Regarding the WHO abortion study that I mentioned in Wednesday’s post another conclusion that many come to upon seeing the numbers of abortions carried out world wide is that something must be done to prevent so many “unwanted pregnancies” in the first place. Now that is a rational conclusion. What is irrational, however, is the promotion of contraception as a solution when the underlying problem is immoral sexual behavior to begin with. Now they want to offer birth control to 11 year olds?! We are really failing our children if this is the best we can do. How about teaching them to love and respect their bodies and live out their sexuality in the manner in which God intended? We must reclaim the truth and meaning of human sexuality (which does not include condoms or birth control) if we are to ever dream of having an impact on abortion numbers.
Christopher West boldly asserts that, in the final analysis, the abortion debate is not really about when life begins, but the meaning of sex. Naturally, people don’t advocate abortion because they believe they have a right to kill their own offspring, but because they want to have the right to have sex without limit or consequence. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, JPII says,
It is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection (n. 97)
So what is this “true meaning” of sexuality? Here’s what I told a group of Confirmation students a few weeks ago.
Human sexuality is not just about “sex”. It is about understanding what it means to be a human being – specifically, what it means to be made male and female. Think about filling out an application. When the question of sex comes up on an application one doesn’t say “yes a couple times a week” or “no, I’m celibate or waiting until I’m married.” No, it’s either “male” or “female.”
Pope John Paul II devoted the first major teaching project of his pontificate to developing what is now called the “theology of the body” (a collection of 129 general audience addresses btwn 1979 and 1984) which explains in a biblical way the Christian sexual ethic. Starting from the very beginning, in Genesis 1:26 – God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Many think of this pertains to the spirit of man – but we are embodied spirits. For JP II, the spirit is revealed in the body. Therefore, being made in the “image and likeness” of God means that our bodies also reveal His hidden mystery:
The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it. (JPII, Feb. 20, 1980)
Who is God? God is the Trinity – He is “an inscrutable divine communion of [three] Persons” (November 14, 1979). Thus,
“man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning” (November 14, 1979).
The way in which human beings commune to image the likeness of God was revealed to us by Christ who said, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12). And how has He loved us? “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19). We are called to love in this same way with the unreserved gift of our bodies. This is what JP II calls this the “nuptial meaning” of the body – the body’s capacity of expressing love:
“that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift and — by means of this gift — fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence” (January 16, 1980).
This is revealed in a number of ways, but our Holy Father says that this love becomes most evident when the spouses become “one flesh.” This one flesh union, St. Paul tells us, is a “great mystery” which somehow images the union of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32). This is why the only proper context for the “one flesh” union of a man and woman is within the covenant of holy matrimony:
In order to be “true to the sign,” spouses must speak as Christ speaks. Christ gives his body freely (“No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord,” Jn 10:18). He gives his body without reservation (“he loved them to the last,” Jn 13:1). He gives his body faithfully (“I am with you always,” Mt 28:20). And he gives his body fruitfully (“I came that they may have life,” Jn 10:10).
This is the love a couple commits to in marriage. Standing at the altar, the priest or deacon asks them: “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? Do you promise to be faithful until death? Do you promise to receive children lovingly from God?” Then, having committed to loving as Christ loves, the couple is meant to incarnate that love in sexual intercourse. In other words, sexual union is meant to be where the words of the wedding vows “become flesh.” Source
This is a very VERY condensed explanation of the theology of the body. But we can see here how this will translate to the life issues.
If we view human beings in this way – as a revelation of the hidden mystery of God – abortion becomes unthinkable. God did not give us a timetable for what moment human life becomes an image of Himself, so we can only presume that it happens at the very moment a new life comes into existence – the moment of conception – and lasts throughout its entire life. This ethic translates into the subject of creating and destroying human embryos for scientific research and end of life issues like euthanasia/assisted suicide.
Similarly, if we recognize that the marital act is meant to be an expression of wedding vows and a couple’s committment to give each other freely, totally, fruitfully and faithfully – then contraception is also unthinkable. In the language of the body, contraception = rejection. The sexual act may still speak, but it denies God’s life giving love. Total self giving means holding nothing back and contraception holds back fertility – it says, “I’m yours but not totally – I love you, but not that much.” Our fertility enables us to image the Trinity. God’s love is not sterile and if we are to image the love of God, we must not sterilize our own love. This does not mean that a couple must only engage in intercourse when they want to have children or that that must have as many children as possible. For more on that see my post: NFP vs. Contraception.
Creating a culture of life is not just about reducing abortion numbers – though that is one of our goals – but about encouraging humanity to answer the call to love as God loves. The opposite of love is not hate, but use. And this is what is plaguing our society today. Our society has fallen so far away from the full truth of man’s existence – about who men and women really are as persons and what our bodies represent. Disordered or immoral sexual behavior does not just include rape, homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, premarital sex, masturbation, pornography, adultery or contraceptive union, but also the use of another human being for one’s own physical gratification (see Mt. 5:28) – even within marriage. A recent study from the University of Texas revealed that the top 3 reasons both men and women have sex is because they are attracted to the other person and for their own physical pleasure. This is not what sex is meant to be!
I gotta tell you, I think this is probably the most important and exciting things I have ever learned. This is good news!, from the Church!, about SEX! I never knew any of this when I was in grade/high school, and even for some time after. Born and raised Catholic, I always knew that I wasn’t supposed to “do it” before I got married, but I never really knew why. Chastity is more than just “not doing it” until you’re married, or repressing your sexual desire. It means having purity of heart – to see and reclaim the goodness of the human body and never daring to defile it. Sexual desire is good, but it must be ordered according to the will of God. We can overcome our disordered sexual desires and learn to love as God loves. THAT is true sexual freedom!
God created sex as a foretaste of heaven. It is a gift which allows human beings to share in the life giving love of God. But we cannot give what we don’t have. On our path to holiness we must always be working on strengthening our relationship with Christ so that His light and love is always abiding in us.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing (Jn:15:5)
Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (Gaudium et Spes, 24)
What is Theology of the Body and Why is it Changing So Many Lives – includes links to other articles by Christopher West on TOB, including how it relates to the celibate vocation.
All 129 Audience Transcripts