Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
I am already the spouse of a Lover much more noble and powerful than you. He is a Prince whose bride keeps, as the most glorious of crowns, a spotless virginity. To this Lover, I have vowed my fidelity. (From Acts of the Martyrs, the words of St. Agnes as she refused the offer of marriage and was martyred for Christ her spouse, 304 AD.)
The virtue of purity has the greatest relevance for us in today’s pleasure-saturated culture. Our society bombards our consciousness with impure images, brings immorality into our living rooms, and ridicules those who try to live according to a higher calling. In my many years of working with people who are laboring under these burdens, it is clear to me that they seek purity because it is a way of knowing God, a spiritual value identified in the Sermon on the Mount as of highest importance. The promise for those who are “pure of heart” is that “they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) Not a bad deal for “staying clean” as they say in the Bronx. We call Christ, the “Purity of Virgins,” not only because He inspires young women to consecrate themselves to a life of virginity in every day and age but more importantly because He is the Font of all purity for everyone.
Now, the “consecration” of one’s whole life, including one’s sexuality and the renunciation of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God, is nothing new to the Church. Even in the New Testament there is evidence of women living lives as “consecrated virgins” and making enormous contributions to the spiritual life of the Church. It is hardly necessary to make mention of the centuries of dedicated service that religious orders of consecrated women have given to the Church in the fields of education and healthcare above all. While the world considers such renunciation a “waste,” the Church has always held that such virginity is an immense gift that is “fruitful” in the service of others. The fact that so many of us can look back on the holy consecrated women who have touched our lives so positively is a testimony to the deeply spiritual impact of virginity on the life of the Church and the work of saving souls.
In a wider sense, I have always been fascinated by the heroic stories of those men and women throughout history who were aware of the precious gift of purity and were even willing to sacrifice their lives for it. The stories of their purity are powerful in a way we don’t often imagine. St. Maria Goretti (d. July 6, 1902), for example, was murdered at the age of twelve for rejecting the attempts of a young man to violate her chastity. He stabbed her numerous times and yet she died forgiving him. If you can believe it, her example of Christian love was so powerful that this very same man was eventually converted and was present at her canonization forty-eight years later. That is a small token of the power of purity and mercy.
I think the most fascinating chastity story, though, comes from the twenty-two Ugandan martyrs in the late 1800s who were all put to death because they refused to give into a king who wanted to commit homosexual acts with them. They suffered the cruelest tortures rather than renounce their faith or their chastity. In recent decades the country of Uganda has been the only country in Africa to significantly reduce its horrific AIDS rate among the general population. The main tool in this victory has been the promotion of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage! I attribute that astounding success to Uganda’s spiritual patrimony of the martyrs who died literally for purity.
Thankfully, we will probably never be killed just for being chaste, but it is true that everyone who wishes to live a life of purity will suffer for it in this world. Yet, the attractiveness of the ideal of sexual and spiritual purity is still very strong, and I do believe that we are seeing a rebirth of the vitality of purity after the devastation wrought by the so-called “sexual revolution.” Whereas single people are responding to the Gospel call to purity in a way that we have not seen in several generations, let us not forget that married people are also called to be chaste by refusing to allow the impurities of the culture, such as contraception and pornography, to enter into their marriages. I greatly admire couples who choose to faithfully follow the Church’s teaching on marriage; they often suffer greatly but I know they receive a great blessing from God because of their fidelity.
I have no doubt that each of us strives for purity in mind and body every day. Whatever the temptations we feel toward impurity of any type, body or soul, we can always turn to Christ, the “Purity of Virgins” and He will give us His grace to overcome these forces. Let us also take into prayer those especially who are losing the battle of purity or who are addicted to impure things: God will not let His grace be lacking to those who keep fighting the good fight of faith for purity, no matter the cost.
Holy and pure Lord of Virgins and saints, imbue us with the grace of purity in body and soul so that we may “see God” as promised by the Beatitudes. Let us be examples of purity to others and lead them out of sin into Your marvelous purity for the salvation of their souls in a corrupt age. We ask this in Your most holy Name. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]