Dear Friends in Christ,
There is nothing more basic in Catholic teaching about how we are to live than the teaching on sexual conduct, or sexuality, as it’s called today. This moral teaching, so definite, clear, and strict as you know, can be summed up in that principle St. Paul puts before us in our second reading today: “The body is not for immorality but for the Lord.” That is why the Church holds us to such strict conduct when it comes to sexuality. It is because the body is to be used as our Creator intended and in no other way, which is what “for the Lord” means.
What did our Creator intend? He created Adam and said it was not good for him to be alone, so He created the woman Eve and joined them in marriage for the purpose of a life-long union of love and that not just for its own sake but for the procreation of children. Is not the meaning of sex clear, then, the meaning God placed in sexuality? Sex is for love, sexual love is for marriage, and marriage is for children, for family. This is also what our reason tells us about the purpose of sexuality, that it is for marriage and children, and that is our traditional Christian understanding of it. It is what we want our children to know, and we pray that this age that makes such tragic mistakes about sex might see it, too, this natural law written into reason and conscience by the Creator, that sex is for love, sexual love is for marriage, marriage is for the love that brings forth children and cherishes them in a stable home where there is a mother and a father.
We want marriage to be what God intends it to be, “a union of one man and one woman in a lifelong, exclusive relationship of loving trust, compassion and generosity open to the conception of children.” Note that last phrase, “open to the conception of children,” which means that contraception is not using the body “for the Lord” because it is contrary to the purpose of marriage which is to be “open to the procreation of children.”
So, then, the body with its sexuality is “for the Lord” in having this meaning that the Lord intends—-for the love in marriage, for children and family. The negative form of this principle, that the body “is not for immorality,” we have this in the sixth and ninth commandments which both the Jewish tradition and the Church have always interpreted as meaning that sex outside of married love is against the express will of our Maker. As mere self-gratification, as in casual coupling or homosexuality, whatever form it takes outside of marriage, it is the immorality St. Paul speaks of here, a sin, he says, against our own body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit and not to be misused and profaned in this way. “Immorality” is the real and honest term for being “sexually active,” as that term is used today. Mortal sin is also the term for this most serious disregard for the will of our God that goes against our true nature.
Let us listen further to the Apostle Paul, to what he adds onto his principle about the body being for the Lord. He adds a fundamental fact that covers the whole of our life: “You are not your own,” he says. Of course, we’re not because we did not make ourselves, so the one who did has every claim on us and every right to have us—-for our own good—-live as He made us to live. And it isn’t just that He made us either. “We have been purchased, St. Paul says, “at a price.” What a price! we can add, knowing the price was our Lord’s suffering on the cross that restored us to God and the true meaning of things like sex after we had fallen away.
Now this, as we’ve said, applies to everything about us and how we live, this understanding that God owns us. That the Lord owns our sexuality is what St. Paul is emphasizing here. We acknowledge this in the face of a world that disregards this truth with the awful consequences of disregarding it: abortion, unwed mothers and so many children without fathers, the absurdity of “same sex marriage.” the scourge and plague of pornography—-and all that’s tearing at the family today. . It is a loving ownership that lets us be free to acknowledge it and then to make it into the ownership of our hearts, which means that we love and obey our Father who made us and made us to be happy with Him forever. When the God-given purpose of sex is ignored, that purpose is tragically lost: love, marriage, and family. When it is acknowledged and lived, then we preserve these precious things and, as St. Paul says, “we glorify God in our bodies.”
We acknowledge the truth about sexuality in the face of our own weak flesh. So along with our acceptance that God does have the say entirely over our sexuality, must go a constant plea for the grace to live by what He says. I don’t know anyone who put it better in a brief prayer than St. Augustine who certainly had his problems with sexuality before his conversion. He just said, “Lord, you have commanded chastity. Grant what you command, and command what you will.” He didn’t argue or reason about it. Reason is pretty weak when we are strongly tempted. It is love of Our Lord that is our strongest motive and our reliance on Him that is our strength. Which is why Augustine adds those words, saying: “Ask whatever you want, command what you will, and I will do it; with your help I will do it.”
All we have to understand is that God wills something and the rest is up to our love. Like so many sacrifices involved in Christian living, this one of self-control about sex is first and last a test of our love, a very real and constant test of our love for Jesus because He commands it so clearly and because it can be so difficult. “Lord, you have commanded chastity. Grant what you command, and command what you will.” That is a great act of love.
This is a hopeful prayer, to be sure. It’s like the Gospel today when the disciples ask Jesus where he is staying and He says “Come, and you will see.” Yes, come to Him and we will see what we need to see about all that concerns our happiness, like chastity in our lives and in our homes. See it and see our way to it through the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fr. James Reidy
St. Paul MN
Second Sunday of the Year, 2015, B