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Community: Context and Fruit of Chastity


Susan Shaughnessy


            “Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always ‘becoming,’ and what it becomes depends upon the contributions of both persons and the depth of their commitment.” [1]  In this quote from Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility, he describes love as having a dynamic structure which requires participation and faithfulness.  These two essentials bring about community and chastity, which also are intrinsically related to the structure of love.  It is these two specific elements of love which are of concern here.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that there is a relationship between chastity and friendship:  “The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. . . .  Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all.  It leads to spiritual communion.” [2]  Interestingly, friendship or community is both the context and the fruit of chastity.  In this paper, Jean Vanier’s Man and Woman He Created Them and Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility will serve as key texts to unpack this relationship between chastity and communion showing that each is necessary to the other. 

            Vanier in his work, Man and Woman He Created Them, writes about the insights he has gleamed about human sexuality from founding and living in the l’Arche community.  Here he does not speak of chastity by name.  Nonetheless, his thoughts on sexual education imply this virtue and are important for introducing Wojtyla’s discussion of chastity in Love and Responsibility.  In this philosophical study of love, Wojtyla emphasizes chastity’s role in love, namely that it is necessary for true relationship and happiness.  Chastity then is not only a necessary condition for community but a unifying factor that actually unites two persons in community.  While Vanier focuses on community and sets the context for Wojtyla’s discussion on chastity, Wojtyla rounds out the discussion by showing that chastity generates true community.  In a circular way, one feeds the other.  After both sides are considered, this paper will conclude by taking up one of many possible concrete examples in which to show that this relationship between community and chastity warrants study and has implication for the world.  The issue that will be addressed in the final section is homosexuality.  For a homosexual person (as for every person) true community and chastity play an essential role in happiness and are essential  for overcoming struggles with sexuality.

Vanier: Community as the Context for Chastity

            Vanier states in Man and Woman He Made Them, “Those who find a community where they feel truly at home, where they are loved and respected and where they have a special role and responsibility, will progress in the integration of their beings and the pacification of disordered sexual urges.”  Community is key for Vanier.  It is the environment in which a person thrives because it is that out of which and for which he is made.  Community affirms the person and calls him to participate.  Before examining  how this participation relates to chastity and sexuality, it is first necessary to consider community in and of itself. 

            The ultimate basis for community is the Trinity.  The reason why we find our happiness in being-with-others is that our being depends on the Other.  The love out of which and for which we are made grounds our existence and directs our deepest desire.  This desire that every person has is for love and this love ultimately is fulfilled only in and with God ---God who is love, God who is a community of persons, the Triune God. 

            To relate the ultimate significance of community for the human person, Vanier quotes Father André Marie Talvas, who founded a movement in France to help men and woman leave the lonely slavery of prostitution, become healed, and find happiness in true love and community.  Father Talvas says, “‘The plan of God for man . . . is to participate in the life of God -Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is to communicate with another; it is to love.’” [3]  This love then is engaging.  It calls us to participate and to participate with our whole being.  Love calls us to give our whole self.  As the Second Vatican Council Document, Gaudium et Spes, reminds us, “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.” [4]  The opposite of self-donation then is self-enclosure.  Father Talvas puts it this way: “‘The greatest tragedy for a human being is to be locked up in oneself and unable to communicate.’” [5]  

            Many of the handicapped people Vanier has lived with in the l’Arche community have suffered abandonment and loneliness.  “The majority of them have experienced long periods in psychiatric hospitals or other institutions. . . .  [Such an environment is] often marked . . . by deep suffering at the level of their emotions and by the painful question as to why they were abandoned and removed from their family.” [6]  Sometimes these individuals were introduced to sexual behaviors that distorted the true meaning of their person.  Vanier observes that “those who do not have a home often develop sexual disorders which are almost impossible to overcome.” [7]   Some may have been introduced to homosexual behavior; others may have begun to masturbate or experiment sexually in other ways.  Often times institutions purposefully and overtly encourage such abuses; Vanier writes, “Some want to introduce a person with a mental handicap to sexual pleasure as a right, without helping him or her to discover the joy of living and being in communion with another person.” [8]  Such an understanding of human sexuality is deeply troublesome and damaging.  Instead of entering into a fuller and happier life, such behavior leads to detachment, isolation, anger, resentment, and violence.

