The Church has a problem with sex.
The secular world thinks the problem is that the Church is out of step with modern morality. The real problem, though, is that the Church should be out of step with this modern morality, but many of our bishops and priests have embraced secular mores. This is reflected in our pastors’ tacit acceptance of cohabitation and the use of artificial contraception.
The tacit acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle by many bishops and priests has also become more explicit.
The problem is that our shepherds suffer from amnesia; they seem to have forgotten what the Church really teaches about sex. We should not have a cardinal saying “Bravo!” to the “coming out” of a homosexual football player, nor should we have prelates admitting they haven’t talked about sexual sins like artificial contraception in decades. We shouldn’t see Catholic groups marching in parades alongside “gay pride” groups, let alone leading those parades!
The main point that’s been forgotten is that the primary end of the marital embrace is procreation. There is much talk of the unitive aspect of sex, but that is new phraseology. Church Fathers used to call it “mutual help” and “the quieting of concupiscence.” These days, people barely know what “concupiscence” means. The traditional words for “sex” (meaning the act of sexual intercourse) were “marital embrace” or “marital act”—terms that made clear that sex isn’t divorced from true marriage; and the link to procreation was always assumed. Is that just because the ancients (and the pre-moderns) didn’t know how to regulate births?
No. I think it’s just that they took sex seriously. They understood—better than we do, in our current hyper-sexed culture—that sex is easily abused and perverted. There are abuses and perversions in our society that would make any saint (and many a sinner) from earlier times recoil in horror and disbelief (and they would use terms like “fornication” and “sodomy”). But we’ve become habituated to it, because we’ve separated sex from its procreative function via artificial contraception, and we’ve made it recreational. People have become conditioned to believe that sex should be separate from procreation; otherwise, the coveted aspect of wanton pleasure is lost, and lustful couples might have to take responsibility for a child.
Many Catholics have swallowed the hook that sexual intercourse is good—even sacred and holy—in and of itself. An NFP proponent recently informed me that “God loves sex! He wants us humans to have sex!”
I beg to differ: God does not “love” sex. God loves the fruits of the conjugal embrace, but God does not love sex for the sake of sexual pleasure; in fact, He doesn’t love anything for the sake of carnal pleasure. For example, God made food for us to eat, but He doesn’t “love” eating; neither does He love to have us overeat, even if it does feel good at the time.
The love and intimacy we can achieve in marriage is a much greater gift than mere sex. The gift is that we can approach sex with reason and will. Sex is good only in marriage—marriage between a man and a woman, with the full knowledge and hope that children may come from that intimate union. And no, God does not want us humans to have sex for the sake of having sex. That fact is perfectly apparent when you consider the following situations: sex outside of marriage; the sexual act involved in rape; or sex between two men or two women. Sex in and of itself is not always “good.”
In 1930, Pope Pius XI reminded us in Casti Connubii that “amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place” (§11). In other words, if sex is a gift, then it is inextricably tied to the gift of children.
Instead, though, the following line of reasoning permeates the modern Catholic’s thinking:
In order to maintain this fallacy, amnesia strikes again; there’s a tendency to dismiss the writing of saints like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (who explicitly addressed the problem of sin and concupiscence within marriage) as outdated. More “enlightened” phrases like “responsible parenthood” and “unitive” end of marriage were introduced by Humanae Vitae, and have led to the belief that all married couples are entitled to have sex whenever they want, without the unwanted consequences of pregnancy and childbirth.
When Protestant groups began to accept artificial contraception as a legitimate means of regulating births in the 1930s, some of our Catholic leaders demanded the same “right.” The Church tried to stem the tide, with Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii affirming the primarily procreative end of marriage. That encyclical also acknowledged “secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence,” but this was not a concession to the contraceptive mentality; Casti Connubii still contained the caveat that such ends must be “subordinated to the primary end” of procreation.
Proponents of Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body are quick to claim that the procreative and unitive aspects of the sexual union are equally important. This is incorrect in the sense that there is still a hierarchy of ends, even if our bishops aren’t teaching it. They are equally important, though, in the sense that these two aspects of the marital embrace are meant to be inseparable. Sex without fear of conception is not what the Church encourages; what is encouraged is the idea that “husband and wife be joined in an especially holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church” (Casti Connubii, §23). He’s talking about chastity vs. concupiscence, about love vs. sex—the love that “is not that based on the passing lust of the moment . . . but in the deep attachment of the heart which is expressed in action, since love is proved by deeds” (§23).
Artificial contraception, sterilization, and even NFP separate the procreative end from the unitive end of marriage; and with that separation, we have greatly diminished our ability to argue for the sanctity of marriage, and to explain effectively why homosexual behavior is inherently sinful. In fact, the separation of the unitive from the procreative ends can be used as justification for sex between or among any number of people regardless of gender. The slippery slope is getting more slippery.
We desperately need a return to an understanding of what the marital embrace is all about. Until our bishops begin to teach the primacy of procreation in marriage, contraception will rule society; family sizes will remain small; abortion will continue to be accepted; and the homosexualist agenda will directly impact our religious freedom.