Last Sunday’s Gospel speaks to us of some counter-cultural themes: forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness. Let’s look at some of these themes.
First, forgiveness. This is a tough one for a lot of people. But we have to understand what forgiveness is, and what it is not. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. If we forgive someone, it does not mean that what they did doesn’t matter, or that it doesn’t hurt. No, forgiveness recognizes that they really did wrong to us, but we choose to release them from our anger and from a desire to revenge. Sometimes we need to choose to forgive over and over again – daily, or hourly – and eventually we may feel forgiving. But we need to start with a daily choice to forgive – and that can include asking God’s blessing upon the person who hurt us.
A great example of this is St. Maria Goretti and her mother. Maria Goretti’s family was from Italy in the early 20th Century, and they were very poor, so poor that they had to share a home with another family. The other family had a 19-year-old son named Alessandro whose mind was corrupted with bad magazines and lust. Several times, Alessandro asked Maria to sin with him, but she continually refused. Finally, in anger, one day Alessandro demanded that she sleep with him, but when she refused, he stabbed her fourteen times before fleeing. Maria was found by a fellow villager and rushed to the hospital. On her way there, she forgave Alessandro and begged for mercy for him. Tragically, she died of her wounds.
Alessandro was caught and sentenced to thirty years in prison. At first, his heart was bitter and angry at his punishment, but one night he had a dream, in which he saw Maria appear to him with fourteen lilies, assuring him that she forgave him. At this, he was a changed man. When he was finally released, he went to visit with Maria’s mother and offered his apologies. Maria’s mother, heroically, said that if her daughter could forgive the murderer, how could she do any less? They were reconciled through the grace of forgiveness.
But St. Maria Goretti is also the patron saint of chastity, which Jesus addresses in the Gospel. This is a particularly counter-cultural virtue. Chastity is the virtue that respect’s God’s plan for human sexuality. And it’s a relatively simple plan: God intended that the fullness of our bodies only be shared with a spouse within the covenant of marriage, open to His great gift of life. Chastity seeks to live in accord with that plan.
Chastity does not say that sex is bad – on the contrary, chastity says that sex is good and powerful. Anything that is powerful needs to be used properly – a gun is fine for hunting or target shooting, but in the hands of the wrong person it can be incredibly destructive. Our sexuality is a great gift, meant to unite spouses in a holy covenant and allow them to participate in God’s creative action by bringing forth new life. But if it is mis-used, that same powerful gift becomes a destructive force.
This is why chastity is necessary – chastity safeguards genuine love. It says, “I love my spouse (or, if you are unmarried, your future spouse) so much that I am willing to master myself, so I can present my body as a gift to them.” This is difficult, because it involves self-mastery and self-denial – which is not easy!
This past summer I was chatting with my siblings who no longer practice the Faith, and we were talking about the #MeToo movement. I said, “One thing that is missing from the national conversation about the Me-Too movement is chastity.” And they all started to scoff, saying, “Come on, no one believes in that anymore! It’s impossible, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to live in chastity!”
But Jesus seems to think differently. He makes it clear that we must practice chastity in every aspect of our behavior: not just avoiding adultery, but also avoiding viewing impure content, dirty conversations, and any sexual activity outside of marriage. It is difficult, but not impossible – one must have a solid prayer life, avoid temptations, and practice daily self-discipline like fasting or other self-denial. Chastity is worth it – because our hearts long for authentic, genuine, self-giving love – not the cheap substitute of mere physical pleasure.
Chastity also safeguards another theme we hear in the Gospel – that of faithfulness. After Kobe Bryant’s death, I was edified to read a great article about how he fought for his marriage. It is public knowledge that he cheated on his wife earlier on in his marriage, and even though he repented, she filed for divorce in 2011. But he wasn’t willing to give up – he prayed for her, and worked hard on his marriage. Two years later, she withdrew the petition for divorce. Later on, in an interview, he said,
“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my tail off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”
I know that some of us here may be suffering the pain of divorce, as that difficult reality is all too common in our society. And only the Lord knows what you are going through – this is not meant as a judgment upon your particular circumstances. But if you are still married and are going through a rough patch, I urge you and beg you – stay faithful! Fight for your marriage! It’s worth it! Not easy, to be certain, but God’s grace will meet you there and give you the strength to stay faithful when it’s difficult. After all, God has forever been faithful to us, even to the Cross – and our marriages are called to reflect that.
My friends, these three virtues – forgiveness, chastity, and faithfulness – are profoundly counter-cultural. They are difficult, without a doubt – but God’s grace can give us the ability to live them out. The Lord instructs us to live forgiveness, chastity, and faithfulness because these will lead to joy, holiness, and abundant life.