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Chastity is making a comeback.


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Over the last few years the daily press has occasionally displayed a fleeting interest in those who resist the politically correct commitment to the permissive society. The media themselves uphold it as the only plausible one. So on June 1, 1992, the Toronto Star carried the article "Chastity. The only safe sex?" The Globe followed up with "In praise of being a virgin," Jan. 14, 1993, pointing to an earlier article in Glamour Magazine entitled "Virgins with attitude." The Montreal Gazette carried "Chastity campaign grows among U.S. teenagers (Sept. 27, '93), and the Charlottetown Guardian: "Teen group pushes chastity as sex option" (reprinted in Moncton Times Transcript (June 17, '94). Such articles are by way of titillation, pointing out people not to be taken too seriously, amusing but really oddities, strange hold-outs against what everybody knows to be the inevitable reality of life: sex whenever, wherever.

The following article reveals that the strength of this new movement in Canada, going on right under our noses, and bypassing the pretentious notions of the New Morality of the 1960's, is growing.

"Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more," St. Paul tells us.

Few readers of Catholic Insight would disagree with the notion that our country has seen a great increase in sin--especially sexual sin--in the last few decades. It might get a bit tougher to reach a consensus, however, in identifying an abundance of grace to go along with it. But sure enough, it's there, and the signs of it are unmistakeable: chastity is making a comeback.

A comeback so remarkable, in fact, that people are referring to it as a "movement." And rightly so. Before the appearance of the Teen Aid programme in Saskatchewan in the mid-'80s, chastity wasn't even on the table. But since then individuals and groups have sprung up across the country to challenge the selfdestructive status quo bequeathed to us the original "Sexual Revolution."

Today they're as various as they are numerous, addressing mostly young audiences on chastity issues from A to Z. Some give personal testimonies about the devastation brought on by unchaste behaviour, and about the healing and freedom chastity brings. Others run counselling services, support groups, and education programmes, explaining why chastity is the right choice, and how it can be lived. Still others work to promote the "forgotten virtue" through the news and cultural media.

Canadian Alliance

As a sure sign that the movement has arrived, it now has its own national umbrella organization, the Canadian Alliance for Chastity (C.A.C.), based in Cornwall, Ontario, and led by Marilyn Bergeron. Marilyn, 51, wife and mother of six, got into the chastity business after many years of leadership in the prolife movement, out of concern for today's youth and the problems they face. Four years ago, sensing the needs of the chastity movement itself, she established the C.A.C. Her goals were two: to facilitate co-operation and mutual support among people in the movement; and to provide resources for those wanting to know what's happening in chastity. To these ends, she gives talks, offers consultations, and puts out a newsletter, The Chastity Connection--all this while continuing her own chastity education work.

Bergeron builds her own talks on chastity around three points: good reasons (why unchastity is bad and chastity is good); good skills (practical ways to avoid unchaste behaviour and to build chaste relationships); and good support (from parents, pastors, teachers, peers, and so on). While others in the movement might go at it differently, the "secular" or "common sense" approach underlying her talks is typical of chastity educators. But her acknowledgement that this approach has limits is also typical of the movement.

As a Christian, Bergeron is aware that chastity can be neither fully understood nor consistently practised without the big picture of sin and grace. She's also aware, however, that a chastity with a non-religious approach can gain access to many venues which would otherwise be closed, and that even in a religious setting, a chastity advocate will often make more headway starting out from a common-sense perspective.

And she's careful that her message, though limited, doesn't compromise the truth. While she welcomes a great variety of chastity groups into the C.A.C., she insists on a few common denominators: "I choose programmes that work from the concept that young people really can be chaste, and that this isn't just one of a number of options."

No charitable status

The consistency which comes from these principles has its price, however. The C.A.C. was denied status as a charitable organization, for example, because it refused to stray from presenting one side--that is, the right side--of the contraception issue. But Bergeron feels that sticking to these criteria will help keep the chastity movement distinct from the "abstinence" movement, whose message isn't always consistent. (Some "abstinence" advocates, for example, seem to take teen sexual activity as a given, and seek through dubious means merely to help them avoid pregnancy and disease.)

Perhaps most important of all on the issue of the commonsense approach to chastity, Bergeron and others in the movement see their work as just one part of the much larger effort which must be undertaken if chastity is to flourish. She plans to work more often with family-life teachers, in the hope of increasing their knowledge and strengthening their convictions about chastity. And her message to pastors and Christian parents: "Take a stand for chastity, in private and in public. Young people will live up to our expectations."

That said, some people in the movement are looking at developing their own faith-based projects. Bergeron, for example, recently took a course on the new catechism at the Toronto Oratory, with a view to strengthening her own knowledge of the faith, and eventually branching out into chastity retreats for young Catholics.

In fact, that trail has already been blazed by Human Life International. Although severely critical of "secular" chastity programmes as being morally ambiguous, H.L.I. puts its money where its mouth is, and offers its own explicitly religious chastity initiatives. Their "Real Life, Real Love" rallies, and their "God's Plan for Love and Life" retreats (given by California Education Director Barbara McGuigan), are impressive examples of what really can be achieved through an unabashedly Christian approach to chastity.

New sexual revolution

The chastity movement really is a "new" sexual revolution, and not a counter-revolution. While it certainly is a response to the aftermath of the tumultuous 1960s, it has been free of "reactionary" impulses from its inception. Members of the movement see sexuality first and foremost as a great and wonderful gift, and it's in light of this that they deal with the "don'ts" of living chastely. In fact, this is one of the most remarkable things about them: somehow they're able to deliver their message in a positive, attractive way, without sacrificing substance or integrity.

