Monday, September 1, 2008

View of Chastity

People in general - not just those who experience same-sex attraction - have a decidedly negative view of chastity. For most it appears to be a "no-no" virtue, saying, among other things, that any kind of touch is evil. Yet true chastity is concerned with the proper way of expressing our affections. Chastity is concerned "with integrating our sexual and affective loves and pleasures into our person with the loving and intelligent ordering of our sexual desires and longings, of our need to touch and to be touched" (William E. May, "The Nature and Meaning of Chastity," Synthesis Series, 1976, 36).

Because we are the kind of beings we are, we often need to express our emotions by word or gesture. Thus, touching has its place. Certain touches by their nature are reserved to the married couple, but other touches often are acceptable and appropriate to express other forms of affection and friendship, and this applies to those with homosexual tendencies and well as those who are completely heterosexual.

Marriage and its appropriate touches have already been alluded to. This is the most intimate form of human friendship for many. But there can be extremely rich and deep friendships between unmarried persons, and between married people and friends who are not their spouses. These solid friendships are good, chaste, and in every way desirable. Friendships of this sort are most supportive of the maturing person, for they provide love and a sense of self-worth. Such friendships are equally available to maturing persons, regardless of their predominant sexual attractions. The need for good friendships is especially real for persons with SSA, since often many of their sufferings and difficulties stem from their lack of real friends of long standing.

Forming Friendships

One of the prime tasks of the spiritual director, therefore, is to help people with SSA form some lasting friendships with both men and women. The best way is to introduce them to people with SSA who live chaste lives and who have suffered all the ills associated with the homosexual condition. Through good example, those with SSA can be shown that chastity and friendships are not incompatible. This does not mean that in the search for solid friendship there will not be any specific difficulties and temptations related to the condition. The effort to form a stable friendship may lead to a temptation to commit unchaste acts with the friend. In these situations, those with SSA should not give up the attempt to form a chaste relationship: the formation of a stable relationship is so vital that the risk must be taken. The alternative would be to retreat back into the kind of isolation which leads to a promiscuous way of living. As John Rechy shows in his writings, City of Night, Numbers, and Sexual Outcast, the promiscuous "homosexual" is afraid of intimacy even as he seeks it in the wrong way.

The spiritual director must understand this fear in the person with SSA who is trying to lead a chaste life. Because of his sense of helplessness after so many falls, he will be afraid to cultivate deep friendship or intimacy with anyone. Since he has equated intimacy with overt sexual activity, he needs to learn the difference between the two. A person can remain chaste without building walls to isolate himself from other people. It is genuinely possible to learn to tread a middle path between imprudent exposure to sin and alienation from other humans.

There is an important factor, however, which may impede the person with SSA from forming solid friendships, namely self-hatred or narcissism. A psychological counselor can help both the spiritual director and the person with SSA in dealing with this problem, which must be confronted. The acquisition of some measure of genuine self-esteem is the first step toward the formation of true friendships (See Conrad Baars' Born Only Once as a helpful guide on this problem.)

It should be stressed that it is going to take time for the person with SSA to learn to accept and love himself, and in this process the formation of solid friendships is necessary. The person must be affirmed by another in order to love himself properly and to live chastely. Gradually he will perceive that the fundamental need of the human person is not for genital expression but for a sense of being loved deeply by God and by others, and of being able to love them in return.

Source: Same Sex Attraction: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice by Fr. John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S)

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