One of the main goals of chastity is to love as many peo- ple as possible as deeply as possible. That may seem strange to those used to defining celibacy negatively — that is, as not having sex. But this has long been the tradition of the Church. Chastity is another way to love, and, as such, has a great deal to teach everyone.
Chastity also frees you to serve people more readily. We’re not attached to one person or to a family, so it’s easier for us to move to another assignment. As the Jesuit constitutions say, chastity is “essentially apostolic.” It is supposed to help us become better “apostles.” Chastity, like all the vows, helps Jesuits to be “available,” as St. Ignatius would say. So chastity is about both love and freedom.
Obviously, most people are called to romantic love, marriage, sexual intimacy, children and family life. Their primary way of loving is through their spouses and children. It is a more focused, more exclusive way of loving. That is not to say that married couples and parents do not love others outside their families. Rather, the main focus of their love is God and their family.
For the person in a religious order, the situation is the opposite. You vow chastity to offer yourself to love God and make yourself available to love as many others as possible.
Chastity is a reminder that it is possible to love well without being in an exclusive relationship and without being sexually active. In this way, the chaste person can serve as a signpost in our hypersexualized culture, where loving someone may be confused with hopping into bed. Thus chastity can help us to refocus our priorities: The goal of life, whether single, married or religious, is to love.
By the way, chastity doesn’t lead to unhealthy behavior. The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was more about — among other things — a small percentage of psychologically unhealthy men who should have never been admitted into seminaries or religious orders in the first place, a closed clerical culture that fostered secrecy, and some bishops who should have never shuttled them from one parish to another, than it was about chastity per se. Chastity doesn’t lead to pedophilia, any more than marriage does. (Most abuse, after all takes place in families.)