For some reason I meet very few Catholics who openly disagree with the Church’s understanding of the true presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament or a belief in the Trinity but it seems like very frequently I come across many Catholics who openly disagree with the Churches teaching on sexual morality. In these encounters with people who openly disagree with the Churches understanding of sexuality I usually find one of two things. Firstly I find that most people know what the Churches teaching but do not know why the Church teaches what She teaches. I think this is because we, as a Church, have failed to teach the beauty of our sexuality. For various reasons we have made people believe our teaching on sexuality is a set of “no rules” (no premarital sex, no contraception, and no homosexual intercourse, ect.) when the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is really a set of “yes rules” (yes to love, yes to life, yes to happiness and yes to human flourishing.) Secondly I find that there are those who have come to learn the Church’s teaching and are upset because they don’t want to live the Church’s teaching and so out of anger they try to fight the Church’s teaching by claiming a group of celibates in Rome can have nothing to say about human sexuality.
I believe one of the greatest gifts Blessed Pope John Paul II gave us was a deep understanding of the “yes teaching” of human sexuality. Through his beautifully crafted papal audiences which make up the Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II captures God’s plan for and the Churches teaching of the “yes” of human sexuality. Following the witness of Pope John Paul II we are compelled to teach the truth even if it is hard to hear because with St. John and Pope John Paul II I know “the truth will set you free.” Yet, following the witness of Pope John Paul II, who gave us the feast of Divine Mercy Sunday to remind us of God’s great mercy and to encourage us to run to Christ’s outstretched arms looking for mercy, we are compelled to teach the truth with mercy. Contained in the beauty of God’s love, the love expressed in human sexuality, is God’s desire to forgive us and to help us live a life of love, happiness and human flourishing found only in saying yes to true human sexuality. With Pope John Paul II’s witness of mercy and his audiences that make up the Theology of the Body in the background I would like to demonstrate how this yes to human sexuality brings about a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching of sexual morality by exploring the Churches teaching on celibacy, extra-marital chastity and marital chastity.
All people are called to chastity, the virtue by which human sexuality is ordered to its proper purpose,” but only some are called to live out chastity through celibacy, “a way of life characterized by a priest’s (religious’ or consecrated virgin’s) perpetual renunciation for the sake of the reign of God.” All people are called to order their sexuality towards a proper purpose. For priests, religious, and consecrated virgins this call is to live out their gift of human sexuality through celibacy.
Celibacy is an important topic in Blessed Pope John Paul II’s audiences compiled in the Theology of the Body. While many people in the world look at celibacy as a renunciation of sex, Pope John Paul II upholds and explains the teaching of the Church that celibacy is not a “no of sexuality” but rather a “yes to human sexuality.” The living of a life of celibacy mirrors the life of Christ who himself was celibate and just as Christ’s life bore great fruit, so too does the life of a celibate living today.
For anyone vowed to celibacy, chastity is lived out by a renunciation of marriage and physical sexual activity not because human sexuality is bad or unholy but rather as a sacrifice of something good for the sake of the Kingdom of God. A person vowed to celibacy brings about life by being a sign of the kingdom of heaven. It allows him to be freer from worldly anxieties to work for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Celibacy thus has a twofold life giving end; to be a sign of the Kingdom of heaven and to be tied more freely to work for the kingdom of heaven.
Celibacy as a sign of the Kingdom
Blessed Pope John Paul II references Mark 12:25 to highlight the truth that celibacy is a sign of the world of the heavenly kingdom. He says “there is a condition of life without marriage in which man, male and female, finds at one and the same time the fullness of personal giving and of the inter-subjective communion of persons.” There is no marriage in heaven because those in heaven are perfectly united to God, so earthly marriage which is a reflection of that union with God is not fitting because in heaven man already shares in the perfect union with God, of which earthly marriage anticipates. While marriage anticipates the “heavenly marriage,” the union we will have with God in heaven, a celibate expresses the “I do” expressed by married couples directly to God and forgoes the anticipation of human marriage so that while living in the world the celibate’s life proclaims the truth of the Kingdom of Heaven. If there was no heaven, living a life of celibacy would make no sense, so by living a life of celibacy, a celibate reminds those around him that there is a greater kingdom than this kingdom of earth still to come. As Pope John Paul remarks celibacy is a charismatic sign of the greater union, a sign that we are made for union with God.
