Recently, The New York Times (surprisingly) gave substantial coverage to an Evangelical program in Colorado Springs, marking the ninth annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball. During the banquet and dance event, which took place in a "gilt-and-brocade dining room," more than 60 fathers (or future fathers-in-law) pledged solidarity of moral principle with their daughters, ranging in age from teenagers to the college years. The fathers reaffirmed their promise to watch over their daughters "before God as her authority and protection in the area of purity." According to the Times story:
"The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive hook-up culture the evening was a joyous public affirmation of the girls sexual abstinence until they wed."
The event was also marked by prayer and blessings. About 150 guests were on hand for the event, whose $10,000 cost was financed by ticket sales.
(Why the Times ran such a positive piece on chastity probably reflects the fact that it rested on credentialed sociologists observations, almost as if modern day social scientists had reinvented the wheel, so that its reality can now be reported as fact. And as one might expect, the Times article noted that there is a "thriving evangelical community" in Colorado Springs, and that some of those present were from Virginia and California.)
The Times feature was, with a few reservations, welcome news. If only more events like it were to become commonplace among all who prize the virtue of chastity and the sanctity of human sexuality.
Traditional Catholic theology categorizes chastity under the heading of purity. The sixth beatitude enunciated by Jesus declares: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." (Mt 5:8) "Pure of heart" describes those who have aligned their minds and wills to the Lords summons to holiness, particularly in three areas: charity (Cf. Tim 4:3-9), chastity (Cf. 1 Thess 4:7), and orthodoxy of faith (Cf. Titus 1:15).
"Chastity" is what is specifically meant by "purity" in the Times article, reflecting evangelical belief. The topic is magnificently summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Number 2520 sqq. as well as Number 2331 sqq. The latter section focuses on the gift of human sexuality, which affects all aspects of the person, in the unity of his or her body and soul. As the opening book of the Bible teaches us, sexuality is not an accidental quality, but goes right to the soul; from the very beginning, man is created as a masculine or a feminine person. Moreover, man and woman are created as complementary which means that one completes the other.
Chastity, reads the Catechism, "means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human, when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong gift of a man and a woman." (No. 2337)
This relationship, in Catholic doctrine, takes the form of a covenant with the living Lord Jesus; in fact, it constitutes one of the primary sources of God-life; namely, a sacrament.
All baptized persons are especially called by the Creator to chastity to growth in it, to the practice of it.
As singles are called to chastity, so too are marrieds; and so too are those vowed to it, albeit in moral ways suited to their states of life. As St. Ambrose (d. 397) wrote: "There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses; the second, that of widows; and the third, that of virgins." Chastity is unquestionably a marital virtue, although in a different way than premarital chastity is.
The New Testament Scriptures simply assume the validity of the Old Testament Scriptures regarding the goodness of human sexuality and of faithful marriage. At the same time, the New Testament Scriptures demonstrate how marriage and sexuality, as well as everything human, have been "transformed and deepened by the new life brought to us by Jesus." (See Catholic Sexual Ethics, Rev. Ronald Lawler, William May, et al., OSV 1998.)
The Times article quoted one young woman as stressing the signal importance of continuous reaffirmation of Christian values in the world today. "The culture," she explained, "says youre free to sleep with as many people as you want to What does that get you but complete chaos?"
Chaos has resulted in our society today from the lack of moral compasses now shortchanging our overly permissive and, unquestionably, confused and erring cultural ethos, an ethos that leads to self-destructive attitudes and behavior. As Christians, we know at least that there is no need to await the judgment of sociologists, psychologists, or pseudo-sophisticated media and film personalities to understand that any deliberate use of human sexuality outside of covenantal marriage is counterproductive and depersonalizing. Reason, which alone can lead us to the right answer, and Revelation (the Bible as read within the Church) are, and will always continue to be, the guarantors of certitude for us.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor ofThe Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.