On The Meaning Of Sex

Amazon came calling today, and dropped off a new book I’ve been meaning to read since it came out. It’s called On the Meaning of Sex, by Professor J. Budziszewski. Like any other ravenous bibliophile, I opened up the package as soon as I could and started reading. Immediately I sensed this will become a favorite book of mine. I’ve had the privilege of sitting down and chatting with Professor “J. Bud” (as he apparently is usually called, since, well, his last name is a mouthful!), and he brings clarity of thought, in spades. I still have the notes from our conversation which have proven helpful to me, and he’s also been gracious enough to answer a few emails from time to time where I know his expertise can help me. It’s strange to recommend a book before finishing it, but I’m already excited enough that I think you should go and read it too–but I’ll be posting my thoughts as I go through it. This section in particular grabbed me:

The final motive [I have] for writing such a book is that my eyes are so full of the pain I see around me that if I did not have the relief of writing, they would be full of tears instead. Errors about sex cause such terrible suffering, in our day more than in most. The worst is the suffering of those who no longer know they are in torment, for it is simply a lie that everyone is happy who believes himself happy, a slander that nobody is suffering unless he thinks that he is. I would wish these sufferers joy, but if by writing the book I could do no more than dip the end of my finger in water to cool their tongues, then that would be wish enough.

This recalls to mind my previous post, where those of us who have turned our back on our former life recall being as happy as we knew how to be.

Go buy yourself a copy, or get it out of the library somewhere close by. I think it’s destined to be a classic.

Christ’s Love As Acceptance?

This is adapted from an email I sent to a fellow who believes, as a lot of people seem to do, that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality ignores the claim that Christ’s form of love should be defined as “acceptance.”  He also implied that Courage is doing great harm, and that Courage is full of “holier than thou” people.  Finally, the subject of his email said, “What Did Jesus Say About Homosexuality?,” inferring that because Christ never mentioned homosexuality in the Gospel’s record of His words, therefore it must not have been important to Christ.  This is a slightly edited form of my email reply to him:

I’m a member of Courage, and one who has experienced Courage as being one of the most beneficial gifts of God to me, so I’m happy to reply to some of your concerns you raise in your email.  You say that Courage (and presumably the Catholic Church) is causing “so much harm,” something which I couldn’t disagree with more.  Far from believing that Courage does harm, I am one who has been greatly blessed by its ministry.  You say that you hope that some day, Courage will do its “Christian duty” and spread Christ’s acceptance.  I’ll address the notion of acceptance a little later, but I happen to believe that Courage is doing its “Christian duty” by calling me, and my other brothers and sisters in Courage, to a life of chastity, since I’m convinced it leads to the abundant life.  I’ll try to answer a few of your thoughts below:

Have you asked yourself why you see the Courage position as being “holier than thou?”  All of us in Courage came to Courage because we realized that we couldn’t live on our own any longer, and that the way we were living didn’t bring us peace.  None of us were coerced into Courage, and none (that I know of!) joined Courage because we wanted the rest of the world to contemplate how “holy we are.”  That’s a strange assertion, since for most of us, the reason we came to Courage is because we became pretty clear of our need for God.  We sensed innately that we weren’t living holy lives.  I tend to think that people who say we’re “holier than thou” say that for one reason:  We’ve chosen to strive for a life of chastity, and usually the person who calls us “holier than thou” hasn’t made the same choice.  We’re not forcing our beliefs and decisions on anyone else, but the existence of people like us who’ve chosen chastity is somehow perceived by those who haven’t made the same choice as a self-righteous “holier than thou” position.   Is everyone who chooses chastity “holier than thou” simply by deciding that’s the best path to peace for them?  I mean, this seems very strange to me.  Why does our choice to follow what the Church says make us “holier than thou?”  We just happen to believe that what the Church teaches us is in our best interests!

