Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Found Difficult and Left Untried

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.

12 comments:

~Joseph the Worker said...

I generally hear about the "unrealistic" nature of chastity when it comes to birth control and why we should support it in schools. I often wonder if people consider that everyone has a duty to be chaste to some degree. Not only single people who are unmarried, but we must be chaste in the sense that we stay true to our spouses and only them. Once we give up on the idea that chastity is impossible, I think we also give up on the idea that a faithful marriage covenant is possible.

Stephanie said...

Once we give up on the idea that chastity is impossible, I think we also give up on the idea that a faithful marriage covenant is possible.

Indeed!!

R. J. Grigaitis said...

The problem is that sex is undervalued. Victorian prudishness and the sexual revolution (which was a rebellion against Victorian prudishness) both undervalued sex. Once a person really begins to understand the greatness that God intended for human sexuality, one will not only see chastity as "realistic," he will greatly desire it. Unfortunately, most Catholics have no better understanding of their sexuality than secular culture. Pope John Paul the Great did his part to help everyone begin to come to such an understanding with his Theology of the Body, and I'm trying to do my part by spreading the pope's message:
http://grigaitis.net/tob

Stephanie said...

So very true!

TL. said...

"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 ...
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.
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. "


Where to start?
THIS is WHY I'm catholic.
Thanks so much for writing it. Thanks so much for being bothered and taking the time to clear it up, for you and for some others, like me, who could be surprised, to say the least.
You know I left facebook because I found it to be a very shallow place. I joined the board because I found being a NFP practitioner is a lonely road, even when involved in a parish... I don't expect much from virtual communities, because I found too often some people spend way too much time there and make it their principal time consuming occupation and it loses its point.
I admire your input. I was SO relieved when I saw 2 persons reacting to some other poster telling about considering vasectomy. I'm sorry if I bring up private stuff here (feel free to delete this comment if it bothers you) what I'm trying to get at is that: UNDERSTANDING and following the teachings of the Church, loving GOd with all your heart and strength and intelligence, IS hard work, and it's a lonely road, and I know I can't do it by myself, but I also know that I can find encouragement in other people sharing their struggles and pull things UP, like you do. Instead of saying " oh well, I tried, now let's move on..." and giving up just like that.
I know I need influence and companionship in my daily struggles, and I also know where to look for it. Sometimes it means ignoring 20 posts to read those 2 lines that lighten my day..

Anyway I'm getting long. Thanks for writing this.
I seriously think there is material for a book about christian perseverance, aqnd how giving up is all some kids are learning right now.. which is not good. (say a person who works in social services in the bronx)

Stephanie said...

Merci, Tiphaine. :-) I can certainly relate to a lot of what you said, I agree it is so nice to have a community of people who really strive to live Church teaching and find it to be such a blessing, despite its difficulties at times. It's very encouraging!

God bless you for the work you do!

JOGKNIGHT said...

You're absolutely right!

While reading this when I got down to the part about utilizing the Abundance of the Graces of God/Mary I teared up.....

I would say that when most people hit a temptation they don't stop or even silently to pray immediately for the faith,grace,strength to combat satan/temptations, and they should as soon as they get tempted.

jcozzens said...

Stephanie,

I am a member of the C of C and converted to that faith in hopes of finding the first century Christian Church. I have been doing serious study and am discovering that I was looking in the wrong place. The more I study the Catholic Church, the more I am thinking that the Catholic Church is the Church.

This is going to be extremely difficult to convert because of family ties etc.. Which as you know coming from the C of C is no small matter.

Pray for me.

Jeff

Stephanie said...

You absolutely have my prayers, Jeff. If you ever have any questions or anything, feel free to stop by my forum (www.coctocatholic.com) where there are many other coc-catholic converts, or ask here or email me (mllevaleur (at) hotmail (dot) com). Thanks for stopping by. :-)

NC Sue said...

Whether or not a virtue is "realistic" as the litmus test for whether it's what we're called to do? Really?

It isn't particularly "realistic" to have sex before or outside of marriage, either.

I'm having problems wrapping my head around the notion of sex being "realistic"... or not.

marylea said...

Your blog says it well and I appreciate that you made this post. I suspect there are many who agree with you, but lack the courage or conviction to say it so well. There is plenty of momentum against this kind of thinking, and our Catholic and Christian Faith is under a lot of strain as a result. Every age has its demons. Thank you for writing.

member of the household of FAITH said...

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 -> 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (see Romans 6, Acts 2:38)