I am probably something of an anomaly in today's world. I'm not a cleric but I have found fulfillment living a chaste life and serving God.
Even though I have never married, I am content.
As I look back over my life, I see a distinct pattern of growth that has resulted in who I am today.
I grew up in a devout Catholic home, but as a young man, out on his own, I gave in to temptation more often than I care to admit. Like so many other young people, and probably even many middle-aged people, I succumbed to the lure of pornography. I also had sexual relationships with a number of different women, mistakenly thinking that the relationship would develop into something more meaningful.
Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right unto a man, but its end is the way of death."
My journey from good Catholic too, at best, lukewarm Catholic, and finally back to the Church and becoming a single man living a chaste life in Christ may serve as a lesson to young people. It may even serve as a lesson to some not so young people. So I would like to share it.
Growing Up Catholic
In order to understand my personal journey, it might help if I first explain the environment in which I was raised. I was born in 1963 to devoutly Catholic parents who were the children of Italian immigrants. My family was very traditional Roman Catholic in how everyone perceived life and in how they all behaved.
In my family, divorce and adultery were unheard of, and married couples waited until they were married before they came together as a couple. We went to Church on Sundays and tried to be good Catholics seven days a week. Keeping the Commandments and living good, moral, virtuous lives was the goal. I grew up believing that this was normal and necessary.
My older brother John really took his Catholic faith to heart because he became an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. This helped me develop a respectful attitude towards those who were called to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This respect for the clergy was also considered normal and good.
The Changing Culture
But being the youngest of 4 children, I came from a different generation than my brother and two sisters, who were all born in the 1940s. Instead of growing up in the 50s like my siblings, I grew up in the mid-70s. And in the post-sexual revolution culture of the 70s pre-marital sex was now viewed by many as normal. No fault divorce was approved and a number of taboos – mostly revolving around the individual's right of self-expression – seemed to have been lifted as well.
When I was in my teenage years, it seemed as if just about everybody my age was experimenting with marijuana, trying to lose their virginity as soon as possible, and listening to music that contained very suggestive lyrics. Pornography was becoming more and more prevalent and morality had become 'relative.' Young people like me were growing up in a world that believed in 'free love' and 'if it feels good do it.'
CCC 2339 says: "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy."
My Personal Struggle
Being a young person growing up in this new culture was difficult. I struggled spiritually and emotionally. On one hand, I really did believe all that my parents had taught me about Catholic Doctrine and morality. I believed that if you lived the right way you would end up in heaven. On the other hand, I saw all of the worldly pleasures that the new culture seemed to offer and promote. Like so many other teenagers, I started to believe that the world's way was fun and exciting and that God's way was boring and lonely.
As a result, my young adult years were spent wanting God's love and trying to find a young woman who shared my beliefs, but finding neither. You could say I was sort of in limbo, lost and not sure which way to go.
CCC 2344: "Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society."
Carrying My Cross
When I graduated from high school and joined the military, I remember feeling torn between wanting to prove myself as a man, and believing that I should do things the old-fashioned way, the way my parents did, and live a life that was in keeping with the moral teachings of the Church. But I was not sure I could do either.
Part of me was hoping that the right young woman would come along. We would get married and be happy together. But another part of me believed that this might not be possible in the world in which we were now living.
When I was in my twenties, most of my friends did not go to church, and many, if not all of them, seemed to have no problem being successful in 'worldly ways.' They were having 'one night stands,' cohabitating, and having multiple sexual partners while I was still trying to figure things out. I felt completely inferior and thought that everyone was having fun except me. I became envious and even jealous of them.
Psalms 37:1-2 says, " Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away."
The only thing I had to hang my hat on when I was still in my early twenties was that at least I was technically doing things God's way. But this was only because I was not doing anything at all. I kept waiting for the day to arrive when I would meet the woman with whom I would spend the rest of my life. And when that day did not arrive, I became disillusioned and started down other roads.
Falling Beneath the Weight of My Cross
For quite a few years, even after my military service ended, I ended up living a less than God-centered life, or as some might say 'living life in the fast lane.' But I found out the hard way, over time, that having a sexual relationship with someone did not automatically result in any kind of spiritual union. Inevitably the day would always come when the two of us could care less if we even saw each other again.
I found that while these experiences may have been temporarily physically enjoyable, they did not really fulfill me as a person. Although the two of us may have been physically intimate, this intimacy did not make me feel like 'a real man.' I also discovered that I never really got to know any of the women I was with, and more often than not, I often felt that I could not even trust them. And when on occasion I came to feel as if I did know someone and thought that I could trust her, I was unpleasantly surprised when I found out otherwise.
