Chastity: A Hymn to God’s Providence
In a way, Dawn Eden’s newly released Catholic edition of her popular The Thrill of the Chaste is the third installment of the chronicle of her life journey. In 2005, when she wrote the first edition of The Thrill, she was a Jewish convert to Protestantism on her way to becoming a Catholic, and was hoping to be married. Dawn’s work applied balm to the sore spot in many a heart, which like hers, were wounded by the lies of the hook-up culture.
Then in 2012, a Catholic then for some years, she took another brave step and released My Peace I Give You. Having had the courage to speak frankly about chastity and her own journey to find it, in My Peace, Dawn addresses the difficult issue of the sexual abuse, which as a child she suffered herself. My Peace is a book about God’s healing from a person who has experienced it deeply.
Now, with the Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste, Dawn offers her mature reflection on the matter of God’s plan for human love, and she does so as someone who has consecrated her celibacy “to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” She is also presently a doctoral student in sacred theology and hopes by means of her consecrated life to be completely available to teach and minister to “victims of trauma and abuse with the healing love of Christ.”
Thus, one of the outstanding features of the new revised edition are Dawn’s insights on healing, which she bases firmly on the teaching of Christ and the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist and confession. The sexual brokenness of our society at times requires professional help, as Dawn clearly states, but her book goes to the source of the problem, which is beyond professional and self-help:
While it is no sin to be unhappy, the fact that there is any unhappiness in the world is due to sin. Whatever makes me unhappy is due to sins I commit, sins committed against me, or the general state of brokenness resulting from original sin.
Healing comes from Christ through His mercy and love. Hence, Dawn references Venerable Archbishop Sheen’s oft-repeated exhortation that people “consider spending time in the confessional before spending money on therapy.”
In a reflection on the words of Our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes: “I cannot promise you happiness in this life, only the next,” Dawn points out that, at Lourdes, Our Lady draws people to the healing power of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, which is a foretaste of heaven. In reality, many people attempt to escape their pain by fleeing to what seem safer places, only to find more pain. This is a symptom of a culture without God. We are looking for love and settle for its counterfeits. The Catholic thing, which Dawn has come to grasp well, is that there is a mystery to human life which only makes sense in the light of the Cross. And this leads us straight to the tabernacle, where we find the source of all love and healing. It is a matter of finding love and joy in the right place.
Dawn has a sense of divine providence working in her life, which, perhaps, is part of the thrill. Chastity is hard. Being a Catholic is hard, but, as Dawn points out, quoting a character in Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, there is “poetry” in not being sick. Providence not only reorders our desires, but also reorders are manner of assessing what happens to us.
Thus, her focus on the saints is telling. Chesterton (perhaps a saint) was instrumental in her conversion to Christianity. St. Maximilian led her to the Church, and her reflection on the lives the saints has led her through healing, and to help others to heal. In a beautiful passage on the workings of St. Maximilian in her life, Dawn prays:
Thank you, Lord, for the times when you said ‘no.’ Thank you for not giving me what I thought I wanted. This is what I truly want, Lord–this moment that you are giving me right now.
In this way, The Thrill of the Chaste, is not just good advice from someone who has been there, though it is indeed that, and Dawn’s prose and characteristic humor make for enjoyable reading. The book is a hymn to divine providence, and specifically in the way it expresses the truth that the gift of ourselves to God is accepted and protected by His love. The Marian and filial, as well as spousal dimensions of the life of grace, are evident throughout, as Dawn encourages her readers to say yes to love, like Mary did at the Annunciation and Calvary. This makes all things possible–even chastity and bearing the cross of our woundedness.
Dawn has taken her witness to a new level, through prayer, theological acumen, and her always readable style. I would make particular note of her insights on St. John Paul II’s “Catechesis on Human Love,” popularly known as the Theology of the Body. The Thrill helps to convey the truth of that great development of doctrine in the larger context of Catholic life. Instead of focusing on the “body” half of “Theology of the Body,” Dawn focuses on the theology, that is, the meaning of the body relative to the gift of self that the body expresses:
Only understood in this context–as the act of the whole person making a “sincere gift of self” to another person in Christ–can sexual intercourse be seen in its proper importance, without making it a god or denigrating it as though it were inherently godless.
I also thought her treatment of modesty–new to the Catholic edition–to be the best I have found. It is to the point, providing the clear principles of the Church, without either being too vague or removing the question from the domain of prudence. For example, Dawn writes about how the realization that chastity is a part of the universal call to holiness led to think of modesty in the same way:
For I was no longer dressing for some man I hoped to attract or keep. Instead, I was dressing for everyone I would meet during the course of the day–from neighbors to coworkers, friends, family, and strangers. They have all become a part of my apostolate, an apostolate of beauty.
This is a book to give away to those who need to hear the New Evangelization. It is not just a book for women. Dawn has revised it to address the question of chastity as it relates to all.
Dawn’s journey is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our way of thinking and make possible a wholly new kind of life, complete with the inversion of values represented by the beatitudes. Only the pure will see the face of God. But this is what each of us has always desired, and it is the meaning of human love.
Art: The Thrill of The Chaste cover and Dawn Eden, both photographed by Ron Sartini, used with permission.