How to Fight for Purity

Purity refers to the mindset of the person. However it is not a passive mindset, but rather requires action.

We will not be able to keep our hands clean by never letting them get dirty. If we want to have clean hands, we have to wash them occasionally. It is similar with the mindset of purity – you have to struggle to maintain it, care for it, work on it constantly, and always return to it through cleansing yourself. First we have to desire it, and then we have to fight for it and constantly win it back.

Fortunately we have a terrific “cleanser”, which is the sacrament of confession. In fact, I don’t have any better advice for anyone than that they should go to confession regularly, and we should go without delay after every serious sin. Each one of us will stumble to a greater or lesser degree in some sphere of his or her life. Anyone who thinks he or she will never fail is in great danger. St. Paul cautioned: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) Of course not everyone will fall in the same manner or to the same degree. It won’t always be a dramatic or downright tragic slide down the tubes, but each of us in one way or another will lose out to his or her own vices, succumbing to his or her fallen nature from original sin. This is an inescapable element of life. Whether it is a weakness for sweets, sports, Facebook, laziness, or just having difficulty in getting out of bed – on many levels throughout our lifetimes we will have to struggle with ourselves for our own freedom, for our growth in holiness. 

Purity is a mindset which is expressed in a desire: I want to be the way I am objectively, the way God created me, and the way He wants me to be. Recall the famous words of St. John Paul II: “Family, become what you are.” (Familiaris consortio, 17) The family is an objective reality, just like the rest of us: it needs to be what it is, to discover God’s idea of what it should be, and not to make itself into who-knows-what, based on a godless and perverse world, or on one’s own (often sinful) impulses. Purity is the mindset that encompasses the entirety of the person, along with his or her life. Of course the sphere of sexuality should be managed according to God’s sense of order. It is introduced by the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery. Not to commit adultery means not to consciously arouse the sexual sphere in any setting other than in marital love; not to engage in any activity that will deliberately stimulate a reaction in the organs of the reproductive system. It is worthwhile to add on the margins that among males it is possible for such a reaction to arise unconsciously. When it is not voluntary and there is no willful choice, it does not constitute a sin. It is, nonetheless, appropriate to recognize the circumstances that lead to such reactions, and avoid such situations in the future. 

Subsequently, purity means not to consciously stimulate a physical reaction similar to that in sexual relations, except in one circumstance, which occurs in a marital relationship, when the couple enter into sexual relations through their mutual love. Only then should the mechanism of tension, excitement, and finally, sexual activity be consciously activated. In every other situation it should be suppressed – through the conscious control of the stimuli (avoidance) and through redirecting thoughts to safer ground, such as diverting our attention by following a hobby or another worthwhile activity or interest.

Here we should bring up a term connected to and often identified with purity, but often misrepresented – virginity. Virginity is a group of physical attributes, which are irrecoverably lost as a result of the first sexual act. In women it is biologically associated with the hymen, so its loss can be detected physically. For a man who engages in extramarital sex there is also a sense of loss of virginity. While virginity cannot be regained (even though the modern world can offer an artificial hymen), it is still possible to return to living in purity.

This fact is extremely important for some of you and the friends whom you will meet. The change of their thinking about life may depend on your reaction to erroneous (sometimes insane) concepts which focus on enjoying sexual pleasure, outside the context of marriage and fertility. The way you react (even if it’s the look on your face when you hear their words) can often determine whether they harden their view (thinking that it’s justifiable), or start to waver, wonder, and turn back from the inappropriate path they had chosen. Let us not applaud the evil that is at work in our surroundings.

The Possibility of Returning to Purity

One can and should return to the mindset of purity even in a situation where the mindset is only slightly weakened, where purity was only minimally compromised. Even the most deeply injured person can return to complete purity, to holiness. The example of this is the harlot Mary Magdalene. She was nearly stoned to death for what she did, and the Lord Jesus chose her – the harlot – and she was given the privilege of being the first one of the disciples to whom He showed Himself after His Resurrection – not to the beloved disciple John, not to Peter, but to her, the repentant sinner. It is certainly no accident that Mary Magdalene was in the garden at that time. I think that it had to do with the symbolic teaching that no matter how deeply we might sink in sin, there is always the possibility of rebounding and rising again. Ultimately, Mary Magdalene became a great saint. There is no situation in life that cannot be corrected, but first it is necessary to take the decision to return to purity, that is, to a life in conformity with the commandments. 

