Love in the Ruins
Catholics hold seemingly untenable beliefs on sexuality, e.g., —sex is reserved for the married
—marriage is only possible between a man and a woman
—marriages cannot be ended by fiat
—celibacy can make for a fruitful state of life, even for some married people
Secular-minded citizens believe such teachings are teetering on the edge of collapse, like the unbuttressed walls of an abandoned medieval abbey. They worry about those of us standing in the nave.
How Not to Begin
Precisely because our rules are so strange to modern people, Catholics often get caught up in explanations of particular rules and practices.
If we want our conversations to lead to greater understanding rather than to further estrangement, it is vital that we start not with particulars, but with the underlying framework that makes our beliefs coherent.
The Truest Thing about You
Catholicism's understanding of sexuality is dependent on a whole anthropology: Human existence is grounded in God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. Humans are made by a loving Creator whom they grow to know, love, and serve while in this world and with whom they will share a blessed eternity if they accept the redemption of Jesus Christ. Obviously, there is much more to be said about Catholic anthropology, for the tradition is robust and rich.
Following the threads of Catholic anthropology, we arrive at an astonishingly bold claim: fulfillment of any given person's deepest desire can be known by the Church! The deepest human desire is universal: God, and God alone. The ultimate destiny for all humans, regardless of all sex or gender experiences, is unity with the one true God who is Lord of all life.
Your truest desire leads to God, for you are radically oriented to Him. All else is restlessness.
Contra postmodernity, the human person is not fundamentally grounded in or defined by any other desires or appetites than the urgent need for God. The truth about you is divinely settled science.
Other desires make room for the Holy Spirit. Other desires make ready for Gethsemane: “Father, I do not want this! Yet not my will, but your will be done.” Other desires make sacrifices with Christ on the cross, for His love is the higher call.
If God is Our All
This framework is the starting point for not only our conversations on sexuality but for our whole lives.
After accepting that God determines identity by fulfilling our most fundamental desire, we do not find all decisions suddenly simple.
Untangling what part of our desire is ancillary and what part is inimical is the daily toil of the saint.
Discerning the difference between vocation and appetite is the work of a lifetime.
For a model of how to ground identity in God rather than lesser desires, turn to St. Joseph. God graced him with clear instructions on three dramatic occasions, and at none of these times were those instructions convenient or in line with Joseph’s yearnings. One imagines, for example, that Joseph did not betroth himself to Mary with hopes of public humiliation or celibacy.
When he knew God’s will with certainty, Joseph did not use his own wishes as a metric; rather, he matched his will and his desires to God’s.
We (for the most part) do not have prophetic visions. We do, however, receive God’s laws from His Church, which is no less an authoritative source than one of Joseph’s dreams. When the Church forbids artificial contraception, the seeming inconvenience and surprise we might experience pales in comparison to what Joseph felt at the angel’s instruction to marry the pregnant Mary or at the emergency bulletin to flee to Egypt.
If you don’t want to hear from the Church about your sex life, you probably don’t want to hear from her at all, as it gets much more difficult. If God is our ultimate desire and destiny, then the Church can ask you to do more unpleasant things than follow her teachings on sex. She can ask you to be less than comfortable and share your wealth sacrificially with the poor. She can advise you to die a horrible death rather than forsake the name of Jesus.
Conclusion: Aspiring Tweets
If you are on Twitter, here are some candidate tweets for your consideration:
—The way you experience yourself is not the truest thing about you.
—“The romantic dream that “consenting adults” left to themselves will come to good is rotten nonsense, contradicted by the continuous experience of history and everyday life.” John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture
—Sacrifice is not a bug; it is a feature.
—Instead of obsessing about our transitory desires, we should actively seek the will of the eternal God.
—Any desire that cannot be met in Him and in communion with His Church is not a healthy, true desire, but rather a deception or a twisting of inner truth.
—God is the ultimate answer to every human longing.