Sex is a Mystery
Peace be to you.
Freedom and sex.
The two words most often used and abused in our modern world are the words freedom and sex.
- Freedom is often used to signify the absence of law and
- Sex is often used to signify the absence of restraint.
It is this subject that we are interested in today in the general discussion of matrimony.
Very popular expressions
We will commence with three very popular expressions about the subject of sex and then apply some thinking to these expressions.
The first popular expression is: “Sex is not anything to be ashamed of.”
Now that can be understood in a right and wrong sense. It is right if it means that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way that gives pleasure. But that expression can be wrong if it means carnal license, the mess that sex instinct has got us in today, uncontrolled use of pornographic literature. If these things are nothing to be ashamed of, then the expression is wrong.
Let us take a second one. “We must be self-expressive.”
That is right if it means that we are to perfect our personality. It is wrong, however, if self-expression means to allow the sex instinct every satisfaction and at all times and under all circumstances.
We must analyze the full significance of the term self-expression. A locomotive on a track following the road that was laid out by an engineer is self-expressive if it stays on the tracks, and it reaches its full perfection as a locomotive.
If, however, the locomotive says to itself, “why should I obey the laws and the tracks that were laid down for me by an engineer some years ago? I am going to follow my own impulses.” If it jumps the tracks, it was self-expressive in the wrong sense of the term and then it destroyed itself.
Can you imagine a soldier in battle deserting the line, then running back to safety, meeting a superior officer? Can you imagine that superior officer saying to him, “I am so glad that you were self-expressive. After all, we have inherited a number of old Victorian ideas that a man should stay in the battlefield and fight for his cause and for his country. But you have allowed your personality to manifest itself; you have deserted the lines and you have come back here to safety. I commend you. e shall give you a medal for being self-expressive.”
It makes a lot of nonsense, is it not? Certainly, we are to follow the idiom to be yourself, but we have to remember what we are. We are human beings; we are not animals.
A third expression often used today is, –
“God would never have given us this particular instinct unless he intended it to be used. Therefore, we have a right to use it.”
Certainly, but we have a right to use it according to our nature. But what is the nature of man? Is it that of a rational animal or is it the nature of a rooster?
Inasmuch as our nature is rational, that is to say, we have to live according to purposes and goals, well then it follows we are to use our instinct according to that order of reason and not according to mere instinct.
We have a hunting instinct, but we are not to use it all times and under all circumstances. One may not, for example, use it to hunt down mothers-in-law.
- Just as dirt is matter in the wrong place, so lust is the sex instinct in the wrong place.
A History Lesson to remember:
There has been perhaps too much emphasis upon it and it is well to recall what a great sociologist has written about a similar emphasis that was put upon it in earlier days.
We are here quoting Dr. Pitirin A. Sorokin, who writes,
“Those families among us which frequently change husbands and wives, which fail in their duties to their children and adopt the moral code of the gutter, are pushing us along the road to chaos.”
Greece in the third and second centuries before Christ brought sex into the open. “We know”, he continues, “because there were Kinseys in those days, too, men who prided themselves on their objectivity as they calmly recorded the distressing picture of whole families getting together to indulge in promiscuous behavior. Adultery and prostitution were so common that those who indulged were regarded merely as interesting fellows.”
Now note how this sociologist concludes that such a society was not able to summon the backbone to resist in the face of war or to endure the austerity program that might have salvaged that overblown economy. Soon the glory that was Greece was over and the mighty Acropolis was only a hillside strewn with ruined marble. It would be well for any country which stresses the flesh too much to remember that lesson of history.
A Negative Virtue:
Let us take now an entirely different point of view. There is a certain amount of sympathy to be extended to those who protest against the way purity and chastity have been stressed. Too often it is negative. Almost all talks on chastity begin with don’t do this or don’t do that. It would seem as if it were almost a negative virtue rather than a positive one. No, Christianity bids us to look at things in a Godlike way.
What do we learn by studying man?
Well we see that every human being has two instinctive needs, basic, fundamental, strong.
- One is hunger.
- The other is sex.
God implanted both of these.
- It is thanks to hunger that we preserve individual life.
- It is thanks to sex that we preserve social life.
