Rob Gordon vs. Joan of Arc

“Part of chastity is not being too attached.”

That was Father T during our most recently bi-weekly (supposedly) phone call. “Supposedly” because, as with the doctor, I usually wait until things are pretty bad until I give him a call. And, as with the doctor, if I just talked to him regularly then things probably wouldn’t get so bad. But I’m a man and men are stupid about going to the doctor, spiritual or medical. I will probably die of prostate cancer.

Things weren’t bad at all this time, actually, but it had been a while, and we needed to catch up. I got to talking about Sal, naturally, and said I missed him. That’s when Fr. T said the above.

This isn’t the wisdom of the world. It’s an unusual thing to say, at least from a secularist1 perspective, and for at least two reasons.

(1) The typical Hollywood narrative, I think, is that you meet the one person in the universe who is absolutely perfect for you and who you will always feel rapturous passion for, at every second (even when they smell bad), and then you sink your claws into each other a mile deep and never let go, and just generally forget about the rest of the world because he/she is all you’ll ever need.

That is not Christian love. A little closer to the Christian ideal is the popular wisdom that, unless you’re okay by yourself, you won’t be okay with anyone else either. There’s a bit in High Fidelity where the narrator talks about how, when he’s not dating someone, he goes “fuzzy around the edges.” Pretty insightful for Nick Hornby, who seems to be writing mostly novel-length Lifetime movies for Manchildren2 these days.

That brings us to (2): What has this got to do with chastity? The word, in popular culture, usually means “not having sex.”3

This is not the meaning of the word as Christians understand it, and as Fr. T. meant it. Chesterton says it better than I could:

Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.4

When I first read this several years ago I frankly had no idea what he was talking about. I’m still not sure I do. What I am getting, though, is this: the chaste man is the independent man, the man who stands up on his own. When the chaste man loves deeply, he gives his beloved himself — but he does not become emotionally dependent on her. Or, for that matter, him. The chaste man does not mistake his beloved, or anyone else, for God.

Chastity, in other words, has something to do with wholeness; or at least with not trying to fill our gaps with another human being, when really only God will do.

1 I keep on typing “sexularist.” How ’bout that.
2 Menchildren? Man-childs?
3 It also carries a connotation of “being repressed, fanatical, and generally miserable,” which is of course what will become of you if you don’t have sex. Also I hear your balls swell up and you die.
4 From Tremendous Trifles.

8 Comments on “Rob Gordon vs. Joan of Arc”

  1. Theresa says:

    this is beautiful. i struggle with chastity, i struggle to love God, myself, and others properly. i am just stumbling across your blog and am floored in such a good way and this post came at the right point in my life. thank you.

  2. Melissa says:

    Just wanted to say that I LOVED this post! Beautifully written and very insightful (as all your posts are)! Ok, well, I’ve spent over an hour reading your blog. It’s time for me to collect my children from their nap. 🙂

  3. Sonja says:

    Your sense of humor cracks me up!

  4. ET says:

    That chastity quote – and definition – is great. Thank you for that.

  5. Wsquared says:

    I love your posts in general, Steve, but your footnotes kill me. No. 3 had me chuckling like crazy.

  6. Jamie says:

    “Part of chastity is not being too attached.”

    SO TRUE. I always thought I was chaste. I’ve never had sex. Never really even come close, to be honest. I’m good at looking like I’m doing the right thing, at least…Way to buy into pop culture and its definition of chastity.

    Pretty recently, though, I was introduced to the term “emotional chastity,” and it completely blew me away. As in, oh, dang, most of my relationships really haven’t been very chaste…not emotionally.

    The best & most obvious example: a guy friend in college was, at the time, one of my best friends. (I’m female, by the way, no SSA…just throwing that out there for the sake of the story.) This guy and I pretty much told each other EVERYTHING. Except for the fact that I just knew we were going to get married. I was so sure, but I never told him that. We actually never even dated, to make a long story short. But I gave away parts of myself to him emotionally that I’ll never be able to get back….almost like I lost my emotional virginity or something.

    The thing is, I know that if we ever decided to talk again now, we could instantly be back at the really deep place where we’re sharing everything. And that would not be healthy for either of us, especially because he’s married. (He is actually recently separated from his wife, which is a completely different sad story, but could make our situation even more complicated if I would allow us to really reconnect—and I won’t.) I know myself, and so I’m not even going to put me—or him—in that occasion of sin. I really have gotten over him, but I know that because I was so attached, it would be incredibly easy to get attached again quickly. And there’s always the leftover attachments that will never completely go away. Again, like losing your physical virginity, I’m guessing.

    The Church gets it. Check out what the Catechism has to say about modesty. She’s not just talking about clothing, here.

    “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.” CCC 2521

    so. much. truth.

    Not sure why I spilled my guts, but I really enjoy telling people about that, and how chaste emotions are just as important as chaste everything else…

    Also, I love what you said…Chastity = wholeness. yes.

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