Sometimes when I was in these relationships, choosing between the teachings of my Catholic faith and the woman I was with was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do. I remember trying to have it both ways but I only ended up becoming spiritually lukewarm. I would rationalize that what I was doing was not really wrong at all, that I am not hurting myself or anyone else. The more I tried to justify things this way, the further I drifted from my faith. And the more this went on the less interested I was in going to confession and reconciling with God.
After repeating these mistakes and making bad decisions over and over, I became less and less interested in temporary relationships. I finally decided to look for something more permanent. When I was in my mid-thirties I finally decided to return to the Church and the Sacraments, to try to find myself and God's purpose for me.
Noticing a Difference
Returning to the Church brought some immediate changes. I stopped pursuing dead end roads that seemed to always lead nowhere. Being Catholic again also provided me with a sense of contentment and settled my conscience because I was not outside of the Body of Christ anymore. I was back in a state of grace.
On the other hand, on more than one occasion I felt sad. I would see married couples in church and would begin to feel jealous. No matter how hard I prayed or tried, I thought I would never find that kind of happiness for myself. I thought that being faithful to the Church 's teaching might end up getting me to heaven, but it seemed as if it would be a very lonely journey getting there.
Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
But God helped me to see that the right way – His way – is truly worthwhile. He showed me those who are unconcerned with virtue, or who don't bother living a moral life, or obeying the teachings of the church and receiving the sacraments, do not have a wonderful life.
The Divorce Culture
Throughout the last 20 years, I have seen far too many divorces, and too many men struggling with child support payments. Ugly child custody battles and deadbeat dads have become common. I have seen too many single moms struggling to raise their children alone, or even worse, moms who have better things to do than to raise their children. And I have seen child abuse and child neglect, and even much personal regret from individuals who wished they had lived their lives differently.
Over time I began to notice a big difference between those of little or no faith and myself. Most of the people who reaped the consequences I've described seemed to have been enslaved by the new freedom brought about by individualism and moral relativism. But by deciding to live a chaste life I found myself free to pursue my own identity and a life in Christ.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 32-34: "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs; how he can please the Lord. But the married man is concerned about the affairs of this world; how he can please his wife, and his interests are divided."
And that is where real spiritual maturity began for me for real.
As I turned more and more to the Church for answers to what God wanted from me, I started getting involved in new things. I began to find ways to give of myself, and in so doing, I found myself receiving.
Learning to Follow Christ
I became a lector at mass and found that I had a good speaking voice that others seemed to enjoy hearing. So I next volunteered at a local Christian radio station, working on a program called 'Catholic Radio.' This experience showed me that I have a bit of talent for writing as well as speaking, because I had to prepare talks for when I was live on the air.
I also started going on retreats at a local Jesuit retreat house and got involved in the men's fellowship program at our local parish. And I began to volunteer at a local youth center as a big brother.
These activities opened up a new path for me. I was no longer looking for fulfillment where it could not be found. Instead, I found myself helping others and participating in my own spiritual growth.
I began to realize that being single and living a chaste life was not so bad after all. Being at peace with God more than made up for anything I had left behind. I began to learn that in giving of myself I was also discovering myself. My relationships may not have been physically intimate, but they shared a spiritual intimacy that was much deeper.
CCC 2347: "The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality."
A Chaste Life in Christ
And this brings me to my life in Christ today. I have been transformed from someone who was conflicted and who felt empty inside to someone who is living a chaste life but is now both complete and fulfilled. Even though I have always believed in God, intellectually, I am now a person who loves and knows God spiritually.
John 10:10: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
Far from being lonely, I have found a life that not only pleases God but serves the church, helps others, and keeps me fulfilled. I may not have gotten married and had children, but I am content and I have found myself. I learned to accept and respect myself, and in so doing found complete fulfillment in Christ my Savior. God continues to create and develop me in new and interesting ways that in previous years I could not have seen. And best of all, through faith, I believe I have forever to go.
In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him and he with me."
Michael Cretaro. "Discovering the Virtue of Chastity: A Personal Journey." Catholic Stand (May 4, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of the author and Catholic Stand.
Michael Cretaro is a parishioner of St. Agatha's Catholic Church and has been all his life. He is the author of Questions from the Creator.Copyright © 2017 Catholic Stand
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