E) Chastity is for the Strong; As is Growth in Love

E) Chastity Is for the Strong; As Is Growth in Love
Among the deceptions of marriage is the experience that what should so uniquely unite can separate; it can be filled with tensions and disappointment rather than harmony and peace. The tensions come from the divisive force of concupiscence which can only be overcome and purified through a love that is truly donative rather than possessive. "It is often thought that continence causes inner tensions which man must free himself from. [But rather] continence, understood integrally, is the only way to free man from such tensions" (Theology of the Body, 411). In fact, the chastity proper to marriage unites, reduces tensions, increases respect, and deepens spousal love, so leading this love to its human perfection and preparing the spouses themselves for a love that is infinite and eternal. "The way to attain this goal," Pope Benedict XVI insists, "is not simply by submitting to instinct. Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or 'poisoning' eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur" (Deus caritas est 5).
"True conjugal love ... is also a difficult love" (Theology of the Body, 290). Of course: love of another is always a battle against self-love. That division of the heart between self and spouse must be overcome: conjugal love gives unity to each heart and unites the two hearts in one love. Carnal concupiscence is not the only expression of self-love, but, since it so pervasively affects the most significant bodily expression of conjugal love, its tendency to dominate must be specially resisted. If it is not, love may not survive this battle.
The heart has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the heart experiences the nuptial meaning of the body. It becomes less sensitive to the gift of the person, which expresses that meaning in the mutual relations of man and woman. (Ibid., 126)
The need for this battle, John Paul II insists, will be evident to those who reflect on the nature of conjugal-corporal love itself, who sincerely face up to the dangers it is subject to, and who wish to do whatever is necessary to ensure its protection and growth. "Purity ... tends to reveal and strengthen the nuptial meaning of the body in its integral truth. This truth must be known interiorly. In a way, it must be felt with the heart, in order that the mutual relations of man and of woman - even mere looks - may reacquire that authentically nuptial content of their meanings" (Ibid., 213).
John Paul II is sure of the fundamental optimism and attraction of the understanding of married sexuality he outlines. His anthropological analysis becomes moral teaching that is imbued with human appeal. "Does not man feel, at the same time as lust, a deep need to preserve the dignity of the mutual relations, which find their expression in the body, thanks to his masculinity and femininity? Does he not feel the need to impregnate them with everything that is noble and beautiful? Does he not feel the need to confer on them the supreme value which is love?" (Ibid., 167-68).
And yet, however humanly true and appealing the pope's analysis is, it is completely inserted into the Christian framework of Redemption. Love inspires generosity and sacrifice, but if these remain at the purely human level they are not enough. The help of God, obtained especially through the sacraments and fervent prayer, is necessary to attain that conjugal chastity and mutual loving respect without which the best aspirations of love may fail. To illustrate this, John Paul II has recourse to two of the more "romantic" writings of the Old Testament, the Song of Songs and the Book of Tobit. He sees the well-known verse of the former, "fortis est ut mors dilectio" ("love is as strong as death," or "as stern as death" [Cant 8:6]), as perhaps over-idealized in the Canticle but expressed at the true level of spousal love and of humble human experience in Tobit.
It is the concupiscent approach that destroyed the previous marriages of Sarah. Tobiah is well aware of this and leads Sarah to understand how prayer brings strength to pure love so as to enable it overcome the deadening power of concupiscence.
"From the very first moment Tobiah's love had to face the test of life and death. The words about love "stern as death," spoken by the spouses in the Song of Songs in the transport of the heart, assume here the nature of a real test. If love is demonstrated as stern as death, this happens above all in the sense that Tobiah and, together with him, Sarah, unhesitatingly face this test. But in this test of life and death, life wins because, during the test on the wedding night, love, supported by prayer, is revealed as more stern than death"; their love "is victorious because it prays" (Ibid., 376).
Those who love readily understand the human value and attraction of pure, chaste, and disinterested love. But to feel the human attraction is not enough. In the Christian view, chastity remains a gift of God, one that is only achieved through prayer. "Since I knew I could not otherwise be continent unless God granted it to me (and this too was a point of wisdom, to know whose the gift is), I went to the Lord and besought him" (Wis 8:21).[98] Opening his work on continence or chastity, Augustine insists that this virtue is a gift of God for both the single and the married: "Dei donum est"[99]. He stresses the same idea elsewhere with special reference to marriage: "The very fact that conjugal chastity has such power, shows that it is a great gift of God."[100]