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Chastity and Chastisement: Understanding the Beauty of Christian Sexuality

April 25, 2014

 

Some Christian dating sites are beginning to emphasize the spiritual aspects of relationships over the physical aspects, to combat popular culture's over-emphasis on having a 'hot body.' I commend their efforts to express the counter-cultural vision of Christianity, but they sometimes make it seem like the body and soul are perpetually in conflict with one another. Chastity doesn't mean I need to chastise myself every time I appreciate a woman for her good looks. We need to offer a complete and balanced approach to the issues of healthy living and sexuality, so people don't feel naughty just for wanting a decent body.

We cannot separate our body and our spirit. They are part of one and the same person. So instead of showing how they can be in conflict why not explain how they can work together? In addition to showing appreciation for the body God has given you, good dieting and exercise can help in your spiritual formation. Similarly, a healthy spiritual life suggests that we take care of our bodies which are temples to the Holy Spirit.

 Yes, we should be careful not to get distracted by a desire for mere 'sex appeal', but there is a dimension of mortification and redemptive suffering in the decision to lead a healthy lifestyle, to choose water over soda, or to get up and take that run in the morning. Much of it has to do with denying myself and having faith that God will give me strength. As Catholics, we understand that God has given us the physical world, including our physical bodies, to draw closer to him. That is the meaning of the sacraments - they're outward signs of inward realities. You can find similar wisdom in the mantra, 'A sound body is a sound mind,' an acknowledgment that, even in a scientific way, exercise and good dieting helps us think more clearly by sending oxygen and extra nutrients to the brain. 

A healthy body can be an outward sign of inner virtue. It takes great discipline, patience, perseverance and determination to exercise and eat healthy. Also, in its fullness chastity encourages healthy living because whether we are giving ourselves to God or a loved one when practicing it, chastity tells us to give our best to the one we love -- that includes giving the best version of our body that we can reasonably give. And giving our bodies to our beloved, whether to God or to our spouse, isn't just about giving our sexuality to them; it also means being willing to engage in the labor of love, committing oneself to the physical toil necessary to work at a job or run a home.  

Blessed Pope John Paul II is known for offering a profoundly beautiful vision of human embodiment and love. In his Theology of the Body talks given in late 70's to early 80's, he taught how understanding our sexuality is vital to understanding our faith, and how they complement one another. Unfortunately, too few people are willing to talk about sexuality from a positive theological standpoint. When we accept the fullness of our faith, it is hard not to talk about these physical aspects of our being in a positive light. The mistake is not placing our physical appearance before our spiritual well-being, but separating the one from the other.

If you lead a healthy lifestyle you will have a good looking body, maybe not by all the standards of popular culture but definitely in the eyes of someone who has good judgment and appreciates the natural forms of the human body. The important thing is the healthy lifestyle, not the results shown in your figure or muscle tone.

The outward appearance of your body says a great deal about your interior life. If you don't brush your teeth, shampoo your hair, exercise and eat well then that neglect will become obvious in your appearance, and people will take note of that. Unattractiveness may not always be the result of bad interiority or self-neglect; but gluttony, self-neglect and laziness will just about always result in unattractive looks. 

There's a reason why we say 'everybody', 'somebody' or 'anybody' when referring to persons. The body is the person, and the two aren't separated until death. It's not difficult to see how the culture of death has done just that; it has separated the body from the person. That is why it is seen as acceptable to want someone's body without making any commitment to the person or to their personal life. It's because the two are seen as separate, and so we often think we can have one without the other.

Following that principle, you can see how it is just as dangerous to be spiritually attracted to a person while disregarding the body God gave them. If a couple has great chemistry and connects on many levels, what value do those connections have if the couple does not want to get married and have children together? The fullness of faith tells us that married couples are to give themselves to one another freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. That includes body, mind and spirit. If a couple cannot have children, that's a different issue because apparently God is asking them to bear a different kind of cross. 

The spiritual is not more important than the physical because these two dimensions of our being are inseparable.

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