            The remedy for each of these cases is community and friendship.  Vanier has learned that “[i]n order to  integrate our sexual instincts we need the tenderness of a family or the warmth of community. . . .  [The] need is for people who are committed to them.” [9] Within friendship, one is validated for the person he is.  “It is through . . . relationship and the identification with adults that, little by little, people find their own identity.” [10]  In other words, it is in and through relationship that one finds who they are and that for which they are made for: love!  Friendship is the best environment in which this love is made possible and chastity can develop.  Vanier promotes this rule:  “create a trusting relationship where dialogue is possible and where, little by little, fear disappears.” [11]

            It is in the context of relationship, of community, of friendship that one becomes whole and all wounds can begin to heal, even deep sexual wounds and addictions.  Vanier speaks about this healing in terms of a sexual education which is based most fundamentally in helping someone to have a sense of others.  He is clear that “sexual education does not occur through anonymous pictures giving depersonalized information.” [12]  This approach cuts human sexuality off from the life of relationship.  Instead, he offers this way:

Education for emotional and sexual life means helping someone to have a sense of others, to be able to listen, to love and to have compassion and tenderness and, not least, to become responsible.  True sexual education awakens the heart and helps someone move toward a mature affectivity. . . .  Sexual education is not so much a practical manual of what one must do and how, as a basis for harmonious sexual relationship, but rather a matter of helping people to be at ease with their own sexuality.  It implies a growth in the capacity to see the other as someone with needs.  It also includes helping people to face the challenges and difficulties involved in relationship.  This is, in fact, apprenticeship for true love. [13]

            This apprenticeship begins with another and this sense of others leads to the beginning of the sense of home.  Vanier writes that the importance of a home is most basic: 

It seems to me that the most fundamental need of our society is . . . to have men and women who together will create communities of welcome for those who are rejected, alone and lost ---and their number is legion.  It is more than ever essential to rediscover the sense of home as a place of tenderness and welcome, where each one can find the deepest value of his or her being ---the heart with its capacity to receive and to give. [14]


            It is at home with another that one feels safe to open up himself to those with whom he lives in community.  He is open to both give and receive, and in this movement of love also comes responsibility which encourages further growth, encouragement, and profound hope.  It calls to the other to participate.  In participating in community “one is able to use his or her own gifts, knowing that the gifts of one are not better than the gifts of another, that each one at his own level participates in decisions, that each one listens to the others, and cares for their well-being.  That is the joy of community, which God wants for humanity” [15]  

            Vanier does not specifically speak about chastity by name, but the importance that he puts on community sets the stage for it to develop first through the sense of others and second in the sense of home.  These two factors need to be in place for the person to feel safe and affirmed so that he can accept himself and open himself up to the truth and fidelity of relationship with others.  In the next section, the precise meaning of chastity will be considered and its integral relationship to community will be discussed particularly.

Wojtyla: Community as the Fruit of Chastity

            In the same way that Vanier is attentive to the inherent value of the person, Wojtyla too focuses on the person in light of the subject of love and human sexuality.  “[L]ove,” he says, “is always a mutual relationship between persons.” [16]  Love, then, is always directed toward a person to affirm that person.  Consider this passage as a short summary of the thoughtful discourse   Wojtyla composes on love:

Love in the full sense of the word is a virtue, not just an emotion, and still less a mere excitement of the senses. . . .  Love as a virtue is oriented by the will towards the value of the person.  The will, then, is the source of that affirmation of the person which permeates all the reactions, all the feelings, the whole behavior of the subject. . . .  What is more, it is only when it directs itself to the person that love is love.  It cannot be called love when it directs itself merely to the ‘body’ of a person, for we see here only too clearly the desire to use another person, which is fundamentally incompatible with love. [17]   


            This understanding does not discount the value of the body but rather integrates it fully into the rich meaning of love.  Elsewhere he comments that “[t]here must be a direct attraction to the person: in other words, response to particular qualities inherent in a person must go with a simultaneous response to the qualities of the person as such, an awareness that person as such is a value, and not merely attractive because certain qualities which he or she possesses.” [18] 

            Concupiscence, however, makes this integration of love a challenge.  One can give himself over completely to sensuality and carnal desire and loose sight of the person before him using the other person’s body for his own pleasure with little to no true concern for the other.  Wojtyla speaks of the clarity love carries with it and the implication this thought has for the dignity of the person, but he also notes that mere sensuality clouds such a vision and anthropology:

Love must be so to speak pellucid: through all the sensations, all the actions which originate in it we must always be able to discern an attitude to a person of the opposite sex which derives from sincere affirmation of the worth of that person.  Since sensations and actions springing from sexual reactions and emotions connected with them tend to deprive love of its crystal clarity. [19]


            He continues by noting that “a special virtue is necessary to protect its true character and objective profile.  This special virtue is chastity.” [20] 

            What then is chastity?  Wojtyla notes that ‘chastity’ comes from the word that means ‘clean’ which “implies liberation from everything that ‘makes dirty.’” [21]   One of these elements that chastity guards against is utilitarianism.[22]   It does this by tending to the value of the person.  Chastity, then, is necessary for the personalism Wojtyla strongly advocates.  He explains it this way:  “The essence of chastity consists in quickness to affirm the value of the person in every situation, and in raising to the personal level all reactions to the value of ‘the body and sex.’” [23]   In this way chastity is directly related to the virtue of love for Wojtyla. [24]  

            The other aspect of chastity that Wojtyla stresses is the transparency that it brings about.  He speaks of having “a ‘transparent’ attitude to a person of the opposite sex ---chastity means just that--- the interior ‘transparency’ without which love is not itself” [25]   This attitude guards against deception and what Wojtyla calls “sinful love,” which is not love at all but instead a utilitarian attitude camouflaged as love via emotional and/or sensual egoism. [26]    The liberation that chastity brings about which frees a person from using another person introduces loving kindness and actually makes him capable of true love. [27]    Thus, chastity is absolutely necessary for true love.

            In light of what has just been said, chastity makes a person capable of love and serves as love’s integrating or unifying principle.  In this way chastity is directly related to community.  It purifies the lovers’ attitude toward each other so that they are transparent to one another and can be seen for who they really are.  Affirming the other’s person grounds the value of body and sex in the person himself.  Seeing the other with this integration encourages a true unity with the other which is most readily expressed through community, friendship, and marital love.  In this way community is the fruit of chastity, not just the context in which it develops. [28] 

Conclusion: Applying Community and Chastity to Homosexuality

            The Catholic Catechism makes it clear that “all baptized persons are called to chastity.” [29]    Indeed Wojtyla echoes this truth  without any qualification to a particular group in the population when he says, “chastity is the sure way to happiness.” [30]   As Vanier and Wojtyla show, community is what everyone desires, and true community is love with which chastity plays a key role.  Vanier speaks from his concrete experience with the mentally handicapped.  This experience has proved to him that in time community and friendship heals the deepest wounds of the person.  The further example Vanier provides with Father Talvas rescuing men and woman from prostitution affirms the crucial role community plays in restoring a person’s health and happiness from a life of slavery and abuse.  To close this discussion on the relationship between community and chastity, this section will apply both community and chastity explicitly to homosexuality. 

            In order to find real peace and happiness, a homosexual person, like any person, must be integrated into a true community.  The Catholic Catechism reminds the Church that a homosexual person is called to Christ:  “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.  By virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” [31]  Often secular culture presents homosexual activity as naturally compulsive, as if a homosexual person has no choice but to act out on his desires.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) staunchly opposes this view in its Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Person: “What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable.” [32]  

            As everyone knows it is difficult to follow Christ, and so the CDF offers some thought to help homosexual persons.  First, friendship in Christ is their surest help.  Only by clinging to him and uniting their sufferings to his cross can anyone find eternal life. [33]  Msgr. Peter Magee in an essay entitled, “Friendship and Holiness: Some Basic Ingredients” writes about chaste and holy friendships which must have their foundation in Christ:  “[H]oly friendships are only possible in God, for God alone is holy and God alone is the source of friendship.” [34] Because friendship implies a real presence of the other, God makes his presences clearly and objectively known to his people.  Magee writes, “The visibility of Jesus in His human flesh has passed into the sacraments of His Church.  Every sacrament makes effectively present some grace won for us by Christ during His ‘days in the flesh.’” [35]   

            This point leads to the second recommendation of the CDF which calls Bishops to be attentive to shepherding the homosexual persons entrusted into their care by “provid[ing] pastoral care in full accord with the teaching of the Church.” [36] Homosexual persons, therefore, are to be welcomed into the Church, the community of God and are to receive help as they strive to follow the call of Christ.  Fr. John Harvey, has specifically tried to help homosexual persons participate more fully in the Church through an organization called Courage which builds community and promotes chastity to help heal homosexual persons and integrate them more fully into the life of love for which God created them.  Courage promotes five goals for its members: chastity, prayer and dedication to Christ, fellowship, support, and good example. [37]   These five objectives emphasize both the value of community and chastity along with a centered-ness on Christ who makes these values attainable for the person. 

