What's Thrilling About Chastity?

Author, Speaker Considers Why Disdained Virtue Should Have a Better Reputation

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Dawn Eden writes about chastity as someone who’s struggled to achieve it. Her struggles were rooted in more than just original sin; she was sexually abused as a child, suffered from her parents’ divorce, and in her loneliness, found herself lapping up the nonsense preached by today’s sex-crazed and confused culture. 

Now Eden is living consecrated celibacy and dedicating her life to teaching and speaking about chastity and what makes this virtue, in fact, thrilling.

A convert to Catholicism in 2006, she has now released a Catholic edition of her popular book The Thrill of the Chaste.

ZENIT spoke with Eden about her book and her efforts to learn what love is and how to give it.

ZENIT: Who is this book written for?

Eden: The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition) is the book that I wish had existed when I was entering the Catholic Church nine years ago this Holy Week and wondering how I would manage to be happy living according to Catholic sexual teachings. Although married people and celibates have told me they appreciate it, I wrote it especially for single men and women who, having sought love in things that are not love, want to start afresh in the way they live and relate to others.

        It’s unusual for a book on chaste living to address both men and women. Most books I have found on the topic are targeted to women; I myself followed that norm when writing the original 2006 edition of The Thrill of the Chaste. But I soon regretted having done that, as so many men came up to me at my public talks saying, «We need a book like this for us!» What’s more, the focus on women also opened me to accusations that I was promoting a double standard for chastity, which was certainly not my intention. So, when Ave Maria Press approached me to write a Catholic edition, I was thankful to be able to rewrite the book to make it pertinent to both sexes. 

       That brings us to another way the new Thrill of the Chaste addresses a different audience than the first edition. This new edition is Catholic, whereas the original wasn’t — I wrote it just before entering the Church. I’ve long dreamed of bringing readers a fuller vision of chastity than I did with the original — bringing in the saints, the sacraments, vocation, and the entire life of the Church. The new Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition) fulfills that dream.

ZENIT: The cover has a quote summarizing your book as «practical wisdom and theological insight.» One of those insights, which I’m sure you’ve been developing both in your doctoral studies and in prayer, regards heaven. Could you explain how your understanding of heaven has helped you through loneliness, and also your hopes about a love that will last forever.

Eden: A running theme in The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition) is the message expressed by a remarkable passage in the Catechism, which says «our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies» (CCC 1000). 

      That Catechism line is quite shocking when you think about it. It means that, even though I am not yet in heaven, receiving the Eucharist places me at heaven’s leading edge. When I consume the consecrated Host, Jesus’ incorruptible flesh touches my corruptible flesh. Shouldn’t that change me? Shouldn’t receiving Jesus’ Body change the way I live in my own body?

       In The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition), I reflect upon these questions and come to the conclusion that the only way to live fully is to live eucharistically. To live eucharistically is to seek to live in union with Jesus at every moment of the day, and especially to let Him teach me how to love. 

       That’s where chastity comes in. Chastity is embodying Jesus’ love to others — loving fully and completely in every relationship, in a manner appropriate to the type of relationship. For someone who is married, chastity includes the marital act — sexual intercourse with one’s spouse — because that is part of a full and complete marital love. For me, as a single woman, chastity means loving fully and completely as a daughter, as a sister, or as a friend. 

      When I love like that — being present for another person just as Jesus is really present for me in the Eucharist — I can be certain that, even if my love is not fully returned, it is never in vain. St. John tells us that love is from God (1 John 4:7). So, whenever I make a gift of love, God is present in that love — and that means He is present in me when I love. I think that is what St. Paul means when he tells us that «love never fails» (1 Cor 13:8). No true gift of love dies, because nothing that belongs to God can die. All the love that I give will remain eternally within the love of God and the Communion of Saints in heaven.

        Thinking about these things is a great consolation for me because it helps me to realize that I should not be afraid of loneliness. My loneliness is the empty space into which God wishes to enter. He wants me to make room for him so that my longing for him will grow deeper. That deeper longing will in turn lead me to seek more ardently to bring into my earthly friendships the love that reminds me of my friendship with Him.

ZENIT: You speak about forming virtue, with a reminder that «nothing is impossible with God.» This book is partially about your own struggle to form the virtue of chastity. As Lent ends and many of us might be looking back at these 40 days and thinking we didn’t get far in forming virtue, what advice would you give?

Eden: I would give the advice Pope Francis gives when he urges the faithful to seek God’s mercy. He says we need “an openness to expanding our hearts,» and he adds that it is precisely “shame and repentance that expands a small, selfish heart, since they give space to God to forgive us.» Feelings of shame should not cause us to wallow in self-pity; that’s not their purpose. No, when we feel we have fallen short of God’s intentions for our lives and behavior, that’s the sign we need to run into the arms of our merciful Father, who longs to give us the grace we need to amend our lives. So, go to Confession to get a clean slate, and seek the divine love that enables us to become more loving.

ZENIT: From your experience as a speaker and writer on the issue of chastity, do you think there’s any reason we should have hope in our culture and society today? Or is our society well down the road of perdition?

Eden: Absolutely we should have hope! Believe me, if the Lord could take me out of the life I was living, bringing me to find healing and conversion in the heart of His Church, He can save anybody. That’s why I say we have to stop apologizing for our beliefs. The Church’s teachings on human love and sexuality aren’t bitter pills. They’re an essential part of the heavenly banquet; we need them if we’re to learn how to share with one another the kind of love that will remain in heaven.

       If we think that those who are caught in sexual sin are somehow happier than those who are living chaste, eucharistic lives, we are buying into the culture’s lies. Sexual sin doesn’t satisfy. It may bring temporary pleasure, but it leaves an ache — a raw wound that can be anesthetized but not healed, save by repentance and conversion. It can never bring lasting joy. But if we live chaste, eucharistic lives, then, even in our loneliness, we begin to taste the divine love that will be fulfilled in heaven.

ZENIT: For me, one of the best images from the book is that of the locks on the River Thames. I think it is an image that can be useful for people in any vocation or state of life. Could you explain it for our readers?

Eden: I’m glad that image spoke to you. As you say, in The
Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition), I compare my experience of love to being in a boat on a river, as I recall sailing down the Thames as a child. Boats on the Thames have to pass through locks, which are like little dams. These locks have doors that gradually admit water into the section of the river where the boat is, enabling the boat to reach the proper level where it can glide into the next section of the river.

       When I love someone, it seems like the current carries me away, until I hit a lock — that is, a point where my fear or lack of spiritual resources prevents me from loving fully. At that point, I can’t keep going on my own power. I have to wait for the water to pour in, taking me up and through to the next level. The water represents the love of God, which is what enables me to truly love.

      Ultimately, I keep getting farther along, and the water keeps getting deeper. But I have to get through the locks, one at a time. 

      That is what the spiritual life — which is to say the eucharistic life, the Christian life, the life of chastity — is all about. Thankfully, our Catholic faith assures us the locks do not go on forever. One day, if we remain in Jesus’ love, each of us will pass through a lock and find that it opens up into the sea.

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Kathleen Naab

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