Catholics are doing the world a great disservice if we give the idea that chastity consists in just saying “no”, according to American writer Dawn Eden.
Dawn is a former rock-music journalist and former editor at the New York Daily News, who became famous for her outspoken defence of chastity and purity after her conversion to Catholicism.
She spoke to The Irish Catholic in advance of coming to Ireland next week for a number of speaking engagements by Pure in Heart, a youth chastity group, and in conjunction with Aid to the Church in Need.
She says the message she wants to give to Irish people on this tour is that “Jesus loves them and that abiding in his merciful love is worth whatever personal sacrifices it may entail”. “Especially, I want to encourage people not to be afraid of loneliness. Loneliness is something that affects every one of us, whether we are married or unmarried. One thing I have learned as a Catholic is that my loneliness is the empty space that God wishes to enter in.”
Dawn was raised in a light-observance Jewish household in New York City, but by her late teens had drifted away from faith and became an agnostic. During her twenties, in the 1990s, she worked as a journalist in New York City. At the age of 31 Dawn underwent a conversion to Christianity that ultimately led her to enter the Catholic Church, when a young rock musician introduced her to the writings of G.K. Chesterton and she became fascinated with his work.
Her interest in Chesterton led her to read the Gospels, the Psalms and St Paul’s letters. She found the words of the Bible “came alive” and was baptised into a Protestant church. “Catholicism did not yet make sense to me, especially its veneration of saints,” she says.
In January 2005, while working as a subeditor at the New York Post, Dawn got into trouble for altering a news story in a way that revealed her pro-life sympathies.
“Although I apologised for making the change, the reporter argued that I should be fired at any rate because of my deeply held views. While waiting to be fired, I felt the desire to ask the prayers of a saint, despite my reservations. So I put ‘patron saint of pro-lifers’ into an online search engine and found the story of St Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan friar who gave up his life to save a fellow prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp.”
Kolbe’s story moved her deeply and Dawn asked him to pray for her. “At that moment, I felt a sudden, completely unexpected rush of consolation. It was absolutely certain to me that he was in Heaven and wanted me to be there with him when my time came. That opened up the Communion of Saints for me; for the first time, I understood that Catholics see saints not as idols but as heavenly friends who long to draw us into their own intimate relationship with Christ. I lost my job but gained a new life in the heart of the Catholic Church,” she says.
Dawn has written a number of books dealing with sexuality and she promotes the message that as chastity is a virtue, it is first and foremost positive, not negative. “In the book The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition), I share my Irish friend Paraic Maher’s definition of chastity, which is the best concise one I’ve heard: Chastity is the virtue that enables us to love fully and completely in every relationship, in the manner that is appropriate to the relationship.
“Since I am unmarried, that means loving fully as a daughter, as a sister, or as a friend,” she says.
“God has designed our bodies in such a way that sex is appropriate only to the married relationship, because sex is the only physical act that implies a future that goes beyond itself. That is, sex exists so that the human race can have a future. Two people who have sex are acknowledging that their gift of self to one another includes providing together for the future of whatever life may come from their union. Even if a man and woman are infertile, the act of sex has no meaning unless it contains this promise of a future, of continued presence for one another. So, married chastity includes sexual union, but it also includes fidelity and permanent commitment.”
When asked how the Church can teach the virtue of chastity to young people without sounding out of touch with modern society, she simply says “we can’t”.
“Chastity has never been fashionable with the cultural elites. The ancient Romans saw Christians as a threat to the Roman understanding, which held that women and children were property. Chris tians, by contract, held that men and women had equal dignity (Galatians 3:28) husbands had to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25), and that children shared in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:14).
“Today’s culture of unchastity imitates that of ancient Rome by enabling human exploitation and trafficking on a level that the Romans would never have dreamed of,” she says.
“So, in answer to your question, the Church can teach the virtue of chastity by showing how our chastity promotes our own human dignity and that of those around us.”
Pure in Heart in conjunction with Aid to the Church in Need presents Dawn Eden at the following upcoming events:
- Monday, June 8 at 2pm in Avila Carmelite Centre, Bloomfield Avenue, Morehampton Road, Dublin 4 and at 7pm in The Davenport Hotel, Merrion Street, Merrion Square, Dublin 2.
- Tuesday, June 9 at 7pm in Malone House, Barnett Demesne, Belfast.
- Wednesday, June 10 at 7.30pm in The Tapestry Room, The Granville Hotel, Waterford City for Waterford diocese’s ‘Café Theology’.