Chastity and Mercy 2: United We Stand
The Samaritan woman of John 4 represents many Christians today; you could say she is a ‘type’ of the Church in the 21st century. Her Jewish roots inspired a ‘holiness’ tradition of which she was proud. At the same time, her heritage was also sourced in the intermingling of the Jews with the Canaanites, a nation that worshiped many gods through a variety of sexual practices. She too is divided–a woman of faith (“I know that Messiah is coming” v.25) fractured by a series of failed, dehumanizing relationships with men (v. 18).
Split between the proper and the profane, the Samaritan woman is us. Our love for God is often not reflected in the sexual decisions we make, if we take seriously the rates of divorce, co-habitation, and porn use among Christians (not to mention our lack of clarity on why the ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ self may not be God’s best for His kids). We are a people divided who, if not caught in the undertow of dehumanizing passions, are at least painfully aware of loved ones who are. In the words of Joseph Pieper, we witness how ‘the same forces that give rise to life also have power to destroy life.’
We want more for our loved ones, more for us too. Sick of sensations that ignite souls only to burn them out, we are a people ready for chastity. Something in us knows that we are created for wholeness, for integrity. Chastity means that we are seeking to live a united life; in chastity, we effort to align ‘the powers of life and love’ (CCC#2338) within us with the God who placed them there in the first place. United with the Creator, we begin to discipline our creative powers. The chaste person ‘seeks not itself blindly but with open eyes endeavors to correspond to the true reality of God, self and the world’ (Pieper).
We can know reality! And reality in the sexual realm corresponds with what is good and right and true for others. We know that the sexual bond belongs only to a man and a woman united for life, and we know that creative self-giving, fully clothed, is God’s call upon everyone–a fruitful expression of the connectedness that is related to sexual love. Chastity opposes any behavior that impairs such fruitfulness, and ‘tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity of speech’ (CCC#2338). Informed by reality, chastity discerns and refuses the enslaving power of sexual ‘unrealities’ and so can act clearly on behalf of others’ good. In so doing, we the chaste reclaim our dignity (CCC#2339).
Getting there would be impossible if not for the God who looks upon us divided ones with almighty mercy. Just as Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman, He waits to catch our gaze. He sees what is most real about our sexuality; His Spirit (‘living water’) summons that reality. In His love, He grants us the choice to become chaste, to participate in our becoming whole-enough expressions of His will for us and others. Will we unite with Him this Lent and so allow wholeness to define us more than our divides?
‘Father, our tendency to live divided lives seems woven into the very fabric of our histories, our culture, even our Church. Have mercy, Lord of mercy. Renew our vision of chastity that we might aspire to a whole life, a life of integrity founded on reality, not the unrealities that have deceived us. Thank You that they have not destroyed us. In mercy, do not let them destroy our loved ones. Have mercy on Your divided creation. Unite us in holy love, we pray. Breathe on our cry for chastity. Divided we have fallen, united may we stand.’