In a recent online discussion on premarital sex and attempting to remain chaste, I was struck by how often I heard the term "unrealistic." I understand this coming from non-Christians and non-believers in general, since in our current secular world there aren't many voices strong enough to compete with the blaring sex-crazed culture, but I often encounter this idea among fellow Christians and specifically Catholics. It seems a lot of people have good intentions, they know what the "ideal" is, but, they seem to say, let's be realistic, pretty much everyone has premarital sex, so to expect otherwise is just being naive.
For some reason, this outlook has been weighing on me heavily. I can't seem to shake a certain feeling of dread and despair when I encounter it from Christians, and especially Catholics.
It reminds me of the well known quote from G.K. Chesterton, that "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried." Perhaps in this instance we could replace "Christianity" with "chastity," and it would be quite a good synopsis for what seems to be happening in our world. Chastity in all areas of life is hard, it's difficult, it takes effort, it takes self-control, it takes self-discipline and patience and respect and selflessness, all things extremely undervalued and avoided in our society. And again, I understand when highly secular people find the notion unrealistic, and unnecessary besides. All it takes is a quick look around to see how often humanity falls short when it comes to difficult tasks.
But I suppose I'm conditioned to imagine that when humans find something difficult, this will inspire them to encourage their children to work even harder at it, so that the children can have the benefit of learning from the parents' mistakes and go even farther in life. And yet, for some odd reason, there seems to be this notion among many now that when something has been found difficult, it's better not to put their children through the trouble of trying it at all, especially concerning issues of chastity.
When it comes to fellow Christians with this attitude, though, I have to wonder where the belief in the transforming power of Christ and His grace is? What of our belief that, in Christ, all things are possible? Are these mere platitudes we drag out when encouraging our children to go for that scholarship or try out for that team, but conveniently fail to mention when talking about something vastly more important in the grand scheme of things - the state of their souls and the importance of chastity?
Yes, we humans are weak. Yes, we fail. Yes, we should practice mercy and forgiveness when we do fail. But knowing that we are likely at some point to fall short, practically speaking doesn't it make sense, then, to reach even higher, to reach for the ideal in hopes that we go as far as possible towards it? If we shrug and proclaim it "too difficult" or "unrealistic," will we even try, then, to reach for any worthy goal?
The wonderful thing is we Catholics have available to us a treasure chest full of realistic ways to actually strive for the best and practice chastity, for people married and unmarried. We have abundant grace available to us in the Eucharist, in confession, just waiting for us to boldly ask God, not just to help keep us from sin, but to make us holy. It takes a deliberate willingness, yes, but that willingness isn't going to be inspired by a half-hearted rattling off of chastity rules that you know your children *should* practice, but deep down don't have any confidence they *will* practice. And why should they? What child will believe he can do something his own parents don't believe he can do?
Writing this out has helped me to pinpoint a bit where I think that feeling of despair I mentioned is coming from. It saddens me deeply when it seems my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ don't even seem to be aware of or place much confidence in the truly transforming power of God's grace. The thing is, it's only as powerful as we allow it to be, and we must ask for it deliberately. And yet, if parents aren't aware of it or don't seem to have much confidence in it, how will their children know the importance of seeking it out, how will they ever discover its power in struggling with chastity, or in conquering any sin? And if we aren't actively seeking to be really and truly transformed by this grace because we aren't aware of it or don't have much confidence in it...well, what's the point of being a Christian at all?
Acknowledging our human weakness is certainly being realistic, it is a good thing, it teaches us humility and emphasizes our utter dependence upon God. But there is a danger in thinking our weaknesses are too much for God's grace to handle, and this is known as despair. This is what I have been sensing, and it hurts my heart. Instead, we should be rejoicing that God is waiting for us, wanting to make us new creatures. Let us never underestimate God's transforming power, and never take for granted the sacraments widely available to us, which are direct channels of that grace. Let us use them liberally, teaching our children by example! For you can never, ever have too much grace. Nobody claims it's easy, but we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us...even remain chaste in a sex-crazed world.