My inspiration for starting this post and continue the topic through several other posts is the “Day without a Gay” protest, which is supposed to inspire homosexuals and those in support of homosexual marriage to take the day off and perhaps commit to volunteer work (to take a little bit of the sting out of the strike). Whenever issues like this come up (as they do at least annually here at the University of Wyoming with the Matthew Shepard Symposium), I find myself reflecting on human sexuality, the importance it plays in our lives, and the great detriment its misuse has caused, both to the nation and to myself personally.
To qualify, my years of drifting away from the faith were caused, in part, by being steeped in sexual sin, and my eventual return home started with a realization of how the Catholic view of sexuality fully explained the difficulties I was facing. Thus the topic of human sexuality has become one of the most important topics to me, one that I could monologue about endlessly (though I hope in this post and following ones I say something substantial and insightful).
Embarrassingly, one of my biggest concerns while wandering from my faith found root in a belief that somehow eternal life after death made this life pointless. Why bother running through the mill of this world for any finite amount of time, when life after death would extend infinitely? The disproportion between this life and the next seemed an insurmountable absurdity.
Yet, it was one detail, spoken at Mass every Sunday, that I failed to pay attention to that made all the difference, and that was the fact of the resurrection. Life after death isn’t simply drifting eternally as a disembodied soul; instead, we exist in that state for some period, and then we are given new bodies (whether or not our eternal destination is Heaven or Hell) which we then keep for all eternity.
Now, the cautious reader might be a little puzzled at the seemingly non sequitur of jumping from human sexuality to the resurrection, but there is a definite connection, and it lies in this fact. God ever intended us to be an amalgamation of spirit and matter. We are not souls temporarily encased in flesh, as the Gnostics believed. Without our physical bodies, we are incomplete. In death, we are torn asunder, and while our souls hopefully move on to bask in the Beatific Vision, in a way we enter a lower state of being as we await new flesh.
It was this understanding of our eternal destination that helped me make sense of why certain sexual practices were wrong. Without the resurrection, my view of the flesh was as a temporary house that I would one day vacate. Thus, I could do anything to it and it wouldn’t matter. I might bring about its end prematurely, but in light of eternity without it, who cared? On the other hand, realizing that the body is not just temporary housing, but integral to both who and what I am forces me to acknowledge I need to care for my body and discipline it.
One of the principle effects of the Fall was to pit body against soul, to divided us against ourselves. Instead of being at peace with ourselves, we now fight a continual battle, and included in that battle is our treatment of sexuality. In fact, I believe that most problems we have sexually can be specifically boiled down to this struggle. Any time we come across some sexual practice that the Church condemns, we can almost inevitably justify the condemnation solely through the use and abuse of the body by the soul.
We know that we find harmony when sex is between husband and wife. The complementarity of the sexes and the proper fulfillment of sex is writ plain and clear in our bodies. In order for sex to accomplish one of its primary purposes, it must be enacted by one man and one woman. Sex between men and sex between women cannot be procreative. Sex between more than one man and one woman leaves all but one man superfluous; and (guys, I’m sorry to tell you this) men are not designed for sex with more than one woman at a time. The balance is met with one man and one woman.
How do we know, then, that sex is properly used only between a husband and wife? Many would argue that this isn’t built into us, and that men especially find monogamy an alien concept. Yet contrary to popular belief, there are hints that we can pick up on that indicate the sex is supposed to be between a man and woman who have decided to devote their entire lives to each other.
One hint is the exclusivity of sex, which goes beyond just proclaiming one man and one woman. Sex itself is one of the most intimate acts we can engage in, and the depth of the physical intimacy—when viewed in light that body and soul complete one being—demands an equal depth of mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy.
But the larger hint is that sex itself is geared towards procreation, and procreation is not simply the process of conceiving a child, but also rearing that child. This in turn introduces the notion of family and reinforces the family as the primary social unit. The family struggles, and even ceases to function as such, when there is not the exclusive commitment of the married couple.
These, of course, are very brief arguments, and I hope in my next few posts to address particular topics such as masturbation, pre-marital sex, extramarital sex, and homosexuality. Like in politics when something smells fishy and we ask “Where’s the money?”, when I examine each of these topics in turn, I’ll ask “how is this pitting body against soul?”. It is my hope that these future posts will not just contain good Catholic teaching, but also a fair amount of personal discovery.