What is purity and why does it matter so much to a Christian? That was the fundamental question addressed in the fifth Lenten homily by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
“The words used by St. Paul tell us…that there are two opposing attitudes toward one’s body and one’s sexuality. One is a fruit of the Spirit and the other is a work of the flesh; one is a virtue the other is a vice,” Fr. Cantalamessa explained. “The first attitude involves maintaining control over oneself and one’s body; the second instead involves selling oneself or using one’s body, that is, using sexuality for one’s own pleasure, for utilitarian goals that are different than those for which it was created. It makes the sexual act a venal act, even if the gain is not always monetary as in the case of true prostitution, and makes selfish pleasure an end in itself.”
Father recalled that in the pagan world it was considered a virtue to maintain control over oneself. But the Christian meaning of purity goes far beyond simply “controlling”.
“The pagan motive is, in a certain sense, turned upside down; the supreme value to safeguard is no longer dominion over self but ‘non-dominion over self’: The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor 6:13). The ultimate motive for purity is, therefore, that ‘Jesus is Lord!’ Christian purity, in other words, does not consist in establishing the dominion of reason over our instincts so much as it is establishing the dominion of Christ over the whole person, including a person’s reason and instincts.”
In Paul’ teaching — in the Christian view — the human body exists to glorify God. By living sexual and physical life in accordance with God’s will, the Christian glorifies God. And obedience to God can glorify Him in the celibate or married life.
“This kind of purity is a lifestyle more than it is an individual virtue,” according to Fr. Cantalamessa. “It has a range of manifestations that go beyond the specifically sexual sphere.
“There is a purity of the body, but there is also a purity of the soul that rejects not only acts but also ‘evil’ desires and thoughts (see Mt 5:8, 27-28). There is a purity of speech that consists, negatively, in refraining from obscene language, vulgarity, and silly or suggestive talk…there is a purity or clear-sightedness of the eyes and of one’s gaze.”
For the Christian, Father points out, purity has an impact beyond the individual. It enables actions to help others.
“Purity and love of neighbor represent dominion over self and the gift of self to others,” Father said. “How can I give myself if I do not possess myself but am a slave to my passions?
“It is an illusion to think that we can combine genuine service to brothers and sisters, which always calls for sacrifice, altruism, forgetting ourselves, and generosity, with a life that is personally disordered, all aimed at pleasing oneself and satisfying one’s passions. It inevitably ends in using brothers and sisters, just as one uses one’s body. Those who cannot say ‘no’ to themselves cannot say ‘yes’ to brothers and sisters.”