The Cross and Sexual Lives
Father Jeffrey pointed out this excellent piece in this week’s Catholic Herald (oh how we love the Herald over the Tablet d’ythink?) earlier this week. Thought I’d save it for the height of Holy Week.
It is increasingly common to be confronted over Catholic teachings on sexual morality by someone whose own practice, or those of close relatives, are at odds with this. Something similar occurred when divorce first became common but still carried a stigma. Those who had separated and remarried challenged Catholics on their “narrow-minded” and “un-Christian attitude”. I suspect that there was an element of bad conscience in these charges.
Recently someone told me that a mutual acquaintance had reported that I was “shocked” to learn that they each had gay children who had entered civil partnerships. My own response was to say that while our mutual friend was a good person he was not perhaps a very sophisticated one, and that he might be externalising unresolved attitudes of his own.
So what are we to say? I recall a Presbyterian minister saying that we all bring our sexual lives before the cross. That was beautifully put and is absolutely the right attitude for a Christian. Humankind carries certain inherited wounds the effects of which include, in Augustine’s language, a darkening of the intellect and a disturbance of the passions.
These affect all of our lives, including our sexuality. A mark of failing to acknowledge this is finding fault in the sexual desires and activities of others: judging someone overly sexual, or unduly repressed and so on. Because we are all subject to the same flaws it is wrong to judge others in their persons, though social behaviour may be a necessary matter for comment. It is right and important to bring our flawed sexualities before the cross because there is something mysterious about sex which lies close to our spiritual condition and which we will only ever discern in the eternal light of Christ.
Catholic teaching is generally misunderstood, even among other Christians who have abandoned traditional understandings and for whom any criticism of homosexuality can only seem a matter of prejudice. Some Christian denominations have given up the idea of sexual order and see everything, barring what is wrong on other grounds (such as violence, abuse, etc), as “ok” within the context of settled heterosexual unions. This is the suggestion of the evangelical group Christian Nymphos whose slogan is “Married sex, spicy, the way God intended it to be”. It can then seem mere prejudice to exclude same-sex relations from this.
That is not at all the Catholic position. It holds that sex is for the sake of marriage and that marriage is a form of divinely ordained, exclusive and life-long union in which the partners must remain open to procreation and constrain sexual activity within a norm of chastity. Moreover, it does not believe that everyone has a right to sex of whatever sort and to whatever extent they choose in the context of consensual heterosexual relations. There is no right to sex any more than there is a right to happiness. Nor does it teach that homosexual sins are intrinsically graver than heterosexual ones. Much of what people get up to is infantile gratification and emotionally coarsening, but that is independent of the matter of the sex of the parties.
For those who read the penultimate paragraph and went “Christian WHAT?!”, the following link might prove interesting reading. Oooh, spicy…