By opening us to love wherever we find it, wherever it finds us, chastity puts the religious in the position of being the one person who bothers to see what others with more focused eyes may not. The passionate religious falls in love with the soup kitchen people, and dirty kids, and grieving widows, and dying AIDS patients and dull and dour veterans of life who have been loved so little they themselves love not at all.

More than that, perhaps, the religious promises to love people freely so that what they love they can set free. The religious loves without binding people to herself. Chastity is love given with an open hand. The effects can be astounding.

Because they have been loved freely and without expectation, children can learn to trust, adolescents can learn to be independent, adults themselves can learn to love others without having to hold them captive. Real chastity expects nothing in return from anyone. It is simply love poured out, pressed down and overflowing. Passionate it is; clinging it isn’t.

Religious life, any life, without emotion borders on the brink of the dangerous. It is dangerous to have someone sitting in front of a nuclear console who has no feeling about pressing the button. It is dangerous to have church ministers who administer the sacraments without ever noticing the people who are supposed to be being (sic.) nourished by them. It is dangerous too have counselors who have not themselves felt pain or known the chasm of loss or gone wild with a sense of joy and relief. It is dangerous to form people who are supposed to be passionate mystics into passionless robots. Religious life does not need and cannot profit from religious zombies. A chastity that turns sprirtual people into cement makes the spiritial life a tomb, not an invitation to resurrection at all.

But the passion that chastity enables a religious to shower on other people measures only half its bounty. The ability to express emotion is a gift. Cut it off, throttle it at the source, trap it and it traps the person totally. Release it and the soul flies free. To suppress one emotion, in other words, is to suppress them all. Those who never know love will never know joy either. Those who have never known pain can never go to the heights of happiness as well. Those who have stifled their own feelings cannot recognize, let alone release, the feelings of others. Chastity is not meant to stamp out the emotions. On the contrary. It is meant to direct them in ways that are magnanimous, in ways that are true, in ways that are freeing, in ways that are life-giving.

Emotions provide the fuel that guide us through life. Deprive people of their emotions and we deprive them of energy and direction. Congregations that damp the emotions in the name of religious formation inhibit the spirit of the congregation itself, which is bad enough. But in its place, too often, depression reigns instead. The house becomes heavy with efficiency rather than effectiveness. Schedules begin to dominate human needs. It becomes more important to eat on time than to welcome the guest at the door, more imperative to pray than to answer the telephone, more important to be in bed early than to sit with people in their pain, celebrate with their joy, listen to their stories. People come and go and are never noticed for the gift they have to bring and the spiritual mildew that they dissipate.

What we do not learn to love we can never learn to live for. Then, eventualy, the life dries up and leaves us wanting. Then, all the poverty and obedience that we say we vow becomes more an enshrinement of canons than a commitment to the dynamic, energizing, loving eucharistic life. Then self-knowledge evaporates, support fails us when we need it most, life drains out of us and we have no hard-won wisdom, no loving strength, no heart to give another.

 

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Oddly enough, perhaps, real chastity provides the glue that enables relationships to develop rather than discourages them. When we love freely, we are free to love many people at once, bringing all of them into a network of friendship that strengthens us all because we have one another, we are not isolated anymore, we are saved from the disaster that is selfishness. Freed from the need to possess, to control, to own, to absorb, we are free to see goodness anywhere and, pausing to appreciate it along the way, to love it to new life, one at a time, one after another. The chaste lover loves totally for the sake of the other and, surprised by beauty, finds life richer for themselves as well.

Sexual love, glorious for its ecstasy, teaches a person the beauty of the body and the sublimity of the self. Chaste love, glorious for its commonplace attentiveness, teaches a person the beauty of the loving soul and the fulfillment that comes with the transcendence of the self for the sake of another. To teach chastity and not to teach love is tantamount to teaching spiritual exercises without teaching God. It is a purely mechanical process that leads nowhere for no reason.