            Since it is difficult it is to do what is right especially when a person is alone, Courage gives homosexual persons the support and encouragement to persevere in the truth.  Ron Belgau, one member of Courage, discusses the freedom he has found in true friendship through his struggle to be chaste:

When I first contemplated chastity, I could see it only as a cross, and as the denial of my desires.  And while that side has not completely disappeared, I have also found that it opened the door to much deeper intimacy with God, and to more rewarding chaste friendships with others.  Chastity perfects my power to love others, and to love God.  It also surrounds me with others whose power to love are being perfected, whose affection for me grows out of agape, not selfish desire. [38] 


            Belgau emphasizes that chastity has united him closer to God and provided him with fruitful friendships which affirm the dignity of his person.  He goes so far as to say chastity “perfects” his ability to love and provides an affirming community in which this takes place.  In this way chastity promotes community, but in the first instance, the Courage community is what encourages Belgau to be chaste.  Here we see again concretely how community and chastity circumincesse to lead one fuller into the life of true love.

Works Cited

Belgau, Ron.  “Chastity and Freedom.”  Courage Seattle.  Retrieved from http://www.cityofgod.net/courage-seattle/chastity.htm.  16 April 2005.


Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “The Vocation to Chastity.” Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Liguori, Missouri: Liguori (1994) nos. 2337-2359.


Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Person (1987).


“The Five Goals,” Courage.  Retrieved from http://CourageRC.net/TheFiveGoals.html.  16 April 2005.


Magee, Peter.  “Friendship and Holiness: Some Basic Ingredients.”  Courage National Conference, Chicago.  6 August 2004.  Retrieved from http://CourageRC.net/Friendship%20&%Holiness.htm.  16 April 2005. 


 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et Spes. 1965.


Vanier, Jean.  Man and Woman He Made Them.  Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984. 


Wojtyla, Karol.  Love and Responsibility.  Trans. H.T. Willetts.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.




Belgau, Ron.  “Chastity and Freedom.”  Courage Seattle.  Retrieve from http://www.cityofgod.net/courage-seattle/chastity.htm.  16 April 2005.


Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “The Vocation to Chastity” Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Liguori, Missouri: Liguori (1994) nos. 2337-2359.


Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Person (1987).


Groeschel, Benedict J.  The Courage to be Chaste.  New York: Paulist Press, 1985.


Magee, Peter.  “Friendship and Holiness: Some Basic Ingredients.”  Courage National Conference, Chicago.  6 August 2004.  Retrieve from http://CourageRC.net/Friendship%20&%Holiness.htm.  16 April 2005. 


 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et Spes. 1965.


Vanier, Jean.  Man and Woman He Made Them.  Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1984. 


Wojtyla, Karol.  Love and Responsibility.  Trans. H.T. Willetts.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.


1. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H.T. Willetts, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993) 139.


2. Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church,“The Vocation to Chastity,” Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Liguori, Missouri: Liguori 1994) no. 2347.

3. Jean Vanier,  Man and Woman He Made Them (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984) 69. 

4. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et Spes 24.  

5. Vanier 69.   

6. Vanier 69.   

7. Vanier 78. 

8. Vanier 35. 

9. Vanier 79.  

10. Vanier 44.  

11. Vanier 46.  

12. Vanier 44.  

13. Vanier 44-45.  

14. Vanier 54.  

15. Vanier 55.  

16. Wojtyla 73.  

17. Wojtyla 123-124.  

18. Wojtyla 79.  

19. Wojtyla 146.  

20. Wojtyla 146.  

21. Wojtyla 146.  

22. Wojtyla 170.  

23. Wojtyla 171.  

24. St. Thomas Aquinas links chastity explicitly to the virtue of moderation.  Wojtyla 170-171.    

25. Wojtyla 170. Italics are found in the original text.  

26. Wojtyla 170.  

27. Wojtyla 171.

28. The Catholic Catechism affirms chastity as a unifying principle in love with its definition of the concept:  “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. . . .   The virtue of chastity . . . involves the integrity of the person and the integration of the gift” (CCC 2337).  [Emphasis added.]  

29. Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2348.  

30. Wojtyla 172.  

31. Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2359.  

32. Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Person (1987) no. 11.

33. Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith no. 12.

34. Peter Magee, “Friendship and Holiness: Some Basic Ingredients,”  Courage National Conference, Chicago.  6 August 2004. (http://CourageRC.net/Friendship%20&%Holiness.htm.) 16 April 2005.    

35. Peter Magee.  

36. Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith no. 15.  

37. “The Five Goals,” Courage (http://CourageRC.net/TheFiveGoals.html.) 16 April 2005.  

38. Ron Belgau, “Chastity and Freedom.”  Courage Seattle (http://www.cityofgod.net/courage-seattle/chastity.htm.)  16 April 2005.

Copyright ©; Susan Shaughnessy 2006

Version: 30th November 2006

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