Benedict XVI Calls Christians to Rediscover Chastity

Addresses US Bishops on Issues of Marriage, Sexuality

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By Kathleen Naab

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2012 ( Benedict XVI says that chastity might be countercultural and challenging, but the entire Christian community should recover an appreciation for it.

The Pope said this today in an address to a group of bishops from the midwest of the United States, who are in Rome for their five-yearly ad limina visit.

The Holy Father’s talk, which he presented as a continuation of reflections on «certain aspects of the evangelization of American culture,» resonated in the social and political climate of the United States, in the throes of a battle over religious freedom and a government mandate to include abortifacients and sterilization in health insurance as «preventive care.»

The Pontiff alluded to his speech to the last group of bishops from the US — given the day before the health insurance mandate was announced — and mentioned «our concern about threats to freedom of conscience, religion and worship which need to be addressed urgently, so that all men and women of faith, and the institutions they inspire, can act in accordance with their deepest moral convictions.»

In today’s address, the Holy Father turned specifically to the issue of «the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality.»

Benedict called attention to the «powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage,» and he said that the Church needs to give a «reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation.»

«Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,» he affirmed. «Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.»

Catechesis problems

Benedict XVI acknowledged the «deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades» in regard to the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life. He called for strengthening marriage preparation programs — echoing recommendations he has made in the past, when he has even suggested that parishes need to have support systems for married couples through the first decade of marriage.

He also pointed out the problem of cohabitation, saying couples often seem «unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society.»

The Pope lauded the bishops’ efforts to promote marriage. And he observed: «In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. The integrating and liberating function of this virtue (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2338-2343) should be emphasized by a formation of the heart, which presents the Christian understanding of sexuality as a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfilment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love. It is not merely a question of presenting arguments, but of appealing to an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality. The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young.

«Young people need to encounter the Church’s teaching in its integrity, challenging and countercultural as that teaching may be; more importantly, they need to see it embodied by faithful married couples who bear convincing witness to its truth.»

He called for support of young people «as they struggle to make wise choices at a difficult and confusing time in their lives» and recognized that society «increasingly tends to misunderstand and even ridicule [chastity,] this essential dimension of Christian teaching.»

The Pope concluded by recalling that efforts to present the Church’s teaching on sexuality «are ultimately concerned with the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognizing our responsibility to teach, defend and live the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfillment.»

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