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Chastity and Charity in Marriage

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Institute on Religious Life
Sacrament of Matrimony series
Ann Arbor, Michigan 1993

We have been, as you know, reflecting on various aspects of marriage. I thought that in today’s class and later classes we would talk about marriage also but emphasizing chastity and the Church’s teaching which, as you know, is so heavily under fire from the secularized world in which we are living. The present lecture, therefore, is on chastity and charity.

We instinctively know that there is a connection between chastity and charity. We kind of assumed, why not? We know from now the whole of world history that all failures in chastity are failures in charity. But as you know it is also one thing to say something, even believe it, it is something else to understand what you may even know. We may know the what of something. We may not know the whyor the how. We may not realize that chastity is charity of the body. And over the years of teaching theology, years ago I use to use bigger words and longer sentences. I have found you get your point across better if you adjust your vocabulary to the audience you’re speaking to and then trim down both the length of the words and the length of the sentences. So much by way of introduction.

We Are Naturally Selfish

These will be just, you might say, headlines of an oceanic subject, the relationship of chastity and charity. We begin by observing, however, under the general headline that we have a fallen human nature. We are all spontaneously, naturally selfish. I wasn’t quite sure in my earlier days in the priesthood whether little children were selfish. I found they are. I may have told you about the mother trying to make a telephone call in O’Hare airport. I was carrying my bags, but I stopped just to behold the sight. She was holding the, well, the telephone and the receiver with one hand, holding on to the nearby wall with the other. Her four-year-old boy did not want his mother to be, well, telephoning but paying attention to him. He was pulling on her right leg, but she held firm. We are born selfish. And, in fact, over the years in trying to explain theology and not use polysyllabic words, I tell people one of the most clear evidences of our having a fallen nature is we are so, so spontaneously, congenitally, constantly selfish. But notice we are naturally selfish. What we Catholics have got to keep constantly reminding ourselves of, that whatever we are naturally, and we don’t deny that, our goal is to reach a supernatural destiny. And God, therefore, must provide us with the, well, supernatural means of reaching that, to repeat, supernatural destiny. Another word for that supernatural means is grace. Grace, as I’m sure you heard so often, I know I’ve said it many times; grace is what enables us to do the humanly impossible. We naturally, therefore, want to satisfy ourselves and, given that natural instinct, it is built into our nature. Given that spontaneous instinct to satisfy ourselves, well, why are there other people in our lives? What a question! Of course, to satisfy us. It’s natural; she’s just being herself. That’s the trouble. We then naturally want to satisfy ourselves; (now the semicolon is the end of a generic principle) we all naturally want to satisfy ourselves; (and then to finish the sentence) even or including at the expense of other people. I honestly believe most people who have never been called upon to define the words they use, I believe most people if they came to define love, and they’re honest in their definition, would say, “Well, I love someone, well, from whom I can get what I want, who gives me what I want.” In other words, for us who have the faith it is just the opposite. What others give us – even Christ Himself in the Gospels has one, one out of many examples of loving others. If you lend something, naturally what should you expect? If you lend something, naturally you should expect what? Not to have it returned. It’s natural. And, after awhile, people even forget they borrowed something. You ask for it. “You mean that’s yours?” We tend to hold on with what ideas? Who does he think he is? I’ve got my ideas and he’s got his. And, even though the mind might be rationally, watch this, even though the mind may be rationally convinced that something is not true, our minds naturally want to hold on to what is or are, either is our own idea or are our own ideas. That is why, as Dale Carnegie makes so plain, if you want to sell anything to anybody, if you want to make friends and influence people, don’t begin by challenging the person that you want to, well, sell something to or befriend. Every human being is spontaneously jealous of his own ideas. They may be utterly and abysmally stupid, idiotic ideas, but because they are my ideas I want to hold on. Again, because we naturally wish to satisfy ourselves we tend to ignore other people. Oh, of course, of course, we naturally want other people to pay attention to us. And it’s the preoccupation with ourselves that, without a second thought, makes us ignore others because the first thought is always, of course, of course, about ourselves. We naturally want what we want and we do not, when we get it, want to share.

