Like the rains that come down from heaven to water the earth, so we are called to live lives of self-gift, fruitfulness, and peace. Jesus comes down from heaven to give us life, to free us from futility and slavery to corruption. But sometimes when Jesus preaches, people hear without understanding and the evil one steals away the seed of truth He sows. For others, worldly fear and the attraction of riches prevent Jesus’ word from bearing fruit. But when His word lands on a person of openness and discernment, it bears a great fruitfulness for that person and others.
What are teachings that we as Catholics have tended to hear but not understand, to glace at but never really examine. What are the teachings of Jesus Christ’s Church which we hardly hear with our ears and toward which we are most tempted to close our eyes? These are the issues about which clergy are most hesitant to preach. Nevertheless, Jesus wills that we hear these things with our ears, understand them with our hearts, and be converted, that He may heal us. Please pray now, for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that your heart may receptive to His word.
One area about which we hardly hear with our ears is the harm in sensual or romantic fantasizes.
For men, this temptation tends to be toward indecent images. For women, it tends towards things like romance novels. With these things, a person looks at another, or imagines being with another, without ever touching them, but that does not make sensual or romantic fantasies o.k. or harmless. Recall how Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
What is the harm in these things? Real love is only found and shared in the real world. Sensual or romantic escapism leaves behind those we are called to love. Compared to these fantasies, no real man or woman, no wife or husband, can possibly measure up. These fantasies can be addictive and they change the way we look at and relate to others in daily life.
If books, magazines, or movies tempt you in this way, throw them out. If the internet is the gateway to fantasy, place near the monitor a picture of someone you love. Commit yourself to loving the real people in your life, for that is the only place where real love is found.
Another topic about which we hardly hear is the harm of contraception.
In the beginning, upon creating the first man and woman, “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply.’” To unite husband and wife in love, and to bless the world with new human life, God designed the one-flesh marital embrace. God created and wills this embrace for life as well as love. Contraception, however, separates life from love, to the harm of both. This must not be done for as Jesus said, in the context of marriage, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
Forms of contraception are not new, they’re actually quite ancient. And from the start, the Catholic Church has recognized the wrongness of intentionally contracepted acts. In fact, as late as 1930, all Protestant groups agreed with Catholics on this principle (before they began to splinter off.) If the constant teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ is not persuasive enough, consider the fallout of contraception.
A contracepting couple closes off their marriage, their embrace, to life. Therefore, if they unexpectedly conceive a child, the little one is not felt to be a gift from God but a mistake. Whenever the surprise blessing of a child is considered to be a curse, love for that child is wounded, and even the unspeakable becomes tempting.
Contraception also threatens the love of couples. Pope Paul VI foresaw this danger, as he wrote in Humanae Vitae, “It is also to be feared that the man who grows accustomed to contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and psychological equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, and no longer as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Contraception separates life and love to the harm of both.
What then does the Church ask couples to do; to have as many children as they physically possibly can? No—For serious physical, psychological, economic, or social reasons, a couple may limit their marital embraces to her cycle’s naturally infertile periods. This is called Natural Family Planning (or NFP) and its methods, when used as directed, are as effective as the pill. But unlike the pill, Natural Family Planning has no unhealthy side-effects, is not an abortifacient, and conforms with God’s will. Practicing NFP is fruitful within marriage, whether God blesses a couple with more children or not.
A third subject about which we do not hear is the harm of fornication, or partaking of the marital embrace without the covenant of marriage.
Body language speaks, and the message of the body in the marital embrace is one of total self-gift. It says, “I joyfully give myself to you, all of me, completely and forever.” Fornication, however, makes this language of the body a lie. Unless a relationship has been sealed, before God and the world, in the bond of marriage, either one of the couple can back out at any time, and the couple knows this. It’s always in the back of their minds. For this reason, these couples tend to repress anger and complaints, avoid facing problems in their relationship, and put off the hard questions about their future together.
The embrace of man and woman naturally forges strong emotional bonds between the couple. In marriage, that’s a good thing, but before a marriage this clouds judgment and can plaster over serious flaws, serious cracks, in a bad relationship, at least for awhile. And what if their embrace conceives a child they don’t think they’re ready for? The woman, to preserve the relationship, may be tempted or coerced toward an unspeakable choice she’ll always regret.
Cohabitating couples can slouch into marriage; sometimes the man doesn’t really choose marriage so much as finally give in to others’ expectations. Then, after their wedding, nothing really seems different from before, and psychologically, the assumptions of their dating relationship carry into the marriage. Once their wedding day (which wasn’t as special for them as it should have been) drifts further away into the past, and marital difficulties inevitably arise, the old idea, the old escape hatch of breaking up and moving out, naturally returns, increasing the risk of divorce.
Fornication and cohabitation expose a person to emotional and spiritual pains, decrease one’s chances of marrying the right person, and increase one’s chances of divorcing in the future. No matter where you are in your dating relationships, Jesus Christ calls you to pre-marital chastity, for true love is found in purity.
A final topic about which we hardly hear is the harmfulness in acting out according to one’s same-sex attractions.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated [tendencies of this kind] 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.”
It is important for all of us to remember that a temptation, whatever it is, by itself, is not sin. Unless we go out looking for temptation, we are not responsible for the temptations which our genetics, upbringing, or environment send our way. What important is how we respond to our temptations, whether we give in to them and fall, or if stand strong with God like His saints before us.
As a Christian, and a fellow sinner, it would be wrong for me to look down on anyone. God loves everyone like He loves me. But at the same time, it would not be loving for me as a follower of Jesus Christ to say that acting out on one’s same-sex attractions is o.k. or harmless. The Old and New Testaments and the constant teachings of Christ’s Church are clear.
People of the same sex may be friends, even the dearest of friends with each other, but they’re not meant to be lovers. Man and wife were made each other. Their masculine and feminine differences compliment and complete each other and husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers. This is seen physically, in their marital embrace and in the conception of new life; but also psychologically and spiritually as well, in faithful marriages that last a lifetime. Persons of the same sex do not have this complimentarity and to ignore truth this leads to suffering, for such relationships are unhealthy for one’s body or soul. The tragically higher rates of promiscuity, transmittable diseases and cancers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and attempted suicide, point to the brokenness of these lifestyles. (And one notes that these comparatively higher rates are found not only in our country, but also aboard, like in the Netherlands where such relationships are more common and much more socially accepted.) Jesus calls these brothers and sisters of His and ours to a different, better, happier way of life.
Regardless of our temptations, there is hope. Freedom from sin and joyful peace are possible for all of us, by the grace of Jesus Christ the support of one another. For example, Courage international is a Catholic organization which ministers to help those with same-sex attractions live chaste and happy lives. For more information about Courage groups in our area, or about how to enroll in Natural Family Planning classes see me after Mass or give me a call. If you are cohabitating and wish to return to chastity but you don’t know how you as a couple can practically achieve it, talk to me. God has solutions for those who seek His will. May the seeds of Jesus’ teachings find rich soil in your hearts and bear an abundant harvest for you and for others.