Category: Lent

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river rising

Chastity and Mercy 6: River Rising

‘…Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, in order to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’ (Eph. 5:25-27)

Jesus reveals His self-giving to the church and world through a host of icons—relationships whose chastity makes Him known in ordered, exuberant love. St. Paul in the above passage uses the whole-enough love of a man for a woman to make earthy and evident Jesus’ cleansing love for His Church.

God gives us little room to write off such a parallel as lofty mysticism; rather, He insists that we embody the truth of the Gospel by offering ourselves generously and humbly to each other as His Spirit secures and empowers us. ‘Our bodies are a Bible,’ insists Christopher West.

Our beautiful challenge? Always and everywhere we offer ourselves as either male or female, blessed with bodies that long for union. Here we discover that it takes God—we who drink deeply of His mercy and revere His truth—to reveal God. We can only master the unwieldy elements of our sexual desire when we are aligned with His desire for the other’s good, not merely with what feels good to us. Owning that goal and the gift one is makes us chaste, one day at a time.

And oh what divine strength and beauty flow from the chaste! No conflict here with virility and fragrant womanhood. Chaste sexuality creates a ‘glow of the true and the good irradiating from the ordered state’ (Pieper) which feeds the souls it encounters, surpassing the adrenal kicks of sexy idols. Icons need not flaunt; they reflect glory from their depths. The Creator shines through His ordered creation and invites the world to know Him through them, through us.

We’ve all tasted and seen God’s goodness through His human ‘windows.’ Seasoned male friendship has been for me, in the words of the Catechism, ‘the witness of God’s fidelity and loving kindness’ (#2346). Merciful faithfulness assumes the face of Jesus through friendships forged in Him. Such friendship empowered this icon (however ‘chipped’) to pursue a particular woman. Annette and I responded ‘to God’s call to give life by sharing in the creative power and fatherhood of God’ (#2367).

Yes, our chaste union is about God’s provision for us. And it is equally about creating and raising them—our kids, made and parented in His image as male and female. We are now a gender mosaic, distinct parts yet composed together in the whole of our lives, a glimpse for others of how Jesus’ love makes His members strong, fragrant, and fruitful.

My starting point en route to chastity was homosexuality; others begin with more traditional failures or just the nagging lie that ‘I will never be a good gift.’ We gather before Him as one Church before the one Cross where we welcome His flood of blood and water. As we bear one another’s burdens, the river rises–first ankle deep then up to our knees, climbing to our waists and then some until we are immersed in love (EZ. 47) and confident that the chaste One will complete our chastity. Along the way we become the flood, exquisite witnesses in humble frames whose very clarity and purity releases living water to all who thirst.

‘And where the river flows, everything will live’ (Ez. 47: 9b).

‘Thank You God for taking our frustrated gift-giving and drenching it in mercy. We just wanted to overcome shameful problems but all along You wanted to enjoy intimacy with us, and to make our joy full by making us Your witnesses. May we delight in the good gifts we are becoming–the clarity of sight and affection we are experiencing. Help us to see others as You do and to love them accordingly, beginning with our most basic commitments. Free us to become a life-giving flow of chaste love, at once tender and bold.’

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Chastity and Mercy 4: River Near

‘She who has been forgiven of much will love much’ (LK 7:47).

Turning from our unchaste ways becomes beautiful when we turn toward Jesus. It’s not only family and friends we violated with our jagged divides; we pierced Him too. He retaliates by releasing a fountain of affection for us (Zech. 12:10-13:2) that cleanses and feeds us like the best mother and confirms us like the best father. St. Augustine said that the Church herself was born from Christ’s wounds– the blood and water released at Calvary (JN 19: 34). I would add that her chastity was born there too as we the divided bathe and become whole in the river of His life, poured out for our freedom.

No-one better reveals the magnetic pull of Jesus’ mercy than the sinful woman in LK 7: 36-50. Somehow she knew that He alone could set her free from the shameful divisions in her life (probably related to sexual immorality). Socially, the religious elite withered her with just one glance to remind her that she was unfit for holy love. That did not stop her. When she saw Jesus dining with a Pharisee, she seized the moment, enduring the shame for the Mercy sitting before her. She threw herself at His feet and offered her all to Him with great sobs of repentance. I like to think of her positioning herself before His flood of blood and water until it engulfed her and surpassed her tears.

All the while the Pharisee looked askance at the messy encounter. The woman had to contend with his scorn and judgment, a divide that had separated her for too long from the Source of her wholeness. No more! Mercy had permeated her in the person of Jesus and she drew near to Him, never to let go of Him as the link to the life she wanted to live. Her faith saved her; she proceeded in peace (v.50).

