Review of The Courage to Be Chaste

February 16, 2006

THE COURAGE TO BE CHASTE. By Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR. New York: Paulist Press, 1985. Pp. viii + 114. $8.95.

Father Benedict Groeschel gives his readers The Courage to Be Chaste. Fans of Groeschel will recognize many features in Courage. The author combines genuine psychological insight with a traditional Christian perspective. The simple writing style is enhanced by interesting anecdotes and frank advice. Nevertheless, Courage is an introduction. Both a short and easy read, anyone serious about celibacy will need to search Groeschel’s bibliography for further reading.

Courage “is meant to encourage chaste, unmarried persons who are trying to be integrated followers of Christ” (6). Because Groeschel writes about celibate chastity, Christian singles and priests and religious will benefit most from the book. However, Christian spouses, called to their own form of chastity, are the subject of two of Groeschel’s stories. Additionally, Groeschel covers with special care issues particular to persons with homosexual inclinations.

Three main ideas form the book’s backbone. First, chastity is always a work-in-progress. Second, serious persons can nevertheless attain a high degree of chastity. Third, celibates are called to love in their own way, particularly through concrete service to others. These ideas unfold gradually. The book begins by acknowledging the challenge of chastity. Although written over twenty years ago, the obstacles Groeschel identifies also impede the path to chastity today. In the second chapter, Groeschel asks celibates to discern their reasons for the single life, noting both their variety and complexity. Whatever the reason, Groeschel writes, “No one has to apologize for being single” (34). In the third chapter, Groeschel admits that “the chaste single Christian must live with sexual drives and needs” (36). He recommends that celibates cultivate a wide variety of relationships, including a couple of intimate friendships. The celibate must work to build relationships: “If you think you should be loved just because you are you, you missed your vocation. You should have been God” (39). The second part of the book offers suggestions that are sometimes pragmatic, sometimes devout. “The best solution to the problem of illicit love affairs is not to let them get started” (59.) In more than one place, Groeschel recommends a daily holy hour with the Blessed Sacrament.

Readers will find themselves looking forward to Groeschel’s stories, which range from the funny and outrageous to the sad and disturbing. There is the puritanical clan devoted to St. Thomas Aquinas, the religious sister attending a state university, the outwardly perfect seminarian, and the rejected gay son. These emotional stories are balanced with lists of practical suggestions. Groeschel enumerates rules for relationships, tips for resisting temptation, and questions to assess moral culpability.

The book is not without flaws. Much of the five pages on autoeroticism is taken up with two long excerpts of dubious usefulness to the reader. The first excerpt is so disturbing that it may well do more harm to the reader than good. I also found myself skimming through the long, frequent quotations from St. Augustine. Clearly, Augustine is the perfect patron for anyone struggling with chastity, but the passages should be accompanied by background and commentary. I recommend Courage to anyone beginning the fight for chastity, but veterans will probably find little new information in the book.