For the last five years, my work focused on the integration of science and theology (writing, speaking and teaching) because my preconversion background is in chemistry.
I was born and raised in Texas, but I moved to the Northeast in 1994. A few years ago, my husband and I moved back home for a simpler life in his retirement. When I first met Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, I did not foresee that I would lead his newly founded St. Philip Institute for Catechesis and Evangelization, but as many a believer knows, Providence is not exactly predictable. So here we are.
My new boss has gotten a lot of attention lately for his straightforward defense of the faith. Bishop Strickland publicly called for a “thorough investigation” of Archbishop Carlo Viganò’s allegations of a cover-up of sex abuse and demanded accountability for all those found to be culpable, even at the highest levels of the Church. Then Bishop Strickland worked with other Texas bishops to investigate allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy and released the names publicly. He is the one who said the main job of a bishop is to focus on salvation of souls, particularly the victims of abuse.
While Bishop Strickland speaks up about the obligations of clergy, he is mostly focused on shepherding his flock. Recently, he asked me how I think people feel about the sex-abuse crisis in the Church. I answered him as a mother. Children were abused by priests. Even if they were not my babies, or the abuse happened a long time ago and far away, I feel pain for those children.
Closer to home, though, I worry that the Church has been de-legitimized in the minds of my children. Let me explain. One reason I became Catholic was to find the whole truth. I wanted my children to have a moral compass, something science cannot supply.
Once I understood the bigger supernatural picture, I understood that the real goal of parenting is to lead children to heaven, which can be difficult. On one hand, we teach children to use their God-given intellect and think for themselves. We dive right into the hardest questions about life, death and humanity. On the other hand, children raised to think will do just that. Children also have free will, which means they will try to think things through for themselves and push the boundaries.
We hold our children close in our hearts, always. If our kids turn away from us or from Christ, Catholic mothers tell ourselves — we reassure ourselves — that at least our kids will know where to find us in the proverbial storms and torrents of their lives. Where will we Catholic moms be? We’ll be standing on the Rock of Truth, pointing the way to heaven. “Thank God for the Church!” we say. The Church is our Rock.
To answer the bishop’s question, when the child-abuse scandal broke, it felt like that Rock had been smashed out from under me, leaving my children to drown in an overly sexualized culture. How does a mom tell a teen that sex outside of marriage is immoral if the very institution that guards that hard truth is sexually abusing children?
I told Bishop Strickland that we need someone to keep that Rock in place, high above the water. He already knew this, of course, because that’s what he does. That’s why he founded the St. Philip Institute. That’s why he speaks the simple truth of Christ. For Valentine’s Day, he published a statement to the diocese, a “gift of truth” as he calls it, titled, “Glorious Chastity.” Although issued Feb. 14, it’s appropriate for anytime of the year. Here is how his reflection begins:
“In the year 2019, we live in a world that’s off-kilter. One of the deepest roots of the present chaos is the lack of willingness to embrace Glorious Chastity. I specifically use the word “glorious” because I believe it is God’s plan that obedience to His will with regard to this virtue is a key that will unlock God’s wondrous plan for every individual person and for all of humanity. Rather than Glorious Chastity, the prevailing reality in today’s world is Devastating Sex. Once again, I specifically use a word as strong as “devastating” because it describes what has happened to this very human faculty which has been dehumanized in so many ways. Rather than living Glorious Chastity according to God’s Divine Will for His children, the vast majority of the human family is caught up in Devastating Sex, which constantly wreaks havoc in the lives of the children of God.”
This language gets to the root of the problem. For example, when teenage daughters ask about contraception because the entire universe seems to be telling young women to “protect” themselves from pregnancy, we can speak of Glorious Chastity, a phrase that contrasts starkly with popular language. Parents can say: Your body is holy. God’s wondrous plan is that you care for yourself and give all of yourself without losing yourself to your future husband.
God wills that parents start acting like good parents before a child is even conceived. Children are meant to be loved unconditionally by their mother and father. No child should ever suffer the loss of love. If people are old enough to think about the sexual act, then they are old enough to know children need the love of a mother and a father. That’s Glorious Chastity.
On the other hand, Devastating Sex tells a teen girl to give her body away to a guy who hasn’t committed to her and risk bringing a child into a broken home. For what? To feel accepted? Young women need to know that they are worth more than that. They will if they are loved unconditionally by their own parents.
When kids experiment with being “gay,” parents can invoke Glorious Chastity. They can say: We love you no matter what; we always will, but if your plan in life involves a relationship that denies a child the right to be born to a mother and father in love, then you are choosing devastation.
Not only do homosexual relationships deny the wonder of God’s plan, two men and two women cannot create children. If they want children, they must use artificial methods to grow children in a lab, keeping the ones they want and freezing or killing the ones they don’t. Children are not commodities.
When our adult children want to file for divorce, Glorious Chastity gives us language to hope beyond the pain. We can tell grown children: Marriage is worth fighting for, even if it means putting a sacramental marriage up high and protected on a shelf like the pristine and unbreakable gift that it is, while a man and woman accept the grace to work on themselves in this valley of tears, even if it means establishing boundaries for safety from an abusive spouse by not allowing him or her into the home until the devastation is purged and healing begins.
Couples must forge a marital bond sometimes by keeping the shining sacrament of marriage protected while the grimy work is done with a vision for a future good and a life together full of memories.
To use Bishop Strickland’s words, Glorious Chastity is the antidote to Devastating Sex. It’s the virtue that cures broken societies, broken families and broken people.
Chastity puts the focus on the good of the child, demanding that pre-parents become good parents long before a child is conceived. If teens honor their bodies and souls, and couples honor each other in marriage, then children are born of and into love. We are all made to know and be known, to love and be loved, to belong.
The Catholic Church guards that deepest of human truths, which is why the Church will always be the safest place in the world for children. I am thankful for bishops like ours in Tyler, who build up the visible Church so parents can guide their children.
Stacy Trasancos is the executive director of the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization for the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.