The Joy of Chastity

Blessed Paul Vi Joy V Pleasure
A Much Under-Appreciated Virtue
September 3, 2017

Perhaps it comes as something of a surprise to read a claim that something as difficult as chastity could possibly be considered a cause for joy.  One reason for this might be that we have not thought about the real meaning of joy.  A good place to start understanding the meaning of joy would be to make a distinction between pleasure and joy.  Joy is an emotional fruit of achieving an authentic human good, and only an authentic good.  Such goods are many, but our experience of joy is in direct proportion to our intentions for pursing the goods.  The greater degree to which they are pursued for selfless (as opposed to selfish) reasons, the deeper and more enduring the experience of joy when the authentic good is obtained.  The most fulfilling experience of joy comes through authentic, selfless love.  One of the most serious dangers we have in our relationships is that we are motivated by the desire for both pleasure and joy and we don’t realize the difference between the two.  In other words, our intentions are usually a mixture of selfless and selfish intention.

Pleasure without joy

Joy fulfills us; it is lasting.  Pleasure momentarily satisfies us, but with the passing of the experience that brought us the pleasure, the emotion is gone.  The problem for us is that pleasure can masquerade as joy as we have already discussed.  Joy is the fruit of love and pleasure is the fruit of obtaining some good, usually associated with the body.  In our relationships, if we use a person to obtain pleasure when we really can only be satisfied by joy, then after the pleasurable experience is over, we are left empty, frustrated, and confused.  We also likely damaged, if not destroyed our relationship and moved ourselves further away from experiencing the joy we were pursuing.  Use of others (the opposite of love) is most common in our romantic relationships through our misuse of the procreative gifts; in other words, sexual activity.

Right use of procreative gifts

All illicit sexual activity, even that which may begin with good intentions, ends up in selfishness. The motivations for illicit sex are many.  Some are obviously selfish but other motivations can masquerade as good intentions.  Nevertheless, no good intention can make a bad act, good.  Even good intentioned acts end up being selfish because rather than serving the authentic good of the couple, they end up with the couple using one another.  The pursuit of sex solely for the sake of pleasure, self-affirmation, conquest or the domination of the other person are obviously selfish acts; these acts use the other person, they undermine the relationship and they diminish both persons. However, the pursuit of sexual intercourse for the sense of bonding it provides, an experience often mistaken for love, is also an act of selfishness when one has not formally, finally and irrevocably committed to the other in a valid marriage; this would be a sacramental marriage among Christians.  Such an act is just as much the selfish “use” of the other for one’s own sake as is the engaging in sex for the sake of self-affirmation or pleasure. 

In fact, the need for bonding, self-affirmation and pleasure are tightly intertwined, even if one of the desires predominates.  In this way, we could say that sexual intercourse outside of sacramental marriage generally is motivated by a superficial experience of pleasure (including the pleasure of experiencing a feeling of bonding).  Such a pleasure is not enduring; rather, it leaves each partner with emptiness as soon as the action goes away.  Because the act does not conform to its nature as an act of communion of selfless love open to life-giving, fruitfulness, the couple is often left with the insecurity of a relationship that is subject to the whims of each partner’s unpredictable emotions and desires.

Joy of authentic love

The joy described above is a natural joy.  It is a natural fruit of achieving true human goods.  In the case of human relationships, this natural joy is the fruit of selfless love.  However, our experience of joy can be super-naturalized.  We call this kind of joy a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see CCC 736).  The baptized who are in a state of grace, and who give themselves selflessly to God and to others experience this fruit according to the degree these works of love are selfless.  Joy in the Holy Spirit is the consolation for which we all yearn; only in this fruit of the Spirit do we find repose for our restless hearts because this joy is a fruit of our resting in God.  Sexual intercourse will only provide the authentic, peaceful joy for which God created it when it is engaged in with the virtue of chastity.

Chastity is a virtue that falls under the cardinal virtue of temperance.  Temperance refers to the appropriate, balanced use of created goods by moderating our attraction to pleasures.  Chastity is the right use of the procreative gifts.  More specifically the genitals are ordered by God to procreation and so to use them in any other manner is disordered and a violation of the virtue of chastity.  One can see from this that regardless of one’s state in life, every person is called to chastity.  As with all things, the right use of God’s gifts is the key to human happiness and personal flourishing.  For couples that are not yet married, chastity is observed through complete sexual abstinence.  For married couples, chastity means engaging in sexual intercourse for the love one’s spouse.  Loving one’s future spouse means to act only for her good, for her human flourishing—body and soul.  Because sexual intercourse is ordered to procreation, any authentic expression of love for one’s partner recognizes that sex is a martial act and must be reserved for the state in which one has made a lifelong commitment to the other, that is, marriage.

Chastity means for the discerning couple, self-mastery and the avoidance of the near occasion of sin through the exercise of chivalry.  Chastity means recognizing that if one loves her beloved, she cannot be the occasion of sin for him.  The goal of a married couple is for each spouse to lead the other to heaven.  A relationship without chastity means each is leading the other in the complete opposite direction.

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