The challenge with chastity

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • April 25, 2007
TORONTO - Jacek Kowal slides Christopher West’s Theology of the Body into his CD player when he drives from Ottawa to visit his girlfriend Marlena Hardy in Toronto.
For many young people the American speaker has become a kind of Catholic celebrity,  preaching Pope John Paul II’s writings on chastity in layman’s terms. 

“He has great stories of how (chastity) is really doable,” said Kowal.

Since Hardy, 22, introduced Kowal, 29, to Theology of the Body he’s become well-versed in it.   

The couple, who’ve been in a long-distance relationship for just over six months, have vowed to save sex for marriage. But they explain it’s more than merely abstaining from sex in a  mechanical fashion, it’s about living chastely with an attitude that respects sexual relations inside and outside of marriage for the rest of their lives.

“Most people think that when you are married it’s free reins, sex galore, but even in that married relationship Christ puts bounds to make sure you are living out that relationship with love,” said Kowal, who owns Ekko Built, an Ottawa-based company that helps office towers conserve energy.    

“People think (chastity) is a big long laundry list of thou shall nots. But it tries to protect the integrity of love... get closer to God and... love another person. It’s a thirst for the real deal,” said Hardy, a fourth-year economics and life sciences student at the University of Toronto.  

Pope John Paul II devoted the first major teaching project of his pontificate to human sexuality. He delivered 129 short talks between 1979 and 1984, explaining how Catholics are to understand the nature of sex in a positive light. Decades later couples like Kowal and Hardy are trying to understand and practically apply the late pope’s teachings.

“Abstinence is a facet of chastity, but I think chastity in itself encompasses many different things. It’s sort of a way to express your sexuality in a way that affirms your dignity and in turn you are also affirming someone else’s human dignity,” said Hardy.

Brett Salkeld and Leah Perrault started Tobias and Sarah ministries, giving chastity presentations to young people in the Toronto area. One challenge they  face is convincing people it’s important to wait without suggesting sex is bad.

“Chastity has a lot of potential for causing guilt trips.... Sex is good and it’s best when it’s done in the right context. We say marriage is a full self-gift and sexual intercourse is the manifestation of that self-gift,” said Salkeld, 27.

“We try to tie the physical gifts we give each other to how you give yourself socially with someone. Are you comfortable praying with each other? Being around family? Communicating with one another? In marriage you give your social self, emotional self, sexual self... It’s part of this whole gift.”

Salkeld suggests sex is also a natural progression. “Sex isn’t jumping off a cliff — it’s steps.”  

Kowal agrees: “If you haven’t kissed on the first date then society thinks it’s wrong. If you don’t do that you have to explain it’s not because I’m not attracted to you or I don’t see a future, it’s because this is how I’m living out my chastity.”

Respecting boundaries does come with its share of difficulties. 

“It’s just hard because when you really like somebody you want to be able to share that facet of yourself with them. The hardest thing is being conscious of lust and desire,” said Hardy.

“The other person can be sitting in a way that’s just like ‛wow! OK,’ ” said Kowal. He explained that just acknowledging the struggle helps.   

He would tell Hardy, “When you sit like that it’s hard for me to have my thoughts in the right direction and obviously (she) cares about so (she’ll) move and act in a way that’s not tempting.”

Knowing where to draw the line is not easy and unfortunately there is no self-help manual that outlines exactly how far is too far.

Hardy thinks about how she wants her future husband to view her and vice versa. “How far would they be able to go before you felt offended or disrespected?”

Kowal lets his moral compass be his guide and he said not following it feels like a “moral hangover.” He finds is guidance by going to Mass and Confession regularly, reading books like Theology of the Body and when he is tempted he says a Hail Mary.

“When you’re saying those words you are drawn to that beacon of family, that beacon of virtue and you are really just calling out to her for help as a young person.... Mary encompasses all the beauty of a woman and so I think that usually helps me as a guy.”

Hardy adds: “When all else fails, you have to trust that the truth is the truth is the truth. The church’s teachings have been there for 2,000 years. When all else fails you have to trust that this is the right thing to do.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.