Chastity and Charity:
by a Cloistered Poor Clare Colettine Nun
our Lord has said follow me, I understand
that we really are to follow Jesus Christ
— the spotless lamb, the virginal Son
of a Virgin Mother — through true purity
of heart and body until death. Through
this true vow of angelical chastity,
one becomes a loyal bride of Jesus Christ,
in virtue of that faithfulness promised
and given at the time when we made our
vows in the hands of superiors, who
represented God on earth; a pledge made
in the presence of witnesses:- the Blessed
Virgin Mary, St. Francis, St. Clare,
and all the Saints, and before those
other witnesses who were present when
we made our vows at our holy profession;
a profession through which we obtained
the remission of all our sins and the
full assurance of eternal life.”
good deal of confusion
surrounds the notion of the vow of chastity.
While most Religious accept without question that
one must learn to be poor and obedient, it comes
as a surprise to some that one equally must learn
to be chaste. What is more, to add to the confusion,
chastity is — in a way that poverty and obedience
are not — a universally governing precept
that applies with equal rigor to the single, the
married, and the Religious state. Does this surprise
you? Several years ago, the Holy Father, Pope John
Paul II, was taken to task by the secular press
for urging husbands to exercise chastity in their
marriage. “Absurd”, they cried in protest, being
clueless of the concept of chastity itself, understanding
concupiscence in the most superficial and vulgar
The confusion arises, because we misunderstand the
word itself. It is derived from a Latin word of
which only the past participle is still in use.
Castus was the word the overseer used when
his slaves had finished scrubbing the marble floors
at the crack of dawn each morning, having reported
to the mistress that the floors had been scrubbed
and hence were clean, the mistress then proceeded
with affairs of the household.
It is important to note that castus not
only denotes the accomplished fact of cleanliness,
but it also denotes that it was a cleanliness achieved
by the process of scrubbing. It is that awareness
of a process, not in itself an end, but aiming
toward an end more important than the act by which
the end is realized and through which it is attained.
Applied to the concept
of chastity, it is to be noted that the process
of cleansing is not only apropos of the end, but
necessary to it.
is not Simply Abstinence from Sex
It is a pity that the word chastity has come to
acquire such a shallow connotation limited to abstinence
from sexual activity, for even in the married state
chastity needs to be practiced. Mutual agreement
to intimacy is necessary and each partner needs
to listen to the wishes of the other. The single
state is the training ground for this discipline
which is as necessary to Religious life as to marriage.
If one cannot be chaste outside of marriage (natural
or mystical) or Religious life, it is unlikely that
one will be able to be truly faithful in the single
To be chaste is to be exclusively another's — and
not, as it were, the common property of many. The
mystical marriage of a Religious to her Divine Spouse
Jesus, Whose Ring binds her to Him, together with
her vow, is as real as any marriage in the world.
She belongs to Him alone! He has taken her to Himself
and her betrothal to Him excludes all others. She
is called to the chastity of a marriage! How differently
we understand this than the world does, even as
it failed to understand the Pope John Paul II's
insistence that the married be chaste
— free from desire for another, and absolutely faithful
to each other.
We are all
Called to Chastity
In both cases the
aim of chastity is charity — although in a Religious
it extends to all in a way that is super-eminent
— for a man does not see his wife in all women,
nor a woman her husband in all men — but the consecrated
Nun sees her Divine Spouse in everyone,
and fidelity to Him is her fidelity to them! It
is, to them, the pledge of His love — for in her,
they find Him!
This pure love that expresses itself, pledges itself,
in chastity, is a striking testimony to the reality
that nobody can rightfully be treated as so much
chattel. No! The needs of the other in whatever
form they present themselves, and in whatever state
— and preeminently in the Religious state
since the Spouse is God Himself — are essential
to the practice of chastity in all its venues.
We now see that
we are all called to be chaste!
therefore means to follow the Lamb through true
purity of heart and body until death".
It is interesting to observe that
for St. Colette, purity of heart preceded purity
of body. It has always been understood in the Franciscan
family that the vow of chastity, consecrated chastity,
looks forward and not backwards.
From the moment the realization of invitation shines
on the face of the one invited ... from that
moment onwards ... she must keep her eyes on the
Lord, and leave all for the sake of the Kingdom.
To be a loyal bride, fidelity at all times is required,
but it must be noted, that the term of angelical
chastity can be misleading. We are not angels, nor
are we going to be angels in Heaven. Angels and
men are of entirely different created natures.
Our human body is not only the instrument of sin,
but far more importantly the instrument that leads
chastity to charity. Our vows made into the hands
of the Mother of the Community are therefore made
into the hands of God.
Also present as witness, we call on the Blessed
Virgin Mary, our founders Clare and Francis, the
Saints and Angels, to remind ourselves that we call
on their help each day of our life. In fact we renew
our holy vows three times everyday, when we pray
the Angelus. Together with Our Lady, who
gave her consent, to bring forth the Word of God,
we too, in fruitful chastity we rejoice in our spiritual
motherhood, by bringing forth the Word of God as
we pronounce our holy vows.
Again and again Christ is being born into this world
as we proclaim our holy vows.