I Am Free to Love
“Love is a gift of God, nourished by and expressed in the encounter of man and woman. Love is thus a positive force directed towards their growth and maturity as persons. Love is also a precious source for the self-giving which all men and women are called to make for their own self-realization and happiness.– St. Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio”
As a Catholic, Benedictine institution, Belmont Abbey College operates according to the vision of the human person handed down by Sacred Scripture and the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition. All of our enterprises and policies grow out of and reflect this conception of the human person. Scripture and Christian Tradition teach that each man and woman is created “in the image and likeness” of God, that all have equal dignity and meaning before God, and that happiness consists in action in accordance with our God-given nature. Additionally, men and women reflect God’s goodness in unique ways, and we always relate to one another in our embodied-ness as men and women.
With regard to human sexuality, Belmont Abbey College believes that all persons are called to lives of chastity and purity. Chastity is that virtue which governs the sexual desire and directs it toward its proper end. The Catholic Church teaches that sexual activity is properly reserved to men and women who have joined themselves to one another in holy matrimony, and that it must always be oriented toward procreation. Sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage is contrary to our design as sexual beings. Purity is the virtue that guards the heart as the temple of the Holy Spirit and protects one’s own dignity and the dignity of others as sons and daughters of God. Acts or habits of mind which violate that dignity cannot be part of a virtuous or healthy life. In the realm of sexuality, such intrinsically damaging acts include premarital or extramarital sexual activity of any kind, however private, however consensual, heterosexual or homosexual; the use of pornography; scandalous dress or other violations of modesty; and any sexual harassment or abuse.
We are beings created to love and be loved. The Church’s teachings on human sexuality are not “No,” but a resounding “Yes!” to love and sexuality and a practical roadmap to happiness in relationships. We hope you find all the resources on our website a help in finding your way forward in freedom and fulfillment.
Chastity: The Joy of Freedom
“Because I don’t just want to be happy today; I want to be happy “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.’” – Dawn Eden
You might feel like you’re the only one striving to keep your romantic relationships healthy, free, and chaste . . . don’t believe it! There are many people around you who share your commitment and want to live in the freedom and joy that comes only from the integrity of virtue.
“Purity prepares the soul for love, and love confirms the soul in purity.” – John Henry Cardinal Newman
“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. . . . The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him.” CCC 2337-2338
“Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness.”
– Pope John Paul II
“There is dullness, monotony, sheer boredom in all of life when virginity and purity are no longer protected and prized. By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.” – Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Revell, 1984), 21.
Philip Rivers (Chargers QB):
Modesty: Dignity & Respect
“Don’t you know that where purity is concerned, there is no matter that is not considered grave?” St. John Bosco, Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco.
“Society reveals what it is by the clothes it wears.” Pope Pius XII
Imagine your grandmother: consider how she would dress, consider how she always seemed to carry herself with dignity and demanded respect. Now imagine the Virgin Mary. She is always depicted in beautiful and flowing dresses with a sash around her waist, and of course a crown. Imagine a man who arrives at a job interview in a t-shirt and jeans versus the one who wears a suit and tie. Which man would demand more respect? Now walk out your door and head to any public place and see how today’s young men and women dress. It is worth asking whether many of today’s fashions are helping us to see each other with dignity and respect, or rather communicating an attitude of objectification and carelessness.
At the Abbey, we want you to understand that you have an inherent dignity that demands the respect of all around you. You say so much about yourself by the way you dress. You reveal your inner self by how you present your outer self to the world around you. The Catholic Church promotes modesty in dress, words, and actions; popes have even written about it in encyclicals and during times that dress was starting to change in our society. Pope Pius XI gave us basic guidelines that are still valid today.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Modesty
(No. 2521) “Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.”
(No. 2522) “Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love… Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.”
(No. 2523) “There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.”
There are lots of great resources online for modesty for both men and women. One great post by Catholic blogger Jennifer Fulwiler brings to fore the difference between our secular society and living a virtuous life through modesty. Another post from FOCUS’ website also addresses some of the ways modesty affects both men and women’s relationships. A thorough discussion for both men and women can be found here from Fisheaters.com. Begin first with a self-assessment, and then seek out information and opinion for others to see how you can help support not only your own personal growth but help others as well.
We encourage all men and women to evaluate how your present yourselves on a daily basis to your friends, to your professors, to those who visit our campus. You are beautiful—or handsome—and precious and all should see you as a child of God worthy of great respect. That respect begins with you.
