By Bernard Toutounji (Foolish Wisdom)
Without a doubt, the articles I write which attract the most feedback (positive or negative) are always those that discuss sexual morality and the Catholic Church. Nothing seems to raise the emotions of people more than knowing that the Catholic Church has an opinion on sex. And while it may seem that issues such as contraception, IVF, masturbation or homosexuality are all different, they really revolve around the one central hinge: the purpose and meaning of human sexuality. To get directly to the point, Christianity (Catholicism in particular) has a definite understanding of what human sexuality is, while the secular world has a vastly different understanding. In addition, this secular understanding has – for a host of reasons – fed into the minds of many Catholic people so that they no longer understand or agree with the Church’s stance on many of the basic moral issues. Instead of anyone actually seeking to understand the Catholic position, the Church is portrayed as having some sick obsession with matters of sex and telling others what they can (but mostly what they cannot) do.
As a case in point, following my last article which criticised the use of contraception by a Protestant aid agency in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I received an email from a dissatisfied reader. This particular lady – a practicing Catholic – was angered by my ‘narrow minded view’ and questioned whether I had ever been to PNG to truly understand the particular hardships endured by those people. I am grateful to this lady for taking the time to write and I am sure her words represent the thoughts of others – but it does demonstrate my point that there is a huge discrepancy in the public arena about the meaning and purpose of sex.
We live in an emotive age, we rely not on objective reason but on subjective feeling. If I was to make the basic statement that ‘contraception is bad’, that is not a judgement upon those who may use it, but rather it is a judgement on the act of contracepting a sexual union. I do not have the ability to cast a judgement on the conscience of an individual but we all need to (as citizens and even further as Christians) make judgements about actions, and indeed we all do it every day. In that sense it does not matter whether I have or have not been to PNG to witness the lives of the people there. If it is possible to objectively state that ‘contraception is bad’ then it would clearly be bad for any person, in the same way that consuming poison would be bad whether the people are from PNG, Australia or the USA.
In essence what the Catholic Church has to say about love and sex is fairly simple. We are human persons made up of body and soul so our actions are important. The only way we can express anything is through action. We are not and never will be pure spirits so we cannot consider matters just in terms of ideas. We often talk about ‘body language’ and indeed what we do with our bodies testifies to what we believe. I cannot walk up to someone, slap them across the face and then try to explain to that person that I just offered them a gesture of friendship. In the same way, sex speaks a language and deep down we all know that. If you don’t believe me ask a woman whose husband has committed adultery; she will certainly tell you that sex is more than just a random physical action. So then, the language of love and of sex is four-fold; it is something that is free, total,faithful and fruitful (fruitful meaning that it transcends itself). These qualities are not imposed upon us but rather we identify them as the deepest desires of our hearts. These four qualities are what make sexual love either truthful or a lie.
Contraception, IVF and homosexuality – as examples – make the sexual language into a lie by lacking one or more of those qualities. I am not saying that every person who engages in these practices is completely culpable each and every time, but on an objective level, those practices are never good for the human person because they are unable to speak the full truth of love. The Catholic Church is not obsessed with sex as much as she is obsessed with truth because it is only in truth that a human person can find interior peace.
The English Chancellor Thomas More chose to be executed in 1535 rather than speak a lie stating that the second marriage of King Henry VIII was valid. Today he is referred to as a martyr, someone who bears witness to the truth. How many of us would be more willing to go to our death rather than speak untruth? Most of us believe comfort and pleasure are the highest goods; they are not. This does not mean we should be seeking out suffering, we must do all in our power to relieve the difficulties of others but we can never do that with a lie. To return to the poverty stricken people of PNG, no matter how good the intention, contraception is always a lie. Material poverty does not justify us encouraging couples to turn the gift of their sexual love into a lie. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Catholic vision for love and sex, we cannot be so foolhardy to think that the Church would or could turn around and encourage couples to reduce their sexual union into nothing more than an opportunity for individualistic pleasure seeking.
If the Catholic Church stands for anything it is for truth. This should come as no surprise considering the statement of Jesus who called himself ‘The Truth’. The reason the Catholic Church is so outspoken about issues around sexuality is because it is one of the most foundational ways that we can enter into the truth our hearts desire. The day the Church stops being obsessed with truth is the day she ceases being what she was called to be.
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