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NBCC LifeStyle Article

Living Single as a Christian
Chastity in an anything goes world

Deacon Al Douglas TurnerAny discussion of living a life in chastity must begin with knowing what God's plan is for the relationship between men and women. What is the proper relationship between a man and a woman? What did God intend? How can one live a wholesome, satisfying relationship as a single person? These are questions for which each of us must find answers. As believers, we are called to live according to the plan of God. Another question that needs to be considered is how do I know what the plan of God is for man and woman? Once again for the believer, we must start at sacred Scripture. We must start at the beginning of Scripture as well. In Genesis Chapter 1, we read "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them." So God created humans in two kinds, male and female. Why? God blessed them, saying 'be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it' (Gen. 1:28). So, man and woman have a purpose in living; to continue the species and to rule over the created world. But, what is the relationship between the man and the woman? How are they to live together? I hope to at least begin to answer these questions in this article..

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First, to set the stage for this we must look at the basic relationship between a man and a woman. How the woman came to be is very important in discovering how man and woman are related and how they relate to one another. For the believer, the male and female relationship starts and remains as a partnership. The woman is part of the man; the man is partner with the woman. Scripture tells us that Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor did He take her from his head to be his Lord. Eve was taken from his side to be his partner. Since God himself is personal; he gives himself to us in relationship. And that is how he wants us to live. Remember in Genesis, it states that God did not want Adam to be alone. He wanted Adam to be in relationship with one like himself. As good as the other creatures are in the world, none can be in the type of relationship that satisfies as the one in which one can depend on the other. It is not too simplistic to say that without dependency on one another we can never be whole people.

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Second, a relationship must be founded on self giving love, complementariness, mutual respect, acceptance and growth. This is seen in a special way in the marriage bond, but is not limited to that. The Christian believes that the appropriate expression of our sexual nature is always within relationship; the relationship of the marriage bond. What do single people do in forming relationships? How can a man and woman have a good relationship that can be deep, loving and enriching for both and not violate the call to be holy and chaste? There are many pressures on people, mostly from the secular society, which may lead them to overstep the boundaries of chastity. There is pressure to exercise the sexual expression outside of that special relationship. When used outside of the confines of marriage this sexual relationship always leads to a separation from the good that God intended. So how do men and women express their natural sexual nature without committing sin? We must start by having a clear vision of what true manhood and womanhood should be. If we had this vision, both of ourselves as we ought to be and of other people as they ought to be, we would not sink down so easily to the level of the society that surrounds us. There are many tastes and expressions which are prevalent in our society, which are in direct conflict with the plan of God. Is it idealistic to believe that the Christian can overcome these societal tastes and expectations? We teach and believe that it is possible. The ideal that one can live a holy Christian life is attainable. We believe and teach that Christian idealism is a good thing, especially when under the guidance of the Holy Spirit it guards us against settling for the "normal life" of the world, the flesh and the Devil.

There is an order of responsibility for the way this relationship works which must be addressed as well. The man was created first, and so this gives him the responsibility to be responsible. One of the first things that needs to happen in the minds of young men is to reform their concept of themselves so that this concept comes into alignment with God's plan for manhood. "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." (Gen 2:24) The man is the one who is to care for the wellbeing of the woman. Not that he is better, but that he does care for and about her. We also need to reform our view of women. This is where the whole concept of partnership between men and women becomes so necessary. The notion that men and women are in competition with one another has to be replaced with God's notion that men and women complement one another. God created woman to be the companion for the man. As soon as he sees her, he realizes that she is completely different from all other creatures; she is flesh from his flesh, bone from his bones. She is a gift of God and like him and therefore to be protected by him.

Even we who've been Christians for some time are still only drawing closer to a full understanding of what a normal, God formed male and female friendship should look like. Still, we often underestimate how much our expectation and tastes have been poisoned by the worldview of the relationship between men and women. If we could see with perfect clarity of insight what a normal human relationship looks like according to God's design, I am certain that we would desire it since our hearts have been regenerated by the Spirit of God to like the right things.

Because of a lack of faith and knowledge that is generally the case in this society, men and women look to each other to fulfill needs in themselves that God alone can ever meet. There are many needs which men and women want to be met. The need to feel like we matter, or that we are valued, or the fear that we could be abandoned, or there's someone in the world who understands and sympathize with us. There is a need, perhaps a natural need, to find someone who likes us. This need can become a source of frustration for the other, because on some level they feel that they can never, never satisfy those God-given needs, and we are not satisfying those needs in them; and we never will. God must be the third partner in this relationship. The gift of companionship is a gift from a loving God who wants us to live in community with one another.

So having said all that, where do we start to build up a virtuous young couple? The young couple today is bombarded with a self-centered idea of the relationship between a man and a woman. The idea of chastity is almost laughable to the secular society. "But we as Christians are taught that chastity is the joyous affirmation of someone who knows how to live self giving, free from any form of self centered slavery. The chaste person is not self-centered, not involved in selfish relationships with other people. (Paraphrase of PCF, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education Within the Family, December 8, 1995, #17)

Then why is it desirable for couples to live chaste lives before marriage, as well as during marriage? If one is not living a chaste single life, one that recognizes the equality of the sexes, the interdependence, and mutual respect that each party is entitled to in God's plan, then how can this manifest itself in a marriage? Dating is practice for marriage. But, there are boundaries which we must respect if we are to remain "good" as God created us. Chastity makes the personality, harmonious. It matures it and fills it with inner peace. Dating can be fun and the two can enjoy one another, and still respecting the dignity of each other. The means to living a chaste life can be arrived at though various means. These include, "discipline of the senses and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist."(CDF, persona humana, December 29, 1975, XII) This whole idea is all the more important in our society when it is true that more than half of all man/woman relationships end in some kind of break up. This is seen in the trend in our society to have people living in "serial monogamy", having multiple divorces, and socially acceptable promiscuous relationships.

We, as church, have not been very diligent in teaching our young people the value and virtue of living the chaste life. It is very true that only a person who knows how to be chaste will know how to love in marriage or in virginity. From a very early age, we must teach our young people that the practice of decency and modesty in speech, action, and dress is very important for creating an atmosphere suitable to the growth of chastity. And this must be motivated by cultivating a respect for ones own body and the dignity of others. The challenge to live the chaste single life is connected with the whole contraceptive attitude of the society. Just as in that case, not to live in chastity is to invite many negative consequences. These include, marital infidelity, a lessening of moral standards, a loss of respect for women and their dignity, less personal responsibility toward others, and more selfish individualism. Is this not already the situation we now face?

Deacon Turner is the Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington. He is also assigned to the Church of the Nativity in Washington, DC where he and his wife, Jane, are coordinators of the Marriage Ministry.

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