Author and speaker Christopher West says that the reason college students are so interested in sex and drinking is because they crave the Sacrament of Marriage and the Holy Eucharist. He continues by stating that these same people don’t know that this is what they want because they think that binge drinking and hook-ups are as good as it gets. He compares this to the people who think that Easy Mac is real macaroni and cheese. West believes that what the Church proposes about marriage is not only beautiful, but he calls it good news. Most American Catholics don’t believe what the Church teaches about sex. This sharp dichotomy stems from a misunderstanding of what the Church has to say, which was elaborated best by Holy Father Pope John Paul the Great.
Everyone wants love. This is a common human experience. John Paul the Great says that Scripture teaches this is part of man’s very nature. Man is said in Genesis to be made in God’s image. While this has mainly been taken to mean that humans have reason, John Paul adds that the way in which men and women love each other is a part of this. Genesis 1:27, “God created man (mankind-haadam) in His own image. In His divine image He created them; male (zakar) and female (uneqebah).” Both men and women are part of the image of God. To understand this, one must understand the Trinity.
God is three persons, all co-eternal, who constitute one Being. God the Father has existed from all time. In the same way that humans have an idea of who they are, the Father has an idea of who He is. Because God is all-knowing and all-powerful, His knowledge is so perfect that it is another Person: the Son. Scripture tells us God is Love. It says this because God loves mankind, but also because His very nature is love. The Father has an infinite love for the Son, and the Son, who is infinitely receptive of this love, also has an infinite love for the Father. This love they share is so strong that it is a third Person: the Holy Spirit. There love is fruitful, free, total, and faithful.
The new commandment that Jesus gave to His Church was, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved the Church by giving His life up for the Church on the cross. This love was freely given, a total self-gift, and was fruitful in the fact that it merited graces for the salvation of the world. The “it is finished” that Jesus spoke on the cross was referring to His joining together God and men’s souls in a marriage. This marriage is consummated each time the Eucharist is received. That is where the Creator gives Himself freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully to His Bride, the Church.
Using these concepts, it can be easily understood why the Church teaches what it does on sexuality. When a couple marries, they stand before each other, God, and the Church and commit themselves to love each other as God loves the Church. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church…” This commitment is to be freely made, totally made, kept faithful, and be fruitful. While Moses permitted divorce and remarriage, Jesus calls remarriage adultery. God’s plan in creation was to join two people together forever. Everyone understands the concept of body-language. A rolling of the eyes signifies some sort of frustration or disgust. The conjugal act is a profound statement of body language. To have intercourse is to say, “I give myself to you freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully and I accept you freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.” To allow a marriage (or any form of polygamy) after someone has said this to someone else is a lie. A person can only give his life up to one person at a time. (Since Jesus says that there will be no marrying nor giving in marriage in Heaven , it is permitted that marriage be “until death do us part.”) Divorce and remarriage, then, is nothing more than serial polygamy.
Similarly, sex outside of marriage is a lie with the body. When a dating (or adulterous) couple has intercourse they are lying to each other. Their bodies say, “I give myself to you totally forever” but neither of them means to say this. The adulterous couple cannot say this because they already have said it to someone else, and the dating couple doesn’t mean it because if they did, they would already be married. Until a couple has made the commitment at an actual wedding, it remains a false promise. Many people say, “I don’t just have intercourse with anyone; I wait until I’m in love.” While this is noble, it is misguided in that love is something that can be cloudy. The dating couple may (or may not) be in love, but they aren’t enough in love, or they would be married already. Therefore, sex outside of marriage is clearly not an act of love but one of hurtful deception, and couples who want authentic love will struggle to remain chaste.
However, true marital love can only be made real in a state of purity, and purity is much more than avoiding sex before marriage. Many people sneer at purity, but purity, properly understood, is a beautiful thing. Jesus says that anyone who has lust in His heart has already committed adultery. Lust takes people and pulverizes their uniqueness, treating them as objects instead of persons, just like communism treated people as cogs in a machine and capitalism can treat people as capital to be used. The other must never become an object of sexual satisfaction but always remain an other to love. This is not to say that intercourse shouldn’t be pleasurable; it should. Pleasure, however, is to always remain a side-effect and never the goal of intercourse. Once it becomes a goal, intercourse becomes selfish. The husband and wife are no longer giving themselves to each other in love freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully, but using each other as living toys for masturbation.
