The Challenge of being a ‘Chastity Speaker’


I have a few answers up my sleeve for when I am asked: ‘So, what do you do?’ One is, I am a free-lance motivational speaker. Another is, I teach Sex and Relationship Education and a final answer (that I use the least) is that I am a chastity speaker. I use that answer the least because it gets the most awkward response! There are several reasons for this.

The first is that I don’t think many people know what I mean. For most people the word chastity sounds odd, super religious & outdated, or even worse judgemental and unrealistic. When I have the opportunity to explain that Chastity is the virtue (characteristic) to help us to love and be loved, as we desire to love and be loved, then it starts to become slightly more appealing! But that’s not the point that I want to focus on.

A second challenge in being a chastity speaker is chastity! Chastity is connected to sexual purity and we live a world that does not understand or value this virtue. I would even say that our culture doesn’t believe that it is possible. Therefore, many young people that I speak to about chastity and saving sex for marriage, have already accepted the culture’s spin on things and have had sexual relationships. So, a second challenge is ‘why bother? Isn’t it too late for most teenagers?’

I want to answer the second challenge ‘why bother?’ by addressing the third challenge, which is this: How do I proclaim the love of God through the message of chastity? The reason that I bother with this work, is because when it is done well, I am able to share God’s unconditional, perfect, healing love with another person. In speaking about chastity, I am aiming to stir up the questions of the human heart: ‘What are you looking for? How do you want to be loved and how do you want to love?’ In speaking about chastity, I am able to invite people to reflect on their lives and to consider how their relationships and experiences correspond to the deepest desire of their hearts. ‘Are you finding what you’re looking for, in the relationships that you are in?’

I was telling someone recently that I give talks on chastity and we discussed the challenge of ensuring that the love and mercy of God comes through above everything else … The guy I was talking to said this great thing: “We think that Jesus came to make us good, but he came to make us happy!” I really liked that, because I think it’s true. We may think that Jesus came to make us good and that only when we are good will he love and accept us. The problem is, it is hard to be good and the truth is, that we are already loved, just as we are – good or not good! The message of chastity is that the love that we so desperately seek is ultimately God’s love – and it is possible to receive it through a relationship with God’s Son – Jesus Christ. When I came to know this love, then I wanted to be good; not to keep the rules, but to find happiness!

So for me, this is the greatest challenge: to let people know that they are deeply and eternally loved! Every time I give a talk I don’t want people to hear a demand to keep the rules, but an invitation to a life-giving relationship – A relationship with Jesus Christ that enables our hearts to say ‘Yes! I have found the love that I have been looking for’.

Fiona Mansford

Fiona is the founder of Pure in Heart in the UK. She has a BA in Theology and Religious studies and has undertaken courses at the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia.

We need to talk about virtue


How many sins do you come across every day? Loads I bet: theft, murder, environmental destruction, sexual violence, war crimes, political corruption, bullying, tax evasion, drug offences, driving offences…to name but a few. The daily newspapers and nightly news programmes parade a vast array of sins before us every day. Sin certainly appears to be newsworthy these days.

Because we hear so much about it, we have become very good at talking about it. For example, there are myriad ways to describe the act of killing – first and second degree murder, voluntary and involuntary man-slaughter, crimes of passion, self-defence, suicide bombings, honour killings, abortion, fratricide, genocide, regicide, capital punishment. We also have lots of words for describing the negative side of people’s personalities: greedy, self-centred, manipulative, jealous, boastful, insensitive, lazy, aggressive, domineering, attention-seeking, biggoted, close-minded, impatient. We have an extraordinarily large vocabulary when it comes to describing sinful acts and personality traits.

Sin is undoubtedly a part of this world and it would be naive to ignore it. But when I turn on the tv or radio or log in to social media, I begin to think that sin is dominating the agenda. And so I agree with the statement made by the priest character played by Brendan Gleeson in the movie Calvary:

“I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.”

Well said. Let’s talk about virtue then!

How do we generally describe good people? “Nice” is a word that we use a lot. A really good person might be described as “OMG soooo nice.” In Ireland, probably the nicest compliment you can pay somebody is to say that they are “sound.” People who are entertaining also tend to get a good rep – great craic. But these are very general terms, My hunch is that we are not as well practiced at being more specific about people’s qualities and virtues. I say as a result of a recent experience which had a big impact on me.

I have just finished a four-day walking pilgrimage for young adults in Co. Wicklow, just south of Dublin. On the final night during the meal, everybody was given a postcard with their name on it. The postcards were circulated around the table until everybody had written one virtue of the person on their postcard. The exercise had a big effect on us all, probably because we weren’t so used to hearing about and appreciating our own virtues.

We need to talk about virtue. If we don’t, then we will forget how to talk about it and possibly forget how to live it. That would be a very sad state of affairs. Like so many things, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Thankfully, one of the benefits of belonging to a faith tradition like Christianity is that the tradition has a memory that you can draw on. If you’re looking for virtues, then a good first port of call is the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus describes what he considers who live blessed and happy lives. Here is a beautiful sung version by the Benedictine monks of Glenstal Abbey.

Another helpful exercise is to write down 10 virtues that come to mind. Here is mine:

Courageous, faithful, understanding, wise, reliable, carefree, conscientious, knowledgable, perceptive, reassuring.

Niall Leahy sj

Misreading St Paul on women…

‘women will be saved through child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness and self-control.’ 1 Timothy 2:15 

photo credit: duane_j

I remember studying that passage in my theology undergraduate class at university and prickling with anger. So, I thought to myself, men are saved by the cross and women are saved by having babies?!  I remarked wisely to my lecturer after the class that it was clear that the misogynistic attitudes of the age in which St Paul’s lived had not been purged away by his new faith. This was surely biological determinism painted onto the canvas of Christianity? She heartily agreed, however as soon as I had made the remarks I felt a voice somewhere in my heart protest. I knew I was missing something that would flip the whole passage around.

The truth is I was reading the passage with secular eyes. I was seeing child-bearing and motherhood, because of its obvious challenges and sacrifices, as something to be despised. Being a mother is hard because it demands the totality of the person, body and soul. The sacrifice a mother makes for a child goes beyond that of the father as she literally gives her body for the life of the child. She says to her unborn child ‘this is my body given for you’. After the child is born she says to the baby ‘take eat, this is my body’.

Motherhood is a radical way in which woman can imitate the total gift of self that Christ made of Himself. Through child-bearing women’s bodies become eucharistic. Is it any wonder then that St Paul says that motherhood, lived in union with Christ, can be redemptive? For St Paul imitating Christ is key to being His faithful disciples. He writes in Philippians “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself.” (Phil. 2:5-7)

Self-emptying in order to serve others is what we are all called to in our various situations and walks of life. Women, by virtue of their amazing capacity to bear another human person within their bodies, are able to live this in a very radical way through their parenthood. Of course St Paul was by no means saying that women can only live this self-giving love through motherhood. If he believed that would he write a paean of praise to men and women who devote themselves to the celibate life? ‘Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do… An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.’ (1 Cor.  8 , 1 Cor 32)

Saint Paul is not, as I thought, restricting women to their biology. He is in fact doing the opposite by showing how the female body can be the means by which women claim the salvation Christ has won for them. We must never forget that Christianity is a religion of the flesh. The great Church Father Tertullian wrote, “the flesh is the hinge of salvation”.  We are redeemed through the flesh of Christ and one day hope to be resurrected in our flesh. Saint Paul knew this profound truth and he meditated upon what this meant for women. This is not biological determinism, this is theological destiny.