Essence of Sexual Pleasure

Given what we’ve just said, our sexual desires are no exception. And I’ve got five illustrations of selfishness on the level on which we are here speaking. People will want sexual experience alone by themselves. And, over the years of teaching moral theology, there is one thing I try to get across to my students: The essence of sexual pleasure is, it is to be shared (do you hear me?) by the will of God. It is not to be indulged or aroused or experienced either by myself alone or, dare I use the preposition, with myself alone. Our natural tendency is to get sexual pleasure from another person without assuming responsibilities. In other words, God has instituted the Sacrament of Matrimony. And, just for the record, cultivate the habit of always distinguishing between marriage as a natural institution and matrimony as a supernatural, sacramental institution. The Church regularly uses matrimonium to identify marriage indeed but supernatural marriage. Again, spontaneously and naturally the tendency is to get sexual pleasure from another without giving the other person our love. But, remember, already, already the natural tendency to experience sexual pleasure without another person and, even more specifically, one’s married spouse be the one who shares in that. This manifestation of selfishness comes already in childhood. Oh, what a lot of re-education we believers in Christian morality need to understand that sexual pleasure is not meant to be experienced in isolation. Anticipating what we’re going to say before this lecture is over: A person’s mastery of his or her sexual passions is only as strong as that person’s selfless charity. I didn’t say this thirty years ago. I do now. And one of the blessings of the priesthood, many wonderful crosses and trials, but one of the blessings: you learn about human nature what you otherwise never know either by experience or by observation or by study. The thousands of people in the normal life of a priest who share their deepest experience in the center of their being is meant, under God, to enlighten the priest and educate him in a way that nothing else for the active priesthood can teach you. Selfishness and sexual passion go together. You will never control your sex passion unless or, shall I add, only in so far as you grow in selfish charity. You won’t read that in Sigmund Freud.

Our natural tendency is to get sexual pleasure from another person with no thought of God’s purpose in sex, which is to bring children into the world. And for married people both to bring children to the world and to express, express their selfless love for one another. I can say this, the hardest trial in so many marriages, and it can be on either side, either the wife or the husband, under God, being told they have a duty. The Church calls it a dēbĭtum, a debt, to have marital relations with one’s spouse. I repeat, one of the hardest trials for a spouse is to, well, satisfy that debt with a person who does not love you.

We go on. The natural tendency is to get sexual pleasure from another person even at great harm to the other person. Again, over the years in dealing with so many people, the passion for sexual experience can be so strong that not only, say, for the person not show love in marriage, genuine selfless love, and yet expect a marital embrace. One will even resort to the most extreme measures to satisfy one’s pleasure and that whether either with one’s spouse or even with someone else. The passion of sex is the single most revealing manifestation of selfish desires. And that is why our nation, which has become, I think I can say this, an asylum of mentally disturbed people whose mental derangement is preoccupation with sex. And behind this that’s the purpose of bringing out that our fallen human nature being spontaneously and congenitally selfish. Correspondingly, therefore, one’s sexual pleasure at no matter what cost to another person provided I am satisfied. I am sure I’ve said this maybe more than once here in class. When my Jesuit friend told me, remember Fr. John (Rōōk?), one of the few survivors of the Dachau Concentration Camp, remember, he was there about four and a half years, being a linguist so the Nazis kept him alive. After months of the torture in Dachau far into the night we’d sit and talk, professional people. How can human beings be so inhumanly cruel? You never knew on your way to the mess hall whether you would be shot down because part of the, well, schedule someone would regularly be shot down on the way to the meals; inoculation with some dreadful disease and then die in spasms of pain. And, for those of you who have not heard this (I’ve said this by now to, oh, a hundred or more audiences), we found that every single one of those S.S. guards as they called themselves, both men and women, every one was a sex pervert. And the two work together in the measure that a person is selfish to that extent that person’s sex passions are not in control. And in the degree to which they are out of control, to that extent is that person I use the word, bestially and, even stronger, demonically selfish.