The desire for a romantic relationship is a normal, healthy expression of our innate need for human intimacy, which itself reflects the reality that love and unity of persons is at the heart of all being (God is love, and a unity of three loving persons!). But like all human endeavors, there are better and worse ways of doing it. Healthy dating involves the deepest respect for yourself and any romantic partner (present or future!), and is much more than just saving sex for marriage.
Tips for Healthy Dating:
1) Learn the Lost Art of . . . Dating!
Current social expectations may make this seem difficult at first, but it is still possible to date casually. As in, go out on a date with someone, no expectations attached. As in, one pe
rson this week, maybe another person the next, with both parties free to have another date . . . or not. Done right, this is a great way to get to know other people without the pressure of a “relationship,” and to get to know more about yourself and what type of qualities you’re looking for in a romantic partner (but this isn’t an interview for a potential marriage mate!). It should go without saying that healthy casual dating and physical intimacy don’t mix.
2) Love Yourself First
Sound selfish? It isn’t. Before you can enter safely into a romantic relationship, you first have to feel good about who you are on your own; if you’re motivated by insecurity or looking to fill a hole in your heart, you’re asking for trouble. Real love is about two people giving themselves as gifts to one another in freedom; but you can’t give what you don’t have, and you can’t give and receive freely if you’re too needy. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between unhealthy neediness and a natural and healthy desire for intimacy. Start by asking yourself this: “Am I really okay being single? Do I feel good about myself as a single person?” If you think the answer might be “No,” stop, pray, and proceed with caution.
3) Take It Slow
After all, what’s the rush? When you do meet someone you think you might like to have a committed relationship with, don’t spoil it by demanding too much of each other too soon. Let it develop at its own pace. Most importantly, don’t let fear be your motivator (“I need to find someone before I graduate!”).
4) Don’t Ask “How Far is Too Far?”
It’s the wrong question! If you’re asking it, you’re approaching this intimacy thing backwards. Instead, ask “How can this relationship best reflect God’s plan for us? How can I best protect our integrity and treat him/her with the greatest dignity?” Too many people who are committed in theory to chastity exhaust themselves–and their partner–by trying to live as close to the line as possible. If you do, you’ll find the line continues to move, and more often than not it ends in regret, shame, and ongoing anxiety, even for those who end up married. Keep it innocent and you’ll never regret it.
5) Breaking Up Can Be Beautiful
Having doubts? Don’t ignore them, and don’t be afraid to consider the possibility that moving on would be the best thing to do. And if it is the best thing for one, it’s the best thing for both. Hard? Scary? Yes, often very. Bad? Permanently painful? No. One of the wonderful mysteries of human nature is the way that sorrow itself can be beautiful and profoundly formative.
Theology of the Body
“The human body includes right from the beginning…the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” -JPII, Theology of the Body, January 16, 1980
Pope John Paul II developed a rich personalist theology that can help us understand ourselves as men and women and the ways in which the relationship between masculine and feminine lies at the heart of our personhood. Ultimately the Theology of the Body is a beautiful explanation of the “why” behind Christian teaching about love, marriage, and sexuality (and much more).
Interested in starting a Theology of the Body reading group? Contact Patrick Ford, Director of Campus Ministry.
Marriage and Family
“Christian marriage, like the other sacraments, ‘whose purpose is to sanctify people, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God,’ is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the Church.” -John Paul II, Famliaris Consortio 56
Catholic Christians believe that marriage is sacrament, permanent and indissoluble, which reflects the Trinitarian love of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sexual relations are reserved to those united in the sacrament of marriage (or Holy Matrimony); but even married persons are called to chastity and purity, which means that even within marriage, sexual acts must reflect the dignity of each person and the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage. The fruit of married love is new life, and so marriage, and every sexual union within marriage, should always be open to children. This is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church cannot endorse so-called same-sex marriage, and also why the Church has always taught that contraception is intrinsically wrong and cannot be part of a healthy marriage (while “family planning” can and should be.)
A future healthy marriage starts with a strong prayer life, personal virtue (freedom in Christ!), healthy dating, and a willingness to discern [link to vocational discernment page].
Marriage requires daily sacrifice, in imitation of Christ, for the sake of one’s spouse (and for the sake of unity with one’s spouse and with God). As such, it is no surprise that marriage has become such an embattled institution in a society so concerned with personal worldly success and “liberty” as freedom from any unwanted constraint. To really prepare yourself to be a successful future husband or wife, the best thing to do is work to become a person of virtue, that is, a person who places the objective good and the good of others above personal wants (and practice for this begins not only in the disciplines of prayer and service, but also in the conscientious exercise of your daily work).
