by Theresa Notare
September 4, 1998
At Mass recently, a very wise priest told us that when writing a sermon, he challenges his seminarians to ask the question: "How does this topic relate to Christ crucified and risen?" If they could not relate their words this point of Christian faith, they should go back to the drawing board he said.
I think he is right on target. As Christians we should be overwhelmed and grateful beyond words for the gift of our redemption. We believe that Christ's action on the cross has changed all things, for all time. Like St. Paul, therefore, all of us should seek to preach "Christ crucified and risen," and relate every aspect of our lives to how He has redeemed us and our world. When we consider the myriad problems surrounding human sexuality, then it is of utmost importance for Christians to ask, "How has Christ redeemed human sexuality?"
Today we read much in newspapers and magazines that not long ago would have been classed as science fiction, or pornography. Cloning, casual sex referred to in plots on prime time TV shows, unmarried celebrities getting pregnant by means of reproductive technologies, frozen embryos, "emergency contraception" for those times when people "just forget," homosexual "marriages," encouraging condom use among teens, adultery, scissors being thrust into the heads of partially delivered babies, sexual harassment, sexual abuse--the list goes on.
Does anyone in the public square relate these issues to the spiritual? On the contrary: when pro-lifers, in particular, try to bring God into the equation, they are often told that "individual morality" must not be "imposed" on the public. But that should not deter the Christian. We must preach Christ crucified and risen, and we should be prepared to say how Christ has redeemed our sexuality.
Christ's work on the cross has restored human sexuality to what God originally intended. That means that human sexuality is not "tinged" with sin, nor is it morally neutral. Although we can misuse even the best of God's gifts, that does not change the fact that sex is God's gift of life and love to us.
Specifically, sexual intercourse was never meant to be directed to the individual. It's not a sport or game to be enjoyed on its own (which is part of the reason why the Church has always condemned masturbation). Sexual intercourse is a powerful event of interpersonal communion--it is a sacramental event.
This makes more sense when we realize that Christian marriage is a sign of Christ's presence in the world. As Christians we accept on faith that human sexuality is caught up in the holy reality of Christ, uniting a man and woman in a union which reflects God's love in the world and is directed to others. With that starting point, it makes excellent sense to keep sex in marriage.
I am always amazed to see characters in a movie who have had multiple sexual partners before marriage, be completely undone on discovering spousal infidelity. "Why get upset?", I wonder. "If sex is nothing more than entertainment, adultery should be no big deal." However, the seriousness of infidelity still has the power to grab us by the heart, because God's law continues to exist in the human heart despite our attempts to ignore it.
The redeemed nature of marriage was understood by the Church from our earliest history. Following up on Jesus' own words on the indissolubility of marriage, St. Paul likened Christian marriage to Christ's relationship with His Church. "As Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself that the Church might be saved and sanctified, so the husband should love and cherish his wife as he cherishes his own body; for husband and wife are one body, as Christ and the Church are one body. This is a great mystery" (Ephesians 5:21-33). St. John Chrysostom (347-407) taught that the "one flesh" of the spouses is "not an empty symbol." "They have not become the image of anything on earth, but of God Himself" (Homily 12). Chrysostom was the first to speak of the family as creating a "little Church" (Homily 20). He reminded Christians that conjugal intercourse was not evil, but that the real evil lay in excessive attachment to the affairs of the world. Chrysostom even held up the nobility of sexual pleasure in marriage, "the woman receives the man's seed with rich pleasure, and within her it is nourished, cherished, and refined. It is mingled with her own substance and she then returns it as a child!" (Homily 12).
"The love of spouses," says the Catechism, "requires of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses' community of persons, which embraces their entire life" (#1644). The root of this indissolubility is found in God Himself, who taught us of His fidelity through His covenant with Abraham. It is found finally in Christ, who united Himself with His Church.
In this age of sexual anarchy and continuous assaults on the very nature of marriage, it would do the world good if Christians reclaimed our rich heritage and set about the hard work of evangelizing our brothers and sisters about the truth of human sexuality and marriage. Before we can do this we need to return to the mystery of our faith and meditate on who Jesus is, what He did for us, and how this has changed all life for all ages.
Theresa Notare, MA, is Special Assistant to the Director of the Diocesan Development Program for NFP, A program of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities.