There is a group of Catholics about ten to fifteen years younger than me who delight me. Their enthusiasm and approach to life gives me hope in a way that few other things do.

Among this crowd is Arleen Spenceley, a gutsy young lady from Florida who caught my eye with her new release, Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin (Ave Maria Press).

For some, what the Church actually says about love and sex has been presented by people who have misunderstood it. It is distorted on delivery. Others grasp parts of the Church’s teaching but have never been given reasons to save sex for marriage other than “God says so.” But there are other reasons — practical ones that are hard but good — and we exist in the kind of culture that needs them.

Regardless of how willing we are to admit it, most of us are deeply aware that what our culture calls the path to love and happiness does not make good on its promise. Maybe “everybody’s doing it,” but how loving and happy is everybody, really? Despite evidence that the world’s road doesn’t actually end where we’re told it will, people walk it over and over because a viable alternative to it is sincerely inconceivable. Maybe people neither have been introduced to an alternative nor have learned that a sexual relationship is not supposed to be a path to self-gratification or self-fulfillment. Nobody has told them that a sexual relationship is supposed to be a path to God, who — in giving up his Son — taught us authentic love.

Spenceley sets out to remedy this error in under 200 pages. She exhibits a wisdom and maturity that’s refreshing and even delightful. She also presents chastity in the most complete, well-rounded ways, tapping into Church teaching and topping it with personal experiences and cultural context.

We are participants in a paradox: we only want to be sanctified if we can be sanctified on our own terms. We will abandon our wills in favor of God’s only after we have what we want. Most of us won’t acknowledge lifelong singlehood as possible and aren’t interested in becoming nuns or priests. So, we refuse to consider it, the way I did in high school, or we want so very badly to be married. But do we choose marriage as a vocation because we have unique needs that have to be met by marriage, or do we use marriage to meet needs every human has — needs that realistically can (and sometimes should) be met in other ways?

Spenceley cuts to the heart of the matter, and she does it with grace, style, and a smile. I found myself teary-eyed in some parts because I so wish I had been told this, had read this, had heard this beautiful truth BEFORE NOW. (OK, so I have. But not when I was her age.)

Mature love looks outward in two ways. First, it isn’t based on feelings but on the truth about the other person, on commitment to that person as a result of the truth, and on selflessness. Second, the mature lover “actively seeks what is best for the beloved.” […]

[L]ove — real love — doesn’t stink. What stinks is the pain caused by a culture that calls attraction “love.” In a famous scene from The Godfather, Part II, Kay Corleone struggles not to cry while she makes a confession to her husband, Michael, “At this moment,” she said, “I feel no love for you at all.” The poignant line points to the problem that pervades our lives when we aren’t taught the difference between being in love and loving.

This book is courageous and wise. It’s logical and methodical, even as its softer side is strewn throughout, weaving it together.

Purity culture doesn’t teach young people the value of chastity or the grace of God. It teaches that sexual activity outside of marriage so irreversibly hurts us that there truly isn’t any turning back. While some things really can’t be undone — you can’t erase the sex you’ve had, or the pregnancy, or the baby, or the abortion, or some STIs, or emotional wounds — we still have to consider: do we help people by scaring them, or do we help them by telling them the truth?

At first, I didn’t think I was really the intended audience for this book. I had it pegged for my nieces, my unmarried friends, those young adults in the parish. But as I read it and immersed myself in it, I found that it really is a book for all of us.

How much of my life has been spent misunderstanding the beauty — and difficulty — of chastity? How can I help others understand it, especially my own children and family members, if I don’t understand it?

Chastity Is for Lovers isn’t just a clever title or a great bumper sticker possibility. It’s a mindset worth sharing and, even better, understanding.

My interview with Spenceley can be found here.