Steps Toward Purity – Fr. Daniel A. Lord


Painting by Albert Anker, 1831

From Some Notes for the Guidance of Parents by Fr. Daniel A. Lord, S.J.


Quite rightly the Church has been extremely reluctant to let children’s education about purity and sex pass into the hands of outsiders. This instruction is entirely the function of the parents. Any outsider, however well intentioned, discreet, tactful, and skilled in the theory or practice of purity, touches the soul of the child with alien hands.

Parents are the natural guides and teachers to whom God gave the whole responsibility for training in purity. Indeed in most Catholic countries anything like formal sex instruction is practically unnecessary. Parents and children regard sex as normal, natural, and entirely wholesome. The parents happily discuss the coming of the new baby and in the presence of the children prepare for its arrival.

A pure woman is regarded as an entirely right and normal woman. A good man as part of his chivalry protects a pure woman. He sees in her a future mother of children, and he regards an assault on her chastity as a major offense against the race.

Purity is not a sign of weakness, as it has often been regarded in pagan countries, ancient and modern; it is the strong protection thrown around the unborn child and around the parents’ magnificent creative power of sex.


With real justice the Church is afraid of the pagan who sets himself up to teach sex. In my experience I have had to read or to give to others a number of books written by otherwise good men who nonetheless had the pagan attitude toward matters of sex.

In every case, though there might be much that was wholesome and good, there was almost as much with which one could not possibly agree. So when I let others read the books, I had to warn them against the false, pagan attitude that ran through and hence vitiated the treatment.

If the pagan regards man as merely an improved animal, his attitude will be animalistic, however delicately he tries to cover this viewpoint.

If he is a Protestant, in these days he is likely to be unsure just why purity is important at all; he is likely to be entirely wrong on the subjects of divorce and birth control; he is very probably lacking in that appreciation of the virtue of purity which we Catholics regard as nobly Christlike and Marylike.

When the pagan is frankly bad, he can do vicious harm. We remember with a shudder of sheer horror the terrible days when Bela Run turned loose in Hungary his hordes of pagans to instruct youngsters on sex.

In our own country some years back I ran into an instance where a certain “advanced” principal in a public high school showed a sex film to a crowd of children; over twenty girls fainted during its progress.


There is much too much inclination to teach purity in terms of negatives. “Don’t be impure . . . . Don’t be dirty-minded . . . . Be careful of social diseases . . . . Impurity is a horrible thing that brings awful consequences to you . . . . It harms your body and soils your soul.” All that is undoubtedly true. As motivation for purity however it is most ineffective.

Some years ago a very sincere French dramatist wrote a play based on the horrors of social diseases. He meant it to frighten men and women into a sense of decency. Indeed all it did, all that the play asked people to do was to be careful with whom they sinned.

The stressing of social diseases to the men in the Army and the Navy has meant merely a protection and a prophylactic treatment of the young men, not an incentive to strength and cleanliness and purity in their relationships with girls.

Being careful about the consequences of sin has nothing whatsoever to do with being virtuous. Any indelicate and rough hand or tongue may in the case of a young child do the most frightful harm. The child can be so shocked, his innocence so jolted that for years he will have an entirely distorted outlook on all matters of sex.


There have been two attitudes in the teaching of sex, both of them wretchedly poor pedagogy. The first is the awesome approach; we may rightly call it dramatic and spectacular.

The teacher or guide in a hushed voice approaches the subject. Even if his subject were only “The Care and Treatment of Colds in the Head,” the audience would, by his preliminary attitude, be worked into such a state of expectancy and taut nerves that they would find the subject either ridiculous or vastly titillating.

The blue-light, hushed-voice, sentimental-music approach puts the whole subject of sex in the category of the occult… horrible, mysterious, forbidden, exciting. The subject is delicate enough without the need for our surrounding it with so much melodramatic a setting.


On the other hand there is the very casual, offhand attitude. A teacher can approach the subject as if it were some-thing a little funny, just another topic to be tossed off nothing to be greatly concerned with or taken seriously. He can joke a bit about it, putting into his voice flippancy and disrespect. This is fatal.