Chastity Builds on the Love

We go on. Chastity builds on the love of God. If, as we’ve been saying and it’s a record of human history, the literature of all nations would be wiped out if it did not reveal the inevitable correlation between selfishness and sexual aberration. But notice, for us who believe, our love for others is only, as Christ reminds us, the second commandment. And it is second not only numerically but even just logically. It is second theologically. There can be no selfless love of other people, there cannot be, without love for God. We are only as selfless in loving others, as a matter-of-fact we can drop the adverb; we cannot love selflessly unless we love God. It’s not even love. In the measure, therefore, that we love God and only in that degree are we going to be truly selfless in loving others. And the reason, as you analyze it, is obvious. That’s why God puts people into our lives. The main reason that God puts other people into our lives, call them by whatever name you wish - other characters, strange personalities, weird individuals - God puts them into our lives for this one purpose: that we might both manifest our love for Him, for God, and grow in our love for Him. And the more, to repeat the word, the more characters God puts into our lives the more He wants us to show that we love Him. Again, I’m never sure especially when I’m talking to an audience that, well, changes even from one slightly to another, that the people that God puts into our lives He places there not only that we might be able to show how much we love God by loving them but, and this comes from a Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, the more God wants us to grow in our love for Him the more difficult persons He will put into our lives. Oh, no Father! Oh, yes! Of course when you get home you don’t tell your wife, “Mabel, I never knew how the Lord wants me to grow in my love of Him. He put you, my dear, into my life.” Not coincidentally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church brings this out with a clarity that I have never seen before in print. In other words, with our fallen human nature our spontaneous tendency is to use people to our own advantage. And the closer we come in our union with God and love of Him the more sure He is to place people into our lives who give us the blessed privilege of growing in our love for Him by loving even them.

First: Love God And From That Love Thy Neighbor. Now, I think we touched on this when we dealt with the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments as you know come in two parts. The first three commandments spell out the first commandment of the law, Thou shall love the Lord thy God with our whole heart and soul and strength and, Christ added, remember, and your whole mind. So, the first three commandments, the first three commandments are God’s way of telling us on how we are to love Him. Change the focus, how we are to love Him. The last seven commandments are God’s way of telling us how to fulfill the second principle commandment of the law. Thou shall love thy neighbor, in the Old Testament, as thou lovest thyself; in the new commandment beyond that, even as I have loved you. The last seven commandments, therefore, are God’s way of telling us how we are to love others. But, note the arrow in that number two, we shall observe the Decalogue in its last seven commandments only in the measure and depth that we are observing the first three commandments.

Second: Without Religion There Is No Morality. Only God knows how long our American school system will survive. Especially, of course, our public school system. For five years I worked with some sixty other persons from different parts of the country, all public school administrators of educators, trying to convince our politicians that we must have, every school must have, from kindergarten on, must have, some teaching of what we call the moral and spiritual values. Some religion must be taught. Without religion there can be no morality. Am I clear? Religion is the first three commandments of the Decalogue. And the most sophisticated legal system, all the prisons in the world, all the draconian measures we can try to enforce to have people observe the commandments of the moral law - the last seven commandments - would be worse than wasted effort unless from infancy, and I tell mothers, and from the child’s pregnancy, you mothers are teaching your children already when they’re in your womb. Do you know that? I could spend hours explaining that. In other words, without that which is identified in the first three commandments of the Decalogue the last seven, I don’t say will not, they cannot be observed. Because there is one thing that I must believe however dimly, one thing that I must believe, in every person who is in my life that somehow I must believe that person is in my life and placed there by God. I don’t see Him, that is, God, behind that person. I may tolerate the individual. I may endure the individual. I may even, if I’m in business, be patient with the individual. I’ll never love; I will love no other person except myself. We don’t need a Decalogue to teach us to love ourselves. But to love anyone else except ourselves we must, we must love God. And the first three commandments tell us how that love of God is to be practiced. So number three follows logically. By the way, these charts, and I have hundreds of them – in some forty, fifty, a hundred pages on a single subject – they are for me the computer of the mind. The ideas are there but they’ve got to be somehow pulled out.