Personal Purity

The mindset of purity manifests itself in two dimensions. The first is that of the individual. I, myself, must maintain personal purity: I have to have purity in thought, speech, dress and action. I have to have pure desires – both those consciously controlled and those rooted in the subconscious. Yes, even my subconscious desires must be pure. Having pure desires is our greatest difficulty, because the world pressures us into believing that indulgence is wonderful and purity is disagreeable. This is the basic conflict that is going on within each one of us. It has to do with whether we believe that purity is attractive, and not the laxity promoted by the corrupted world that we live in. Purity leads to freedom and happiness, and depravity sooner or later imprisons and leads to all the “-holisms”: alcoholism, sexaholism, and so on. If you believe in the strength of facts, that is, that purity authentically leads to a happy, joyful, and fulfilling life, then everything will be much easier in the future. Meanwhile, many grapple with their own feelings concerning self-worth. How many husbands are faithful to their wives throughout their whole lives but it bothers them because they think that unbelievers and those who are dissolute have it better? Try to understand that they don’t have it better! For the price of a superficial, fleeting sensation, they ruin their own lives and those of their loved ones, here today, as well as in eternity. So there’s no reason to be jealous of them.

There is a powerful link between thought, word, and deed. If we have sinful thoughts, our words and actions will also be bad. For each of us, self-improvement (and it lasts until the end of life) can be found, if not in one area, then in another. How can we turn away from it? How can we change this? In his work The Acting Person, Karol Wojtyła talks about the link between the internal and the external. External actions have the ability to internalize themselves, which is to say that the external acts pass into the acting person. So if we have no direct access to these subconscious impulses, how can a person order them according to moral principles? It is achieved by radically putting his or her actions in order. Afterwards (or at the same time), it is achieved by radically putting his or her speech in order, followed by radically putting his or her voluntary thoughts in order. After a reasonable period of practicing good actions, speech, and thoughts, they will be internalized and enter the subconscious. This is a practical way to free ourselves from the kinds of inappropriate desires that the world tries in every way possible to beat into our heads and into our subconscious. 

It’s a good idea to block all pornographic sites out of your computer, so that you don’t stumble into them even by accident. When sexually arousing images come up uninvited, you have to teach yourself to avert your gaze, or even close your eyes. And when evil thoughts arise in the imagination (for instance, arising out of unintentional visual stimuli), it’s best to divert your thoughts towards a safer interest, such as a hobby or other worthwhile activity or interest or to a brief prayer if the temptation persists. These simple tips have helped more than a few people in their struggles for purity.

Purity in Relationships

The second dimension of the mindset of purity is purity in relationships. Here I would like to point out one important thing; namely, if someone is not pure in their own being, he or she is not in a position to build a pure relationship, even though he or she may often dream of it. There are men who say: “For the time being, I’m just playing with the girls, but once I marry, I will be faithful to my chosen one for the rest of my life.” He may even be quite sincere. Many men promise love, fidelity, and marital honesty and wish to faithfully implement their marital vows. But it raises the question: are they capable? If they are sexaholics or are addicted to casual sexual encounters, to pornography and self-abuse, they may be completely sincere in their desire to maintain fidelity, but they are not in any fit state to fulfill this desire in their lives. Their belief that, even while recognizing their own impurity, they will meet a pure woman and build a wonderful, pure, holy relationship, is simply naivety. If either of the two is impure, this fact will act to destabilize the purity of the relationship. This kind of relationship will reach a high upper limit – a level beyond which it cannot rise, until the persons who established the relationship mature for themselves.

The struggle for purity in relationships can be an important element of growth for both persons. What’s more, a boy or girl who is in love has a very strong motivation to work for the well-being of their beloved. In fact, they can actually fundamentally develop themselves, even so far as to break with an addiction, especially if their sincere human efforts are supported by intensified prayer, adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, and sacramental graces. This is why it is so important for young couples to struggle for purity together and to mutually support each other. They may even recognize the need to take greater care for the one for whom purity may be more threatened. The quality of the relationship depends on the purity of both partners. Without the purity of both persons, they cannot experience true, pure, happy love. 

You can encounter impurity simply by daydreaming about relationships, or by talking about them, ultimately leading to impure acts. And just as we individually face the challenge of purifying ourselves and maintaining inner purity, we have to do it also as couples. First, you must radically purify your actions, words, appearance, and in time, your thoughts and imagination will follow.