On the lowly, yet vital, importance of chastity

A thoughtful and charitable response to Bp. McElroy's recent remarks about the role of chastity in the life of Catholics

Bishop McElroy: “Many times, our discussions in the life of the Church suggest that chastity has a singularly powerful role in determining our moral character, or our relationship with God. It does not.” (image: NC Reporter)

The reader likely needs no introduction to the recent uproar in Catholic media regarding the rescinding of various speaking engagements previously granted to Fr. James Martin, SJ. Those particular waters are so contentious that I think little good is done wading into them. Let us pray for unity in the Church and, without currently ascribing any blame to any parties involved, make our own an expression from the Anaphora of St. Basil: “By the power of Your Holy Spirit, end the schisms in the Church, quench the raging of nations, and quickly destroy the insurrections of heresy. Receive us all into Your kingdom, showing us to be children of light and children of the day. Grant us Your peace and love, O Lord our God, For You have given all things to us.”1

However, a recent response to these issues, offered by Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, does call for some comment. In particular, I wish to focus on his remarks regarding the virtue of chastity. In a recent article in America, Bishop McElroy states, “Chastity is a very important virtue of the Christian moral life. The disciple is obligated to confine genital sexual activity to marriage.”2 We should also recall that the bishop did issue a statement after the Obergefell v. Hodges case, reiterating Church teaching.3 If nothing else, his words deserve a charitable treatment, even if one wishes to differ, as I will in what comes below. Let us try to maintain this general attitude in what follows.

In the aforementioned article, the bishop goes on to remark: “But chastity is not the central virtue in the Christian moral life. Our central call is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” So far so good, especially since Bishop McElroy has used the word “the” instead of “a.” The central virtue of the Christian life is charity. Charity is the soul of the virtues, conforming us to the Divine Love itself.4 Thus is our will divinized with a fire that should consume the world. Without charity, no other virtue can exist as a true and strong virtue.5

However, Bishop McElroy takes one step further, and it is here that I find need for comment: “Many times, our discussions in the life of the Church suggest that chastity has a singularly powerful role in determining our moral character, or our relationship with God. It does not.” In particular, the “it does not” rings in my ears, so to speak, each time that I read this statement. As one tasked with teaching college and seminary courses pertaining to such moral matters, I cannot help but reflect on such claims—especially since some of my students will quite soon have guardianship over the direction of souls. Such remarks, made in a significant public forum such as America, are imprudently overstated in our currently debased culture. If anything, we need more chastity today than ever before if we are to morally survive in the toxic environment of the West (and, most especially, America).6Moreover, let us remember the lofty words of the contemporary Catechism, which simultaneously notes the hierarchy of virtues while speaking in a lofty manner of the virtue of chastity:

Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness. The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.7

Thus, in reading the words, “It does not,” I cannot help but enunciate a distinction.8 It is one thing to consider the fact that a given virtue is less lofty than other virtues in what it positively attains. It is wholly another matter to consider the fact that the same virtue prevents the worst of all things, in the case of chastity, utter dissipation and enslavement to all things sensual. Water does not provide all that we need for our biological life. Nonetheless, it does indeed play a singularly powerful role in providing the foundation without which our life and thought would be impossible. Likewise, the canals that lead one to the sea are merely a presupposed pathway for water, but without them, the waters would spill over the ground and never reach their destination. So too with chastity. Like the immigrant workers of old digging the Erie Canal, chastity is an underappreciated underclass among the virtues. Without its backbreaking humanizing of the passions, the waters of divine life would find themselves quickly dissipated amid the temptations of the world.

