daughters. Through all the messes she made, and people she knew, she ended up in the Catholic Church years before Dawn considered giving her life to Christ. This kind of influence, while not overly expanded upon, is not lost on the reader.

Dawn says that she lost her innocence before she ever had sex, when she “learned it was possible to separate sexual sensation from love.” She believes people do this so as to detach, which is a means to protect one’s self. Protecting oneself, say, from the reality that sex without love and commitment isn’t as satisfying or desired. Most discussions on sex are tedious, because they’re broken up into “pro-love” or “anti-sex” camps, which leaves no room for real discussion. This book changes the discussion because chastity is given its own stage.

If the generally accepted definition of chastity is refraining from sexual intercourse outside of marriage, then what do people who are married or who do not want to practice chastity gain from this book? A new perspective, if given the chance. Dawn tells her story, threading it with literature, Scripture, Catholic theology and logic. She writes, “I learned, through discovering chastity, that the greatest tragedy is not that of being unloved. The greatest tragedy is not loving.” Pushing culture away from its “spiritual bulimia” and allowing our faith to be a living reality, the call to love authentically is found in all vocations.

Chastity is just as important in marriage as it is in holy orders; it is an invitation to taste heaven. As Dawn writes,

If you want to receive the love for which you hunger, the first step is to admit to yourself that you have the hunger, with everything it entails: weakness, vulnerability, and the feeling of an empty space inside. To tell yourself simply, “I’ll be happy once I have someone to love,” is to deny the depth and seriousness of your longing. It turns the hunger into a superficial desire for flesh and blood when we really want is someone to share divine love with us, to be for us “God with skin on.”

The story of the Samaritan woman is the crux of this book, because it ties into the reality that no one is beyond the graces of God. Jesus offers each of us his “living water” – the water that quenches beyond the immediate physical needs of life. We cannot deny that our spirituality is inherently intertwined with our physical body. This book encourages each of us to stop telling ourself “This is who I am!” and start saying, “This is who I am becoming!”

Even if you are not Catholic or practicing, this book is an excellent introduction to the subject of chastity, and its relevance in experience, seeped in theology reflection, gives insight to those who want a new twist on an old subject. Chastity is not just a “no” to sex; it is a “yes” to more. It is an investment in yourself and your relationships, and it is a backboard to start the much-needed conversation in today’s society. Dawn Eden’s book is beautifully written and has much to offer. The clarity of her message is invaluable to our conversation on sexuality, and challenges us towards heroic virtue and not selling love’s potential short.

**

In addendum: if you or a loved one has been touched by sexual abuse, Dawn wrote another book called My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, which is highly recommended.

Modesty: More Than Meets The Eye

Photo Jul 26, 3 05 16 PM

“Modesty is more than a fashion statement, it’s a daily decision to dress like the child of God you are…”

In order for one to dress in a spirit of modesty, we must first understand why. Why should I care about what I wear and how I wear it?

When we hear the word modesty, more often than not we immediately think of clothing or sometimes the lack of clothing that some wear. It is true that clothing is a big factor in the meaning of modesty, but it’s not the only thing. It’s mainly about realizing and understanding the dignity of us as a person, and those we are in contact with. It’s about understanding our worth and dignity as a child of God. Modesty calls us to live a life of virtue.

Why a life of virtue? Because what’s the point of dressing in a way that honors God’s creation if our speech, our conduct and the way we interact with others is not as virtuous? Basically you become your own worst enemy. Yes, you are dressing honorably but at the same time speaking in a foul language. Or it could be that you dress in a way that brings dignity to the human person, but at the same time you are conversing and acting around young men in a way that doesn’t portray any virtue. You see, modesty involves more than just clothing. Modest dress is simply an outpouring of your pure and modest heart.

“How beautiful then is modesty
and what a gem among virtues it is.”
-St. Bernard

Modesty encompasses the entire person, not just the outer fashion sense. True modesty brings dignity and worth to the person, because we recognize the person as one with both a body and a soul. We acknowledge that we were created by God in HIS image and we have a responsibility to carry and present ourselves in a way that is pleasing to God.

