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When we think of chastity, generally we relate to it to sex, and more particularly, to the lack of it.
But chastity is not first and foremost a sexual concept. In essence, chastity is proper reverence and respect. To be chaste is to stand before reality, everything and everybody, and fully respect the proper contours and rhythm of things.
To be chaste then means to let things unfold as they should. Thus it means, among many other things, to not open our gifts before Christmas, to not rush our own or our children’s growth, to not experience things for which we aren’t ready, to not lose patience in life or in sex because there is tension, to not violate someone else’s beauty and sexuality, and to not sleep with the bride before the wedding. To be chaste is to let gift be gift.
Chastity is reverence and respect. All irreverence and disrespect is the antithesis of chastity. Chastity as a practical virtue is then predicated on two things: Patience and the capacity to carry tension.
Patience is basically synonymous with chastity. To fully respect others and the proper order of things means to be patient. Something can be wrong for no other reason that that it is premature.
The capacity to carry tension is too an integral part of chastity. To properly respect others, to have the patience to not act prematurely, requires that we be willing and able to carry tension and to carry it for a long time, perhaps even for a lifetime. To wait in tension, incompleteness, longing, frustration, inconsummation, and helplessness in the face of the interminable slowness of things, especially in the face of how slow love and justice seem to appear in our lives, is to practice chastity.
When Jesus sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was practicing chastity; just as when Mary stood under the cross, unable to stop its senselessness and unable even to protest Jesus’ innocence, she too was practicing chastity.
We need to be willing to carry tension, and practise chastity, in the same way.
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