Before marriage, people must strive to avoid masturbation. Marriage is not a solution to a chastity problem but a vocation that requires the ability to live a life of chastity. Fathers should take care to train their sons to be real men of virtue who can control their bodies. Many people say that masturbation is so wide-spread and harmless that it shouldn’t be looked down upon; however, this is false. If a man enters into a marriage without having been able to live a life of chastity before, he will only be changing the means of his masturbation. Now the woman is the object of pleasure for him instead of his hand. He cannot give himself freely because he has no self-control. The fullness of love will not be possible because the man is still self-centered, turning love in upon himself. Masturbation mocks the gift of sexuality that God gave to man. While chastity is difficult, and for teenagers may seem almost impossible, all things worth doing take effort. This is certainly one of those things, as what is at stake is the ability to experience real love
Contraception is intrinsically related to masturbation. Probably the most controversial of all Church-teachings, it is also one of the most beautiful.
The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the Magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
One of the marital vows is to be fruitful: open to life. Some people argue that as long as the couple is open to life over the course of the marriage, not every act has to be. This is nonsense, like saying that a couple can be faithful most of the time over the course of their marriage, but that certain acts can be unfaithful. The Church permits couples to use Natural Family Planning, which is 99% effective in preventing births. The method charts a woman’s fertility, meaning the couples who think a pregnancy would not be the best thing for the family at this time (to use NFP for an entire marriage would require grave reasons for doing so), simply avoid having intercourse during a woman’s fertile period. This is now highly developed and is actually more effective than using a condom. Because it is so effective, many people say it is simply “Catholic contraception” and that the means of achieving the result shouldn’t matter. If people thought about this, they would realize that this is absurd. If a man needs money, he can rob a bank or get a job. Everyone sees one as ethical and the other as not, even though the results are the same. The same holds for NFP and contraception. Pope John Paul the Great said, “In the common viewpoint it often happens that the method, separated from the ethical dimension proper to it, is put into effect in a merely functional and even utilitarian way. By separating the natural method from the ethical dimension, one no longer sees the difference between it and the other methods. One comes to the point of speaking of it as if it were only a different form of contraception.”
Once more, this is about body language. The contracepting couple says, “I accept all of you except your fertility.” As Pope John Paul the Great says, “This extension of the sphere of the means of ‘domination of the forces of nature’ menaces the human person for whom the method of ‘self-mastery’ is and remains specific. The mastery of self-corresponds to the fundamental constitution of the person; it is indeed a ‘natural’ method. On the contrary, the resort to artificial means destroys the subjectivity proper to him and makes him an object of manipulation.” This is not about legalism but a lived-relationship with the Creator and true love with the spouse. A couple who uses contraception or sterilizes one of the spouses turns loving intercourse into masturbation. Married couples who make the switch from contraception to NFP say that it has transformed their marriage for the better.
Homosexual activity is one of the hardest of the Church’s teachings on sexuality to explain. This may have something to do with the fact that people who do not experience same-sex attraction feel as if they are forcing their lifestyle on those who do struggle with these feelings. Scripture is clear that God made man and woman for each other, and since homogential activity can never be procreative (fruitful), it does not mirror God’s love in the inner life of the Trinity or Jesus on the cross, and therefore, is sinful. It makes sense to allow someone who has lived the gay lifestyle and now lives the Gospel explain the Church’s teachings. David Morrison chronicled his experience in the book Beyond Gay, and his work is an immense contribution to the subject. He reiterates that sexuality not tied to life can easily become a form of objectifying the other, and then continues,
The Church recognizes that men and women, in a very real sense, lack something in their personalities and persons that they can only get from the other. The attraction between men and women unlike that documented among same-sex couples, is rooted strongly in the desire for and exploration of the other. By contrast, same-sex couples often find attractive one another’s similarities, even to the point, noted in one interview in The Male Couple, of feeling as though they share each other’s bodies and breath. In the attraction of man for woman and vice versa there is a desire for the other as other; in same-sex couples there is often the desire for the other as redundant .
Jesus Christ gave an invitation, “Come, follow me.” It is important that Christians grasp the magnitude of this call. While all men desire to change to be better people, Dietrich von Hildebrand points out that this is a grander challenge for the Christian. “It is, in other words, the adequate consequence of our consciousness of being in need of redemption on the one hand, and our comprehension of being called by Christ on the other. Our surrender to Christ implies a readiness to let Him fully transform us, without setting any limit to the modification of our nature under His influence.” Following Him means abandoning all that keeps man from God: every sin.
Maybe some people remain unconvinced that God is not trying to ruin all their fun. These same people need to be reminded that God is all-knowing and also all-loving. He desires nothing but the happiness of everyone. He made all people; He knows how they were designed to live. He knows what fulfills their very nature. Father Michael Himes pointed out in a homily once that the Scripture says, “If you abide in My word, then you are My disciples, and you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free” and that says that people should note the order. If people abide in His word, then they will understand the Truth. Sometimes it isn’t until someone lives the Church’s teachings that they understand that this is what is really going to fulfill them. People seem so willing to try to fulfill themselves with distraction after distraction. They are willing to try drugs, alcohol, and a different sexual partner every weekend. If people are so open to trying new things, why not the Church’s teachings?