Yet, as St. John Paul II reminds us, we cannot be too quick to take St. Thomas’s logical distinction as a real distinction. In life, the form and matter are deeply integrated: “the meaning of the body… is the way of living the body. It is a measure which the interior man, that is, that heart which Christ referred to in the Sermon on the Mount, applies to the human body with regard to his masculinity/femininity.” Ultimately, lust turns us against the purpose of our masculinity and femininity: a deep interpersonal communion with another in the masculine/feminine dichotomy. The love of this union serves as a common trail marker (the less common being the immediate union of vowed virgins to Christ) for the love Christ has for His Church, God for His Creation, and ultimately the interpersonal Trinitarian love of the Godhead. Our sexuality, and the actions expressing that sexuality, have a significance transcending the individual, towards a cosmic resonance.
This isn’t the same as “not getting any,” not at all.
Manyarticleshavetouchedon the tendency to make an idol of sex in our culture, although this is an ancient tradition. While sex is a cosmic sort of thing, it is also an awkward and funny and frustrating (even when you are “getting some”) and normal kind of thing—somewhat reminiscent of man himself. Sex, not-sex, virginity, chastity—all with their own joys and struggles, really aren’t the summation of man any more than eating cake, not eating cake, gluten intolerance, or not wanting to eat cake are the summation of man. However, the way that our interior intentions shape our actions leaves an impression on our character. Sex is, from all accounts, pretty awesome. It should be, as “the world must be peopled.” But there are right and wrong ways to go about it, and there are right and wrong ways to think about it. I would suggest if your all-consuming analysis of the world is through the lens of what any given man/woman can do for you in bed, you might be missing the point of existence.
You know what? Chastity is hard. It’s hard for priests, it’s hard for members of the religious life, it’s hard for married couples, often particularly for those who are practicing NFP, it’s hard for engaged folks, it’s hard for intentional and vowed singles, and it’s hard for all the rest of us. Zedd and Haley Williams quite clearly articulate the only kind of intimacy our culture acknowledges: “Are you gonna stay the night? Doesn’t mean we’re bound for life. So, are you gonna stay the night?” Let’s be real—no one actually thinks that a one-night stand will solve her desire for intimacy, and most people will openly admit that they desire intimacy and companionship. But, in the case of a one-night stand, at least it might make you forget for a little bit, and sometimes that’s all we expect. This goes back to more troubling issues including disassociation from our families and the way that friendships are often separated by the trajectories of place and life. I ultimately believe that those topics are also essential to this discussion on the single life.
However, the topic at hand is virginity and chastity. Neither stand in contradiction to our desire for intimacy—the fact is, we were not made to be alone. Yet the resolution of this desire is not found in the sex/not-sex dichotomy. The resolution is found in realizing that our sexuality is one facet of the totality of being human. And thus, the complications of our wills, our desires, our ends all come into play in any sort of sexual expression. This interior reality—our admiration, desire, love, cherishing, pain, anger, desire to hurt—are determinative of, all the while shaped by, our external presentation. Being chaste has far less to do with when and if to kiss people, or who has or has not participated in sexual activities, and far more to do with whether our interior determination of the will is ordered to the proper end of sexual expression. Not every material virgin is chaste, not every formal virgin retains material intactness. One thing that this shooting, and the round of coverage surrounding it has demonstrated quite clearly is that morality is more than our materiality. While “man looks on the outward appearance … the LORD sees the heart.”
So yes—sometimes virtue is difficult. Sometimes it is lonely. Sometimes you feel like the last one standing. Sometimes you wonder if it is worth trying again, and if it even matters now. None of these feelings are unique to chastity. But I get it. Practicing chastity, singles, will not guarantee you a spouse, or a perfect spouse, or a perfect sex life, or fertility. Practicing chastity, married couples, will not guarantee that sex is always ecstatic, or that you will have children, or that your children will always come at your ideal moment, or that you will never have NFP angst. I hope it does, but those aren’t the rewards we pursue in seeking virtue. The reason to pursue virtue, and particularly the virtues that are most difficult, is simple. Pursue virtue because you love God: While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Union with the Divine Love of the Trinity through our union with Christ is the only thing that makes the struggle for holiness worth it.