In the shortest terms possible, to love chastely is to love as God Loves and this is the Way of Perfection, the Way that leads us to love more perfectly and to be in love perfectly. If obedience is the beginning and the first step in this life, then chastity is its end, that we are not yet capable of loving so perfectly, but by fasting, prayer and alms giving we are transformed and grow in our ability to love others. Chastity, to love as God Loves, without any self-interest or gain, is our purpose and our goal.
In his recent encyclical, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis wrote of marriage, the human reflection of the Trinitarian Love of God, as the perfection of the human experience of love. It is in marriage that we are joined with the life of another and learn to be with them throughout the course of their life; we learn to place their needs above our own; we work to feed and clothe them as we provide for ourselves; we share in their hopes and their dreams; we join our weaknesses and our strengths; we tend their wounds and allow them to tend to our own; in essence, a sacramental marriage, one that has been founded on and brought into the unity of communion with Christ, draws us into the mystery of real and authentic love.
It should come as no surprise that in Pope Francis’ letter, he cites and expounds on Paul’s description of love in his letter to the Romans: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
A chaste love seeks the good of the other; sees the other as they truly are and without judgment; seeks to join and be a companion with the other; it waits to speak because it longs to hear their voice; it receives great joy in their joys and feels the pain of their pains as if they were their own; it is patient and slow to anger; a chaste love has dedicated its life to the other; it is passionate and unyielding, holding nothing back of its self; the chaste love is totally self-giving and a love that seeks no abuse, no conquest, no exploitation, no advantage over and no oppression of the other because it is clean of self-interest or self-pursuit.
If we take the time to carefully consider all of those things that the Rule tells us and the traditions of Carmel, then we see that everything is directed toward this very end: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” The Way of Perfection is not a way of pride and arrogance, but in pursuit of the perfect love, which is to love perfectly. Fasting prepares us in the way the way of self-denial, that we may be more giving and able to sacrifice for those we love; our attention to silence is in order to hear their spoken and unspoken voice; prayer is time spent in communion and conversation with the one we love; detachment from the desire for things and material goods frees us to be more charitable and require less from others; reading and pondering God’s Word teaches us the wisdom of love itself; common meals shares in the sustenance of life with the other; obedience teaches humility so that we can lift up the other; we fight temptation to avoid the sin of hurting the other. Everything that we do is for the purpose of love. This is why Carmelites throughout the ages have written so eloquently and profoundly about the way and experience of authentic and perfect love; that John of the Cross could write of the vivid pursuit of his lover and that burning fire which is quenched only by an embrace into the bosom of the One whose touch wounded, tormented and soothed him; and why Therese wrote of that little way of love, of the tiniest beauties in the world and the endless mercy of forgiveness. These things are the fruit and the ways of a chaste love.
There is a way love that is appropriate for husbands and wives, and another way that parents love their children, and still another of a child toward her mother and father; there is the love between friends, between co-workers and even toward strangers; there is a love that is appropriate between students and teachers, for an owner and their employees, and a love we have for our community and nation. In words that have become popular of late: Love is not love, but there are a variety of loves, a variety of ways that we relate with one another and are called to support the interest and good of the other. Regardless of your station or place in life, strive for a chaste love in all of your relationships; that is, a love that is clean of self-interest, self-pleasure and self-pursuit. . . the Love that was expressed to us on the Cross from the Father, and from the Cross by the Son.
Endless things can be said, but little more needs to be said than simply this: Seek to love as Christ loved us.