For the subject of sex is most important. It is a sacred thing concerned with the whole question of how life shall safely and beautifully and with dignity enter the world.

This quasi-humorous attitude levels it to the plan of the off-color story or the slightly smutty song. Disrespect for the tremendous creative power entrusted to men is no the attitude with which to initiate children into one of their most wonderful natural functions.


So in this whole matter of the instructing of children o purity the Church regards parents as the natural and rightful teachers. Their right to teach their children about this vital concern is clear enough.

Their duty would be clearer if they stopped to think how much of happiness and self-control and the future of their children inside and outside of marriage depend upon a clean, clear, rational, yet super-naturalized and spiritual attitude toward sex and personal purity.

If this duty could be easily passed off on others, parents would in many cases pretend they had no obligation at all.

Sexual purity is not an easy subject to handle well. The technique of presenting the facts of life to children requires thought and prayer.

Hence many parents would be glad enough to let outsiders take care of the whole matter—an attitude which the Church regards as entirely out of line, as a wrong to the child, and as the shirking of a fundamental parental duty.


The fact must be confessed however that in the main modern parents simply dodge the whole problem. A number of informal surveys made by principals in high schools, notably by Father John Francis Quinn, S. J., when he was in charge of St. Ignatius High School in Chicago, indicate that boys are told almost nothing by their parents.

My own experience with young people confirms this conclusion. When you say to a girl who is troubled by sex problems, “Ask your mother about this,” her answer is likely to be, “Why my mother would be shocked to death if I suggested such a thing.”

For one good Catholic parent who explains this all-important subject to his or her children there seem to be a hundred who let it go entirely or until it is too late.


There are many reasons why parents shirk this duty. Sometimes they simply do not know the necessary words in which to couch their explanation.

Or they have waited so long that they are embarrassed about the whole idea. Or they have the shyness which comes from the realization that the child may associate what they tell him with their own experiences.

It is not easy to face an adolescent’s questioning look that seems to say, “But how do you know all that?”  So while priests and religious should be spared the necessity of their giving youngsters instructions in sex, their duty may well include that of teaching the parents how to teach their own children.

If the parents then fail to handle the problem, priests and religious may ultimately find the task forced upon them. Nonetheless the first effort of priests and religious should be; not to reach the children, but to reach the mothers and fathers with the technique necessary to bring the needed information to their boys and girls.

Once more for all that help to parents and future parents I can see priests assembling clubs or discussion groups made up of the young fathers and mothers of the parish. It seems to me that future parents might well be prepared for this essential part of their parental responsibility.


I might remark that some schools have handled this problem easily. They have simply presented to their parent-teacher associations or to their alumni or alumnae a Catholic book on sex instruction. Such a book is “How to Give Sex Instructions,” written by Father Bruckner and published by The Queen’s Work Press, St. Louis.

One school that I know of made copies of this book the place cards at a breakfast given to the parents of the students. Many of the parents came back to ask for extra copies for their friends.

Another excellent book on this subject, written by Father Gerald Kelly, S. J., in collaboration with Fathers Fulkerson and Whitford, is “Modern Youth and Chastity.”

(These books/pamphlets are out of print. Go to Bookfinder to see if you can get a copy. If anyone has reading suggestions for sex instructions, wholesome and Catholic, please leave in comments. )

During the course of your day, do you feel affronted by someone close to you? Say the name of Jesus. Do you feel irritation and frustration? Say the name of Jesus. Do you feel like your opinions are not accounted for and you are upset about this? Say the name of Jesus. Is confidence lacking? Is your self-esteem suffering? Are you experiencing a bout of self-pity? Say the name of JESUS!

He knows what we need, He knows how to change our hearts and our way of thinking! He knows how to reach down into the recesses of our very beings, where there are battle wounds and scars, and heal, strengthen and redeem!

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put my trust in Thee.

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In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.

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