She demonstrates to all of us who struggle with moral divides and shame that our cure lies in positioning ourselves before Jesus. Our chastity depends on Him. And it depends on the moral effort we make to abide in familiar, intimate communion with Him. The Catechism is clear that our chastity is ‘a long and exacting work’ that can never ‘be acquired once and for all’ (#2342). Yet it is also ‘a gift from God, a grace’ granted to us by the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus (#2345).

The beautiful thing is that we become like Him through Him; we position ourselves before His merciful flood. That should include stirring up the waters of our baptism in multiple confessions, and many trips to the communion table where we unite our ache with the feast of His body and blood. It may involve extended silence before Him, meditating on Scripture, singing simple love songs to Him and listening to Him sing over us. He has given us a host of ways to live in the river. He is near. It is up to us to get in the water.

That means all of us, regardless of our sexual sin. Though no person’s disintegration is exactly alike, the source of our wholeness is: Jesus Christ. It is inspired that we do not know the ‘sin’ of the sinful woman–was it lust, masturbation, pornography, fornication, or lesbian activity? Was she a prostitute, perhaps the victim of rape? All of these are included in the Catechism as offenses against chastity (#2351-2359). We who have fractured and been fractured find freedom at His feet. Like her, may our weeping be assumed in the river of Mercy.

‘Jesus, we love You. We thank You, Lord of the Universe, that You draw near to us in our divided state. Help us to see Your mercy more closely than we see the Pharisee. Thank You that You are our one thing, our everything, the consummate friend. Thank You that You are the gift and the goal of our wholeness. Holy Spirit, remind us of the many ways we can live in the river. May we act on those promptings with surety of will and so contribute to the freedom of many. Grant us patience for the lifetime plan of becoming chaste.’

 

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Chastity and Mercy 1: Beauty Trumps Brokenness | Andrew Comiskey

Chastity and Mercy 1: Beauty Trumps Brokenness

A tough woman careful to avoid the gaze of others hears a man asking for her help. She turns toward Him. Jesus needs water, yes, but more than that He wants to give her what she needs—mercy that will well up from her depths and satisfy her forever. We discover her morally broken state later on in JN 4; all that matters now is that Love has come to her and that Love alone can make her whole.

Chastity is all about wholeness. Far from the pale and passive face we ascribe to it, chastity gives generously, purposefully. ‘The successful integration of sexuality within the person’ (CCC#2337) means that we can be liberated from lust and rigorous self-concern and free to offer ourselves to others for their good.

Jesus embodied that self-giving as a man—as God yes, but most definitely as a man. He is tender and strong. Jesus is appealing, and probably as puzzling to the Samaritan woman as He was desirable to her. No matter: Jesus was clear in love; clear in what was best for her.

In that way, Jesus the merciful is also Jesus the chaste. Chastity means His gendered, sexual self is united—in no conflict–with His worship of the One. Seamless integrity: the chaste Son’s need for ‘water’ in whatever form was sourced in the River of His Father’s love for Him. Committed to the Father’s will alone, His very human encounters with women and men alike resulted in greater wholeness in their lives, as we shall see throughout these six weeks.

We are not Jesus, nor are we exact replicas of the pre-fallen pair who celebrated their loss of loneliness in bold, shame-free sexual love (Gen.2:18-25)! Today we live East of Eden, as inclined to shame and fear and exaggerated desire as we are generous self-giving. No matter. Though God’s image in us may be broken, it is not destroyed. Something deeper in us longs to become potent in love and lovely in response to it. While we have breath, we represent Him on earth as either male or female, of which the Catechism sings: ‘Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way’…their union grants them a share ‘in the Creator’s generosity and fecundity.’ (CCC#2335)

Bearing His image means that we can know this truth—you are a good gender gift. Marriage is but one expression of such gift-giving. Your masculinity is potent, capable of engendering life in others; your womanhood is creative in its exquisite response to such life. Whether single or married, chastity is the virtue that frees us to grow into the gift we are and to learn to offer that gift.

Scary yes. The Samaritan woman may have averted Jesus’ gaze altogether had He not met her with such kindness. Similarly, He meets us this Lent with Almighty mercy, longing only to unite us with Himself. He is the source of ‘living water’ who seeks to well up in us. Might we leave old ‘wells’ behind this Lent and journey with Him toward chastity, the art of generous self-giving?

‘Father of mercy, You made me and now You seek to redeem me. You know me better than I know myself. I ask for the mercy to linger in Your presence and wait for You. I am confident that Your eyes of Love will reveal what is truest and best about my humanity. I marvel at how I am made to be like You. I welcome You as my Source, the Love I need to live and to give as a sexual, gendered being. Spring up, O Well.’’

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Ache, Eat

“Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in God’s Kingdom.’ “
(LK 22: 15, 16)

Jesus ‘eagerly desired’ to dine with His friends; those two words convey Jesus’ ardor, His passion for fellowship. Simply put, He longs for communion with us.

