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The challenge of chastity: Young adults and Pure in Heart

Most Catholics think the Church says a big ‘no’ to sex, but in fact it is a big ‘yes’ to a higher form of love.Pure in Heart is a group in the diocese for 18-35 year olds who seek to live out the Church’s teaching on chastity by means of prayer, friendship, study and mission.

Pure in Heart started in Ireland following an experience of a group of pilgrims at the World Youth Day in Rome in 2000. They were inspired while listening to Blessed John Paul II talk about the need to evangelize in our culture. What was particularly important to them was seeking to gain a greater understanding of the Church’s teaching on chastity. So Pure in Heart was born with this in mind. It has two elements: prayer and community.

Fiona Mansford brought Pure in Heart from Ireland to England two years ago and now gives her time leading its mission here in London, in addition to running Youth 2000. 

Prayer

Pure in Heart meets every Wednesday in Maria Assumpta Chapel at Heythrop College in Kensington. The evening begins at 7pm with Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the Rosary, intercessory prayers and Scripture. If there is a priest available there is Mass. There is also an annual retreat. 

Friendship and Study

Prayer leads on to social support and discussion on the theme of chastity. At present they are working through ‘Introduction to Theology of the Body’ by Christopher West. They have also looked at Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Mission

The support from prayer, study and friendship prepares the group to live a life of chastity and to be a witness in the world. Fiona explains that the weekly meeting “equips us for mission on the front line, supporting each other in chastity. The prayer is vital – it is the foundation for our lives.”

A further dimension to the mission of Pure in Heart is that members give talks, mainly in the evenings or at weekends, at workshops and retreats to Confirmation groups, from Year 9 school children to university students. Fiona explains that the sessions may last an hour or as long as half a day. “We tend to go in pairs and we adapt what we have to say to the audience. We also try to make it as interactive as possible with presentations, video clips, discussions and feedback. There is always great interest in sex and marriage. Perhaps their parents aren’t married, or there has been a divorce, and as this affects them, so it interests them. They always have good questions such as asking if they can read 50 Shades of Grey and about homosexuality. We don’t begin with the latter, but it naturally comes up and can be very emotive due to their own situation with friends and family. However if you explain sex, marriage, then the questions are contextualized within the Church’s teaching.”

Connell has given many talks since he joined Pure in Heart in his native Ireland. He talks about the approach they have to these talks: “We always begin with the positive, explaining that sex is a good thing and that this is good news. So we look at the meaning of sex and affirm that desire is good and natural but it is something we need to order and orientate for and toward our own happiness and our own good. The central message is about love – chastity is about a deeper understanding of living out the desire to love and God’s love for us. Most Catholics think the church says a big ‘no’ to sex, but in fact it is a big ‘yes’ to a higher form of love. Everyone wants love, so this is a way of how to achieve it.”

Pure in Heart offer training days on how to present and how to put points across to young people on chastity, but not everyone can give talks to young people, especially if they are working. James, for example, has been attending the group since the beginning of the year, but doesn’t feel a strong call to talk in schools yet: “I don’t see my role as going into schools, although I have to be open to change.”

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