Thursday, May 19, 2016

A reader writes: “I need advice on how to live despite the way the world projects virginity with such negativity.”

A female reader from Africa writes: I am on the verge of giving up. I feel very different from every other person in the world and I am wondering what reward I would get for my being chaste from birth. I have never accepted intimate relationships with anyone, part of me wonders if that is what the church preaches, part of me is unhappy, part of me finds my way of life satisfying. The other part wonders if I have a life at all. I don't exactly need a relationship, but I wonder what to do with my life when I need one. I wonder if I would join a convent when I don't get one, and I wonder if that's the life I want for myself. I need advice on how to live despite the way the world projects virginity with such negativity. I need an assurance that I am not insanely weird, and I need to know that God would be there to direct my life for the best.

Hang in there! Don’t give up! God is with you and will give you the grace you need to keep you strong in the battle. I am praying for you now and will continue to lift you up in my daily prayers.

As a Catholic who follows the teachings of the Church, you will naturally feel different than the rest of the world. That’s perfectly normal. As Christians, we are called to live our lives in opposition to that of the rest of society because our values and beliefs are radically different. Jesus was considered a “radical” in his time, and so, too, Catholics who live out their faith in our sex-crazed culture today are perceived as “different” or “weird” simply because they refuse to follow the ways of the world, but follow in the footsteps of Christ.

You mention several concerns so I will attempt to address each of them. First, you state: “I am wondering what reward I would get for being chaste from birth.”

Essentially, you are asking, “What’s in it for me? What am I going to get from making this sacrifice?” Let me ask you this, “Do you love God? Are you grateful for all the sacrifices He has made for you? Do you daily thank God for becoming man, dying an excruciatingly painful death on the cross and opening up the gates of Heaven for you through His suffering, death, and resurrection?  Do you make little sacrifices each day to show Him how much you love Him? He does not need our love, but we desperately need Him in our lives. We could not even breathe one breath if He stopped thinking about us. He knows every hair on our head, our every thought, our every desire, and He is there for us always. He speaks to us even when we are too busy to listen or when we drown out His voice with noises (our smart phones, our I-pods, and video games). He is present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle, waiting for you night and day to come and open up your heart to Him and pour out your troubles and concerns. Your life is not about your will or your pleasures; it is about pleasing Him and doing His will, because unless you determine what it is that He wants you to do in this life, you will never be truly happy. True happiness occurs only when our will conforms to God’s will. He is our Loving Father and always wants what is best for us. He is our Protector and our Guide. He loves us in a way that we cannot even begin to imagine.

First, if you are not already doing so, start by spending at least fifteen minutes in prayer each day, and then increase that by five minutes weekly. Each of us needs to spend about an hour each day in prayer. However, the amount of time isn’t as important as the quality of our prayer. It’s about developing a personal relationship with our dear Lord and Savior. In addition to prayer, I would recommend attending Mass as often as possible, frequenting the sacraments often, reading the Bible, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, going to Adoration, and praying both the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary.

What reward can you expect to receive?  From a spiritual viewpoint, when you abstain from sex outside of marriage, you avoid committing mortal sin, which halts the flow of grace to your soul and cuts off your relationship God, turning you away from your Creator.  When you refrain from committing serious sin, you continue to receive God’s grace –  an outpouring of His life within you. More importantly, when you obey God’s commandments, you can expect to receive your Eternal Reward – Heaven.

On a practical level, when you are chaste, you receive the reward of remaining sexually healthy and avoiding HIV and STD’s, which can rob you of your fertility. Many birth control devices which are believed to protect us from pregnancy (although they are often unreliable) are very unhealthy for our bodies and do not protect us from venereal diseases. By remaining abstinent, you will avoid unintended pregnancies. Abstinence is 100% effective against HIV, STD’s, and pregnancy. As a single person and as a student, I am sure that avoiding pregnancy is very important to you at this point in your life because you have goals that you want to accomplish.

Lastly, even if you did not believe in God, wouldn’t you feel better if you respected your body and not let it be used like an object to be tossed away when someone was finished with it? We are not garbage, yet sometimes we let others use us as if we were. Remaining abstinent helps you keep your self-respect. Thus, abstinence will enable you to stay emotionally healthy.

As Catholics, we believe that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; they are tabernacles, which carry Jesus Christ in the Eucharist within them. Our bodies are sacred. They are holy vessels and we need to treat them that way – with dignity and respect. Living chastely makes dating relationships healthier. It insures that you are seeing the image and likeness of God in the person you’re with and that he is respecting the image and likeness of God in you.

You state: "part of me wonders if that is what the Church teaches." You seem to be unsure about the teachings of the Church on virginity and sexuality so let me clarify that for you.

The Catholic Church teaches that true joy comes from God. From that perspective, the only way a sexual relationship can bring such joy is if it is engaged in by a man and woman who have brought God into it through the sacrament of matrimony. Sex inside marriage is beautiful and involves giving ourselves as a gift, totally and unselfishly, to our spouse and vice versa. The gift of virginity is a precious treasure that we reserve for the one we love and are committed to in lifetime sacramental bonds of love. Even secular studies have shown the most satisfying sexual relationships occur in committed relationships, particularly in marriage. Catholic married couples report having the most satisfying sex lives.

Many studies have shown that if a couple has had sex before marriage, they are much more likely to get divorced. The divorce rate for couples who live together before marriage is almost twice that of couples who do not cohabitate. Have you read any books on the theology of the body? I will list some at the end of this post that I think will be useful to you.

The Catholic Church teaches that sex outside of marriage is fornication. Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman and is a grave sin (CCC 2353). St. Paul condemns fornication in 1 Corinthians 6:18. All aspects of intimate contact associated with the marriage act also constitute fornication for Jesus said, "I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 9:28). If lustful looks are adulterous, how much worse is lustful physical contact?

You state: “I need advice on how to live despite the way the world projects virginity with such negativity. I need an assurance that I am not insanely weird, and I need to know that God would be there to direct my life for the best.”

The best advice I can give you is stay grounded in your faith. Join a group of faithful young Catholic adults who can support you and pray with you and for you. I realize that you live outside of the United States and I am not familiar with the faith-based groups that exist in your country. However, I would suggest that you contact your local Catholic diocese. Find a spiritual director who can advise you and assist you with your concerns and who can help you discern the vocation which God is calling you to enter into.

Read the Scriptures daily. Remember you are not alone. There are many young adults who share your concerns and who remain chaste and live lives of abstinence.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29: 11

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

 “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3: 17

I will continue to lift you up in my prayers. Stay in touch and let me know how you are doing.

List of Theology of the Body Books I Recommend for You:

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing – Christopher West (Image, 2012)

Pure Womanhood – Crystalina Everett (Catholic Answers, 2005)

Theology of Her Body – Jason Everett (Ascension Press, 2009)

Love and Responsibility – Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) (Ignatius Press, 1993) – This is more advanced. You will most likely need a spiritual director to guide you with this one.

Perhaps some of our readers would also like to share their advice.

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