By Father John Catoir
Catholic News Service
In an age of porn and sleaze, the need for a deepened respect for the positive aspects of human sexuality is real. In marriage, the desire to give one’s self to the delight of the beloved is a sign of Christian holiness.
Human sexuality is perhaps the most talked about but least understood subject in the world. Our culture reduces sex to a form of entertainment. The sound tracks on many sitcoms are full of laughter over promiscuous behavior.
There is never any thought given to the dangers of “free love,” like unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion and broken hearts when a lover suddenly walks away. Without a mutual commitment, sex can be dangerous on many levels.
Promiscuity in one’s youth can lead to an attitude about sex that scorns the idea of fidelity in marriage, and infidelity is the leading cause of divorce. In view of the fact that true love requires service and sacrifice, promiscuity is not a good way to prepare for a permanent marriage.
Our Lord taught that the noblest form of love is to lay down one’s life for the beloved. In marriage, this kind of surrender begins when there is a true marital commitment. The willingness to endure suffering to bring peace and happiness to the beloved is essential.
Everyone needs to appreciate that sexuality is a gift that possesses both dignity and spiritual beauty.
A great deal can be said about the humdrum reality of marriage life. People need to accept themselves as human, as they try to deal with their shortcomings and weaknesses. But there is no reason to think of marital pleasure as sinful; it is a God-given instinct.
There are many forms of sensual delight, like the enjoyment of a beautiful sunset or the thrill of listening to a great symphony. Such noble emotions contribute to our sense of well-being and happiness. Sexual pleasure is a particular form of sensual delight that is designed to be used in the service of married love. It brings new life into the world and increases the mutual support and comfort of married life.
Then, where does the sin factor come in?
Sexual sins are not sinful because of the pleasure factor. How could they be? Marriage is a sacrament that God created so that man and woman would find a “helpmate” in one another and grow in love and union and beget new life.
The precise nature of the sinfulness of illicit sex is not found in the sensual feelings it produces, but in the degree of selfishness a person projects. One who would risk taking advantage of another, despite the fact that it might lead to severe emotional pain, turns an act of love into an act of self-indulgence.
That’s why it is always wise for a young person to practice chastity. The alternative is to risk dangers that could lead to a life of sadness and regret. Part of chastity entails refraining from premarital sex, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship,” but it also exists in married life.
In the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the first chapter discusses fostering the nobility of marriage and the family. Speaking of marriage, the document says:
“This love God has judged worthy of special gifts, healing, perfecting and exalting gifts of grace and of charity. Such love, merging the human with the divine, leads the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves, a gift providing itself by gentle affection and by deed, such love pervades the whole of their lives: Indeed, by its busy generosity it grows better and grows greater.”
Read more commentary here.