Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Let's Talk About Sex

So why does the Church hate gay people? Why does the Church hate sex, generally? Women? The human body? Pleasure? Why is the Church so darned hateful, hateful, hateful? Why can’t it just get with the program like everyone else has?

Ah, gnarly questions, my new blog series! It had to come around to sex eventually, didn’t it? I want to talk in the blog post about the basic teaching of the Church regarding human sexuality—not this issue or that, but the fundamental teaching without which all the ‘rules and regs’ just seem arbitrary, bizarre, and frankly just plain mean.

Now I realize full well that at least some people read the blog who just ain’t buying what the Church is selling on this matter. I ask those people to at the very least try to understand what the Church is saying and why. At least know what it is you’re rejecting.

And of course most people reading this blog are Catholic and do accept what the Church teaches, maybe with struggles at times, but nonetheless. For all of you folks, I suggest that the basic teaching is simple enough, but there are heights and depths in it that need to be explored and that have implications far beyond the ‘rules and regs’ of what we can and cannot do in our sexual behavior.

So what is the fundamental thing at stake here, in this whole messy business of sex? The essential positive teaching, the teaching about what sex is that determines all of the negative teachings about what sex is not (and therefore what we should not do, sexually), is that sexual intercourse has an inherent meaning.

Furthermore, the meaning of sexual intercourse, the sexual act, is not something human beings have devised, which can thus be changed at will. It is not something private or individualistic—you decide what having sex means for you, and I will decide what it has for me. No, the sexual act has a meaning, and that meaning is created by God. And our whole sexuality is important—it is not some trivial afterthought of our humanity, but is a central and vital part of what it means to be human (finally, something on which the Catholic Church and the most dedicated progressive libertine can agree!).

And the meaning of the act of sexual intercourse is fundamentally a simple one. It is meant to be a physical, bodily expression of the love of God for his creation, the love of God for the human person, you and me, and specifically the love of Christ for redeemed humanity, the Church. Sex has a sacramental essence—it is meant to be a visible sign of the invisible reality of God and His passionate love for all He has made. It points beyond itself to something else

To be a faithful representation of God’s love made flesh in Jesus Christ, reflected and imaged in the actions of the body in our sexual being, means that we cannot just engage in sexual acts any old way. The way human beings have sex has to correspond to the way God loves the world, or it falsifies the reality it signifies.

And so God’s love is covenantal, faithful. God does not love us one day and turn away from us the next. God is not on again, off again. God does not use us. He is not a ‘friend with benefits’. God commits himself to loving his creation so much that when it is broken and wounded He becomes a man so as to be broken and wounded with it, and when it dies, He becomes a man so as to die with it. ‘For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…’

So sex must occur within a committed relationship, and commitment does not just mean ‘until either one of us decides we’re not happy.’ That is… not what the word commitment means, right? Commitment means for life. Commitment means marriage. Sex outside of marriage is wrong because there is no commitment of the one to the other, and so it in no way, shape, or form corresponds to how God loves us.

And God’s love for us gives life, brings life. God is the creator. His love is fruitful. This time of year the whole of creation here in the Northern Hemisphere is exploding with new life. God’s fecundity, expressed through the natural cycles of the earth, is obvious. But His love in the human person is equally fruitful. Where God is present in a person’s life, that person’s life increases, there is growth, there is newness, there is fruit. Always and at all times.

So sex that is either inherently sterile (i.e. sex between two people of the same gender) or sex that has been deliberately made sterile (by an act of contraception) simply does not communicate the nature of God’s love. The two people involved may genuinely care for one another, but nothing can come from this love—no life, no newness, no fruitfulness.

People counter that the Church has no problem with an older married couple engaging in sexual intercourse, nor with couples having sex during the times of the month when the woman is not fertile. This is because they have done nothing themselves to sterilize themselves, and the act itself is still ordered towards generativity even though the natural process of aging or the natural rhythms of the woman’s body have made it non-procreative.

