How Christian parents should teach their children about the meaning of sexuality
January 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The “birds and the bees” conversation that parents need to have with their children, in different ways at different times of maturation, will always be something of a challenge. But Christian parents have several things going for them: first, the graces of the state of matrimony, which support them in all that they must do; second, the simple fact that the truth of the matter, as it comes from God’s hand, is already good, fitting, and beautiful, even if it is also marked by the effects of the Fall.
When the time is right, smaller children can be told something like this:
There’s a special kind of hug only for husbands and wives — people God has joined in marriage. They become very close to each other, to show how much they love one another and to tell God that they are open to receiving the gift of a baby from Him, because He wants to give them the amazing gift of another person to love. So sometimes God will put a baby into mommy’s womb as a gift from this special hug. That’s how you came to be here, and your brothers and sisters, too.
Beyond this germinal understanding, it can be helpful for parents to think about and discuss sexuality in terms of three major themes: (1) Adam and Eve, (2) Christ and the Church, (3) the evangelical counsels. I’m certainly not suggesting that all of the following can be presented at once, but over time, these different aspects can be brought out, one by one, as occasion permits.
(1) When the first man was created, he was in a state of original solitude — not isolation, since he was with God, but still without a partner “fit for him,” of his own nature, with whom he could share a human life. Man’s natural “home” is being together with another who completes him as well as other persons who proceed from that union. Home, in fact, is defined by this bond between the first man and the first woman. Fruitfulness is a fundamental natural good that allows the human race to exist; it is also, consequently, a supernatural good, because it allows Christians to build up the Church by adding members to Christ. This fertility of human nature is an expression of a generous and outward-oriented inner life, by which we can take part in the activity of creating that is proper to God.
(2) The ultimate reason the two sexes were created, and the hidden truth that all human couples represent, is the perfect and everlasting union of Christ and the Church (cf. Ephesians 5). In order for God to express His perfect love for mankind, He had to ensure first that there would be a relationship that is comprehensive, self-giving, fruitful, and stable. Once this was in place, He could point us to it and say: “That is how My love is — only better.” Unfortunately, this created foreshadowing of the Incarnation was seriously damaged by sin and continues to be so damaged, yet not so much that the comparison is meaningless to us; otherwise, Our Lord, St. Paul, and St. John would not have been able to use it at all.
(3) These two points lead, finally, to a third. It is not difficult to see how the truth that Christ is the perfect husband and the Church — in her heavenly glory, and wherever on Earth that glory is reflected in the life of grace — is His perfect bride leads directly to the Catholic teaching on celibate priesthood and religious life. The man who wishes to follow Christ the High Priest should be like Him in not being married to a particular earthly spouse, since he is allowed to share in Christ’s unique marriage with His bride. The priest is alter Christus: the image of Christ the Bridegroom. Similarly, the woman who wishes to belong entirely to this heavenly Spouse must be His Bride and no one else’s: that is why the state of consecrated virginity is so noble and privileged in the Church. It isn’t merely a spiritual desire to belong to Christ, which everyone should have; it is a gift of one’s self in its entirety, body and soul, to Him alone, to the fullest degree possible in this life.
It is clear that Christ sacrificed many goods of human life (“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”) in order to show us the urgency and absoluteness of salvation. A consecrate, celibate, or perpetually continent life bears consistent and convincing witness to the “one thing needful” chosen by Mary of Bethany. Although many things matter relatively speaking, only one thing matters absolutely, and that is whether, after we die, our soul will go to Heaven (immediately or after purgation) or to Hell. There are no other destinies than these two, and a human life is successful when it achieves eternal life, a failure when it loses happiness forever.
(To read more about all these themes, see my article “This, Too, Reveals God: Sex and the Body in Catholic Theology.”)
By teaching young children, from early on, the beauty of marriage and family as well as the beauty of the calling to religious life or priesthood, there develops a context for teaching on more specific aspects of sexuality and the body, which are then able to be seen in their full meaning and appropriateness. This way, one avoids the extremes of excessive anatomical-biological detail on the one hand and a puritanical spirit of shameful silence or denigration on the other. The Catholic vision of creation, redemption, and sanctification offers us a golden mean.
It should be obvious that children must be shielded from premature exposure to evils, or even to good things, that they are not yet mentally and psychologically ready to process. This is the reason why Christian parents are, or will soon be, morally obliged to homeschool their children: state educational systems are increasingly committed to a militant sexualization based on hedonism, relativism, and nihilism, which is destructive of the innocence and purity of children.
In my next column, I will look at the difficult question of how to talk about sexual evils, which are, alas, so numerous and “loud” in our times that they cannot be entirely avoided.