Husband & Wife Articles


Full Force of Love

Chastity and unity in holy matrimony

By Maria Grizzetti

We often think of chastity as a prequel to marriage. Or we confuse it with celibacy: the vowed renunciation of conjugal life proper to Holy Orders and consecrated life. But chastity is a vocation for all, and even in marriage it remains a difficult virtue to safeguard. The natural inclinations to rebel against its demands affect married people as much as they do singles and celibates. Our recognition of this fact should make us more vigilant.

“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2337).

As with any virtue, chastity requires practice. Our culture persistently presents temptations against purity. We can and often do forsake this harder way of life, confusing passion or the power of our feelings for the pull of true love.

But true love calls us to walk on the higher road of sacrifice. It requires the full use of our reason and will to make choices that align with the exalted dignity of our calling. Chastity, properly understood and lived, keeps us oriented toward divine love, as we offer another the full good of human love in imitation of the one who “loved us first” (1 John 4:19).

From this vantage point we begin to see why, for example, what behavior is appropriate to those who are dating is different than the kind of intimacy reserved for spouses. The reason for this is clear: spousal love, when committed and vowed, manifests the holiness of God, who raises it to the exalted level of a sacrament.

When Jesus says that a true marriage bond joined by God must not be separated (Matthew 19:6), he refers not only to the separation of divorce, or other obvious threats to spousal unity we can point to in our culture today. He also refers to the separation of two hearts made one, which precedes the physical separation of spouses. We can easily wound our marriages on the level of the soul, before doing so on the level of the body.

At the core of this separation is the division of the heart. We are commanded not to divide what God has joined together, or defile what is holy. Marital unity, therefore, depends on chastity before and during marriage. The love of husband and wife must be preserved from the divisions caused by impurity. When spouses offer themselves, one to the other, the disposition of their hearts matters as much as the union of their flesh. In this way, marital love becomes what it was created for: a mirror of God’s salvific love.

It is critical that we defend the marital bond from any form of separation, especially the separation caused by impure thoughts and actions. Impurity is that invisible dividing force that does significant damage to spousal love. Rooted in the heart, impurity disables the bonds of unity and eventually erodes trust. A heart divided against itself will struggle to survive the many challenges of married life. It is weakened, and therefore more easily conquered by lesser loves.
The sacramental life is a vital aid in facing temptations. The Sacrament of Confession is the portal to freedom from the wounds caused by “sins of the flesh.” It is a fount of grace to restore healing for wounds that cause this kind of division within us, and within the bond of matrimony. Frequent reception of Holy Communion is also medicine for the soul that imparts the life of Christ. Marriage as a sacrament depends on the other sacraments for its life, and sometimes for its very survival.

In the Nuptial Blessing offered at the end of the Marriage Rite, the newlyweds are sent off on their life together with these words:

Lord, we implore you: may these your servants hold fast to the faith and keep your commandments; made one in the flesh, may they be blameless in all they do.

Let us strive for this blamelessness with the full force of our love, that by God’s grace we might love chastely, and preserve with integrity what God has joined. In this way, may we attain beatitude, the ultimate end of spousal love.

Maria Grizzetti and her husband, Christopher, live in New York City. Maria studied medieval philosophy at Fordham University, and writes in the area of theological reflection at Incarnation and Modernity. She works for the World Youth Alliance, a global organization committed to promoting the dignity of the human person.