Modest clothing is actually more revealing because it shows the dignity of the human body through both clothing and most importantly by how we act and carry ourselves in that clothing. We should never present ourselves in such a way that lowers our dignity and projects a message that others can or should desire to use us. We are not objects but rather subjects with a soul.

A modestly dressed woman has a mystery about her as well as a sense of humility, dignity and confidence because she doesn’t need to lower herself to the standards of the world. Rather, she makes the world stop and look up to what the standards should be.

Women of today need to set the bar for the men. Because if we set the bar so low, by the way we dress and conduct ourselves, then the men aren’t going to step up and be the Godly knight they are called to be.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
-1 Corinthians 6:19-20

When Waiting is Really Hard

love gives lust takes

In reaction to the increasing physical immorality spreading through society today, and in an attempt to counter the message  constantly being sold through advertising, movies, music, and even best-selling books that says sexual intimacy is not only okay, but expected, outside of marriage, the Catholic online world has been buzzing with all sorts of articles on how to stay pure.  Each week it seems Jason Evert’s online blog for young adults comes out with a new list of suggestions for how to become pure, remain pure, return to purity, or increase in purity.  And while this is an incredibly important message, it can be a little discouraging when you prioritize purity as a couple, but still find it very hard to do so—not because you’re tempted to break the rules, but because saying no to what feels good and natural is hard.

For couples who have been dating long enough to be past the “he’s perfect, she’s perfect, we’re perfect for each other and neither of us can find fault in the other” phase, the struggle to remain pure becomes hard on a whole new level when you reach an understanding that comes with trusting each other with more of yourselves.  While physical attraction tends to be an initiator of relationships, and the main facet in them in the beginning (which is perfectly acceptable, as long as there is a desire to know the person better individually, and not just use them for their appearance), the temptations to take things too far tend to center around the “newness” of it all.  You’re both excited to be discovering each other, you’re not serious enough yet to be having intimate conversations or discussing deep mutual feelings, and simply touching each other sends electric sparks through the air.  During this phase, purity is hard because it puts a limit on how many new things can be experienced, but it is also the beautiful restraint which forces the couple to look beyond the physical attraction and truly learn to love each other’s hearts and souls.

But after the two of you have your first fight, endure hardship together, and start to learn all the “perfections and imperfections” (to use a beautiful phrase from Inception) that make your partner who he/she is, you start to form a deeper bond with him/her.  The deeper it goes, the more intimately you begin to know each other, and the more you desire simple affections, quiet moments, and complete closeness.  Your hearts start to feel so intertwined, you become so familiar with the quirks and little things about the other one that make them so unique, and you start to share things together more exclusively.  And as this emotional nearness increases, the longing to physically be as close as possible to the other person, to physically become close to them in the way you are becoming emotionally close, can often be even stronger and harder to resist than the initial, flirtatious, excited temptations.

When your longing to take the next step in the physical area of the relationship is based on a desire to complete the feelings of unity that the two of you have been building, when it comes from an almost spiritual yearning rather than just base attraction, it becomes easy to justify the temptation in your mind.  It’s easy to think “I’m not lusting after them, I just want to be close to them”; while this is a beautiful desire, outside of marriage it is a very persuading argument for impurity.  When thoughts like that take over the mind, not only does it become harder to say “no” when you both feel so united, but it also becomes harder to keep your thoughts pure—because when you’re thinking like an engaged couple, but not actually engaged, your mind starts dreaming of and preparing for things upon which it is not yet appropriate to dwell.

This is a very personal topic, and it is easy to feel alone in this struggle when so many articles and talks about purity make it seem like if you’re following the rules, everything should just be easy.  For those out there dating, trying to do so in a holy, pure, Catholic way, but still finding it incredibly hard nonetheless, do not be discouraged.   As paradoxical as it may sound, a date cut short because temptation was particularly intense is more rewarding than a date that went too far.  When you both look at each other at the end of the night, hold hands, exchange chaste kisses on cheeks, and know that you both want so much more but are offering it up for the sake of pleasing God before yourselves, then kneel before your separate beds to pray, being able to say to God “We took care of each other, Lord.  I put his/her soul before my own desires tonight, so I could take care of him/her for You.  Please see the sacrifice and give us grace instead.  Bless her/him, who I miss so much already, and thank you for the gift of true love stronger than lust”, nothing is more rewarding.  And should God join the two of you together “until Death do you part” one day in the future, the reward will be tenfold when you can pull each other close and come together as husband and wife, giving each other the gift of yourselves so carefully preserved, and showered with grace as you unite both body and soul.  So do not feel guilty or alone when your God-centered relationship still hurts sometimes when yearnings cannot be satisfied: purity is extremely hard, but it is so worth the wait.

St. Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse of Mary, pray for us!

The Single Best Way to Reduce Abortions

When Lisa Selin Davis told a cabdriver she was going to have an abortion, he pulled the car over on the Brooklyn Bridge in a blizzard. He begged her not to do it. Davis, then a 22-year-old aspiring filmmaker, had conceived the child with a married man she met at a film shoot. But she “didn’t want that baby, with that man,” she wrote in an essay that recently printed in the Perspective section of the Tampa Bay Times.

The story is sad but bold. When Davis resisted the cabdriver’s appeal, he took her to the clinic to which she had asked him to take her, where after it was over, she woke up sobbing in pain and a paper gown. She was sure she would never be a mother. She was wrong. Fifteen years later, she wrote, she gave birth to a daughter and later, to another. And, she added, “I want my daughters to have the option of safe and legal abortion, of course. I just don’t want them to have to use it.”

Davis’s is one of countless voices that roots for the right to choose to abort despite an admitted distaste for abortion. Abortion is regarded and protected by many as a “necessary” evil — a procedure to be avoided, but to be accessible for when other options are undesirable. Davis wants her daughters to have the right to choose to abort but she doesn’t want them ever to have to exercise it. In the essay, she doesn’t say what her daughters can do to avert ever feeling like they need to. Other voices like hers have made suggestions:

In the essay’s combox, a commenter wrote that abortion can be avoided by teaching “safe” sex, and making it easier for people to access contraception. In a recent tweet, author Rachel Held Evans issued a reminder “that the single best way to reduce abortions is to make birth control more accessible and affordable.” These suggestions are problematic because they propose – rather ambitiously – that the path to the prevention of abortion can begin at sex.

But that implies that conception is the problem, and that “not using contraception” is what causes it. It doesn’t consider the possibilities that conception isn’t the problem; that contraception — which has created a perceived gap between sex and procreation — is part of the problem; and that sex’s status quo in our culture can and should be transcended. It dismisses the true single best way to reduce abortions: practicing chastity.

Chastity acknowledges that “not using contraception” does not cause conception, and that sex at just the right time does. It acknowledges that consent alone doesn’t make sex safe, and condoms don’t make sex safe — that who you’re having sex with and when and why affects sex’s safety, too. Chastity acknowledges that the path to the prevention of abortion cannot start at sex, but must start at birth or adoption, when we’re chosen; that it must continue in our homes, where our parents are supposed to start our sexuality education; that the prevention of abortion does not depend on contraception, but on the the definition of sex (which — for chaste people — is a sacred, physical sign of the commitment spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married, ultimately designed to bond them and to make babies).

Chastity eliminates extramarital pregnancy because it eliminates nonmarital sex. Chastity eliminates unwanted pregnancies within marriage because married couples who practice chastity also practice NFP. And because pregnancy is never not valued for people who practice chastity, even if achieved when a couple that uses NFP planned to avoid a pregnancy. Chastity eliminates conception in rape because a person who practices chastity does not rape.

But chastity is widely dismissed. It is sometimes scoffed. It is a cure that a culture rejects because using a Band-Aid is easier, because we are desperate to prove we can have our cake and eat it, too.

Chastity accepts that we can’t.

Click here to read Davis’s essay in full.

Why Chaste People Should Get Uncomfortable

Ten years ago, I crossed a modest stage in a well-lit gymnatorium at a private, Protestant school. I was one of 14 high school seniors who wore royal blue caps and gowns and breathed happy sighs of relief upon being given what meant more to us than diplomas:

Freedom.

For me, freedom meant transition. It meant I turned from a Catholic kid in a Protestant class of 14 to a Catholic kid on a secular campus of 40,000 — from a young woman who knew everyone to a young woman who, most days, knew no one.

I wasn’t ok with that. So I did what I sometimes still can’t believe:

I got uncomfortable.

