Written by Mary Beth Bonacci, an American who has long experience of talking to audiences, both at home and abroad on this subject, the booklets are clear, full of practical advice and faithful to the beauty of Catholic teaching.
In essence, this means describing what the Church means by the word “chastity” and showing what a positive, powerful and life-enhancing virtue it is; indeed, to use a modern word, “empowering.” Streams of articles addressed to women talk of “empowerment”, taking control of their lives and so on, but they never mention the word “chastity” – probably because it is seen as weird, repressive or Catholic.
But as Bonacci makes clear, “chastity is the only way to find love in this love-starved world of ours”. It means recognising that sex is designed by God to find its fulfilment within lifelong, faithful marriage between a man and a woman and thus learning positive ways of living chastely when single.
She comments that “abstinence”, meaning refraining from sex, might be a sensible mode of behaviour but it does not have the attraction or the appeal of chastity lived out fully. The author comments, “I have always known that those of us who are unmarried need more than exhortations to abstinence.”
To develop the control over one’s emotions that chastity requires (Bonacci is addressing those who have been hurt by past relationships as well as others), she is emphatic that it cannot be done on one’s own: prayer, regular attendance at Mass, going to Confession are essential. “Ask [God] for the help you will constantly need to live a life of chastity”, she urges.
For those who want to build or rebuild their lives and relationships, she has practical words of advice: cultivate good friends who share your Faith; make sure you have loving links in your life; develop your gifts; know your limits. For those who come from problematic or broken families she reminds them that they can still choose “to be a loving person”.
The saints are our best role-models. I think particularly of one of my own favourites, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died aged 25 before he was able embrace the vocation of marriage as he had hoped. His short life brings out wonderfully the virtue of chastity which he practised: devotion to his Faith, love for his friends, compassion for the poor of Turin and a capacity to enjoy fun, games, laughter and celebrations on appropriate occasions.
In other words, in all his activities he lived life to the full – which is what we would all like to do.