Reserving the gift of the sexual embrace for the one person you commit your life to in the sacrament of matrimony is a gift of self. A gift which embodies chastity, freedom, and self-control; virtues which continue to grow throughout married life—no longer by withholding, but precisely through physical intimacy.
Teachings of the Catholic Church surrounding sex and marriage are not a set of rules to control our personal lives or for the sake of abstinence alone. Rather, these are beautiful teachings of the Church to emphasize authentic love through a freely given gift of self, with an openness toward creating life. In this way, we embody the love of God.
Physical intimacy is offered as a chaste gift is when it parallels the gift of Christ to his bride, the Church. Sex makes visible the glorious vows offered and received on the wedding altar.
Conversations surrounding sex and marriage are not just about sex. The dialogue is rooted in reverence for the human person and virtue of the human heart. Regardless of our relationship status, we are all called to grow in reverence and virtue.
Our actions involving sexuality are some of the most important ways we can fulfill the universal call of holiness. Yet there are many ways we can grow in chastity, experience collaboration with God, and offer a profound gift of self prior to or outside of intimacy with a partner.
Receive the Eucharist
Receiving the Eucharist in the liturgy of the Mass is the epitome of intimacy with God. This is the moment when God proclaims his love and desire for intimate union with his children. Receiving the Eucharist with a pure heart is the greatest experience of physical and spiritual intimacy with God.
When God offers his body, blood, soul and divinity and we receive him through our mouth and into our body, we experience the fullest reverence, virtue, chastity, and gift that we can experience on this side of heaven. The Eucharist is an image of the embrace between bride and groom; images of infinite union, which God prepares in heaven for every person.
Bringing your desires, longings and aches to the father in the Eucharist is the most holy place we can turn to for healing and strength. He knows what it means to experience the ache of the human heart and he desires to pull us into deeper and more chaste relationship with him and with others.
Feasting and Fasting
Scripture affirms “prayer with fasting is good.” Fasting, most often associated with the season of Lent, is an opportunity for the faithful to prayerfully give something up to elicit an experience of longing. When we abstain from a tangible or consumable good and experience the ache of desire, our hearts yearn for more. That deep emotional encounter is a moment we can turn to God in prayer and ask him to fill the void in our hearts, bodies, and souls.
There is nothing on earth, including sex (even sex within marriage), that can completely fill our hearts’ longings. Saint Augustine understood this perpetual ache when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Establishing a practice of regular fasting opens the heart to experience a deeper longing, raises our awareness of our hearts desires, and provides opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. Consider something small; for example, giving up fancy coffee drinks once a week as a prayer to experience desire, to grow in virtue and to understand freedom of saying “no.”
Relationships with the Saints
The saints are holy men and women who received understanding of God’s will for their lives and fulfilled it through their time on Earth. They are made available to us as spiritual—and very real—friends, mentors, and guides through prayer and devotion.
Maybe the saints all feel like strangers to you, yet you desire some kind of mentor along this journey of chastity and self-control. Ask God to deliver you a holy friend and keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity to dive into a new relationship with a saint. Perhaps there is a saint who has recently become more prevalent in your life. If you sense they are seeking your attention, turn to them in a novena or devotion for guidance along this journey toward holiness.
In a culture where we can acquire information and products almost immediately through modern technology, delayed gratification is an underappreciated skill. Through delayed gratification, practice withholding a desire with a confident hope of acquiring it in the future. As a small example, delay how quickly after dinner you indulge in dessert. The time of waiting is an opportunity to grow in patience and self-control.
As you train these muscles of your head and your heart, you build a muscle memory which will be a strength if or when you are tempted to engage in sexual intimacy in an unchaste way. Practice saying “no” through the freedom of your self-control for something small so you can experience the fullest joys—the fulest yes—for something truly divine.