And I did it on purpose.

I didn’t know yet that getting uncomfortable was good for a person who practices chastity. Here’s how I learned:

Resistant though I was to rubbing elbows with strangers, I saw no solution to isolation other than to turn the courtyard outside the University of South Florida’s Cooper Hall into my turf. I decided I did not require a stranger’s invitation to share a bench. I did not request a clique’s permission to be part of a party. I decided 40,000 potential friends were too slow at being the first to start conversations. So, I started them, which was uncomfortable, because I could not predict how they would end.

Sometimes, my disregard for my comfort zone did what I wanted it to do. Some of my best undergrad friends were the students whose picnic tables I picked instead of sitting alone at empty ones. Other times, my disregard for my comfort zone did what made disregarding it uncomfortable: it’s a sad day when somebody’s response to your “hello” is an eye-roll and a swift exit.

But it’s only a sad day until it isn’t, until you’ve done an uncomfortable thing enough that it doesn’t make you uncomfortable anymore — a killer skill for a person who practices chastity.

A person who practices chastity, the virtue that requires us to abstain from sex outside marriage, has to talk about it (often in public, on first dates, in a culture that thinks it’s weird). A person who practices chastity will probably be mocked, and will probably be rejected. A single person who practices chastity accepts that he or she might never have sex (ever, or again). A married person who practices chastity accepts that marriage doesn’t mean sex any time for any reason. A person who practices chastity saves sex or sex from now on for marriage, which means wedding night sex probably won’t be seamless.

Which means people who practice chastity are put in positions our culture calls uncomfortable. It means we have to make sacrifices where other people don’t think we should. It means we have to be disciplined where others might not have to be. Which is why chaste people should get uncomfortable, make sacrifices, and practice discipline in areas of life outside chastity.

My disregard for a comfort zone in the courtyard outside USF’s Cooper Hall wasn’t just valuable because it helped me make friends. It was valuable because I got better at disregarding comfort zones. Somebody’s decision to sacrifice trips to Starby’s isn’t just valuable because it saves him or her money. It’s valuable because it helps him or her get better at making sacrifices. Somebody’s decision to ditch the snooze button isn’t just valuable because it pushes him or her into starting each day earlier. It’s valuable because it helps him or her get better at being disciplined.

So let’s do it.

And let’s do it on purpose.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Finding Freedom from Porn Addiction — Part II

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, Diego Velazquez, (1631-32).
The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, Diego Velazquez, (1631-32).

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God….” –Matthew 5:8

One of the paintings that is most dear to my heart is Diego Velazquez’s The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas. For anyone who has struggled with sexual sins, I think this work has the power to evoke many different feelings. In it I see reflections of my own battles for purity. The story behind the image is often told like this:

When the young Thomas Aquinas wanted to follow his vocation for the religious life he was vehemently opposed by his family – so much so that they kidnapped and locked him in a room with a seductress to tempt him. Little did they know that Thomas had been spending that time in prayer and solitude, as represented by the inkwell and books upon the floor, and had prepared for the coming trials.

What you see in Velazquez’s painting is the aftermath of Thomas chasing out the temptress. He had taken a burning log from the fireplace and run her out. That is the same log he used to trace an ashen cross upon the wall of his room. If you look carefully, you can see the woman running out the door looking back upon him. Two angels come to protect Thomas and gird him with a white cord representing purity.

What strikes me the most is that Thomas’ eyes are closed. Look at him. He is resting, almost as if asleep with his head slightly bent in the crook of the angel’s neck. He is safe. The battle is…won.

How often I have longed for that kind of rest! Have you also? From that point on it is said that Thomas never more was tempted in the flesh and the so-called “Dumb Ox” began his illustrious journey to become a doctor and saint of Holy Mother Church.

To this day, partly in honor of this memory, the Dominican Friars still lead the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, which is dedicated to helping people pursue chastity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and our Blessed Mother. Now, most of us probably will not be called to go to such lengths for purity, but that does not mean we that cannot learn from St. Thomas’ example.

I have written this column to continue the reflections in my previous post, where I wrote on part of my own journey of healing from such struggles. My main goal with this second post is to share with you ways that have helped me grow in chastity, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as the “successful integration of sexuality within the person and … inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” according to which we “cultivate in the way that is suited to [our] state of life” (CCC #2337, #2349).