It is wildly dangerous to claim that chastity does not play a powerful role in our moral lives. Merely in the natural order, the moral virtues are connected in prudence precisely because prudence presupposes the rectification of our appetites so as to issue a true and certain command of action. When any virtue fails, we risk failing in other virtues as well. Thus, a cowardly person is unlikely to do his duty in defending his family against an unjust aggressor. Likewise, a wildly gluttonous person is unlikely to meet the duties of his or her state in supporting the poor.10

When it comes to temperance, we are considering a very basic ordering of our internal “desiderative apparatus.” How are our desires related to fitting or non-fitting goods that we grasp in our moral reasoning? Let’s steal an image from Joseph Pieper. Temperance stems the tide of vice and provides a canal within which more important virtues can flow:

“Discipline, moderation, chastity, do not in themselves constitute the perfection of man. By preserving and defending order in man himself, temperantia creates the indispensable prerequisite for both the realization of actual good and the actual movement of man toward his goal. Without it, the stream of the innermost human will-to-be would overflow destructively beyond all bounds; it would lose its direction and never reach the sea of perfection. Yet temperantia is not the stream. But it is the shore, the banks, from whose solidity the stream receives the gift of straight unhindered course, of force, descent, and velocity.”11

Full article at Homiletic and Pastoral Review Magazine.

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  1. “It is easier to flee from the vice contrary to chastity than to cure it.” — St. Francis de Sales.

  2. The voice of reason and of faith. This is what seminarians learn, not Sophist Bob’s twisting of Catholic terms to serve another agenda.

  3. Faithful and True says:

    McElroy is priming the pump now as he has been doing for decades (like a smooth manipulator), readying the sheep to accept rehashed modernism as the “”new” pastoral approach of this era of so-called enlightenment and mercy modeled upon the example of Bergolio’s personal teaching. Such men are not true disciples of Jesus Christ. At best you they are misguided/deluded ideologues and at worse, they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing about which Pope Benedict XVI warned the entire Church as to their dangerous presence.

    • At the time, I had wondered who those wolves were that Pope Benedict XVI warned us about. A good thing coming from the talk and writings of Bishop McElroy and his ilk is that they are exposed for all of us to see and remember..

      • At some other prelate’s urging, Pope Benedict XVI nominated Fr. McElroy to be a bishop. Pope Francis nominated Auxiliary bishop McElroy to be the bishop of San Diego at some other prelate’s urging. Who are those bishops and cardinals behind the scenes?

        • Anonymous says:

          Can 377 §2 At least every three years, the Bishops of an ecclesiastical province or, if circumstances suggest it, of an Episcopal Conference, are to draw up, by common accord and in secret, a list of priests, even of members of institutes of consecrated life, who are suitable for the episcopate; they are to send this list to the Apostolic See. This is without prejudice to the right of every Bishop individually to make known to the Apostolic See the names of priests whom he thinks are worthy and suitable for the episcopal office.

        • Anonymous says:

          Can 377 §3 Unless it has been lawfully prescribed otherwise, for the appointment of a diocesan Bishop or a coadjutor Bishop, a ternus, as it is called, is to be proposed to the Apostolic See. In the preparation of this list, it is the responsibility of the papal Legate to seek individually the suggestions of the Metropolitan and of the Suffragans of the province to which the diocese in question belongs or with which it is joined in some grouping, as well as the suggestions of the president of the Episcopal Conference. The papal Legate is, moreover, to hear the views of some members of the college of consultors and of the cathedral chapter. If he judges it expedient, he is also to seek individually, and in secret, the opinions of other…

  4. John Patrick says:

    Blessed Virgin Mary said at Fatima that more souls go into hell due to impurity. St. Paul said the impure cannot enter into Heaven. One would think the issue was closed long ago. The bishops and priests who condone impunity are a disgrace to Our Lord, his Saints and the martyrs. In grade school we learned to follow purity. St. Maria Giretti who fought for purity, was a model for youth. The bishops and priests who give bad example and follow impurity are leading many to eternal punishment.

  5. Charity is the form of all virtues. Chastity leads him who practices it to be a witness to God’s fidelity and loving kindness. CCC 2346. All are called to chastity, so indeed it is important. To add singularly is a red herring to diminish the virtue. It is much about homosexuality in the clergy with those who suffer it intent on justifying it in their minds, hearts, and actions. To that reason, communion for adulterers is promoted. I don’t promote horse racing because I don’t have a horse in the race. Those who diminish chastity at every occasion, in every publication, at Masses, etc have a horse in the race of unchastity. Chastity is very important to us who love God, our neighbor and who lead each other to eternal life.