In virtue of our creation as sexual beings all men and women are called to be fathers and mothers and there is no exception for celibates. The celibate becomes an icon of Christ, whose spouse is the Church. Through this iconic marriage a celibate has spiritual children. A priest for example, while not having any biological children, becomes the spiritual father of those in his community; he gives his life completely in their service to lead them to the heavenly kingdom. While some protestant churches attack Catholics for calling their priest father it is precisely through his celibacy that he becomes the spiritual father of his spiritual children that he is properly called father. It is as a spiritual parent that a celibate works for the Kingdom of Heaven. The celibate gives his life over for the sheep to pastor them into the pastures of eternal life.
Celibacy Frees One to Work for the Kingdom
Understanding the truth that celibacy not only points to the Kingdom of Heaven but also frees a person to work for the Kingdom of Heaven by becoming a spiritual parent makes it obvious that marriage and celibacy are both related and interdependent. Just as marriage is a vocation, or calling from God, so to celibacy is a calling from God. Just as in marriage a spouse is called to marry a particular person by the Lord, so to a celibate is called to enter into an iconic marriage with Christ. Whereas in human marriage the gift of the vocation of marriage is the other spouse and children they procreate so to for the celibate the gift of the vocation is the undivided relationship with Christ and the spiritual children that come from that relationship.
Celibacy in its Relationship to Marriage
Recognizing the beauty of celibacy should lead one to quickly recognize that while celibacy can be called a higher calling because it is a calling to forego human marriage, the anticipatory union between God and man for the closer union between God and man, it does not lessen the great vocation of marriage. “He (Christ) proposes the ideal of continence and the call to it to his disciples not by reason of inferiority or, or the prejudice against, conjugal “union in the body” but only for the “kingdom of heaven.” The call to celibacy does not defame the great beauty of marriage but rather compliments it, and explains the beauty of the call to marriage. In his encyclical on the family, Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II reiterates this point saying:
Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning.
Celibacy, when promoted as the good it is, both benefits and receives from marriage. It is only when celibacy and marriage are seen as compliments to one another that God’s true design and meaning of our sexuality is made clear.
The period before one is ordained, professes religious vows or enters into marriage should be a period of growth in the gift of self to others expressed in nonsexual ways. Unfortunately today this period has become a period of intense egotism with a focus on the fulfillment of one’s own gratification rather than a growing of imitating Christ by living a life of self-gift. Extra-marital chastity calls the individual to work to order his sexual desires, thoughts and behaviors towards authentic love, a love that is free, total, faithful, fruitful and forever. Through living out properly extra-marital chastity, by saying yes to the true meaning of human sexuality, to the goodness of being created in God’s image and likeness, one does not simply abstain from sex as a means of following a rule, but rather continues on a path of true love, true life, true happiness, and true human flourishing.
Almost everyone I know, whether they agree or disagree, knows that the Church does not permit extramarital sex. Sadly many people disagree with this teaching for many reasons including a lack of a true understanding of love, an improper understanding of sex or human sexuality, or simply out of convince because they want to enjoy extramarital sex. Yet, simply because everyone is doing it does not mean the truth about the morality of premarital sex canbe taken lightly. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it very clear “fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children.” The Church is perfectly clear that extramarital sex is never permissible. While this can seem like an archaic rule, the teaching of Pope John Paul II demonstrates the truth and the beauty of this declaration.
At the root of Pope John Paul II’s teaching against extramarital sexual relations is his realization that sexual intercourse is not merely a biological phenomenon or simply a means of receiving and giving pleasure but rather is an integral part of love by which a man and a woman give themselves totally to each other until death because the act of marital intercourse is not simply a means of getting closer, procreating or experiencing pleasure but rather is a physical expression of the marital vows expressed on the wedding day, a promise of love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful and forever.