In a related way, I sometimes think about how others must view my brother and his wife and their views on contraception.  I don’t view them as “holier than thou” because they don’t believe in contraception, but perhaps some people who choose to use contraception are offended that my brother and his wife don’t–and therefore, perhaps they’ll call them “holier than thou.”  I think the same thing anytime I hear anyone say that about Courage.  I find that it usually means that the person saying it doesn’t like that some people like those of us in Courage have chosen a path different than they did.  Especially when we believe that the choice of chastity leads to a better life than we had before. Those of us in Courage don’t choose Courage because of what other people think of us, and if some people think of us as “holier than thou,” it doesn’t mean that we are.  I think it really reveals more about what’s going on inside the person who’s wielding the term.

Now, about acceptance.  What about Christ’s message of love suggests to you that his love can be distilled to “acceptance?”  I think that’s the most un-Christian definition of love, and has nothing to do with Jesus.  If Christ’s message was merely about “acceptance,” he wouldn’t have been crucified.  One story that comes immediately to mind is the story of the Rich Young Ruler.  Christ told him what he had to do to achieve eternal life, and when the Rich Young Ruler heard that he had to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor, he went away sad.  Christ wasn’t merely content to “accept” him as he was–he wanted him to be transformed by the encounter.  I used to be a non-denominational Baptisty sort of Protestant, and on more than one occasion during an altar call the choir would sing, “Just As I Am.”  But Christ isn’t content with “just as I am.”  He invites us “just as we are,” but Christ loves us too much to let us leave him “just as we came.”  He accepted the woman caught in adultery, and forgave her sins, but then said, “now go and sin no more.”  “Sinning no more” is the way we would live our lives if we truly knew who we were, and realized fully who made us, for what we were made, and where our true home is.  The words “go and sin no more” are more aptly phrased, “now go and live life to the fullest!”  Encounters with Christ lead to what St. Paul says is the transforming and renewing of our minds.  A love that accepts whatever is in anyone’s life, as if that’s the pinnacle of love, isn’t loving at all.  Christ’s love demands a response from us all, since He has never merely “accepted” us.  That’s like a father who’s content that his son or daughter never learns how to walk.  Christ is always pushing us beyond where we are because he wants much more for us than what we would choose on our own.  I have no use for Christ if his love is mere acceptance of me.

Now, as to the subject line of your email.  “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?”  Well, we could ask that about a lot of things.  Christ didn’t talk about abortion, and yet we have a moral view on abortion.  God didn’t talk about incest, and yet no one seems to question the wrongness of incest.  We can’t derive moral claims solely on “what Christ talked about,” since Christ didn’t talk about all kinds of things.  If we based all that is wrong for man based on what Christ talked about, there’s a lot that would fall through the cracks.

Christ did speak about sexual morality, however, and in Mark 6:6-8 he tells us what God ordained in the beginning:  “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”  Within this teaching, Christ tells us what God ordained–from the beginning!–for our sexuality.  It is not a gift to be used willy-nilly as we see fit (though most of us in Courage have misused the gift, just like most everyone else on the planet at one time or another!).  God created sexuality for men and women to be used solely within the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman.*  It is for this reason that all else falls short–from sex outside of marriage, to sex between members of the same sex.  We can extrapolate meaning about morality from what Christ did talk about–not all that is prohibited must have been talked about at one point by Christ.  An examination of the creative forms of evil that men think of to inflict on other men reveals that we make moral judgments on all sorts of things that Christ didn’t talk about.

But most of all, we in Courage actually believe that the Church’s teaching is good news!  To be shouted from the mountain top!  And we’ve used our rational minds to reach this point.  We’re not robots, and we’re not merely “yes-men and women”  to what the Church’s teaching is.  We really, really believe that chastity is the path to peace.  Perhaps some will call us holier than thou, but as for me, I just shrug that off as silly, since any amount of hanging around with us would reveal that we’re keenly aware of how unholy we are.

Anyway, God bless, and thanks for the email.

*In anticipation of the inevitable question about the Patriarchs of the faith who had more than one wife, here is St. Thomas Aquinas’s answer to this.

The Imitation of Christ–Happiness is simple, really.

I went to the bookshelf last night to grab a little reading before bed, and picked up a book that I haven’t looked at in quite sometime, Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ.  I opened the book up to a section on consolation and abandonment to Divine Providence, and thought I’d share a few paragraphs that I think are very helpful in having a sane and healthy view of homosexuality.

