I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on the current lurid story about the Congressman who has been sending indecent text messages and photographs to women. But I was struck by a “man in the street” interview in one of our daily papers, which asked whether the Congressman had remained faithful to his wife, or if his conduct was “cheating”.
You would think this is a no-brainer. But in our mixed up culture, people are apparently having a hard time figuring out the right answer.
Let’s start with the basics. Marital fidelity means much more than just refraining from sexual contact with someone other than my spouse. That’s certainly a minimum requirement, but it is by no means adequate or complete.
Real fidelity is not just about physical conduct. It involves all of my person — my body and my soul, my conduct and my attitudes, my emotions and my will. I have to fully commit all of myself exclusively to my spouse forever.
To do that, I have to resist the temptations that are constantly presented to me. Our world is certainly saturated with sexual temptations. Every one of us who goes online, or who carries a smart phone in his pocket, or who walks down the streets of Manhattan, knows the reality of these temptations. It is very easy to fall into the trap, and to go down the path to destruction step by step. There are so many excuses — it was just harmless fun, it didn’t hurt anyone, I never touched her, etc. Of course, those are all lies, and in our moments of honesty we recognize them as such.
To really be faithful, I need to develop the virtue of chastity. Kim Burdette, the Coordinator of our Chastity Education program uses a simple, but clear definition of this virtue:
Chastity is reserving all sexual actions and thoughts for your spouse to affirm your love for them.
I love this definition because it doesn’t focus on the feelings of temptation — those feelings come to us whether we welcome them or not. But it reminds me that, like any virtue, chastity is built by repeated acts of my will — I have to make decisions in times of temptation to turn away from the allure of sin, to reject using others for my selfish pleasure, and to focus on giving myself only to my wife.
This is not easy. It takes discipline, and it requires a renewal of commitment every time I fail. Not that I can do this on my own, of course — if I rely on my strength alone, I am doomed to fail. As the Holy Father said just yesterday, when discussing the virtue of marital fidelity, “this loyalty is not possible without the grace of God, without the support of faith and the Holy Spirit.”
But don’t just listen to me, or even to the Holy Father, about what we have to do. Let’s put it in purely secular terms for a second. The prophet Johnny Cash laid out the marital fidelity agenda very, very well:
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line