Sex and the engaged Catholic
Such is the testimony from priests working at the front lines in our parishes today. Probably all too true. A new document on Catholic marriage proves the American bishops are listening. The awareness is especially noticeable among Catholics in the pews, who seem less and less shocked at women five-months pregnant walking down the aisle in a white dress. Is this a good thing? Should we accept this as normal or even good? It's proof two people committed a mortal sin. We all sin. But it should be OK to advertize the fact? We now shrug our shoulders and content ourselves that at least they are marrying within the Church. In sum, Catholic America faces a new reality: The semi-traditional marriage.
"Most of the Catholics asking to be married in the Church today already have been living together."
There is dissension in theological circles about what this new social reality means. The dissent is as it's been for decades now: Between those who are faithful to the timeless teachings of orthodox Christianity, who understand truth does not change, even if society's receptivity to the truth does, and those who want to make things up as they go along. Retro-Catholics argue strenuously that the contemporary culture must be rejected if we wish to return to the day when (supposedly) there was no premarital sex. Sheer and absolute bull puckey. There has always been premarital sex. There has always been spousal abuse. There has always been alcoholism. There has always been murder, suicide, gambling, cheating on taxes, theft, lying, blasphemy, tyranny, oppression, greed, gossiping, objectifying, gluttony, and a whole host of other things we used to agree were capital sins. And anyone who understands the fallen nature of man will understand we will always have these sins. So the object isn't, as the author sophmorically proclaims, to return to a day when "there was no premarital sex." Rather, it's to return to a day when we realized premarital sex wasn't something to shrug at, that society opposed it not because they were trying to ruin people's good time, but because sex has consequences, both biological and psychological, and it is so important and beautiful and sacred and holy, that only within the permanence of marriage was it legitimate. The role of the priest, some say, is to force an admission from the couple seeking a church wedding that they are living in sin. Again, sheer sophistry. Does this guy think that in days of old when knights were bold, priests stood over the pregnant bride-to-be and her intended, crucifix in hand, face red with anger, screaming, "Admit sin! Admit sin! Admit sin you ... you, you, you SINNERS!!!!" For crying out loud. A priest (at least a good one) will present the truth about a sin -- any sin -- and call the sinner to recognition of this and thus repentance. But it's not his job to "force" the sinner to admit culpability, any more than it is a doctor's to force a lung cancer patient to give up cigarettes.
Purpose-driven Catholics Don't you love this? See, if you believe in traditional Catholic Christian morality, you are retro, a relic stuck living in the past. But if you are hip, coooool, and oh-so-with-it, you are "purpose-driven.", in contrast, stress the stabilizing union brought by sacramental marriage. If the primary motivation for marriage among people already living together is to raise children in the Catholic faith, why stress the past over the future? Better to emphasize the ways in which the sacrament enshrines the family and permanence than to berate past behavior.
No, no, no, no, no. Yes, it is better to give that child the benefit of a mother and father who have, before God and Johnny Law, pledged themselves to each other til death do us part. Children deserve to have their biological parents raise them in an intact family that isn't subject to the whim of a boyfriend who wants to break up with his girlfriend or vice versa. That's a primary purpose of marriage, to give children stable homes in which to be raised and thus give society healthy, functioning citizens.
But if I stole something in 7th grade, I still have to confess that sin. I'm still responsible for that sin until I repent and confess. If I hit someone in anger when I was 17, the same thing. If I had an abortion, and I feel terribly guilty about that, I don't make things better by ignoring it. So it's not a matter of berating. It's a matter of simple calling to repentance. No priest worth his salt will not do that.
The dilemma for parish priests is how to satisfy both the traditional and the semi-traditional. To a certain extent, this is true. On the one hand, you don't want to cheapen the chastity of those who have followed Catholic tradition to the letter. As all couples should. On the other hand, you don't want to chase away those whose goodwill is belated but real. No sense losing a whole family to the Church because of anger over spilled-milk. It's amazing people feel this way, but what he says is true.
An award-winning book by Creighton University professors Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions) looks at the theology of marriage as a disputed question, paying considerable attention to the issue of premarital sex. The authors advocate a rethinking of the meaning of the sacrament from the ground level of experience in the grass-roots rather than to await Solomonic pronouncements from on high. Translation: The authors advocate totally throwing out the Church's timeless teaching -- based on Scripture and divinely revealed truth -- concerning the illicit nature of all pre- or extra-marital sexual relations and replacing it with an anything goes, carnival atmosphere.