Number three. Unless I love God I will not truly love others. I can say I love them and when I marry I can tell the person, “I love you,” and I may mean it. But just because I mean something doesn’t mean that I possess the truth. And the truth is, there is no selfless love, and shall I coin a word, no selfless love of anybody else except ourselves. We all love ourselves selflessly. Oh what we won’t do, what pain we won’t undergo for ourselves. We won’t love others unless we love God. But it is not just an absolute condition. It is also a measure or, to use the term, barometer or, for that matter, thermometer because love is usually spoken of in terms of warmth. And the barometer or thermometer of my love of anyone is how much do I love God. And, again, as Teresa of Avila told her sisters, “My daughters you want to grow in the love of God. Wonderful. Dear sisters, do, please grow in the love of God but there is no other way (she was talking to cloistered nuns), there is no other way except by loving the sisters that God put into your life.”

Number four. The more I love God the more I will love others. And if I spoke not for one hour, not for a month on this subject, and I could, the secret of growing in our love for other people is growing in my love for God. And then the more I love Him the more I will love others. The more I love others I will grow in my love for Him.

Number five. If I love God I will give to others without selfish bargaining with my heart. Again, I didn’t always talk this way. If I love God, really love Him, then I will give myself to others and, that, without bargaining. My problem after having taught theology for so many years, my problem is when I’m dealing with people to, well, put my theology aside and close the door, lock it, and even behind an iron safe and make sure it’s locked; to keep, I must keep myself from reflecting on what is going on in dealing with other people. How spontaneously preoccupied we all are with ourselves. How naturally we expect people, well, to be nice to us. We may not even begin to ask ourselves, “Well, how am I acting toward that other person?” What’s that got to do, what has that got to do with my love for a person? Does a person have to be kind to me for me to be kind to him? Or patient with me to be patient with him? Needless to say, as I’ve told you more than once, during my graduate studies in psychology that is not, that is not the mentality of the world in which we live. As I tried to reason at length with a professional psychologist this past week, a Catholic professedly, in a totally different world. I’m sure when he goes to Mass on Sundays, well, he will, I hope, he walks out of his psychological skeleton and thinks like a Catholic.

Breakdown of Marraige is Due to Selfishness

We go on. Back to chastity, and here is selfless love in marriage. I have six items. I could have sixty. The main reason for the breakdown of marriage, certainly in the western world, is selfishness. And, in fact, so many people in our country don’t even bother making a lifetime commitment. And it’s just as well. Millions are so preoccupied with themselves. The very thought of making a lifetime commitment to another person is literally unthinkable.

Encourage Married People Who Have the Faith to Write

Over the years I’ve encouraged married people to write. “But Father, I have never published a thing in my life.” Of course I don’t tell this to everybody but people that have, well, say, a good education or at least have a good mind and can express themselves on paper; I tell them, “Write.” I must have told you the story about the woman in Chicago. Remember? We call it the Provincial Residence. I was working with the Jesuit Provincial in Chicago. The telephone rang. I answered the telephone. A woman was calling from a jeweler’s in Chicago. “Father,” she said, “I’m here in the jewelry store. I want to buy a locket for a relic of St. Anthony.”

The jeweler says, “I am a Catholic (that’s the jeweler).” “I don’t want to sell that locket to a woman who is going to wear a relic of St. Anthony around her neck.” “Go someplace else.”

But you men, you know a woman’s will. So she told the jeweler, “If I call up the Jesuits and they say okay, will you agree?”

In a moment of weakness he said, “Yes.”

So I told her yes she could wear the locket. His conscience was not clear yet so he got on the telephone himself. I identified myself.

“Did you tell this woman?”

“Yes, I told this woman she could wear the relic of St. Anthony around her neck.”

“But aren’t relics for churches, not for women’s necks?”

“Well, yes they are. They should be in churches but there is nothing really wrong if she wears it with reverence as a relic around her neck.”

“All right!” He banged the telephone.

The next day - I told you this, didn’t I, some of you? (No.) The next day the woman comes over. It was no ordinary locket. You know the Baby Ben clocks? Usually they’re thick; they’re almost three inches across and, depending on the outside, oh, the conversation piece to everybody that she met! So she said, “Here’s the locket Father. Thanks. The jeweler finally sold it to me. I bought it.”

