The Church Proclaims the Beauty of Human Sexuality (Cardinal Donald Wuerl 5 August 2013)
What does the Catholic Church really teach about sex? Why is her teaching important?
We often hear it said that the Church places an undue emphasis on sex. Given the diversity of ideas that people have, it is clear that we need to talk about it more – to explain it better.
Catholic teaching on human sexuality and chastity is the same as it is with respect to every other aspect of human life. There is not one frame of reference for non-sexual matters and a different teaching for sexual matters. Rather, our calling in all things is to love God and love one another in truth, conducting ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Here are included a number of scriptural and Church document references where you can find a fuller and richer treatment of this topic and verification of the points being made here (Matthew 22:36-40; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:27; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 24; Caritas in Veritate, 1-2).
The Church’s teaching on sex – whether it is sex within marriage, premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, contraception, prostitution, or pornography – is an application of this one teaching on love and truth.
In an extensive series of catechetical talks and various writings, Saint Pope John Paul II noted that, when confronted by the Pharisees with a question in this area, Jesus said it was necessary to go back to the beginning (Matthew 19:4; see generally, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body). The starting point for the Church’s teaching on human sexuality begins with the truth of the nature of the human person as revealed in the design of the body and as revealed in the Book of Genesis (1:27, 2:23-24). Man is created male and female. This is undeniable whether one believes in God or not. Believers, however, go beyond physical nature to understand that it is God who is our Creator and when he looked on all that he created – including the explicit distinction between male and female – he saw that it was very good.
Man and woman are made to complement one another in the totality of their being – socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. In particular, made in the image of the Triune God, who is Love and Truth, they are made for self-giving in spousal union – to love and be loved in a fruitful communion of persons (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 214-21, 369-79; Familiaris Consortio 11). So it is that God told Adam and Eve, our first parents, to multiply and fill the earth. It is within this context of human mutuality and the generation and education of children in marriage that the Church views sexual activity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2337 et seq.).
However, we can see in the Book of Genesis how God’s creative plan was rejected. We live today in the human condition – the reality that follows on human beings’ constantly substituting our way for God’s way. We have a fallen, damaged human nature which, while not destroyed, is certainly weakened in its relationship to God and therefore in our relationship with one another.
Consequently, too often sexuality becomes simply personal gratification. This is particularly true today because in so much of the entertainment and information media world sex is all about pleasure. Too often it is presented as a temporary recreational activity without any consequence or obligation, and chastity is ridiculed. Given the power of the human sex drive combined with these cultural forces, it is not surprising that sexual activity is not always connected to the larger picture of spouse, family, responsibility and personal integrity. Yet, for all that it promised, many people know from personal experience that the sexual revolution has not brought greater happiness; casual sex detached from marriage often leaves people feeling empty and used.
These two views of sex, marriage and life clearly stand in contrast.
The beauty and wonder, the powerful attraction and uniqueness of human sexuality are all part of the experience of men and women and also the starting point of the Church’s teaching on sex and sexual activity. This perspective helps us to understand what the Church has to say to us today about human sexuality and why it is so important. Ours is a teaching rooted in human life, experience and faith lived over two millennia. Such insight, ever ancient ever new, cannot be taken lightly.
Also see The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), nos. 355-421, 1601-1666, 2331-2400, and 2514-2533.