It’s important to start a piece on chastity by pointing out that sex is a very good thing. It’s mysterious, making a union of man and woman while also allowing them to remain distinct persons—evocative of the Blessed Trinity. Also similar to the Trinity, this union is creative, bringing life into the world. Lastly, the pleasure experienced during the sexual act was not some random happenstance; it also isn’t just to preserve the survival of the human race by enticing individuals to procreate. God wanted us to understand the electric and sublime goodness of being united to others. Not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. He also wanted us to experience a taste of the same pleasure that He did in creating us. Sex between a man and woman united with one another for life in the Sacrament of Marriage is one of the many ways God gives us a glimpse of the ecstasy we are meant to experience forever in Heaven.
And you know who hates that? Satan…
Twisted from the Start
Unlike God and humans, angels cannot create. This obviously includes fallen angels. Satan cannot create anything, even evil. All he can do is to “twist” the good, making it unrecognizable and harder to see the truth it transmits. Sex is one of these things. In fact, one of the first manifestations of sin that is seen running rampant after the Fall in Genesis is lust (Genesis 6:1-2). This isn’t a coincidence. When used correctly, sex leads to greater communion within our families, within our communities, and within our world. This is something Satan clearly doesn’t want for us. So he attacked our understanding of sex early on in Salvation History, and he hasn’t let up since.
Rather than allowing us to see that it’s loving unity that brings about satisfaction, he clouds our senses to make us think it is pleasure alone which achieves this. The more he can twist and tangle, the more he can cause us to stumble and keep us from achieving greatness.
Just look at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Fighting Fire with Fire
St. Thomas Aquinas belonged to a wealthy, noble family. As the youngest son, he was expected to join a monastery. But he threw everyone a curveball when he joined the Dominican order while he was off at school. Embarrassed to have their son be a part of this “begging” order, St. Thomas’ parents had him kidnapped and imprisoned in a family castle. They hoped to dissuade him from his lifestyle. As time passed and Thomas remained committed to the Dominicans, his brothers did the most desperate thing they could think of to try and get their brother to recant his vows: they hired a prostitute.
The woman was sent into St. Thomas’ room dressed scantily clad with the directive to get their brother to abandon his vow of chastity. St. Thomas was only able to avoid the temptation by chasing her out of the room with a hot log from the fireplace!
After she left, St. Thomas used the log’s ashes to draw a cross upon the wall. He knelt down in front of the image, giving thanks that he was able to resist the charming seductress.
At that moment, two angels appeared in the room with a gift they placed around his waist. This gift was an angelic girdle which protected Thomas and saved him from having any lustful thoughts or actions for the rest of his life.
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The Difference Grace Makes
Let’s think about the effects of this occurrence for a moment. Because St. Thomas was able to resist that temptation and remain faithful to his vows, he went on to write (and write and write and write and write) about a plethora of theological and philosophical issues. All of these have drastically served and shaped the Catholic Church and millions of individuals. Pope Pius XI even wrote:
If St. Thomas had not been victorious when his chastity was in peril, it is very probable that the Church would never have had her Angelic Doctor.
What would have happened if Thomas had given into lust? How different would each and every single one of our lives be today? How different could our own lives be—as well as the lives of others—if we were to live chaste lives?
One of the Doctors of the Church, St. Thomas has been called both the “common doctor” as well as the “angelic doctor.” He was an ordinary man who understood ordinary life and common problems (like sexual temptations). He also had the ability to see and explain how virtuous living transforms ordinary endeavors, allowing us to reach spiritual understandings of celestial heights.
When it comes to the wounds of lust, Aquinas can have a healing hand there, too. Due to his “raging” success in his quest for chastity, his intercession is often requested by those who battle with unchaste thoughts and habits. After his death, the angelic girdle (a simple cord he wore around his waist) was secured by the Dominican order. Eventually, it was publically displayed for veneration by the faithful. Pilgrims began to visit the cord and pray for Aquinas’ help in their battles for purity. Some even started bringing cords to touch to the holy relic that they would then wear themselves.
This devotion developed into an official Confraternity of the Dominican Order. Members of this Angelic Warfare Confraternity wear the same type cord and are united in prayer throughout the globe. There are even Saints who belonged to this group while they were alive. “Famous” members include St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. and Bl. Columba Rieti. Bl. Stephana Quinzani was not only a member, but also actively promoted the Confraternity among women; she knew that lust does not limit itself to a specific gender.
“… A Long and Exacting Work…”
After his encounter with the prostitute, Aquinas never struggled to be chaste again. This fact is sure to inspire a twinge of jealousy for those who find themselves in the ongoing battle for purity. For the majority of the faithful, “self-mastery is a long and exacting work” (CCC 2342). It makes great demands on one’s skill and attention. Often, we have to seek out other resources, like the wisdom and accountability of others, as well as the Sacraments, fasting, and intense prayer.
Even during those times when the struggle seems to have diminished, we can never consider it to be defeated once and for all. Just as our bodies require food and exercise, and our souls require the constancy of grace, the virtue of chastity involves renewed effort at all stages of life.Just as our bodies require food and exercise, and our souls require the constancy of grace, the virtue of chastity involves renewed effort at all stages of life. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
A Little Boost
For all our sisters who find themselves dealing with this particular strife, we offer the following thoughts as encouragement…
- You are not alone in this struggle and you should not feel disgraced. Countless Saints, including Aquinas, Augustine, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi, Mary of Egypt, Catherine of Siena, and many others experienced intense periods of lust. You can overcome this too!
- Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20). The more you struggle with this sin, the more grace is made readily available to you. All you have to do is remember that it’s there!
- Some wounds and scars are deeper than others. If you find yourself repeatedly falling, even after the help of Confession, consider seeking spiritual direction and a consistent confessor.
Remember, God made you to accomplish great things. Don’t let this struggle keep you captive.Give Chase to Chastity with the Help of St. Thomas Aquinas #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Grace Bellon is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She’s a lover of bearded men, rich coffee, cheesy puns, cuddly doggies, and Catholicism. You can find out more about her here (warned ya she liked cheesy puns).