  6. I love my chaste friendships. They connect me with the spirits of other men and women, enriching my soul. I have gym friends, people who greet me and make me feel welcome, but with whom I have little other interaction. I have travel friends, some who like the beach, others who like Europe. I have movie, theater, and dinner friends. I have no one friend who is everything to me. I am more intimate with some in sharing my joys, fears, loves and theirs with me.

  7. These are deeper friendships, but all chaste. Some of us priests have not arrived her yet. In seminary they warned against particular friendships, one person only friendships which often led to bodily intimacy. I never wanted that with my seminary brothers. All popes, bishops, and priests should lead you to intimate spiritual friendships and warn you against physical ones outside of sacramental marriage.

    • Fr. Rich,
      I agree with your statement that those who downgrade chastity publically have “a horse in the race.” In fact, I’ve made similar statements, myself, based on both history and Man’s tremendous capacity to rationalize anything to justify his behavior.

      However, some could construe your statements to be absolute. Rather, it should be noted that the public downgrading of chastity only demonstrates a marked tendency to having “a horse in the race.” There are some people who have enough fidelity to truth and strength of will to overcome personal self-righteousness.

    • “[W]hich often led to bodily intimacy.”

      What! Who screens these guys? And who screens the screeners?

      • Steve Seitz says:

        Fr. Rich wasn’t talking about a friendship between two heterosexual men. Rather, he was talking about St. John’s Seminary in the late 80s and early 90s when the seminary population had a large percentage of homosexual students. Within this backdrop, what he heard at St. John’s Seminary makes sense.

        • Nor was I. Was talking seminarians; also screeners, aka recruiters. A generation on they’re spread far and wide — and up. By no means is St. John’s unique. Then there’s the Jesuits, Maryknolls, Paulists.

          • Steve Seitz says:

            Ok, I think I misunderstood your original statements. I thought you were talking about Fr. Rich but, in fact, you were talking about seminarians, vocation directors, seminary rectors, and bishops. Got it.

  8. Linda Maria says:

    It is too bad, that so many people are misled today, by agnostic and atheist, highy materialistic and dangerous, “fake science” in the area of psychology and human potential– they wrongly state that our human fulfillment is hapiness based on FALSE MATERIALISTIC VALUES!! “Is my spouse, and their loveable personality, and “sexy body” (plus, big job, big income, and social prestige!) the true source of all my “happiness” and “fulfillment??”” Are “fulfilling” intimate relationships that seem “satisfying,” to me, personally– the true soure of all my life’s true “happiness,” and “fulfillment??”” Or is true “happiness” and “fulfillment,” based on something much greater–Christ, and His Divine promises???

    • Linda Maria says:

      It is important, of course, to seek good health, good relationships, happy marriages, good jobs, pay all our bills, do our best, and to serve our families and communities, seeking good health, well-being, and happness, for all! But our true happiness in life, should be based on Christ, Who is the Source of all our health, happiness, and well-being!! He is the Giver of all Good, the True Source, of all our True Happiness in life!! God has a Good Plan for each soul, and that Good Plan, will bring us to Salvation, and True Happiness eternally, with God, in Heaven!! We must seek to learn that Good Plan for our soul, and follow it, for great success! The chaste “LGBT,” will be richly BLESSED, in following God’s Good Plan!!

  9. Hey bishop, you can’t practice vice virtuously. By confusing and excusing your flock you are leading them to hell. What’s wrong with you??

    • Linda Maria says:

      I agree! A lot of modern people, mistakenly think that they can do as they please, with no hard work, to accomplish something– and no true, authentic consequences to face, for very serious sins!! Many people seem to think, that “Affluent Modern America” will somehow “magically” allow young people to get into very tragic, sinful situations– and deny and cover up all their sins, no consequences to face, give them an easy way out of all responsibility, and falsely “baby” the sinners– with lots of lies!!– all the way to Hell!! This terribly mistaken bishop, has no REALISTIC concept of life, nor of Christ’s true teachings!!

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