October 25, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The Church and sexual morality

John F. FinkSex is good. God created it, and he created it good. He created men and women physically different so that they could unite in sexual activity and become two in one flesh. Furthermore, he created us with strong desires for sex to make sure that we would want to unite with one another. That’s the method he planned for us to co-create the human race.

However, he made us different from the animals, who also engage in sexual intercourse in order to reproduce. For humans, sexual intercourse is meant to be an act of love, an act of self-giving and receiving, an act that can be engaged in even when the woman or man is infertile, an act that is licit only in a marriage between a man and a woman.

Modern society has rejected that idea. It probably began with the so-called “sexual revolution” in the 1960s, powered by the invention of the birth-control pill that made it possible for women to have sex with less fear of becoming pregnant.

What happened to morality when all this was going on? When did it suddenly become acceptable for unmarried men and women to have sex? Today our society takes it for granted that sexual activity is part of dating. Our television situation comedies revolve around men and women having sex outside of marriage.

The Catholic Church, therefore, is countercultural when it comes to sexual morality. It still teaches the virtue and goodness of chastity. We achieve chastity through the help of God’s grace and self-discipline, which can be a lifetime struggle because the sexual drive is powerful indeed.

Chastity is a virtue that must be practiced by everyone, single and married. For the single person, it means engaging in no sexual activity of any kind—which, admittedly, is difficult. For the married person, it means sexual activity only with your spouse.

The Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery.” We believe, though, that this commandment forbids all sexual misbehavior. It is worded as it is to emphasize that sexual activity belongs in marriage and not outside it. Among the sins forbidden by this commandment are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual acts.

Contrary to what those TV situation comedies teach, sexual intercourse between unmarried persons is sinful. It’s called fornication, which might seem an old-fashioned word, but it’s an action that is meant only for those in the committed bond of marriage.

Homosexuality is not wrong in itself, and people with homosexual inclinations are not immoral. They must not be discriminated against. However, homosexual acts are immoral. The Church calls them “intrinsically disordered” because the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “they close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (#2357).

Married people must not only be faithful to one another, they must also permit every act of sexual intercourse to be open to the possibility of conceiving a child. Both the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual activity are important.

Blessed John Paul II reflected at length and in many beautiful and inspiring ways on the reasons behind this Church teaching in a series of general audience presentations that have come to be called the “Theology of the Body.” †

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