The following is a guest post by Vincent Kania, seminarian for the Diocese of Joliet.
When we have begun to embrace a life of purity and chastity, I have found that we are able to better understand love, and so develop deeper and more meaningful friendships with others of both sexes. As we come closer to others, we can run into problems concerning how we should interact with the opposite sex so that we can further live out purity and chastity in an emotional sense. As we strive for this, I believe our objective should be to develop meaningful friendships in which we can lead each other to Christ.
Although we must make sure to respect others and be concerned for their thoughts and feelings, I don’t think this goal can be achieved through scrupulosity or gloominess. An honest and well-intentioned friendliness and joy will go much further for developing healthy and fulfilling friendships and relationships than being excessively reserved. God made us to interact with each other and to find enjoyment in these friendships and relationships, so we should embrace God’s gifts and thank Him for his generosity. But we do need to have an awareness of ourself and others so that we can live with integrity as we pursue friendships and relationships. Here’s a couple of practical considerations to keep in mind:
- Show great respect for the opposite sex at all times. Make sure to keep physical boundaries in place and never say anything or act in such a way that might demean someone of the opposite sex. We are made up of body and soul, so what we do with our bodies will affect our hearts and the hearts and emotions of those around us. If we make an effort to show respect in this way, your friends will notice and will return that respect to you in the form of trust and confidence.
- Understand yourself, especially your intentions. Know thyself. We often flirt in order to get attention and so find fulfillment or boost our own self-esteem. If this is the case, then we are lying to the other and are not living in integrity. We may also end up playing with other’s emotions and sending signals that we do not intend. But if your intentions are not to mislead anyone nor boost your own self-esteem, others will see your honesty and genuineness and you won’t have to worry as you enjoy time with your friends.
- Understand your friends and those around you. This is essentially my blanket statement to say that there is no hard and fast rules for this kind of thing, you need to use your judgement and your knowledge of the friendships you have. Know how others will understand and react to your words and actions and then respond appropriately. They also may have intentions different than your own or may be tempted to flirt in an unhealthy way. Understand also that, in a group, paying particular attention to one person to the exclusion of others can come off as flirting and lead others to jealousy. Now you can not control others and this jealousy may come up regardless, but it is something to keep in mind. Prudence is a must for these situations, and if you are unsure about something you were going to say or do, odds are it’s better to hold back.
Our objective was to develop friendships in which we can lead one another to Christ. Union with Christ is our goal and must always be our goal. And we must understand that only in union with Him can we realize our true selves. Pope John Paul II calls it an “interior independence” in which we find our strength, dignity, maturity, and confidence by the side of Christ. We must seek to understand the truth about ourselves, about our fallen nature and our need for love, and respond to this truth by seeking a relationship with Christ alone. When we come close to Him we can be set free from “love as necessity, restriction, mere occasion, or eroticism” and come to know that Love which will fulfill our deepest selves. Once we have found Christ and always seek Him as our ultimate fulfillment, then we can open ourselves to real friendships with one another, free from jealousy, fear, and despondency. Our former Holy Father concludes:
“So the only thing I can tell you is that you should draw closer and closer to Christ, and not just superficially as a passing frame of mind, but with your whole heart, your whole being and your whole life. Seek Him and draw closer to Him….“In the path of love which life entails, always remember that above every love there is one Love. One Love. Love without constraint or hesitation. It is the love with which Christ loves each one of you.”