What is the Sixth Commandment? What does it mean for my life? How does the virtue of chastity apply?

The Sixth Commandment summons spouses to practice permanent and exclusive fidelity to one another. Emotional and sexual fidelity are essential to the commitment made in the marriage covenant. God established marriage as a reflection of his fidelity to us. The vows made by the spouses at their wedding to be faithful to one another forever should witness the very covenant God has made with us.

All people—married, single, religious, and ordained—need to acquire the virtue of chastity. “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (CCC, no. 2337). Chastity unites our sexuality with our entire human nature. It approaches sexuality as related to our spiritual natures so that sex is seen as more than a physical act. Sexuality affects the whole person because of the unity of body and soul. Jesus is the model of chastity. “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom” (CCC, no. 2339). The acquisition of chastity depends on self-discipline and leads to an internal freedom, which enables human beings to temper sexual desires according to God’s plan for the appropriate expression of love in the marital relationship of a man and a woman.

The Catechism describes the acquisition of chastity in the following way:

Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence. (CCC, no. 2342; cf. Ti 2:1-6)

Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. (CCC, no. 2343)

Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life. (CCC, no. 2344)

Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ. (CCC, no. 2345; cf. Gal 5:22, 1 Jn 3:3)

The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. . . . Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion. (CCC, no. 2347)

There are a number of acts that are sins against chastity:

  • Lust is a “disordered desire for or an inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure,” especially when sought for itself (CCC, no. 2351).  
  • Masturbation is sinful because it misuses the gift of sexuality in an inherently selfish act, devoid of love. It is a problem for which a counselor, spiritual director, or a confessor can be of considerable help. A person often needs assistance to understand the causes of this behavior, which are often habitual or in response to emotional stress or unexamined underlying attitudes.  
  • Fornication (sexual intercourse between unmarried persons) is sinful because it violates the dignity of persons and the nuptial meaning and purpose of sexuality, which is ordered only to the unitive and procreative goals of married people.  
  • Incest (sexual relationships between close relatives) is always wrong, harming both the individuals involved as well as the family itself. 
  • Sexual abuse of any kind harms the victim on many more levels than only the physical. Forcing sexual intimacy of any type on a child or minor is an even graver evil (cf. CCC, no. 2356), which often scars the victim for life (cf. CCC, no. 2389). 
  • Pornography (sexually explicit material) has become even more available through the Internet. This presents real difficulties for both individuals and society, as viewing pornography is not only sinful in itself but can also become an addiction and lead to dangerous sexual behaviors. It has also led to a greater exploitation of children as sexual objects. 
  • Prostitution reduces the person “to an instrument of sexual pleasure,” an object to be used. It increases the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. To protect innocent members of society, prostitution can legitimately be forbidden by civil authority. It is more prevalent where a culture exploits the physical and social vulnerability of women (CCC, no. 2355). 
  • Rape is an act of violence in which a person forces a sexual act on an unwilling partner. “Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. . . . It is always an intrinsically evil act” (CCC, no. 2356). 
  • Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and immoral. “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (CCC, no. 2357). Having homosexual inclinations is not immoral. It is homosexual acts that are immoral. 

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC, no. 2358).

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

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