When I first started engaging in Catholic culture, I wondered why there weren’t any current Catholic books or musicians or artists. Then I realized that there are plenty — you just have to get out there and find them!
So, here’s a regular blog feature for people who want to reinforce their faith with good books. Honestly, for the first batch, I just bought all the books from The Catholic Hipster’s Catholic Book Cover Up. So as I read them, I’ll let you know the highlights and whether or not they’re worth your time. Since they already made his list, I’m pretty sure they all will be!
Let’s talk about chastity!
I know, I know, it’s not the most popular subject, even among people who practice it. But when I saw this book and read more of Arleen Spenceley’s work (and all the crap she gets for choosing not to have sex before marriage, sheesh), I knew I had to read it.
I think the best audience for this book is a single person trying to understand the argument for chastity (which isn’t the same thing as abstinence) and who is seeking a little encouragement about what it means to be chaste and what being chaste can do to your dating life.
That said, it was still a valuable read for me as a married person, and I got a few things out of it that help with the purpose of this blog: ideas that help me re-shape my idea of what sex is and isn’t, as damaged by living a secular life for 30 years.
Here we go!
My Personal Reaction to Chastity Is for Lovers
Overall, this book makes a compelling case (and complete description) of living chastely before and after marriage. That is, living with respect for sex before and after marriage, which means abstinence before and chastity after.
It doesn’t get into a lot of dating advice or advice for people trying to make a case for chastity in everyday relationships. Rather, this is a part journalistic overview of what living a chaste life is like for Spenceley and part theological untangling of what society thinks chastity is and what it really is. It’s less about real-life application and more about starting a thoughtful dialogue within yourself.
Amazing Quotes and Ideas from Chastity Is for Lovers
Focusing on thoughts and quotes that resonate with me at this point in my life, the following jumped out at me:
- What I do with my body matters. This idea came from the book’s introduction by Sister Helena Burns, F. S. P., but I think Spenceley uses it as a theme throughout the novel. I love that this stands in the face of what secular culture tries to sell us (that sex is casual and not a big deal) to say that our thoughts, minds, bodies, and actions are all connected and feed into each other. This is especially important to me as I explore how my choices and actions with my body have affected my emotional and physical health. Just recently, even, I’ve tried to ignore what my body is saying, and there are always spiritual and emotional consequences to that.
“We are one body, person and soul. Whatever we do with our body, we do with our soul, and vice versa.” p x
- There’s an alternative to casual and premarital sex. From my experience teaching at a public high school, I feel confident saying that there’s a lot of pressure to have sex as a teenager and NOT a lot of arguments against it nowadays. Teenagers think they’re acting out adult love, but in reality they’re using each other and building up emotional damage that it will take their whole lives to undo (if they’re ever able to). I love that the book offers practical alternatives to these choices:
“Many people neither have been introduced to an alternative [to having premarital sex] nor have learned that a sexual relationship is not supposed to be a path to self-gratification or self-fulfillment. Nobody has told them that a sexual relationship is supposed to be a path to God, who — in giving up his Son — taught us authentic love. Love looks like sacrifice and shifting the focus from self to others. It looks like learning together and working together resolving conflicts rather than denying they exist. Saving sex is an exercise in love, which has benefits before a wedding, after a wedding, and even if you’re celebate for life.” p xvii
- Giving and losing aren’t opposites. In our culture, giving something means you no longer have that thing. It’s a loss, a sacrifice, and a disadvantage. In the closing, Spenceley very nicely integrates a story about giving and losing that points to the fact that this “natural law” isn’t true anymore. Christ gives and gives so that we can give and give. And when it comes to chaste love within a marriage, society may have told me that “giving” myself means I’m being put upon or surrendering my independence, but the reality is that it’s the ultimate consummation of self-giving, not one giving and one taking. This idea still needs to settle with me, but it’s a powerful one for the issues I’m struggling with now.
“For lots of people, ‘to give’ means ‘to lose’ something. But Jesus, who instructs us not to worry, promises otherwise: ‘Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?’ (Mt 6:26)” p124
Available here on Amazon for about $10
Tangents Inspired By Chastity Is for Lovers
Seriously, bravo to Spenceley for taking a huge step toward getting another message about sex out in the world. I don’t expect the secular world to suddenly roll back to the separate beds of I Love Lucy, but I hope the space for an alternative to casual hook-ups, cohabitation, and delaying marriage keeps growing.
The most frustrating parts is that this permissive attitude makes it difficult for me to voice this alternative to my many, many friends living together before marriage. Firmly rooted in the secular science of “sex is healthy,” and “avoiding sex denies a primary need,” single people in our society openly embrace sex as a part of any healthy relationship. More often than not, I felt like I have no right to mention an alternative or encourage friends to reflect on that kind of decision, the way I wish someone had done for me. The way our culture has laid out the conversation, any difference of opinion or alternative jumps right to “slut shaming” and “judgement.”
I hope this book is an example of bringing that conversation back into the world, and the only way we can really make it happen is for each Catholic to prayerfully consider the role of chastity in their life (Right now, married or not, having sex or not) and start leading the way by example.
If You Only Get One Thing Out of It….
Chastity is not a prudish, old-fashioned perspective of sex that says the body is gross and pleasure is sinful; it’s a healthful, love-giving choice that brings us closer to God and our sexual partner (and great, loving sex!) before and during marriage. There’s an alternative to the secular world’s life-suppressing story about sex, and we need to get that story out there.