(This is two recent articles from the parish bulletin)
To be honest, this isn’t something we talk about a lot. I’ve seldom addressed this in a homily, for several reasons. It’s a big subject, sometimes too big to be handled well in a Sunday sermon. And it’s a delicate issue and some parents may be uncomfortable.
Well, now we have to talk about it; and I did to some degree on Sunday. Let me say some more here. To reiterate: we believe the gift of sexual intimacy is for marriage only; and by marriage, I mean a man and a woman.
But to amplify my point, let me turn that around: we believe the gift of marriage is man+woman, because sex, by its nature, is man+woman. That is to say, God created sex for marriage as much as he created marriage for sex. This is key, because failing to get this helps explain our present mess. Our society redefined sex first, then marriage. It redefined sex by changing it from being about self-gift, commitment for life, because it’s also about children. The whole point of the “Sexual Revolution” in the last century was to toss all that aside and turn sex into an expression of self, with children a separate thought.
Let’s drill into this question of what sex really is (as opposed to what our society claims it is).
Scripture says we are made in God’s image and likeness. Think about that: just what does that mean? How are we God’s “image”? Well, consider that God is the Creator. We humans are distinct from all creation in our imitation of his creativity. We write, we make music, we build things. A builder can erect whole cities—but he must use pre-existing materials, while God creates ex nihilo—out of nothing. A writer or filmmaker can spin whole worlds in her head or on paper, or on film, but that’s as real as they can ever be. Only God can truly create.
And yet…there is but one breathtaking moment, and only one, when we ascend the divine heights and very nearly approximate what, otherwise, only God can do: create something out of nothing: and that moment is when a man and a woman, in their act of love, create a new life. The couple does it with God’s help, of course—that’s why we are called pro-creators.
Can you see how everything the Church teaches on sex and reproduction follows from this insight? This is why contraception is wrong, and in vitro fertilization, as well as any sexual expression apart from man+woman, in marriage. In these and other ways, we are another Prometheus: God gave us the privilege of participating in his divine work; we take the privilege as if it were our property, and show God the door.
Recall how people claim we hate sex or think it’s dirty or sinful. See how absurd that is? We treat sex the way we treat Mass and the sacraments; it’s because of how holy and awesome they are, that we have rules and boundaries. Like Holy Mass, sex is an encounter with the divine. We approach with reverence.
Last week, I explained the core understanding we have about sex: by its nature it’s man+woman; and the clearest indication of that by its nature, it gives life. Sexual intimacy is where our vocation as “image of God” is truly realized in a concrete and powerful way.
Let’s notice something here: the power God gave us in the gift of sexuality is tremendous. One proof of that is to see how much harm is caused when we misuse it. So many terrible problems in our society—poverty, personal problems, anger, crime and social distress—are a direct consequence of sex without love, and adults conceiving children they don’t stay to raise.
So, yes, we have a lot of rules; we have good reason to. But only one says “no” to same-sex behavior. We aren’t “picking on” gays. What Jesus asks of gay people is what he asks of everyone: chastity, which means the right use of sex in marriage, and abstinence from sex outside of marriage.
Now, in our materialistic setting, that sounds absurd: no sex? That’s impossible! It’s too much to ask. It’s certainly difficult. But Jesus often asks very difficult things of us. Remember, he said: “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you can be my disciple.”
Let’s come at this another way. Look at all the heterosexual couples in our society. They aren’t told, no sex. So they have it so much easier, right? I talk to lots of people, and they share their trials. The pain of unhappy marriages they can’t seem to fix; the sufferings of seeing a spouse or a child in deep pain or trouble; the high demands of raising children, both emotionally and financially.
Someone might say, yes, but there are so many joys in these things too; and that’s true. And there are great joys in living chastely and purely. We don’t need to have sex to be happy.
I’ve asked myself a question you may ask: why didn’t God just say what contemporary society wants him to say: have sex all you want, just don’t hurt people? After much thought, my answer is two-fold. First, sex isn’t about self; it’s about gift. And second, it only has meaning if it is understood to be about giving life (even if that doesn’t happen every time). To say it another way: sex is such a powerful thing that it has to be self-emptying and sacrificial, or else it would destroy us. That’s why it has to be about father plus mother, bringing a child. That keeps it from becoming just what our society is turning it into: selfish, hedonistic, egotistical and a power trip.
Let me say something very hard, but true.
Two men or two women can try to achieve what male-female intimacy aims for, but it’s impossible: because there can never be the fruitfulness of a child. And let’s be candid: many get this; so they rush to adopt, or else to use technology to approximate this fruitfulness. But a same-sex couple needs an outsider to do it. Their “union” can never be “one flesh”; it can never bear a child. And that really does change everything – which is why, when heterosexuals exclude the gift of life, they commit a grave sin against God’s plan.
The Church cannot give approval to sex outside male-female intimacy because she cannot consent to deception; even if our entire culture is happy to lie all day long. And our culture is lying about the meaning of sex. The Church is being damned because we refuse to join the chorus.
What about injustice to gays?
At some point we have to acknowledge: people too often are treated badly—by Christians—because they are different. It’s better than it was when I was a boy, but it still happens. Some of that was embodied in law and other aspects of society. Without defending cruelty or bigotry, I want to encourage younger folks to realize that law and social structures of the past were aiming at reinforcing the centrality of family life, headed by a mother and father. That’s still a valid purpose, but in our times we want to find ways to do it, without unfairness. It’s easy to fault generations past; but I think we will soon find out that it’s a hard balance.
This all helps explain, I think, a lot of the anger and hurt that comes into these discussions.
And I think many people who were so eager to back a redefinition of marriage did so out of a recognition of (and maybe bad conscience about) past injustices. Without agreeing with their wrong solution—redefining marriage—let’s acknowledge those injustices, and reiterate what the Church teaches, that contempt, hatred and violence against gay people is gravely sinful.
So what’s my place in God’s Plan?
The only real happiness anyone can have in life is to find the vocation God has for you. Many times we find the road we aimed for is blocked to us, closed forever; and we are heart-broken. People seek marriage, and their marriage shipwrecks. They long for children and can’t have them. They wish they could marry, but for various reasons (not just same-sex feelings), they can’t. They aim for a career, and an accident or war injury wrecks those plans. Why, Jesus, why? Sometimes, only in the sacred precincts of our heart, where Jesus speaks, do we find the answer. He gives us a cross; we take it, and as hard as it is, we discover we are walking by his side.