And God had to associate great pleasures with these two instincts in order to assure the continuation of both personal life and the human race.
Naturally, there will come deviations and excesses with either of these instincts.
- Man may eat too much; he may drink too much. His body will get fat.
- So, too there can be excesses of the sex instinct. They can be de-ordinate.
And just as one may produce bad health from abusing the hunger instinct, so too one can develop a carnalized mind. One does not generally put garbage into the stomach, but too often one will put garbage into the mind.
A Positive Virtue:
Now looking at it positively, youth are not to think therefore that this urge they have is wrong. It is God-like, it is heaven sent. It is good. It is never wasted even when it is controlled because the energy that might go out physically is sublimated and may come out in another way, mentally and spiritually, as it most often does.
Now let us try to treat this subject in a dignified and positive fashion. We begin by asking what is purity or what is chastity.
- Purity is reverence paid to the mystery of sex. I repeat, purity is reverence paid to the mystery of sex.
We do speak of the mystery of sex and it is a mystery.
But why is it a mystery and why is it called that?
If we use the Greek word, we would use the word sacrament. You remember that in the Supernatural order every Sacrament has two elements, one material, one Spiritual, one that can be seen or heard or touched, and the other which is Divine.
Sex is a mystery because it has these two characteristics.
So, too, in the natural order, sex is a mystery because it has these two characteristics.
First, sex is something that is known to everyone. One is either male or female and yet, there is something hidden from everyone. The known element is, as we said, that everyone is either male or female. The invisible, mysterious element of sex is its creativeness, the sharing in some way of the Creative Power of God. Now it was God’s Love that made Him a Creator.
And so God has poured that Love into a man and woman to make them co-creators with Him, and that co-creation with Him is a free gift.
Now we have certain movements in our body that are not subject to freedom, for example, breathing, digestion, circulation, and so forth, are to a great extent unconscious and involuntary and go on independently of our will
But to create a poem, a statue, or a child is a free act.
- God gave the Divine Commission, increase and multiply. (Genesis 1:22)
- Communicate new life.
So we are sent into this world, therefore, to pass on a torch, a torch of life, and God has put that into our hands to burn controlled unto the purpose and destiny fixed by Him.
Purity therefore is reverence paid to the mystery of sex and the mystery of sex is Creativeness.
Now a second point.
All creativeness is surrounded with awe and there is a creativeness given to man and woman. That is one of the reasons why at all times there has been an association of religion with the unity of man and woman, not only in Christianity but among all pagan people. It was felt naturally that this great power of creativeness should be surrounded in some way by religious sanction. If then we understand the mystery aright, just as in the Supernatural Sacraments we mortals supply act and bread, water, words, so too here man and woman supply the flesh and God supplies the Mystery.
And this awesomeness that surrounds sex is the reason why young men act in a certain way toward young women and why young women act in a certain way toward young men. There’s a sense of mystery, reverence, awe that makes each one of them shrink from a too precocious surrender of the secret.
- That is one of the reasons why a man is naturally chivalrous toward a woman, not because he believes she is physically weak but because of the awe he feels in the presence of mystery.
- That, too is why woman is tender, sensitive, even timid because she has a great mystery inside of her.
Why cannot sex be used outside of marriage?
Well, because certain powers are to be used only in certain relationships. What is lawful in one relationship is not lawful in another.
A man may kill another soldier in a just war but not in his private capacity as a citizen. A policeman can arrest someone as a duly appointed guardian of the law, fortified with a warrant, but not outside of that relationship.
So, too, the creativeness of man and woman is lawful under a relationship sanctioned by God, not apart from that mysterious relationship called marriage. And purity will never separate the two. Purity would no more think of isolating the capacity to share in God’s creativeness than a good person would think of using a knife apart from its purpose to stab a neighbor.
The things which God has joined together will not be separated.
Purity, then, is not just physical intactness.
- In a woman, it is a firm resolve never to use the power until God shall send her a husband.
- In the man, it is the steadfast desire to wait upon God’s will that he have a wife, that he may use her for God’s purposes.
Purity, then, you see, does not begin in the body. It begins in the will, and from there it flows outward, cleansing the imagination, the will, and finally the body.
