IS SEXUAL ABSTINENCE POSSIBLE?
Dear Fr. Matthew @ the Abbey,
There are many people whose calling in life is to refrain from sex altogether. Think of all those called to live a single life, or a celibate life, or single moms and dads. Think also of all young people who are unmarried. They all make a great contribution to the Church and society, and are living normal, healthy lives. Having sex and experiencing sexual pleasure is not an absolute imperative for living a normal life.
Spousal love, as God designed it, has a definite purpose. It was designed to be the expression of making the total gift of one’s self to a spouse, to whom you have committed yourself in a lifelong relationship. This gift of self involves both love and openness to life. Anything short of this is not spousal love. It is a sexual act, but it is not a spousal act.
Everyone is called to acquire the virtue of self-possession and self-control that is called chastity. Everyone is called to live out chastity according to his or her walk of life. There is also a marital chastity, which involves the avoidance of contraception and sterilization, a willingness to make the total gift of self and openness to new life and children. Chastity is the difficult virtue. Our sexual drives were designed by God to be powerful, so that couples would naturally be drawn to each other and that many new persons would be brought into this world and live forever in the world to come. We gradually grow into the virtue of self-possession. It requires self-understanding, self-discipline, persistence, the use of all the natural and supernatural helps to purity, and avoiding images and situations which would only aggravate our sexual impulses.
This is the universal experience of everyone in the human race. Either a person gives direction to his or her sexual impulses, or he does not. If he does, then he is virtuous and in possession of himself. If he does not, then he is not free, but becomes a slave to his passions. Lust dominates a person. Love, while it requires some self-sacrifice, frees a person to do what is good and beneficial for others.
A single mom, or dad, is a true witness to authentic love. Perhaps their spouse is dead, and they have decided not to remarry. Or perhaps they are separated, or civilly divorced, and cannot remarry because they are already married. Now they must be both mother and father to the children. And that can be difficult. They cannot rely upon the complimentary support of a spouse. They practice total abstinence. They provide a good example for the children by attending Mass on Sundays and receiving the sacraments regularly. They are there for their children, alone and self-reliant.
Single moms and dads are a witness to God’s promise to us that He will be faithful to each of us if we will be faithful to Him and His plan for marriage, spousal love and family.
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB