This month’s teaching editorials will explore vital aspects of the richness of marriage and family life in preparation for the October 2015 synod: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family for the Church and Contemporary Society.”
Two of the hardest topics to discuss today are religion and sexuality, and Catholic sexuality is a topic that seldom comes up despite its significance. We tend to awkwardly change the subject or avoid the discussion all together. Yet our sexuality is the very essence of our person, of marriage and of the family.
It also happens to be one of the most exploited and perverted aspects of today’s society. We have come a long way from “they were both naked and felt no shame” (Gen 2:25). How can the very essence of humanity be so hard to talk about?
How has it become so easily distorted? Perhaps we need to get back to the basics: What is sexuality, and what purpose does it serve in light of the family and our faith?
From 1979 to 1984, St. John Paul II gave a series of talks during his weekly Wednesday audiences about sexuality and love that have become known as the “Theology of the Body.” (For the content of St. John Paul II ’s talks on this topic, see www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2TBIND.HTM. The texts of these audiences are also available in print.)
Two persistent themes related to sexuality emerge from this theology: self-mastery and self-giving.
Self-mastery — or temperance — is one of the most basic principles of our sexuality. It is the foundation for self-giving, breeding chastity, moderation, respect and dignity. Through this we begin to restore our bodies to the fullness that our original parents experienced and see the sanctity God intended when we “were naked and felt no shame.” With this attitude, imagine how much more we could give to one another.
Temperance allows us to break free from lust, sexual impulse and misplaced desires and to focus on total self-giving.
What a beautiful thing we achieve when our thoughts, desires and actions align and focus on our spouse. Total self-giving must be just that — total. It emulates the relationship between Christ and his bride, a sacrifice likened to the gift that God gave man through his son Jesus Christ. (St. John Paul II discussed this in his audience on Sept. 29, 1982). If that is our model, it is no wonder sexuality is held in such high regard.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sexuality is laid out quite clearly: The physical union is to be unitive and procreative (1601). Its unifying aspects are clearly intertwined, perhaps synonymous with total self-giving. The catechism tells us that this union must be “ordered towards the good of the spouses.”
This highlights the importance of the body. It is through our bodies and sexuality that we are able to realize the mystery of creation. (St. John Paul II discussed this in his Nov. 21, 1979, audience.) In a similar way, through our bodies we most closely experience the divine, where it is possible for two to become one. What a beautiful thing with which we have been blessed.
This union must also be procreative. There is so much summed up in that single word. Theology of the Body turns us towards “Humanae Vitae,” an encyclical of Pope Paul VI, to explain the meaning and intention of the procreative aspect of our sexuality.
We learn that each act must be open to the creation of life, and it is inseparable from the unitive aspect. Not only is it a fundamental part of humanity; but it is one of the most precious faculties given to man. Through our sexuality, we are co-creators with God, sharing in his eternal plan.
This does not mean we are to have as many babies as possible, but that we honor God’s plan without deliberately frustrating the design for our bodies and sexuality. We must practice responsible parenthood and recognize our duties toward God, our families and ourselves. (St. John Paul II addressed this in his Aug. 1, 1984, audience). Through natural family planning, we are able to honor God’s design while meeting our duties.
In today’s society we are often called to be counter-cultural in order to realize the fullness of Christ’s love. In “Theology of the Body for Beginners,” Christopher West, a leading theologian on this topic, states: “The problem with our sex-saturated culture, then, is not that it overvalues the body and sex. The problem is that it has failed to see just how
valuable the body and sex really are.”
St. John Paul II teaches that sexuality is at the very essence of our person, our families and humanity, and it is this essence that is so often undervalued in today’s culture. Realizing and living sexuality according to our faith is undoubtedly counter-cultural, but we must come together in Christ to realize the fullness of family.
Mark and Danyelle Bender teach Theology of the Body and are members of St. Mary Church, Navilleton, in Floyds Knobs, Ind.