If young people today are at all aware of what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and human sexuality, what they think they know is often only a caricature of the truth. They see it as simply a set of prohibitions established by men. But what the Church actually presents is a vision of the beauty of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman who are committed for life and open to the transmission of new human life. With this vision, “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron, making about as much sense as a “squared circle.”
“Same-sex marriage” has been presented to the public as an issue of fairness. But the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. Leaders in the homosexual movement have themselves admitted that the promotion of “same-sex marriage” is a device to destroy the institution of marriage. A poster at a homosexual conference called the National Conference on Organized Resistance in 2008 read “Marriage is the proverbial burning building. Instead of pounding on the door to be let in…queers should be stoking the flames!”
Of course, our understanding of marriage has been damaged by the fruits of the sexual revolution: no-fault divorce, cohabitation, contraception, sterilization and abortion. What is our problem with changing the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples? Are we being “unfair”?
Blessed Pope John Paul II reflected on love, the nature of the human person, marriage as a vocation and the purpose of the body in a series of lectures from 1979 to 1984 during his Wednesday audiences which he called the “Theology of the Body.”
With regard to marriage, John Paul referred to Our Lord’s teaching. When Jesus was asked a question about marriage and divorce, He referred back to the beginning – to God’s original purpose for marriage.
Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate (Mt. 19: 4-6).
John Paul recognized that at the root of the current cultural divide is confusion about the nature of the human person. There are two basic competing philosophies in the world today. One sees man as the result of a blind process of evolutionary development. The other says that man was created by God in his image and likeness, giving man a supernatural origin and destiny. One philosophy sees man simply as perhaps little better than a barnyard animal, but basically incapable of controlling his impulses. The other sees man as being capable of discipline and love.
Isn’t it true that every healthy person desires to love and to be loved? It is also true that oftentimes people look for love in the wrong places. Particularly with sins of a sexual nature, men are seeking to satisfy a natural desire that God has given us to fulfill his plan for love. Our desires are often distorted because of original sin and our tendency to selfishness.
All love flows from God. Christ reveals man to himself, showing man his dignity and teaching him to love. By loving others we become free of our tendency to selfishness.
Further, the human body was created by God. He created sex as a beautiful physical demonstration of love between a husband and a wife. Sex is part of the original creation that God found to be very good (cf. Genesis 1, 31). Any prohibitions about sex are meant to protect God’s original plan for marriage, sex and family life.
We are not simply “ghosts in machines” as some philosophers and pop stars have claimed, but we are both body and soul. This has profound implications on who we are and how we interact: Because human beings are a composite of body and soul, we can express ourselves spiritually through the body. Because of this sex can never be purely biological. There is a language expressed in sex: it says I love you; I give myself to you without holding anything back; I commit myself to you for life; I open myself to the possibility of having children with you. Sex before marriage is really a lie. The couple’s body language says I give myself to you completely, but they are unwilling to make the commitment to each other that this love requires.
This is why, far from denigrating sex, the Catholic Church teaches that sex within marriage is actually holy; in fact, she has raised marriage to the level of a sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Churchsays, “The matrimonial covenant by which man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life is by its nature ordered to the procreation and education of offspring. This covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” There is nothing “unfair” about honoring this covenant.
Through Christian love given and received God gives the marriage partners a sharing in his life and helps them grow in grace and spiritual maturity. Physical intimacy that is open to life becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion.
In part two, Father West will discuss the implications of these truths about men and women, and about marriage.
Father Peter West is the vice president for missions at Human Life International.