Extramarital intercourse cannot be total because by virtue of not being married, the love between partners is not total, Marriage is not simply a recognition of a love that already exists but rather a raising up, a perfecting of human love to the level of supernatural love. At the moment the bride and groom express consent through their marital vows they undergo a change, the change from being unmarried to married, from two separate individuals to one married couple whose love has been sealed by the Holy Spirit. Since marital intercourse is an expression of the singular marital love any sexual relations outside of marriage is a contradiction within the person. The person’s body, by having sexual intercourse outside of marriage, says I love you as if we are one but reality and the choice of the human person to have intercourse with someone to whom they are not married says I don’t love you totally as one because we have not been made one by the sacrament of marriage. The person having sexual relations outside of marriage is living a lie; his body is saying he loves the partner totally while his brain, through its choice not to seek married love says I don’t yet love you totally.
How Far is Too Far?
The question “how far is too far” is the wrong question. Trying to set a legalistic minimum misses entirely the beauty of the Church’s teaching about human sexuality expressed by Pope John Paul II in the Theology of the Body. As people striving for proper relationships with God, others and ourselves, we must change the question from “what can I do” to “what should I do?”
Firstly we must remember that at the center of all our actions there must be love; love of God, love of neighbor and love of self. Love demands that we treat others for who they are, free creatures will by God and made in His image and likeness. In short it demands that we love as Christ loves. Thus any physical expression of love must respect the other and be in proper order with the proper relationship with the other. We thus “cross the line” when our actions treat other persons as a means of our own gratification and not for who they are, respecting their true relationship to us. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us of this when he says “consequently, when these kisses and caresses are done for this delectation, it follows that they are mortal sins, and only in this way are they said to be lustful. Therefore in so far as they are lustful, they are mortal sins.” Any act that has lust at its core is “too far.”
One’s outward manifestation of affection, regardless of where it falls on the spectrum is intended to be an outward display of the inward reality of that relationship, an outward expression of the love that exists between the two. Thus a dating couple wishing to express their love by holding hands would certainly be acting appropriately but if a couple wanted to hold hands simply to enjoy a feeling of being connected with someone and not to express of reality of a true love that exists, the act of holding hands would be wrong. Since sexual intimacy is the body’s expression of the free, total, faithful and fruitful love proclaimed on ones wedding day any kind of sexual intimacy would not be a true reflection of the inward reality of love between an unmarried couple.
Living together outside of marriage.
Living together before marriage is not in and of itself wrong and in some rare cases may actually be the best option, provided the couple can live as brother and sister until their wedding day. While living together before marriage is not wrong in itself, human beings are susceptible to temptations and we must do everything to avoid the occasion of sin. Simply put, without the boundary of living separately, one is much more likely to have premarital sex because there is a greater occasion to do so and so except in rare cases couples should wait until after marriage to live together.
Pornography is sadly widely accepted as appropriate by our culture, causing extreme danger and harm to our culture. While many claim pornography harms no one and thus is okay nothing could be farther from the truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
The catechism reminds us that pornography is a grave sin because it perverts the sexual act from being about authentic married love and lowers it to the level of a desire for self-gratification, while making the other an object of one’s pleasure instead of a participant in married love. Pornography makes sexual intimacy about one’s own gratification and not the expression of marital love it is intended to be.
Sadly many people in our culture hold up masturbation to be both a healthy and normal expression of human sexuality but nothing could be further from the truth. Masturbation is deadly, it is a grave disorder that when participated in freely and with full consciousness is a mortal sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear about the gravity of masturbation:
By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”
Since masturbation attempts to simulate sexual intercourse outside of marriage, in a way that is not free, total, faithful and fruitful it is gravely disordered.
There is a mistaken notion, held by some Catholics, who see the Church’s teaching on sexuality as merely a set of rules, that chastity is only for those who are not married. As we have already seen, all people are called to chastity, even those who are married. Since all sexual activity is a physical manifestation of the wedding vows even a married persons have no right to use the gift of their sexuality for self-serving ends.
While sexual intercourse is the expression of married love it is not the heart of married love, and like all good things must be moderated and brought into right relationship with its intended purpose. As we have seen numerous times, sexual intercourse, being the expression of the marital vows should be free, total, faithful and fruitful. In other words there should be a procreative and a unitive aspect to every sexual encounter. When marital intercourse is free, total, faithful and fruitful it becomes a source of life, holiness and joy in the marriage. When any part of the procreative or unitive aspect of sexual intimacy is removed, however, marital intercourse leads to death of the marriage, spiritual death and unhappiness.