The fallacy addressed by the theologians is how traditional teachings equate the sacrament of marriage with permission for the first physical act of intercourse. Uhm, excuse me? "The fallacy"? Point to me to one place in the Bible where pre-marital sex is seen as being a-OK. Take as long as you want. Still at it? Get back to me when you can, all right? Get a Bible search engine via Google. Look for the words "fornicate" and "fornication" and "fornicators." See what Scripture says about this. Is Scripture a fallacy? OK, look at it from the perspective of Natural Law. Even some pagan philosphers found the truth in this (admittedly not many). Many societies have traditionally acted on this, as well. The authors note that in human history, having sex and getting married were seen as two different acts. Yes they are. Just like giving birth and baptizing the baby are two different acts. Just like eating/drinking and expelling human waste are two different acts. But one is always supposed to precede the other. No difference here. After all, what is the world's oldest profession? Bad journalism and ignorant op-ed writing. Even during the Christian dispensation, society expected men to have sexual experience before marriage. In some places, maybe. All societies? Demonstrably false. And the Church never, ever, ever countenanced this. Canon law in the past recognized the rights of concubines, i.e. mistresses, and their children to receive the sacraments. Boy, if you set fire to all the straw men this author has erected, you could light the world for days. OK, deep, cleansing breath. Look, it's simple: The sacraments -- and Confession is and always has been a sacrament -- are meant to be channels of efficacious grace. Christ gave them to us and the Church administers them to help sinners get back on course. So of course mistresses had access to Confession and, assuming they received absolution, Communion. Of course they had access to last rites and matrimony. And their offspring had access to baptism as the beginning of a life of grace that would hopefully keep them from making the same mistakes made by mum and dad. Canon law recognizes this in the present, too, mate. And straying males like St. Augustine could go to heaven as canonized saints along with his son born out of wedlock. Straying males who, like St. Augustine, saw the error of their ways, repented, confessed, and did the penance given them by their confessor did get to heaven. Again, check out the Bible as to what happens to straying males who don't do these things. Ain't pretty. Fire, gnashing of teeth, you know the drill.
There is little incentive to go back this far in history, mostly because it set up a dual standard for the genders: men to be "practiced" and women to be virgins. But if society's norms have changed, should not theology have responses? Pagan society practiced this norm. For 2,000 years, Christianity changed that paradigm. So this author -- supposedly a Catholic -- would have us go back to the good ol' pagan days? Society's norms haven't so much changed as they've expanded. Whereas in the past, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge was given to the male philanderer, now we're celebrating the female who spreads her legs at any passer-by and calling it "empowerment." Actually, the author, I gotta give it to him, he's right. They have changed. Dads and mates may have given their sons and chums an elbow in the ribs, but it was never something trumpeted. It was something about which polite society expected discreetness and was frowned upon far more than it was considered morally neutral or good. Now, hell, shout it from the rooftops. As to whether theology should similarly say, "Ah, bugger it all," theology's role is to serve true religion, and true religion's role is to lead souls to salvation. You don't serve anything by saying, "To hell with Your rules, God. We'll make it up as we go along, thank you very much." Well, Satan. You serve him when you do this. A generation ago in 1960, only 5 percent of U.S. births were out of wedlock.: today it is nearly 40 percent. About 26 percent of children now live with a single parent--up from 9 percent in 1960. In that same decade two-thirds of adult Americans were married. But in 2007, those percentages had dropped to little more than 50 percent. No big deal, right? Hey, so what if we're dooming these individuals and the societies in which they live to a less than ideal life from the very start? Times change, after all. Stop being so old fashioned and judgmental, so Victorian, so prudish. Get with the times, pal.
The professors may have gone a step too far for the bishops when they argued that traditional Catholic teaching on marriage is "obsolete and inadequate." However, they do make the case that the theological meaning of the sacrament of marriage rests upon a personalized commitment between two people to form a permanent union in the model of Christ's love for his Church. Uhm, news flash, Sparky: The Church has always taught that the ordinary ministers of the sacrament of matrimony are the couple. And as John Paul II's Theology of the Body shows, the marital act and the agape love that transforms mere eros (which is by nature selfish) into something completely self-giving is a model of Christ's love for the Church. But it must have agape to do this. And you can't have agape when you're giving into your selfish desires, when you are ruled by eros, by your passions. Passions lead you astray.
Furthermore, look at the research on oxytocin, the powerful chemical bonding agent that is released during the marital act. You are bonded in some way with everyone with whom you have ever or will ever have sex. Now let's say the groom is jilted at the altar by his fiancee, with whom he's had intercourse numerous times. A year later, he meets a woman whom he does marry. Is it of absolutely no consequence that he is bonded to this other woman, the one who jilted him, in some way? Shouldn't that bonding have been reserved to the woman who actually made it through the "I do's"? Again, the word is commitment, and while a ring isn't a magic talisman that guarantees commitment, it does go an awful long way to getting the job done. To say this all isn't true is to ignore the Everest-tall mountains of research that have demonstrated to the contrary. The bishops' official critique of the book highlights points of theological disagreement but does not offer a solution to changing social views of marriage. I've not read their critique, but even if this is true, you don't have to look far to see the bishops' efforts to change our changing/changed social mores.
Marriage is the sacrament performed by the two people getting married, not by the priest-witness. True, but totally irrelevant. I think the rival theologians and bishops should listen to the laity about Catholic marriage. And I think anyone who is this poorly formed in what the Catholic Church teaches and who builds enough straw men to fill the Grand Canyon shouldn't have the ability to write such tripe. So? Bottom line: The Church isn't a democracy, something even Vatican II affirmed. Get over it. Now is the time to engage the laity in a "Year of the Married Vocation" to refocus prayer and pastoral practice on this vital issue. Translation: To refocus prayer, etc., so the Church will finally say, "Hey, man, if it feels good, bro, do it! Party on! Woooooooo!!! Get naked and do it ALL NIGHT LONGGGGG! Yeah, baby! Gi' som'!" More translation: Did He say you will die? You will not die: You will be as gods!
This guy tries to sound so artful and sophisticated and intelligent, but, really, he wasted a whole column to say something that is like a broken record from the progressive/i.e., regressive crowd: Church, change your teaching on sex, so we can copulate, masturbate, sodomize, and fornicate to our hearts' content. This is done in the name of humanism, but I can't imagine anything else that is so falsely human. Man is better than this and should expect more from himself. This particular man needs a basic course in Theology of the Body. Someone, please, quick, get him to one.