Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Theology of the Body, Talk #5: What is the Theology of the Body again? How far is too far to go with my boyfriend / girlfriend? What does Mary, the Mother of God, have to do with a Theology of the Body? What can we learn from the Immaculate Conception and virginity in this great teaching?

We are coming up on several land-marks in the Catholic Church, especially in English speaking countries.  The New Roman Missal will take effect at the beginning of Advent in these English speaking countries which, for us Catholics, is the beginning of our “new year.”  Advent always marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Church.  There is much to say about Advent and the New Roman Missal, of course, but I want to focus in on one of Advent’s great Solemnities:  the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which is coming up on December 8.

The Solemnity (or Feast) of the Immaculate Conception is a great Feast that has everything to do with our meditations on the Pope’s Theology of the Body.  I’d like to take a minute, therefore, and explain what this Feast of Mary has to do with our reflections on sex, marriage, love and life in the Divine plan. 

This special Feast has everything to do with a Theology of the Body!  Mary, in fact, is our model, our lens, for understanding the entire Theology of the Body. “Wait, Benjamin, Mary was “ever-virgin” so she didn’t have sex at all!  How can she be our model for the Theology of the Body?  How can a virgin be our model for sex and love in the Divine plan?”   Well, I’ll explain this as we go on.  We will come to see that virginity doesn’t simply mean something negative i.e.: “someone who has not had sex.”   Virginity is something much more than just “not” having sex.  It really has to do with an integration of body and soul that are free to properly love especially in regard to one’s state or vocation in life (single life, married life or consecrated life).  That’s why the Church has some vocations to a life-long promise of “consecrated virginity,” for example.  I personally know many consecrated virgins and they are full of joy.  (They are monks, nuns, priests, and there are even Lay Consecrated Virgins in the world working and living the single life, promising to God their virginity forever.)  In fact, even married couples are supposed to function from their place of integration in body and soul so they are free to give themselves completely to each other and to God.  Virginity, then, is much more about being liberated from lust and being free to give ourselves completely in the purity of body and soul in whatever vocation God has given to us.  In virginity, our body and soul move together in the same direction toward God.  Mary is the perfect virgin of all virgins.  She had total control over her body and soul and was able to give herself completely to God in everything because of her Immaculate Conception.  Imagine never giving in to a temptation to lust in thought, word or deed?!   Amazing!!!  Welp, that’s Mary!

So, here’s another example to help explain the things happening in virginity inside of your body and soul:  You’re on a date.  It’s a good date.  It’s your fifth date.  You haven’t kissed yet.  Tonight is the night!  You want to kiss.  You want to kiss tonight.  So, at the end of the date you drop her off at home and kiss her goodnight.  You kiss, and kiss, and then kiss some more.  You have accomplished the first kiss and beyond!  You like it and so does she.  You continue to kiss.  (Ok, sorry everyone… I’ll get to the point . . . it’s an important point.)  At the moment your heart begins to desire the kiss more than the person as an end, your body and soul cease being integrated and moving toward God.  It’s very, very subtle.  Because your desire for the kiss begins to overwhelm you in this way it becomes disordered.  Your body and soul, in this case, begin going different directions.  We’re talking about the inner life of our hearts, body’s, and desires now.  This is a simple example of when a kiss (something good in itself) takes your body, and your desires, away from the final end of a kiss, which is always God.

At this point you may be thinking something like this:  Benjamin, I’ve never thought or wanted a kiss to lead me to God… but it does really turn me on!”

How many of you have heard this before?  How many of you think in this way?

For now we have to return to the initial questions for today because I’ve gotten off track once again!  I simply wanted to give honor to Mary as we approach her great Feast day and doing so easily helps us to look at virginity.  This is just a foretaste… there will be lots more on the topic of virginity to come.  It is a very hard concept to understand in this culture because if you’re like me you always thought virginity was something negative: “that someone has not yet had sex.”  Please just remember that virginity is much, much more and we can learn about it by way of the Virgin Mary.  We’ll get back to that.

So, returning to the initial questions for today:  What is a Theology of the Body?  How far is too far with my boyfriend / girlfriend?  (I know I’ve been leading up to this answer for two postings and below is the answer.  You don’t have to wait any more.  But, before you read on please remember that the more you can train yourself in “waiting” the more you’ll understand what I’m about to say.) 

