The tools of good works are these...
(63) To fulfill daily the commandments of God by works.
(64) To love chastity.
(65) To hate no one.
(66) Not to be jealous; not to entertain envy.
(67) Not to love strife.
(68) Not to love pride.
The first time I read #64, it struck me as extremely odd. In fact, it still strikes me as odd. Perhaps that is because I associate the term ‘chastity’ with all the things I shouldn’t do. And from what I can tell, that’s how most people think of it. When I teach moral theology, my students inevitably ask, “When I’m on a date, how far can I go before it’s a sin?” But that question kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? A better way to put it might be “What is the best way to be chaste on a date?” After all, you’d never ask a teacher, “What’s the least amount of work I can do to pass this class?”—at least not to his face. And you would certainly never ask your coach, “What’s the slowest I can run this race?” At any rate, you wouldn’t ask a question like this if your goal was to do well. So if your goal is to get to heaven, then asking, “What’s the least I can do?” is the wrong attitude.
Of course, there are many different ways of answering the question. When he teaches the same segment on chastity, our Father Bede walks into the classroom and writes “NO” on the chalk board. Then he says, “Today we’re going to talk about chastity. Any questions?”
Sooner or later, someone raises his hand and says, “Is it ok if we…”
“But what if she’s…”
“Sometimes if I…”
“But what if we’re…”
“No. If you have to ask the question, the answer is no.”
His point, I think, is that when you are affectionate with someone whom you find attractive, there is a certain line that separates that chaste exchange of affection from the pursuit of lust. We all want to get as close to that line as we can without crossing it. And when you start to ask the question, it’s because you want to push that line a little further and need a good excuse.
But Saint Benedict says to love chastity. How do you love something that is always “No”? Anything good is loveable, after all, and chastity is good. So here’s how I put it: feel free to do anything you could brag about to your mom. And when it comes to how you dress, imagine the Mother of God in that outfit—or Jesus. Does it really seem appropriate? If so, then you’re probably good to go.