Reflectons on Veritatis Spleandor by Alfred McBride, O.Praem.

There is a growing movement in the United States to help young people preserve their virginity for their marriages. Many take a pledge such as this: "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, my future mate, and my future children to be pure until I enter a covenant marriage relationship."

Our culture does not make this easy for our youth. Teenagers typically watch five hours of television a day. This means they probably have seen fourteen thousand sexual encounters, according to the Center for Population Options. By contrast, Japanese culture frowns on premarital sex and urges youngsters, especially girls, to wait until marriage. Japanese teens are chaste compared with American youth. While a quarter of U.S. girls and a third of American boys have had sex by age fifteen, in Japan, it is just four percent for girls and six percent for boys.

Back in the 1950s, anyone working with teenagers would admonish them about "going all the way." It was understood that the first kiss for emotionally charged teens was the beginning of a process that could lead to loss of virginity.

The secret for avoiding the sin process is never to take the first step. Once sin takes hold of us it involves us in a self destructive process. The sin process involves five steps: (1) The second sin is easier than the first. (2) The more you sin the less you think you’re sinning. (3) Frequent sinning makes you hostile to the virtuous. (4) Veteran sinners begin to think the sin is a virtue and the virtue is a sin. (5) Committed sinners undermine and attack the virtuous through ridicule, social pressure, enacting laws to justify their behavior, and, sometimes, violence.

What we decide and do shapes us as persons. "Human acts are moral acts because they... determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definitions on who performs them" (No. 71).

The pastoral mission of the Church attempts to interrupt the sin process by urging people to repent of their sins and embrace moral conversion in the sacrament of penance. This is the medicinal response. In addition, the Church urges people to the practice of prayer, the acquisition of virtues, a personal relationship with Jesus, and contact with the graces of the Holy Spirit. This is the Church’s preventive medicine. Many in our culture have lost faith in the possibility of a life of virtue. Hence the despair that permeates our books, films, art, and television. Since we cannot win, we give in. Condoms replace the virtue of courage. Pills substitute for the virtue of temperance. Promiscuity upstages prudence. Exploitation of one another’s bodies replaces love, trust, and relationships.

Purely rational remedies to modern immorality are not working. In an article about infidelity, a magazine asks, "What has the gorilla to teach us?" The Holy Father says, "What has Jesus to teach us? The Christian, thanks to God’s revelation and to faith, is aware of the ‘newness’ which characterizes the morality of his actions: these actions ... show either consistency or inconsistency with that dignity and vocation which have been bestowed on him by grace. In Jesus Christ, the Christian ... lives out his fidelity or infidelity to the gift of the Spirit, and he opens or closes himself to eternal life" (No. 73).

After twenty centuries of experience with the moral lives of its members, the Church knows that only a life of faith and grace ultimately delivers us from sin. The Church has heard all the excuses for sinning many times over. St. Paul himself tried rational arguments in his sermon to secular culture at Athens (see Acts 17:22-3 1). But eventually, he hurled the power of the Cross at immorality. Only that worked. "I did not come to you with sublimity of words or of wisdom. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2: 1 -2).8

Fr. McBride writes for Our Sunday Visitor. All quoted matter is from the encyclical, unless otherwise indicated 1998 Our Sunday Visitor. Used by subcription. This article appeared in the November 1998 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046). Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

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