A few weeks ago the National Post ran an article about a letter written by the Canadian Catholic Bishops regarding “chastity.” The majority of the letter entitled, “Pastoral Letter to Young People on Chastity,” is directed to young single people and states that “living a life of chastity is an ongoing journey which requires both guidance and encouragement.” Chastity, not to be confused with celibacy, can be defined as an appropriate attitude toward sexuality or perhaps defined as holy sexuality. Of course the ideas of chastity, celibacy, and sanctity in marriage are not popular themes in our western culture. Naturally the letter was newsworthy and some persons quoted in the National Post article expressed concern that it represented a return to more conservative sexual attitudes that predate the reforms of Vatican II.

I encourage the reader to read the entire letter before drawing conclusions since it appears to me that the letter is consistent with the teachings of the church and indeed the teachings of the Bible. The National Post article chose to focus on one paragraph of the letter that dealt with chastity in marriage. Reading the Post article one may be confused about what the Catholic Bishops consider the place of sexual intimacy in marriage. Here is what the letter from the Catholic Bishops had to say about chastity for married persons.

Sexuality becomes truly human when it is integrated into the total relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. Pope John Paul II wrote: “Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” This means that married people are also called to be chaste if they are to truly love each other.
Married people living chastely can have vibrant sex lives. In the relationship between a man and a woman, chastity helps them love each other as persons rather than make each other an object of pleasure or satisfaction. Despite what the media and Hollywood suggest, the value of sexual intercourse does not lie in recreation, or physical gratification. Any physical pleasure should lead toward the ultimate expression of love between husband and wife, the total self-giving of one person to another. Sexual intercourse in marriage can be so intimate that it becomes an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual experience. It strengthens and completes the bond of marriage. That is why the sexual act has to be unitive and procreative and why some kinds of sexual activity are not chaste. Though pleasure may be present, some acts are a misuse of sex when they fall short of what God intends.

The letter calls Catholics and all followers of Christ to a higher view of our sexual lives. It reminds us that the goal of sexual intimacy is the total self-giving of one person to another. In a world driven by self-gratification, consumerism, and Hollywood attitudes regarding sex we need once again to hear this call.

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