Erik Varden is a Norwegian Trappist monk and the bishop of Trondheim.

His newest book, “Chastity: Reconciliation of the Senses” (Bloomsbury Continuum, $22), came out earlier this year.

Varden has a doctorate in theology and religious studies from Cambridge and a licentiate of sacred theology from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. He speaks several languages.

“To do something beautiful for its own sake,” he writes, “for the intrinsic delight of it, without thought of gain: this, I’d say, is a way of beginning to live chastely in this world, poised to balance elegantly on whatever surging billow providence provides as a means to bear us homeward, towards the shore.”

“Surging billow,” in my own experience, might be pressing the point.

But if the book isn’t quite aimed at the person in the pews, it’s a beautifully written, powerful, and much-needed reflection.

In fact, considering for starters that all unmarried people in the Church are called not only to chastity, but to celibacy, one wonders why the issue isn’t discussed day and night.

We all know by now that chastity encompasses way more than sex.

Then-Father Erik Varden, abbot of Mount St. Bernard Abbey, poses in the brewery July 11, 2018, in Leicestershire, England. Father Varden, a Cistercian monk and spiritual writer, was ordained a bishop at the Cathedral of St. Olav in Trondheim Oct. 3, 2020. (OSV News/Simon Caldwell)

In an interview with Swedish journalist Malina Abrahamsson, Varden observed, “[Chastity is] about not instrumentalizing other people — not using them for your own purposes or your own pleasure. It is also about daring to examine oneself — one’s desires, wounds, and weaknesses and then arranging one’s drives towards a goal. In this way, you can become sanctified as a human being, living completely in balance with yourself.”

Gorgeous. Nonetheless, the chastity we exercise in refusing to instrumentalize people in general can be no higher, or fuller, than the chastity we exercise around our sexual powers, desires, wounds, and temptations.

And on the ground, the journey from those temptations to a somewhat ethereal aesthetic of chastity is messy, bloody, and ongoing.

On the ground, beset by obsessions, compulsions, and hearts hemorrhaging for love, we can question our sanity, our spirituality, our God.

It would hardly be appropriate for Bishop Varden to go deeply into his own journey. As he says, “I invite others to make contributions from other vantage points. More are needed, from both men and women.”

Here I am, Lord. Send me!

My own journey took a turn many years ago in a confessional. The priest was matter-of-fact and he was firm. And as I knelt in the pew afterward, up from my subconscious floated the question Jesus asked Peter, three times, after his Resurrection. Peter, who had betrayed him; Peter who, like me, did the thing he didn’t want to do, and failed to do the thing he wanted to do.

“Do you love me?”

Are you serious about the Way, the Truth and the Life — or not? If everyone thought and acted as I do with respect to human relations, what would be the eventual effect upon the sacrament of marriage? Women? Children?

If we’re serious, we allow ourselves to be pruned, sometimes it seems to us with needless severity. But as Bishop Varden so articulately points out: There is something in it for us. There is always something in it for us: freedom from bondage, the peace that passes all understanding, a purity of conscience that allows us to see more clearly and to love more fully.

We’re hard-wired to long for eternity, to pass on what we’ve learned, for life to continue after we’re gone.

Chastity, in all its forms, points to that longing.

The cover of “Chastity: Reconciliation of the Senses,” by Norwegian Bishop Erik Varden. (OSV News/Bloomsbury)

Chastity allows those of us without children to support — in a sense, to lay down our lives — for other people’s families and children.

There’s a park near my house that’s often filled with kids. They come out in droves after school and on weekends: shouting, sprinting, frolicking.

One recent afternoon a soccer game was in progress and a posse of parents had set up shop on the sidelines, snacking, chatting, and cheering. The shadows were lengthening. Beneath the pleasant surface noise lay a vespers hush.

I looked at these kids, who were not mine, for whom I had done not a single corporeal work of mercy, and thought, Through my celibacy I am laying down my life for you and all like you.

What I do is of course nothing compared to what an actual parent does. But I didn’t have to compare. I didn’t have to feel “less than” or “other than.”

Having taken way, way too long a walk on the wild side in my youth, I felt an incredible certainty that I was loved, that I have been forgiven, that I belong. I felt an incredible sense of gratitude for those parents who were doing the hardest and most important work any human being can ever hope to do.

There are many ways we lay down our lives for one another. Chastity — celibacy, if that’s our station — is just one of them. But for me it has been a particularly rich, fruitful, utterly unexpected grace. A way of healing and of giving that seems to the world like a negative, an emptiness.

But that in God’s economy is a fullness that I could never have engineered, or even imagined, on my own.