So we talked for a few minutes and I asked, “What do you do for a living?”

“Well, the children are grown up, husband had a good job, so I do some charity work and I, well, I play bridge and, well…”

I said, “Is that all?”

She said, “Yes.”

“Do you ever write?”

“Oh, Father please, please the last thing I wrote I wrote a poem in my college days. When I want to humiliate myself I read that poem. I’ve written nothing since.”

So I told her, “Now until you do, you know, do some writing, you talk to your husband.”

Then she told me her husband was one of the editors for the American Book Club. So that night she called me up. Just a very, very sad voice, “I talked to my husband and he said the Jesuit is right. You start writing.”

Five years later I was giving a retreat in South Bend at Notre Dame University. Before the first conference I walked around in the bookshop and looked around the paperbacks there and there was a paperback by Rita A., my friend, wearing the relic of St. Anthony. I’m saying more than you realize. It is not just a pious afterthought. You people who have the faith, are now married, should be much more articulate than you are. What form that articulation takes place would be up to the circumstances in which, I don’t say you find yourself, you place yourself into. Write! That’s spelled w.r.i.t.e. The world needs what you know, and only you best know who both have the faith and are living a married life.

Marital Love Must Be a Love That Sacrifices

Marital love must be a love that sacrifices. Remember every sacrifice is the surrender of something precious to God. And the most precious possession we have on earth – does anybody not know? What’s the most precious possession we have on earth? (Our will.) Our own wills. In fact, this may surprise you, but theologically speaking, it is the only possession we really have. Everything else, of course everything has been given us by God. Nevertheless, in the last analysis there is only one thing over which we have as far as we can use the term, mastery, control, one thing that we own with an ownership that is a deep mystery, with an ownership for which we shall be held responsible. We will be held responsible only for this, nothing else: how we have used our wills. Nothing else. Marital love must be a love that sacrifices, a love that surrenders, surrenders one’s will to the one whom you claim to love. In fact, and by now there are scores of valid definitions of love, one good definition is: love means willing for the person I claim to love wants. I will for that other person whom I claim to love what he or she wills. The essence of love is a union of wills. Oh, when I counsel young people as I did for my five years at Western Michigan and, not once but often enough to say it, a couple keeping company they would first introduce the girl or the fellow that she or he were dating. Then, stay for awhile, then, say, he’d come back later on, “Well, Father what do you think? Do you think she would make a good wife?”

Well I’d tell him as I’d tell her too, “You are different personalities.” In most cases I had to tell the fellow, “She’s got a stronger will than you have. But then you’ve got to decide whether her will chooses what is God’s will because you can have horrendous problems in your married life if her will is set on what your faith tells you is contrary to the will of God.”

Surrender Your Time to the One You Love

We go on. Giving up one’s own convenience, preference, time, you name it. And I would say among the things that a married couple must learn, and I would say before they marry, is to realize they must surrender to the one they love their time. You may think that what she’s doing is a waste of time. Well, that’s beside the point. What you think is not important. Is it important to her? Marital love seeks to please the other. This is what the essence of love is: to please the one that we love. It is the essence of the love of God to please Him. But I come back to what I said before: those who are yet to marry to make sure that their prospective spouse wants what your faith tells you is what God wants because then, well, you can comfortably surrender your will either to her, or for the wife, to him being sure that you’re not, well, giving up your obedience to the will of God. Marital love tries to adjust to the other. And, not being married physically myself, but I am married to the Church, the spouse of Christ, you’ve got to constantly adjust. The wife made plans. The husband made plans. It is a good idea to plan things together. And, of course, the more self-willed one person in the marriage is the more liable the other person is. Oh, it may look like love but it can be weakness because you never surrender to a human will when what that human will wants is contrary to the will of God. And here I could talk for hours and hours.

Finally, marital love is concerned with the needs of the other. Clearly, not the wants of another person but the needs, but to recognize the needs, then, I must know my faith but I must also know the person; know that this person is him or herself not a selfish person who would use me to increase his or her pleasure. All of this and much more is locked up in this one page that I thought we should try to cover in this lecture. Let’s close with a prayer:

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Mater divine amoris, ora pro nobis.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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