Let’s just get one thing straight. Up until about two months ago, I was the least likely advocate for pre-marital chastity in maybe the entire Catholic blogosphere. Maybe in the entire world. I had a Catholic understanding of sexuality, but it didn’t matter, because I was, essentially, a hedonistic pagan who believed “all acts of love and pleasure are [God’s] rituals.1” I thought sexual purity was a quaint, outdated idea that belonged to the ages before birth control. It was beautiful, but not practical. Mostly not practical because I found it impossible to practice. I knew it was wrong, but, frankly, I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to be good, but it just didn’t work for me. I hated people who practiced chastity, because they seemed to operate in a completely different planetary system than I did. I disliked saints who told me to be chaste, because they seemed untroubled by temptations, ones that I seemed to experience on the daily. I quit reading Divine Mercy in My Soul after Saint Faustina informed me that she wasn’t plagued by unchaste thoughts because of a special magical golden belt she received from Jesus.2 Why didn’t Jesus do that for me? I nearly threw the book across the room.
I have always been a lusty person. I have been to confession countless times for “sins against the sixth and ninth commandments, both alone and with others,” as one old-time guide to Confession put it. If God wanted me to be chaste, He was going to have to give me a magical, spiritual belt like He did for Saint Faustina, because nothing else seemed to be working. And by nothing, I mean nothing. I tried and tried to “be good.” I was always completely unsuccessful. (In fact, while I attribute at least some mitigation for culpability to my bi-polar disorder, it seemed that regardless of treatment, and despite ageing, I didn’t really seem to be getting any less lusty. Not even incipient menopause was dampening my ardor.) I had read countless books, both Protestant and Catholic, all of which seemed to be focused entirely on young people who were, typically, engaged. While chastity is for everyone, I’ve been unwillingly unmarried my whole life. It annoyed me that the audience for these books were literally going to be “getting it on” in just a few months. There was nothing even remotely approaching a relationship on the horizon for me and that just made me angrier. Even Theology of the Body just pissed me off. It seemed like every holy person was capable of self-mastery. Except me. I wasn’t a sex addict, but some days I sure felt like one.
It’s pretty humbling to admit it, but I wanted virtue to be easy. I wanted the special graces from Jesus not to be tempted. I didn’t want to fight against it. I just wanted to not have any temptations. Saint Paul prayed three times—I prayed three hundred. But I was angry with God and if He wasn’t going to do what I asked, then I was going to do what I wanted. (Talk about a poor rationalization technique. Gah!) However, last January at the Thomas Aquinas lecture at Saint Mary’s in Notre Dame, Father Brian Davies reminded us that God is never obligated to give us anything, let alone graces. I had to admit it, God was not obligated to give me a magical golden belt of chastity.