Procreative Aspect of Sex Intercourse
While sexual intercourse is intended to be fruitful, that is open to the possibility of procreation each sexual encounter does not need to have the goal of achieving pregnancy. The Church in Her wisdom understands that for some families a larger number of children is not a realistic possibility. While promoting a spirit of generosity and trust in God’s providence, the Church, teaches that for some families the number of children should be limited.
The constant teaching of the Church is clear that the spacing of children is possible only after careful discernment of the couple keeping in mind two basic principles. The first principle requires the couple to discern that the spacing of children is for the greater good of the family. It may be that the couple cannot afford another child, that the child would be a serious burden to marital relationship or the parents are not physically able to raise another child due to a serious illness in the family. Guiding this principle of the greater good, however, must be a spirit of generosity. Since children are a gift from God and are a source of blessing, couples should be prepared to suffer for the sake of their children. Simply wanting to live a more comfortable life style is not a proper reason for spacing children. Secondly if it has been discerned that children should be spaced, the method of spacing must be ethically sound.
Any use of artificial contraception to avoid a pregnancy is never morally acceptable. The Church from the beginning has taught contraception to be a grave evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches clearly the evils of contraception.
Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil.
Any physical intervention, whether it be sterilization, the implantation of an IUD, the use of a condom, any form of drug including the Birth Control Pill, Plan B or the patch, are wrong because they violate the fruitfulness intended in marital intimacy. Since the procreation of a child is always good. Any barrier placed during the act of sexual intercourse attempts to block the a good, by trying to prevent sexual intercourse from being fruitful.
Since marital intercourse is a physical manifestation of the marriage vows, which include a fruitful aspect, the act of contraception causes our body to express a reality different from the reality expressed in the marital vows, leading to a contradiction within ourselves. Even though one may be using artificial contraception to legitimately try to prevent a pregnancy it remains a moral evil because by using artificial contraception one changes the essence of what sexual intimacy is, by preventing fruitfulness.
For those looking for a morally good means of regulating fertility the Church holds up the beauty of natural family planning. By monitoring the fertility of a woman, spouses can abstain or engage in sexual intercourse at proper times to either achieve a pregnancy or avoid pregnancy. Some argue this is no different from artificial contraception but these people fail to recognize that abstaining from sex, while beneficial to marriage, is essentially different from engaging in contraceptive sex. In contraceptive sex the body expresses a perverted meaning of love, while in natural family planning the couple expresses a meaning of love by abstaining from sex so as not to express a perversion of love through contraceptive sex.
We also live in an era that could be properly called the God era. Many scientists see their role not to be one of explaining God’s awesome creation and discovering ways to use God’s creation for the good of humanity, but rather to become God by manipulating His creation for man’s own end. This is clearly seen in the massive growth of reproductive technologies. Currently a woman can go online and with a few clicks of a mouse order a child by the design she wants, have it sent via Fed Ex to her doctor, implanted into her body and 9 months later give birth to a mail ordered child. Those who believe in artificial insemination, whether they realize it or not, see women as simply an incubator for children. They see a child not as a gift of God and an expression the love between a husband and a wife but rather as the property of the woman who has a right to the child.
In addition to the countless possibilities of risk for the embryo stored away, artificial insemination attacks at the heart of what marriage is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear about the grave evil of artificial insemination.
Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other.”
Artificial insemination attacks the true meaning of marriage by disassociating the God designed relationship between sexual relations and the conception of a child. While infertility can be a painful burden it does not give someone the right to turn to artificial insemination because in doing so the couple attacks the core of the unitive aspect of marriage.
The Catholic Church is further often accused of discriminating against homosexuality but nothing could be further from the truth. The Catholic Church does not judge or discriminate against homosexuals, but rather welcomes them for who they are, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, and encourages them to live a chaste life. The Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality is beautifully expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
The Church has compassion for the struggles of homosexual people yet at the same time in Her love for them desires that they live a life in conformity with the true meaning of sexuality. While some people may be sexually attracted beyond his control to someone of the same sex, he is still a human person made in God’s image and likeness, having free will and thus can choose to not act out on that attraction in the same way that a heterosexual person can be sexually attracted beyond his control to someone of the opposite sex and still choose not to act out sexually. In both cases the sexual attraction is not sinful but choosing to act out on that attraction is wrong.