I do not necessarily offer these points as profound spiritual insights of my own, but rather as time-tested, tried and true ways that the Church offers us to gain purity. Truly, it is not often by the loftiest or most complex programs that we gain victory, but rather by the little, most humble, and simple places where we should begin.

1. Humility

It almost seems counter-intuitive, but I only began to find freedom when I realized that I was, apart from God, incapable of overcoming my struggles. It is He who grants us the victory.

For so long I had tried the same things over and over and nothing had ever worked. But go to any Twelve-Step program and they will tell you that the journey starts when we acknowledge that we are powerless over our addictions and recognize that it has become unmanageable for us.

At one point, my life had reached rock bottom and I felt that I could not go down any further. I was utterly broken, my spirit was crushed, and I felt desolate. I could not live like this any longer. That was my wake-up call.

I have learned since that nothing is, ultimately, wasted in the hands of our Lord because he can and often does bring good out of our evil. With contrition for our sins and humility in our hearts, let us do this:

So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4: 7-10)

2. The Sacraments and Prayer

The Sacraments are the heart and soul of a Catholic’s spiritual life. With regard to sins of impurity, two Sacraments that you should regularly receive are the Eucharist at daily or Sunday Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we might bring our sins before God and ask for forgiveness.

The Eucharist is the food for our journey. How can we fight a battle if we are not fed? This is not just any perishing sustenance, but the Bread of Eternal Life itself, the Manna from heaven, the very Body and Blood of our Lord! In the Eucharist, Jesus comes to dwell with us, showing us that we are not alone on the journey.

If for some reason you cannot receive Him, pray an Act of Spiritual Communion or visit our Lord in Adoration. Nonetheless, you should receive as often as you can if you are in a state of grace.

This brings me to my second point: confessing our sins is often difficult, but I have also found it so freeing and liberating! God has and continues to truly forgive us in this Sacrament. Whatever your sins may be, please do not be afraid, do not despair! Do not forget to be merciful with yourself.

If you do fall, consider praying the Act of Perfect Contrition. Go as often as you need, remembering this:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Hebrews 4: 15-16)

3. Community and Friendship

This cannot be said enough: you cannot win this battle on your own. The devil would have us believe that our sins are too shameful, that we are irreparably broken, and that no one would ever love us if they knew what we struggled with. He would drive us away from our family, our friends, or our spouse. That is precisely what we must not do!

Find a good accountability partner, someone who you can be open with. Cultivate holy and virtuous friendships with others, although those struggling with sexual sins must do this sensitively depending upon how they struggle. Consider finding a good Catholic therapist and unpacking some things from your past. Ask yourself, why are you acting out this way because the genesis of sexual sin often does not come out of thin air.

Sometimes sex-addictions are the symptom of a greater problem in our lives, whether that be bodily stress, spiritual, or emotional wounds. Our Lord, when He walked upon this earth, had friends, brothers, and sisters who were dear to him and helped him along his sojourn. In the same way, let us give thanks for those whom the Lord puts into our lives so that we might “bear one another’s burdens, and so…fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

4. Mary and Joseph and the Saints

One final point I wish to make is that learning from the saints, particularly meditating upon our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, has helped me greatly in this regard.

Sexual sin often strikes us at the root of what it means to be a man or a woman, what love and family are, what it means to be a “father” or “mother,” a husband or wife. For me, the Holy Family is a beautiful image of what is possible when men and women chastely give their whole lives to God and to each other.

Whatever saints you may have a devotion to, consider learning from these or others: St. Augustine’s Confessions is a great classic. Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat is another (Chapter 26 in particular!). Meditating upon the lives of the saints, including that of St. Maria Goretti, The Life of St. Anthony, and St. Therese of Lisieux’s meditations upon her saintly parents, Blessed Louis and Marie Zélie Martin, in The Story of a Soul are good places to start. Clean of Heart by Rosemarie Scott has also been helpful to me with its structured daily meditations.

If pornography and sexual sin has filled our minds with foul images and painful memories, then we must find healing by letting in that which is the opposite: that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, of excellence, and worthy of praise (c.f. Philippians 4:8). We must “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).