Let’s take the first question now:  What is a Theology of the Body?  Christopher West once asked me in a large group of people who where there to see him:  Have you ever just stopped to take a look at yourself in the shower and wonder, why did God create “this?” Now, I’m a man.  So, you see what he was getting at.  He asks the same question to women:  have you ever stopped to look at yourself in the shower and ask why did God create this?  Why did God create males and females?  Why not just one uni-sex person, figure, thing… like starfish?  If you think about it for a minute, or more, you can come to see that the masculine is ordered toward the feminine and the feminine is ordered toward the masculine.  Or, as one of my buddies once put it:  “Oh, I gotcha … they fit together in that special place.”  (You can read all about this in the book of Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him. . .” God said.  Then God makes Eve after Adam named all the animals of the earth yet “none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” When Adam sees Eve he exclaims:  “At last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:18-24)  That is why the two of them become one flesh.  Married couples became “one flesh” at the moment they first consummate their marriage, for example.)  Man and woman are created for each other.  They are not just created for themselves.  By looking closely at the human body, we can come to an understanding of some fundamental questions about why we are here.  We can learn from our bodies about ourselves and about our intended reason for being, our creation.  We can even learn about our Creator.  And that’s the simple explanation of a Theology of the Body.  The human body is a map, as I said before, to point to and lead us to God and to discover the purpose and meaning of human life and love.  (Remember, love will be a big topic when it comes to the body . . . )  The human body is a sign and revelation of God.  If we take a look at the human body we can come to an understanding of God since: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1: 27)  The human body is not supposed to be something meaningless and ambiguous as our culture would have you believe.  The body, which is connected to the soul that makes up the person, leads to God who we image.  So, in this study we will be looking to our bodies, as a fundamental part of our personhood, to teach us about God and ourselves.

Question # 2: How far is too far to go with my girlfriend or boyfriend sexually?

This is a very common question.  To answer this we’ll use Jason Everet’s famous response: “I’m going to let you answer your own question with your heart.”  He then asks you to name an example of “going too far,” such as oral sex.  Is oral sex ok to do with my girlfriend or boyfriend?  No one can get pregnant.  It can be an expression of love.  I really want to!  Is oral sex too far to go with my boyfriend or girlfriend?  He invites you to simply imagine that your future spouse is somewhere out there in the world right now just like you.  Maybe you’ve met her and maybe not.  Maybe she, just like you, is sitting at her computer desk working on homework and taking a break before the big exam tomorrow.  Except that she studies at the Colorado Springs High and you study at Blue Valley High, for example.  Also, she has a boyfriend.  He comes by to visit during her study break.  One thing leads to another.  Is it ok for your future spouse to kiss her boyfriend?  Most would say, “sure” with a bit of reluctance.  Is it ok for her boyfriend to touch your future spouse on the genitals?  Is it ok for her mouth, the mouth that will eventually kiss your sons and daughters good night, to give that boyfriend oral sex?  This is kind of like a spiritual exercise.  If you experienced disgust, then you were able to answer the question.  If you did not experience disgust, then please, please keep reading because you have a lot inside of you that needs to be untwisted with the help of God’s grace.  Please apply this simple spiritual exercise to any question you have in your mind and heart about “how far is too far to go with my girlfriend, or boyfriend tonight, tomorrow, or whenever.”  This will help a lot.  If this is the first time you have thought of your future spouse then just say a prayer for them that God may help them, protect them and bless them in such a way that when you meet and get married . . . your marriage will be a sign and experience to the whole world of the marriage every marriage is supposed to signify:  the marriage between Christ and His Spouse the Church.

Ok, stay tuned for next weeks questions: Does sex have meaning, really? What is the meaning of sex?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Theology of the Body, Talk #4: What if I’m not attracted to living a chaste life? What if I’ve tried and failed over and over again? When it comes to purity and chastity, how far is too far sexually to go with a girl / guy on a date?

I’ve heard it said many times before, Even if I wanted to be chaste I just don’t think I could do it.”   Or, “I’m trying again and again with my boyfriend to be pure and chaste but in the heat of the moment I just can’t stop.”   Here’s another exclamation: “I don’t even think I want to be chaste… it’s just too much.  When it comes down to the desires inside of me, I just don’t want chastity.”   Let’s talk about these situations and difficulties in a frank manner.