While there is no doubt that homosexuals can love one another in a very deep way, it is physically impossible for two people of the same sex to love each other in a sexual way because sexually intimacy requires the inseminating unity of the couples genitals, a physical impossibility for members of the same sex. As Pope John Paul II reminds us in the Theology of the Body God’s plan for creation reflects His desire that the sexual union be fruitful, that is open to the possibility of life. Simply stated because God’s design for sexual intimacy requires it to be open to procreation, that is it requires a genital unity, homosexual sexual relations are wrong because it is impossible for this genital unity to occur. Since sexual relations are an expression of the marital vows and homosexual relations are not possible, homosexual marriage is not possible. Simply put for a marriage to occur the marriage must be consummated which is impossible for homosexual couples.
The Church’s “no: to homosexual sex is not discrimination but rather a “yes” to the love of God and His plan. The Church stretches out Her hand to homosexuals desiring them to live a life of true peace, love and joy by promising to journey with them in their attempt to live out Gods plan for sexuality.
Unitive Aspect of Sex Intercourse
Sexual intimacy is much more than the handing on of the species. In fact, Pope John Paul II warns that if couples see marital sex as only having the intention of procreating a child they risk using their spouse as a means to an end, they risk using their spouse and not really loving him. In addition to procreation marital sexual intercourse is intended to be unitive.
The body expresses perfectly the unitive aspect of marriage, the two becoming one. Through sexual intercourse the husband and wife physically become one. Further in marital sex the couple’s bodies express the reality that at their wedding they promised to give themselves to the other completely. Marital sexual intimacy is the fullest expression possible on earth of the total gift of self, the most perfect expression of the “I Do” of total self-gift to the other promised in the wedding vows.
Simply because one is married does not however mean all marital intercourse will be unitive. For marital intercourse to be unitive, like marriage, it must be freely entered into. Even in marriage it is necessary for spouses to continue to control their sexual urges. They must be able to undertake periods of continence, if necessary, for love of the spouse. If a spouse begins to lose control over his sexual instincts he risks using the other as an object. The spouse risks coming to a point where sex is forced on the other, where rape occurs in marriage.
Pope John Paul II highlighted the beauty of human sexuality in his audience that make up the Theology of the Body. His audiences sum up the beauty of God’s design for creation and human sexuality. When one comes to understand the beauty of this design, the Church’s teachings on sexual morality are no longer seen as a set of “no” rules, but rather are seen as a “yes” to love, life, happiness and human flourishing.
 Jn 8:32
 “Chastity,” in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, ed. Richard P. McBrien, et al. (San Francisco: Harper, 1995), 302.
 McBrien, “Celibacy,” 289.
 Pope John Paul II uses the word Latin word for celibacy, celibate, 34 times in the Theology of the Body.
 Mt 22:30.
 1 Cor 7:25-35.
 Pope John Paul II, General Audience (10 March 1982), in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 73.1, p. 412.
 Mt 12:25
 John Paul II, General Audience (24 March 1982), trans. Waldstein, 75.1, p. 419.
 Mt 19:10-12
 John Paul II, General Audience (14 April 1982), trans. Waldstein, 78.1, p. 429.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2353.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 154 a. 4, in Summa theologica: Complete English Edition in Five Volumes, vol. 4, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1981).
 I am thinking here of a case whereby a couple already has children together and so it is important for the children to be raised by both a father and a mother.
 St. John Chrysostom Homilies on Romans number 24 from the year 391 AD for a homily against contraception.
 Pope John Paul II highlights the evil of contraception, using the term 8 times in the Theology of the Body.
 CCC 2370
 Yes even in the case of rape the procreation of a new life is good. The rape is a grave evil, but the procreation of an innocent child cannot be an evil, after all life is a gift from God.
 CCC 2376
 CCC 2357 – 2359
 Love and Responsibility 233