“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods…” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 2342
Here’s the reality of the battle for purity: it never ends. It sounds bleak and maybe even a little hopeless, I know, but it really isn’t as awful as it sounds.
We tend to think of purity and chastity as a destination, as if we’ll somehow arrive one day and that will be that. Purity and chastity are not a destination. We don’t just hop in our spiritual or mental cars and drive there, content to stay forever. No, purity and chastity are a choice, one that must be made each and every day, and renewed in each moment. Even if we could somehow arrive at chastity, temptations to leave that sacred place abound.
Certainly we can arrive at a place of purity and chastity within our own minds, but when it comes to relationships, when those passions and desires are ignited, we must, once again, choose purity and chastity. Even outside of relationships, our commitment to purity and chastity are frequently challenged and even assaulted in countless ways. We must practice self-mastery and order our relationships according to the proper context according to our state in life. After all, as the Catechism states, self-mastery (and in this case you could put “purity” and “chastity” in the same sentence) is never acquired once and for all. Ask any married couple, religious sister, or priest and I’m willing to bet they would agree. Purity and chastity, even in the right context, is still a long and winding road. It is a journey, a daily choice, not so much a destination.
But here’s where it gets beautiful: how often do we hear that there is more beauty in the journey than in the destination? The same can be said of this journey of purity and chastity. We spend so much time worrying about just getting there, wherever there is, that we forget to embrace and enjoy the journey. Instead, we become so focused on the struggle that we fail to see the opportunity for holiness before us.
In life, we foolishly wish away the present just to get to some future time or situation. We wish away the dating to get to married life. We wish away the newlywed bliss to arrive at parenthood. We wish away the struggles of purity and chastity to get to a place where we can just give in already. But, there is beauty and freedom in the choice, in choosing to embrace purity. There is a grace in embracing the trials and the struggles as they come. Rather than wishing away the scourging, Christ suffered willingly. We don’t read of Him wishing away the present for the future of the resurrection. He had to experience it all for us to fully understand and appreciate His sacrifice. The same is true when it comes to purity: if we wish away the present struggles, we may never understand the goodness and the beauty of the sacrifice itself.
It isn’t a hopeless thing that we never really arrive at self-mastery and purity, but instead it is a thing of beauty to continually choose the good and seek holiness. By embracing the struggle, by daily making the choice to take up this long and exacting work, we draw closer to Christ, to His struggles, and to the power of the cross.