Chastity ~ Love Without Limits

This past weekend Mother Agnes gave a Vows Workshop on Chastity for the first year novices, professed Sisters who are preparing for final vows, and perpetually professed Sisters who have been in final vows for several years.  It was such a rich 4 days filled with prayer, conferences given by Mother, the study of Church documents, and discussion.  It is from these riches I would love to draw from for this month’s meditation.

So, what is chastity?  What is the vow of chastity that all consecrated religious publicly profess?  We live in a culture that is in a conspiracy against chastity.  For many who live in the world, the idea of consecrated chastity is puzzling or seems impossible to them.  Before entering into an active discernment I used to think about chastity in terms of all the negatives: you give up marriage, children and family.  This is true, but only part of the definition.  The fuller part of what chastity means is a profound ‘Yes’ to the love of God.  Being touched by the love of God provokes a response of love.  John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” One of the things we did during our vows workshop was to take a prayer period and call to mind how others of significance in our life (especially parents, and other family members) lived their vocation to love.  To be honest, recalling my earliest memories from childhood of experiencing the sacrificial love of my parents (usually not recognized as such at the time) brought tears and a sense of deep gratitude.  It’s so good to recall these memories of love from childhood, that foster gratitude and joy in our hearts.

One of the most beautiful explanations of chastity comes from a document written by the Pontifical Council for the Family, “Chastity is thus that spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness and able to advance it toward its full realization.” ~The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality #4 Dec. 8, 1995.  The vowed religious thus proclaims to the world that sacrificial love, selfless love, is possible. The purest love is seen in the life of Jesus, Crucified and Risen.  Meditating on the lives of Jesus and Mary expands our hearts to attempt pure love; a love that is for others; a love that keeps nothing for oneself; a love that pushes the boundaries of our selfishness and fear.

A word from our Founder, John Cardinal O’Connor:
“The great gift of chastity, of celibacy, of vowed virginity, is a liberation, freeing you from looking merely at the externals; freeing you from the mere physical attractions or emotional attractions that you might experience; freeing you to see another person as made in the image and likeness of God; freeing you to love because in everyone, in every man, every woman, in every child, in every unborn infant, in every cancer-ridden patient in the hospital, in the most handsome man, in the most beautiful woman, your heart reaches out in love because always what you see is the image of God.  The vow of chastity, of virginity, of celibacy is not intended simply to be a restrictive vow, but a truly liberating vow.

The fully liberated woman is the woman who lives to the hilt her vow of chastity in the consecrated life.  Every woman is a pearl of a girl; every man is a gem of a man, radiating Christ — whether he or she knows it or not, whether he or she has rebuffed Christ or not, whether he or she has sullied and deformed the image of Christ within.  You see the Christ, and you love.  And you are free to love.  This is the great gift that God offers those in religious life.  You can spend the rest of your life exploring it.  It will always be a mystery, the mystery of love.” (~John Cardinal O’Connor on July 5, 1992)

“This is what I believe is the power of the vowed virgin, the consecrated religious.  Wherever she goes, she carries Christ with her, in her virginity.  And that power radiates out from her, purifies the world around her, reaches into cesspools and turns them into sparkling waters.  The religious among us is more than a visible witness.  She’s actually, by way of the power of Christ in her, actually a purifier of the world.” (~ John Cardinal O’Connor Nov. 2, 1991)