Whatever consolation I can imagine or desire I look for not in this present life but in the one to come.  It is certain that if I alone had all this world’s comforts and were able to enjoy all its pleasures, they would not last very long.

Hence, my soul, you cannot find complete consolation nor total refreshment except in God, who consoles the poor and sustains the humble.  Just wait a while longer, my soul, wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise and you will enjoy an abundance of good things in heaven.  If you desire the good things of this present life more than you should, you will lose those of heaven and eternity.  Make use of temporal things, but desire eternal things.  Temporal goods will never fully satisfy you because you were not created for their sole enjoyment.

Even if you possessed all created goods, this still could not make you happy and blessed for your joy an beatitude is in God, the Creator of all things.  This is not the happiness that the lovers of this world praise and extol, but the happiness that Christ’s good and faithful followers seek and of which the pure of heart, whose conversation is in heaven, sometimes have a foretaste.

All human consolation is short-lived and empty; but true and blessed is that consolation that is interiorly received from Truth itself.

The devout man carries Jesus, his consoler, with him wherever he goes, and says to him:  “Lord Jesus, be with me in all places and at all times.  Let my willing renunciation of all human comfort be my consolation.  And if I find that I am without your consolation, then let Your will and the trial You send me be a greater consolation to me for You will not always chide me, nor will You  keep Your anger forever.

I love this section in particular:

If you desire the good things of this present life more than you should, you will lose those of heaven and eternity.  Make use of temporal things, but desire eternal things.  Temporal goods will never fully satisfy you because you were not created for their sole enjoyment.

We are to enjoy the goods of this world:  to the fullest!  Obedience and complete abandonment to God doesn’t lead to a miserable life, but actually freedom to enjoy life more, which seems strange to most people.  Here’s the thing:  I won’t ever be happy if I attempt to find more enjoyment from temporal goods than they were intended to bring me.  When they’re in their proper place, viewed as great gifts from God that reflect His love for me, then they are far more enjoyable than if I tried to find my happiness from them.  It’s beautifully ironic, but I think this applies to all things:  friendships, marriage, food, beer, beauty, music, philosophy, art–all that is good in the world becomes BETTER and more enjoyable and truly a gift when we stop trying to find our happiness there.

I recently spoke to four high school classes at a Catholic school.  One of the students asked why God would give us a sex drive, and then ask us to live chastely.  I told them it was because God wanted them to have immense enjoyment of sex throughout their lives, saying that “when God made sex, He said it was good.”  I told them that the very strength of their sex drive was a sign of God’s profound love for us, as well as the enjoyment of sex.  God wanted them to have sex that was mind-blowingly good and pleasurable beyond compare–but that this actually could only happen when sex was placed in its proper place in their lives.  They were shocked how much I praised the gift of sex, but to be honest, some people in the Church are far too prudish when it comes to sex.  Sex is raw, sweaty, messy and primal, and it was made that way by God, to be fully enjoyed–but it can only truly be enjoyed to its fullest within the bounds for which it was created.  St. Irenaeus said that the “Glory of God is man fully alive,” and this relates to a full enjoyment of the good and created things of this world.  But man can only fully enjoy them at the point at which he renounces them as substitutes for the consolation that can only come to us from seeking all consolation from God.

It’s really pretty simple!  Enjoy the world more, by not seeing your happiness as coming from anything, or anyone, in the world.  Then we have the freedom to love fully, to enjoy all that is, in its proper place.  And when life doesn’t go well, we are not surprised, and trust that this is allowed by God for our good, and to lead us to lean on Him even more.

This, I’m convinced, is the great purpose God has given to same-sex attraction–to point to all of us who live with same-sex attraction that this is not our home, so that then we can enjoy it all the more, and love others more, and love God more, always looking and longing for heaven.  As St.Paul says, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  I can’t wait to get to Heaven, but in the meantime, I plan to be a man, “fully alive” and to take very seriously “to live is Christ.”  No man has enjoyed life more than Christ, because He never looked for the created things of the world to bring him consolation.  I am beginning to think that part of “to live is Christ” is to denounce the world and its consolations, which then leads to more enjoyment of the world than was ever possible before.  The ways of God are funny, aren’t they?