In these ways, my dear friends, we can begin the journey of healing, of restoration, of a full life in God. In my own life, I have found peace, help, hope, and grace and I wish that you might discover the same. Are there ways that have helped you grow in chastity? Please share in the comments section!

Let us end together by meditating once again upon Velazquez’s painting and ask St. Thomas’ intercession to teach us purity of heart so that we might one day, like him and all the saints, “gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Amen.

The Application of Style

In my previous article I explored a philosophy of style that will allow us as Catholic women to live in the modern world in such a way as flatters our womanhood but still appeals to those living around us. By doing so, I argued that we as women may more fully make Christ known in the world.

Today, I want to explore practical ways of taking clothes the world gives us and appropriately using them to demonstrate our beauty as Catholic women. There are a couple of simple things women can do to make today’s clothes suitable. Don’t write something off just because it, at first glance, seems inappropriate. We can walk the fine line of style so elusive to modern day women!

1. Feeling Pretty is Good 

When I style clients at work (I work at a women’s clothing store), I always counsel women “if you want to do a little dance, then get it. If not, then pass on it.” Your clothes should make you feel pretty, attractive, and confident. It’s a good thing if you put something on and you want to look in the mirror. If you feel attractive or you want to go out in that outfit then chances are that it’s doing its job of appropriately displaying your womanhood to the world. In short: your clothes should make you feel pretty.

In fact, I argue, the most stylish outfits will be ones that accent you in all the right ways, and down play all the wrong ones. This naturally makes you feel really pretty, and that’s a good thing. I mean, when you’re accentuating your natural womanly beauty, you’re going to feel a little giddy about it.

I personally think it’s a huge sign when an outfit makes you want to do a little dance. It means it’s showing off all the ways your physical body demonstrates to you your internal beauty. If you see that beauty, you can guarantee the rest of the world is going to see it as well. If the rest of the world is seeing you as a normal, in touch with the 21st century, yet pretty, appropriate, and confident lady…they’re going to take notice and take cues from you.

2. The Rule of “Toos”

Essentially, the Rule of Toos says that anything with a “too” in it should not be in your wardrobe. Too low, too high, too short, too tight, too loose, too big, too small, etc. Any article with a “too” in it is not your friend.

This rule is obvious when it comes to the “small” side of the “too spectrum.” Too small/tight/high/low are all ways of saying “provocative.” That isn’t a good way of demonstrating your womanly beauty to the world.

The Rule of Toos also applies to the too “big/loose/long” side. In other words, the Rule of Toos should complement Rule #1: if you don’t feel pretty, your outfit may be too oversized, too big, or too loose such that it does not accent your figure.

Overly dressing is a good way of alienating yourself from the world and undermining your confidence. We don’t want to look frumpy, and clothes that are too big don’t help in attaining that goal. So consider removing all articles with the prefix “too” and you’ll find you’re a bit happier.

 

3. Layering Can Make “Bad” Clothes Good

Imagine this. You’re in a store. You see an adorable top. Perfect color. Great material. Good price. You want it. Then you put it on and you realize that it has a super low-cut v-neck neckline that reveals more than the day you were born. Oh man. Has to go back on the shelf.

Or does it? Enter: Layers. They save the day. Consider placing a tank top underneath that adorable v-necked blouse. Now you not only have an interest piece, you have a styled, 3-piece look with a shirt you love and a stylish approach that respects your body.

Too often women shrug off clothes that really could be cute or worn well simply because they are too provocative, when the same article could be worn in a flattering and appropriate way with the right pairing.

Tunics that are too short can look adorable as over-sized sweatshirts when paired with skinny jeans and boots, and spaghetti strapped shells can look great under a blazer. Likewise, cute skirts that may be too small can be paired over leggings, low-cut shirts can be paired over tanks, and high-cut t-shirts can be paired over a long undershirt. These not only protect your womanly dignity but also add texture, interest, contrast, and color to your outfit!

By keeping in mind these three rules, I believe Catholic women can more effectively evangelize through their dress. Wearing clothes that fit in with modern day society doesn’t mean you can’t stand out in the way you wear them, how they make you feel, and the manner in which they portray your dignity as woman. If we teach through example, I think we’ll find that many people will begin to follow!