For Catholics, discerning a vocation means prayerfully seeking God’s will regarding what your state in life should be. Usually this means discerning between married life or a priestly or religious vocation, but it can be applied to majors, careers, relationships, and all major life decisions.
There are different ideas about what discernment really means and how it should work, and good and wise people can disagree on the details. But to understand discernment, it is important to remember that ultimately we all share the same vocation, and one that can be fulfilled in any state in life–married, single, priestly or religious: we are all called to holiness. Additionally, we must understand that God gives us the freedom to choose, even in big choices. Often times God may not have one or another path in mind for us; instead he may want us just to choose, for good reasons, in Christian freedom, and to glorify Him in the choosing.
For more information on discerning your vocation click the links below.
Interested in helping start a discernment group? Contact Fr. Elias, O.S.B.
The Pornography Pandemic
“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” – Pope St. John Paul II
Pornography represents a fundamental distortion of the human person and purpose of human sexuality. It debases a beautiful gift from God–meant to be expressed as mutual gift within the sacred bond of marriage–and treats others as mere objects for sexual arousal and exploitation, rather than as human persons created in the image and likeness of God. Not surprisingly, purely secular scientific research offers a resounding corroboration of the terrible effects of pornography and the warped sexuality it creates and exploits.
Whether you are someone who views pornography as a problem or someone who thinks it a harmless private pursuit, we hope the resources on this website will help you to understand the grave nature of the problem and to seek a way, either for yourself or others, to be freed from the trap of pornography.
While studies differ (largely because there is not clear definition of what constitutes pornography), there is clearly a pornography pandemic, and usage has steadily grown as accessibility has increased.
- As many as 63% of men and 21% of women age 18 to 30 view pornography at least several times per week. (Barna Group Survey on Behalf of Proven Men Ministries: 2014 Pornography Survey and Statistics. Proven Men Ministries)
- 64% of self-identified Christian men and 15% of self-identified Christian women view pornography at least once a month.
- As many as one in five mobile searches is for adult content
- Frequency of viewing pornography is correlated with a lower satisfaction with sex and relationships.
- “Overexposure to erotic stimuli exhausts the sexual responses of normal, healthy young men,” to the point that many highly active male users of pornography suffer physical sexual dysfunction during what is normally their physical prime (Judith Reisman, “The impotence pandemic,” WorldNetDaily. Sept. 27, 2007.
- Frequent use of pornography rewires the brain ways almost identical to chemical addiction, reduces memory, focus, and attention, and may often lead to other problems such as depression and anxiety, whether you view porn as a problem or not (link to edited Gary Wilson video?) (Pornography Lowers Your Cognitive Function [http://yourbrainonporn.com/no-porn-better-working-memory])
- Online pornography has also been linked to the recent spike in treatments for youthful sexual dysfunction:
- Pornography use increases the marital infidelity rate by more than 300% (Steven Stack, Ira Wasserman, and Roger Kern, “Adult Social Bonds and Use of Internet Pornography,” Social Science Quarterly 85 (2004): 75-88)
- 68% of divorce cases involve one party meeting a new paramour over the internet while 56% involve one party having an “obsessive interest” in pornographic websites (“The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community,” by Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D, psychologist, and former Deputy Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary.)
- 55% of married men say they view pornography at least once a month
Want Out? Real Freedom is Possible
“Remember that God has created you for perfect intimacy with Himself. Your struggle against sin—whether involving pornography or other temptations of life—is actually your preparation for this true intimacy for which your loving Father has created you.” – Bishop Paul Loverde, Bought with a Price
If you are struggling with pornography, sexual compulsion, or confusion about your sexuality, you are not alone, and there is help.
Also, it’s important to understand that habitual sexual sin is often in part a result of a willpower that has been undermined, both spiritually but also neurologically; so accept God’s mercy, which is there no matter how many times you’ve fallen, and reach for the help you need.
The power in these habits or confusions are in their secret nature. The first major step to recovery, and the hardest for many people, is to seek help from a real person. Prayer is important, but even with prayer most people can’t do it alone. (Why the Prayer-Only Route Just Isn’t Enough)
If you don’t know someone you’re willing to talk to you, you can find a list below of people at Belmont Abbey College who have made themselves available just to listen and offer some initial advice, or even serve as an accountability partner (which you must have to have any hope of success). No one on this list will be surprised, scandalized or disappointed by what you have to say. They’ll say, “Great work, you’ve just taken the first and hardest step to freedom.”