Bodily purity is a repercussion or wrecker of the will.
Life is impure only when the will is impure.
We see, then that purity is the Sacristan of Love.
It is its guardian. And just as we do not want to see an American flag under someone’s feet because there’s a mystery to that flag that symbolizes something else, so the pure are shocked at the impure because it is the prostitution of the sacred. It makes the reverent, irreverent. The essence of all obscenity is the turning of the inner mystery into a jest.
- Given a hidden presence of God in every person, just as there is a hidden Divine presence in the bread on the altar, each person becomes a kind of a consecrated host, not in the same sense as the bread of the altar, but because chastity or purity is a consecrated affection.
- Notice here we are making it positive, not negative. It is not something you must not do, it is something you must do, namely, dedicate an affection. For example, a mother may say to her young, “never do anything of which your mother would be ashamed.” So, one is dedicated to the love of the mother. A young man who goes with a young woman is dedicated to her ideals.
Marriage is dedication to a wife.
- In each and every instance, it is always Love that inspires charity, and chastity, and purity.
We might give an example of this in the analogy of a musician.
Now we want this to describe in some way the danger of isolating sex from love and from its purpose and from its creativeness.
Suppose the director of an orchestra becomes very conscious of his hands, how he is going to hold the baton, between which fingers, whether his elbow is too high, whether his right hand should be lifted above his shoulder. Suppose he concentrates just on his hands. Do you not think it is going to have an effect on the music? Now suppose he concentrates on the music and the orchestra and the production of harmony. Then everything fits into place. He is very unconscious of the hand.
And so, too, when sex becomes a part of love life and the purpose of life, then it is a dedication and it fits into the whole.
Sex is not something that is isolated from life. Of course, there is self-control, there is subordination of a part to the whole, but all this, again, I repeat is on account of serving a higher enthusiasm.
When you dance, you do not concentrate on your feet, and if you did, you’d be walking on your neighbor’s toes. But when you make your feet serve the spiritual and the mental and the social part of you, you have no trouble.
That’s purity properly understood, it’s the taking of love and making every part of the sex instinct fit into it.
That is why frequent Holy Communion is the best guardian of chastity because it places sex in the context of Love.
We’ve already said that chastity is the vestibule, the sacristan of love. Now when we become in love with our Lord, when we have a sense of this tremendous ecstasy, and that’s what it is, that comes from Holy Communion and from oneness with our Lord and Savior, then every part of us, our hunger instinct, our sex instinct, becomes a part of that love.
- It is Love that awakens chastity, it is not the other way around.
And every moment of our life, from the time that we are children just reaching the age of reason on up until old age, it is the Love of God that makes every other kind of love understandable, even the love of husband and wife.
He who loves honesty never has to be told not to steal.
He who loves his neighbor never has to be told not to cut his throat.
And so any of us who love God, human persons in the mystery of creativeness, we never have to be told not to do something, for in love with the mystery.
As Francis Thompson put it, “Thou who knowest the hidden thing, Thou has instructed me to sing. Teach love the way to be a new virginity. Do Thou with Thy protecting hand shelter the flame thy breath has fanned. Let my heart’s reddened glow be but as sun-fleshed snow. And if they say that snow is cold, oh, chastity, must they be told? The hand that’s chafed with snow takes a redoubled glow. That extreme cold, light heat doth sear. Oh, to the heart of love draw near and feel how scorching rise its white cold purity.”
Sex is the reverence paid to the mystery of creativeness.
God love you.
1. In today’s lesson on – Sex is a Mystery
– what stood out the most to you?
2. Why do you think Bishop Sheen gave the title “Sex is a Mystery ” to this lesson?
3. How would you explain to someone seeking a deeper understanding of how Sex is a Mystery as defined in this lesson ?
4. Now that you have learned more about – MARRIAGE – and how Sex is a Mystery
– what changes do you think this will have in your daily life?
