Chastity, demanding but liberating

Lchastity recomposes us, it brings us back to this unity that we had lost by scattering ourselves. “ As Saint Augustine presents it, chastity has, it must be said, something attractive. By virtue of interior unification, of the harmonious integration of sexuality into the whole of the personality, it leads those who practice it to a form of liberation: henceforth capable of living with lack, more subject to passions that until ‘then dominated him, he is available to love fully, whether it is about himself, his neighbor or God. Beautiful program, far from the images of Épinal of the left priest or the ethereal nun who have drawn a line – sacrifice or unconsciousness? – on the feverish joys of sexuality.

The only thing is: the path to chastity, which the Catholic Church offers to all, including spouses, even if the religious are the only ones to take this vow, is anything but a straight path. “I always repeat to young religious in formation that it is a journey that lasts a lifetime”, insists Father Stéphane Joulain, Father Blanc and psychotherapist. If one could believe, in the past, that becoming chaste was done smoothly, as soon as the monastery was closed, the contributions of the human sciences on psycho-sexual development can no longer be ignored. “The different phases of sexuality must be better integrated into training, especially since the age of entry into religious life is often the one when the drive is at the top”, continues Father Joulain.

It is precisely in religious life that Father Guillaume Jedrzejczak, a Cistercian monk, said he had “Discovered” sexuality. “Until then, I was like impervious to the thing”, recognizes the former abbot of Mont des Cats, who chairs the Foundation of the monasteries. But once forced to daily manual labor, the young man could no longer live ” in (her) head “, nor in his bubble, immersed as he was in an engaging community life, for which sympathies and antipathies were increased tenfold by the enclosure of space.

Now convinced that monastic life is a way of being embodied, Father Jedrzejczak affirms it: chastity is not the absence of sexuality, but another way of living it, and religious remain, once consecrated beings, beings of desire. “This desiring power which dwells in us is always the sign of a deeper desire”, he asserts.

Chastity therefore does not require the tyrannical repression of one’s impulses or fantasies. Rather, it consists of a reorientation of the latter, after having identified and even named them – if possible with a spiritual accompanist. “If we try to deny his body, he will end up taking revenge: it is better to tame what is born in us”, confirms Sister Anne Chapell, Superior General of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However, it is difficult to do without a certain discipline, which the nun qualifies as“Asceticism of the gaze”. “The way we feed our imagination – with films, books, music – can appeal to our sensuality. These choices must be made in conscience. ” Chastity implies accepting to live, little by little, with lack.

This more flexible conception breaks with that which has long prevailed in the Church and which tended to assimilate this virtue to a “Absence of disturbance or emotion”. This is what the Dominican Father Jean-Marie Gueullette deplores in a recent book (1): he mentions in particular certain texts of the Vatican Council II whose vocabulary suggested a “Worrying climate”. “But if chastity is about protecting yourself from the world, is it really a desirable way of life for an adult? ” Worse, isn’t she preparing “Destructive earthquakes” ? Some specialists, including Father Stéphane Joulain, are worried about the rest of the “Return of a sinful vision of sexuality” in certain Catholic circles, “Where the body becomes the enemy again”.

To conceive of chastity only in its bodily dimension would however be reductive. Because this virtue is above all relational, inviting us to allow the other his freedom, without seeking to possess him or to merge with him. “I hope that chastity is not out of fashion, because it is for me the condition for free and liberating relationships! “, considers Sister Anne-Solen Kerdraon, auxiliary and director of the department of moral and spiritual theology of the Catholic Institute of Paris (ICP). Doesn’t Jesus show the example of this in the Gospels, showing affection for those around him while keeping a distance? “Don’t hold me back” asks the Risen One of Mary Magdalene.

Paradox? Chastity is one of the topics often discussed in preparation for Christian marriage – because even without being one of the four pillars, it is a “Evangelical council” addressed to all those who want to follow Christ. “Since I got married, I’ve been learning chastity: it’s not sexual continence, and it’s not sad. It is giving up capturing the other for my satisfaction ”, testifies an accompanist with the couples of fiancés. As for his wife, she quotes the words heard by Moses near the burning bush: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you stand is sacred ground. “

Consider the other as sacred ground: this also applies to the most ordinary situations, from the exasperating traffic jam to the line that we would like to cut, through the basket of fruit where we would be tempted to stand. reserve the juiciest… Relating, for Thomas Aquinas, to the virtue of temperance, chastity teaches us to taste pleasure in a reasonable way. Chaste, we can still be in our relationship to nature, authority or sleep, for example by getting up as soon as the alarm rings.

For religious, chastity lived in celibacy is part of the total gift of their life to God. The lack to which they have consented becomes a space of availability for the relationship with the divine, as well as for the mission. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church:“Chastity leads those who practice it to become a witness to their neighbor of the fidelity and tenderness of God. “” We know well what we are giving up, but it is for a ‘more’: and this more takes all the rest “, sums up Sister Anne-Solen Kerdraon. “Chastity is a choice for the Kingdom. “


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