The bottom line is that God’s love is faithful and committed, an unbreakable bond, and God’s love is creative and fruitful, life-giving. Sex, to be a faithful sacramental sign of God’s love, must be within marriage and open to the generation of life. And I will say more next Wednesday about all the people who, therefore, cannot have sex (at least not in their current situation) and why the Church does not actually hate these people and is not condemning them to a horrible empty life. Next week!


  1. So good, Father. Very clear and concise. Thank you!

  2. There are so many Catholic teachings that most Catholics have come not to accept. Sex is one of them but it is one which Catholics accept least and in large numbers. Most polling shows that the number of childbearing age Catholic women who accept church teaching is quantifiable but statistically insignificant.

  3. Cardinal Carlo Maria Montini, former archbishop of Milan and once talked of as a possible successor to John Paul II, has died at the age of 85. In his final interview, published a day after his death on August 31st, he declared that the church is 200 years behind the times.

    CNN’s Religion Blog reports the cardinal’s quote:

    ” ‘The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up?” Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said in an interview published in Saturday’s Corriere dell Sera newspaper. ‘Are we scared? Fear instead of courage? However, faith is the fundamental to the church.’ “

    The New York Times reported Martini’s further explanation of this quote from the same interview:

    “ ‘Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,’ Cardinal Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

    “ ‘The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,’ he said in the interview. ‘The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.’ ”

    Cardinal Martini made headlines earlier this year when in a separate interview, he called for a change in the church’s opposition to civil unions. In May, Bondings 2.0 reported his statement from a book-length interview with the cardinal, entitled Credere e Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding):

    “I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.” blog carried English translations of the interview. Though Cardinal Martini defended traditional marriage in the interview, he saw the need for allowing for civil unions:

    “. . . if the State grants some benefits to homosexuals, I would not be too concerned. The Catholic Church, for its part, promotes partnerships that are beneficial for the continuation of the human species and its stability, and yet it is not right to express any discrimination for other types of unions.”

    In the same interview, he praised the possibility of recognizing same-sex relationships as good:

    ” . . . I am ready to admit that in some cases good faith, lived experiences, acquired habits, the unconscious and probably even a certain innate inclination can push one to choose for oneself a form of living with a partner of the same sex. In today’s world such behaviour cannot therefore be ostracised or demonized. I am also ready to admit the value of a loyal and lasting friendship between two persons of the same sex. Friendship has always been held in high honour in the ancient world, perhaps more so than today, although it was largely understood as part of that surpassing of the purely physical realm that I mentioned above, to be a union of minds and hearts.”

    1. Hello, Anonymous! I always appreciate signing my own name to my writings and then having someone respond to me without that courtesy. Well, I simply disagree with Cardinal Martini, and I take my stand on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I will die to defend the teachings of the Church which I believe to be from God and not from man, and not subject to our changing them, no matter who disagrees with them or how 'not with the times' we may seem. The times need to get with God, not God with the times. And, unless you are willing to identify yourself so we can have a real conversation, that is all I will say on this matter to you.

  4. Somehow it seems that my previous comment didn't make it, so I repeat it here:
    Being Christian but not Catholic, I had never (at least that I recall) heard the teaching that "sex is an image/ representation of God's love for us". – Wow! And thank you!
    Intuitively, it makes sense, but could you perhaps elaborate a bit more, what's the biblical basis for this teaching and the logic behind it?
    Thank you!

    1. P.S. I take it from a previous response that I should perhaps have used my name. I sign the post above as Georg.

    2. God bless you - your question is a big one, and I'm a bit swamped right now and cannot give an adequate answer. I don't know if you've ever heard of Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body, but that's the basic go-to place for this right now in the Church. Much more I could say, but I'm typing this in a furious rush (life is full!).

    3. Thank you so much for the – rushed – response and, in particular, the blessing! I am touched by it: May God richly bless you, too.
      Your response gives me a start, and perhaps the conversation inspires you to write more on the topic in the future :-)

  5. Hey, thanks to the commentors who feel the pressing need to tell me that not everyone agrees with what the Church teaches about sex! I have lived under a rock these past 50 years and was unaware of that fact! God bless you.


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