To view the context, please visit https://www.kofc.org/en/catechism/index.html or
ARTICLE 7 – THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY – (Continuation)
- THE EFFECTS OF THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY
- 1638. “‘From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament.’[Cf. CIC, can. 1134.]“
The marriage bond
- 1639. “The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself.[Cf. Mk 10:9 .] From their covenant arises ‘an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society.’[GS 48 # 1.] The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: ‘Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.’[GS 48 # 2.]“
- 1640. “Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.[Cf. CIC, can. 1141.] “
The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony
- 1641. “‘By reason of their state in life and of their order, (Christian spouses) have their own special gifts in the People of God.’[LG 11 # 2.] This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.’[LG 11 # 2; cf. LG 41.]“
- 1642. “Christ is the source of this grace. ‘Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.’[GS 48 # 2.] Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,’[Eph 5:21 ; cf. Gal 6:2 .] and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:
How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.[Tertullian, Ad uxorem. 2, 8, 6-7: PL 1, 1412-1413; cf. FC 13.]“
- THE GOODS AND REQUIREMENTS OF CONJUGAL LOVE
- 1643. “‘Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.’[FC 13.]“
The unity and indissolubility of marriage
- 1644. “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so they are no longer two, but one flesh.’[Mt 19:6 ; cf. Gen 2:24 .] They ‘are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.’[FC 19.] This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.”
- 1645. “‘The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife in mutual and unreserved affection.’[GS 49 # 2.] Polygamy is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive.[Cf. FC 19.]“
The fidelity of conjugal love
- 1646. “By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequence of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement ‘until further notice.’ The ‘intimate union of marriage, as a mutual giving of two persons, and the good of the children, demand total fidelity from the spouses and require an unbreakable union between them.’[GS 48 # 1.]“
- 1647. “The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning. “
- 1648. “It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love. Spouses who with God’s grace give this witness, often in very difficult conditions, deserve the gratitude and support of the ecclesial community.[Cf. FC 20.] “
- 1649. “Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. The Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble.[Cf. FC 83; CIC, cann. 1151-1155.] “
- 1650. “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’[Mk 10:11-12 .] the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”
- 1651. “Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons:
They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace.[FC 84.] “
ARTICLE 6 –
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
You shall not commit adultery.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
I. “MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM . . .”
- 2331. “‘God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image . . .. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.’[FC 11.]
‘God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them’;[Gen 1:27 .] He blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’;[Gen 1:28 .] ‘When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.’[Gen 5:1-2 .]“
- 2332. “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others. “
- 2333. “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. “
- 2334. “‘In creating men ‘male and female,’ God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity.’[FC 22; Cf. GS 49 # 2.] ‘Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God.’[MD 6.]“
- 2335. “Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity: ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.’[Gen 2:24 .] All human generations proceed from this union.[Cf. Gen 4:1-2, 25-26 ; Gen 5:1 .]“
- 2336. “Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’[Mt 5:27-28 .] What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.[Cf. Mt 19:6 .]
The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.”
III. THE LOVE OF HUSBAND AND WIFE
- 2360. “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament. “
- 2361. “‘Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.’[FC 11.]
Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, ‘Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety.’ So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying, ‘Blessed are you, O God of our fathers…. You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the race of mankind has sprung. You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’ I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together.’ And they both said, ‘Amen, Amen.’ Then they went to sleep for the night.[Tob 8:4-9 .]“
- 2362. “‘The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.’[GS 49 # 2.] Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
The Creator himself . . . established that in the (generative) function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil
in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.[Pius XII, Discourse, October 29,1951.]“
- 2363. “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.
The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity. “
- 2364. “The married couple forms ‘the intimate partnership of life and love established by the Creator and governed by his laws; it is rooted in the conjugal covenant, that is, in their irrevocable personal consent.’[GS 48 # 1.] Both give themselves definitively and totally to one another. They are no longer two; from now on they form one flesh. The covenant they freely contracted imposes on the spouses the obligation to preserve it as unique and indissoluble.[Cf. CIC, can. 1056.] ‘What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’[Mk 109 ; cf. Mt 19:1-12 ; 1 Cor 7: 10-11 .]“
- 2365. “Fidelity expresses constancy in keeping one’s given word. God is faithful. The Sacrament of Matrimony enables man and woman to enter into Christ’s fidelity for his Church. Through conjugal chastity, they bear witness to this mystery before the world.
John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their wives: I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us…. I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.[St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in Eph. 20, 8: PG 62, 146-147.] “