That may be because of another remarkable thing about the chastity movement: it's often led by young people. Having no memory of a time when individuals could rely on convention to help on to help in practising chastity, they don't appeal primarily to rules to make their case. And unlike the radicals of a few decades ago, who could dismiss chastity as a constraint, today's visionaries have discovered from experience its true, liberating value.

Challenge Team

The organization which perhaps best exemplifies these features of the chastity movement is the Challenge Team, based in Ottawa. The Challenge Team originated in the summer of 1993, when Rebecca Morcos of Edmonton, then 21, decided to tour the country with a group of friends to talk about chastity to anyone who'd listen. The experience of the team, and the response of the 13,000 young people they spoke to, was a resounding affirmation of the project. And the rest, as they say, is history: in 1994, 24 speakers addressed 60,000 youth; in 1995, 33 addressed 100,000; and this summer of 1996, 45 addressed another 100,000.

The speakers are given a week's training, in which they work on the basic presentation of skits, music, humour, and personal testimony. Then they divide up into small groups and take off in vans to different parts of the country, relying on honorariums to cover their expenses. The message they deliver is simple: chastity, the practice of respect for sexuality--involving saving sex for marriage, and sexual self-control--is a realistic and positive way to live.

And that message is in demand. The Challenge Team does little self-promotion, relying instead on word-of-mouth, and on the initiative of interested people in arranging their appearances. They get a lot of questions during and after their presentations, and even though some may not accept what they say, everyone listens. In fact, many are grateful to hear it. And the teachers usually responsible for allowing the Team to speak are more willing to cooperate than one might expect.

Part of that willingness is due to the non-religious nature of the presentation.

Although most of the Challenge Team speakers are committed Christians, the main function of the organization--the national tour--is and will remain a genuinely non-religious project. There are several good reasons for this; but what's of interest here is that the message of the Challenge Team, though "secular," is consistently true.

Reliance on reason and grace

Morcos attributes this to the organization's reliance on reason in dealing with issues having to do with sexuality. "What's the purpose of sex?" Morcos asks. "It's not like I read Humanae vitae and thought `Oh yeah, let's put this in our presentation.' It just seemed so obvious to me that the two purposes of sex are union and procreation, and nobody [on the Team] ever had a problem with that. It totally makes sense. You go through the whole presentation, and everything connects back to those two purposes. That's how we talk about masturbation, that's how we address the issue of homosexuality."

Not that grace doesn't have anything to do with the consistency of the Challenge Team's message; reason unaided by faith will eventually disappoint, after all. In fact, there's compelling evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work here: aside from the remarkable consistency of the Team's message, the speakers themselves are being drawn closer to God and His Church through their involvement with the project.

Morcos feels that this is due to the happiness, friendship, and sense of community which come out of a shared commitment to chastity. And the attraction to Catholic doctrine which many speakers are experiencing? Morcos, herself a convert to Catholicism, attributes this to the "richness" of the Church's teaching, "not just on sexuality, but on our bodies--not just an emphasis on the spiritual side of who we are, but the fact that we're body, mind, and soul. And then authority, and a lot of different issues." Full-time Challenge Team staffer Harold Visser adds, "Yes, there is sin; but Catholicism says that sex itself is good. To be able to say that--to say it with enthusiasm and conviction--is something a lot of Christians have difficulty with. It helps us get over the myth that chastity is anti-sex."

It comes as no surprise, then, that some of the Team's leadership see their work as a form of evangelization, albeit indirect. "Christ evangelized through love," Morcos says, "and I think that's something that we do. I think that evangelization can begin by showing people truth, it can be done by teaching people a happy way of living--how to live their lives in the most fulfilling way, according to Natural Law." Visser continues, "It leads people to ask: This [chastity] makes sense; but why is it so difficult?"' "Or," Marcos adds, "this is so good--where does it come from?"'

Good news for Canada

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt." So spoke the prophet Hosea of his decision to forgive his adulterous wife, after she was devastated by the consequences of her infidelity. And so speaks God to this generation.

The chastity movement is good news for Canada. It's a sign that order and decency may yet overcome the chaos and ugliness of the last thirty years--and may even come out of the struggle stronger than before. It's a sign that our young people may yet have a future.

And it's good news for the Church. It's a reminder that the light of the truth She proclaims will pierce even the thickest fog of dissent. It also strengthens the hope She expressed through the teachings of the Second Vatican Council: not only that the laity of the Church should take on their mission to transform the temporal order according to the will of God, but that they should do so in a spirit of generous co-operation with all people of goodwill.

All of this is happening, here and now--renewal, right under our noses.

The Canadian Alliance for Chastity may be reached by mail at 7 Albert Street, Cornwall, ON, K6H 4E7; by telephone at (613) 938-1091, or by fax at (613) 938-9064. The C.A.C. is funded solely by donations, which would be gratefully accepted.

The Challenge Team may be reached by mail at Box 4203 Station E, Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B2, by telephone at (613) 567-1117; or by fax at (613) 231-1203. Donations are crucial to increasing the year-round activities of the Challenge Team, and would be gratefully accepted. The Challenge Team are currently working on gaining official recognition as a charitable organization.
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Author:David Curtin
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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