The word Luke used for desire is ‘epithumias’ (Gr.), the same word used by James to describe desire that becomes lustful when we attach to false objects of devotion (James 1: 14, 15).

Desire rises and falls on its object. When we lovingly trust Jesus enough to surrender our desires to Him, we can be assured that He will cleanse and fortify the mixed bag we bring to Him: all out of love for us!

I did not overcome lust by suppressing the mixture in me. Rather, I took Jesus’ passion for me seriously and opened my heart to Him. What’s there to hide, anyway? We can know like David that ‘all our longings lay open before God’ (PS 38:9); that truth invites us to commune tenderly with the One who longs for us.

Perhaps after reflecting on 7 deadly sins that afflict each of us, we may be less inclined to focus on sinners out there and to linger before Him for our sakes. We need Him! And He is adept at pruning what is proud and smug and grafting in what will bear fruit forever. Like St. Peter, we may squirm when He bows to wash our feet but it is the only way we can walk where He is going (JN 13: 8).

Being broken by our sin also frees us to gather as Christians. I much prefer a small group of sinners than a band of preening saints. Leading out with smelly feet, not our resumes, invites real community. His healing requires that we linger there. Just as the disciples reclined with Jesus at the Passover meal, with St John leaning on His chest (JN 13:23-25), I want to linger with my fellows, becoming His body broken and His blood shed, one for the other.

If we lived the truth that Jesus’ towel and table–His passion for us—is far more satisfying than other loves, we would not be in the mess we are in today. Our imaginations are so perverse that we cannot imagine St. John resting on Jesus’ frame without suspecting his sexuality. Ah well. We are a mess. Let us race to the table and towel of Jesus this Maundy Thursday, and welcome His passion for us.

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Lust in the Light

‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom. 12:21)

All sins are not created equal. Overeaters wear their vice in plus-sized outfits; the slothful bear a gloomy countenance, swathed in grave clothes. Both confess their sins wordlessly. Yet the lustful can radiate good health from overheated frames, giving the appearance of order while driven by disordered desires that if conceived commit violence against all involved. Let’s not compare a breakfast of brownies or dour self-doubts to the one sin that St. Paul claims most opposes one’ own body (1Cor. 6:18) while violating intimacy with Jesus. (vs. 13-17)

Lust is a secret sin that incurs the shame of wasting one’s generative powers; that shame can further isolate the sexual sinner from openly expressing his/her vice. Yet the technology that now drives lust has so obliterated our good shame that we are now nearly shameless, naked and on fire, losing the feeling of exposure which demands what only the Lamb can provide.

With the help of Google fiber, split seconds exist between any lustful thought and a perverse pornographic image that sears itself on the heart, to be recalled at whim. Lust begins with disordered curiosity and ends up disordering our desires by awakening passion it only frustrates. Good gifts we are, yes, but lust lures us to pervert the essence of that gift in cheap exchanges that bankrupt our most precious offering. Even the shameless can feel its futility. Scripture claims that the law is written on our hearts, (Rom. 2: 15), which testify to the truth that God made us to give ourselves only where committed love creates an openness to life.

Any fluency on this topic is because of my sordid history; lust is my most deadly sin. For this I feel blessed shame, a gift in light of my rather shameless background. Growing up on the CA beach in the sexual revolution, we ‘spent’ our bodies to buy new sensations. Although my inclinations were homosexual, lust may better define what drove and derided me. The Catholic Church smartly defines lust as sexual pleasure sought for itself, without the goals of lasting communion and child-bearing, and cites masturbation, pornography, fornication, and homosexual practice as among its expressions (CCC2351-2359). Sexual immorality is an equal opportunity offender. For all who lust, we have an Advocate, the ‘Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’ (JN 1: 29)

The Lamb leads us to purity, or better put, to chastity, which is the stern and splendid task of integrating our sexuality within both our bodies and our spirits. (#2337) What a long and invigorating adventure! His unfailing love enables our daily surrender to Jesus and His members. Through trustful confession, accountability, and ongoing prayer, He pours Himself out upon us and accesses the heart’s true cry for love and connection. We learn to love real people. Overtime, Jesus helps us to become chaste and so overcome our disintegration, the lustful tendency to dart from real love to fantastic counterfeits.

Along the way, many of us welcome the call to offer our bodies to one person over a lifetime. Jesus and His bride prepared me for Annette. With her I learned to focus my sexual energies in the context of loving a person who was like me and yet profoundly ‘other than me’—body, soul, and spirit. I praise both marriage, and the Lamb who was slain. Together, the two reclaimed for me the gift of sexual love from the distortions of lust.

‘Jesus has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being: He has set us free from the domination of lust.’ (St. John Paul ll, Veritatis Splendor)

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