Some young people know in their hearts they want to be pure.  They try and try again and again but they can’t stop going too far sexually with their boyfriend or girlfriend.  Then, afterward they feel depressed or shameful.  This can turn into a pattern which ends up in the bedroom at the end of every date.  Other times, however, young people do not want to be pure at all.  They will be sexually active with their boyfriend or girlfriend despite their heart which tells them otherwise.  They have gotten so used to being sexually active that they feel little remorse or conversion of heart.  (When I use the phrase “sexually active” I mean any activity that is sexual in nature such as: foreplay, heavy petting, oral sex, touching or pleasuring the partner that is sexually stimulating or contacting genitals which arouses the partner.  Sexual intercourse would certainly be considered “sexual activity” but so would the other examples.  We’ll be talking about and clarifying these details more and more.)  Then, there are some who do seek purity, desire it in their hearts, yet struggle from time-to-time and infrequently to remain pure.  Why are there so many different desires inside of us when it comes to purity and chastity?

Mary Beth Bonacci, a prolific Catholic writer and speaker on the topic of chastity and sexuality gives a great example to explain human desire when it comes to sex.  She talks about a frog that is placed in boiling water.  When the frog makes contact with hot water it will jump out immediately.  However, when a frog is placed in water at room temperature then made to boil; it won’t jump out at all.  It doesn’t recognize the change in temperature and remains in the water, then is boiled to death unknowingly.  (Real Love, Your Questions and Answers on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex. Mary Beth Bonacci.)  Our culture is analogues to the boiling water.  I’m sure you have recognized that many of the things you look at, read, watch, or listen to, are over-saturated with lies about human sexuality.  When young people grow up in a culture that capitalizes on sexuality in t.v., video, music, literature and entertainment it has an effect that works similar to the frog in boiling water.  The more you are exposed to sex in an unhealthy way through media, the less you will desire chastity.  Also, the more you practice unchaste behaviors, the less you will desire purity and chastity.  In addition, the more your family, friends, parents, associations… and especially your boyfriend/ girlfriend/ date, present to you an unhealthy sexuality the more you will be seduced by those desires inside of yourself.  Take guys, for example.  Guys are sexually stimulated visually.  The culture knows this, so advertisements, movies, or any marketing can play on visually stimulating media that is sexual.  A guy can remember sexual images for a long, long time and they can haunt him.  This is very harmful and dangerous when it comes to pornography, for example.  Girls are not as visually stimulated but their hearts are engaged differently when it comes to sex.  Girls will usually want to feel close to a guy and sex or sexual activity is a way she thinks this can happen.  She may get trapped down the road of impurity by doing the things her boyfriend wants to do.  She gets caught up in the lust and then desires chastity less and less while feeling worse and worse deep inside of herself.  It’s pretty well known by the past two generations that our culture is over-saturated with sex in the media.  But, there is a deeper problem than that because I know many people who desire and achieve purity despite the sex saturated culture.  Now days I think the deeper rooted problem with purity and chastity is the repetitive practice of sexual sins.  Someone who starts out innocent and pure then shown the way to sexual sins will loose the desire for purity in a manner of time.

What is my point?  Be careful.  Where is your desire for purity?  If it is a small desire, then ask yourself: What has caused this within me?  Is it repetitive sexual sins?  Is it the media or culture?  Do you watch too many unhealthy images of human sexuality?  Are you addicted to porn?  Has your boyfriend or girlfriend seduced you to sexual activity that at first was weird and difficult but has now become easier and more desirable?  Maybe there is a history of sexual abuse that happened to you.  This can be very detrimental for a healthy, holy understanding of sexuality.  I’ve talked to many young people with a history of sexual abuse who felt so trapped and disgusting they didn’t know what to do.  Then when a boyfriend, girlfriend or date wants to do something sexual with them they feel like it’s more respectful than what used to happen to them, so why not?

The human heart is able to understand, perceive and experience the truth of our personhood deep inside.  People can innately know they are created for love.  We constantly seek love.  We desire it.  We think, and talk about it all of the time.  What is it?  What is love?  Why do I desire it so much?  What does love have to do with sex?  Why am I so attracted to sex and love?

Ok, here’s the best part of it all: The human person, created by God in his image and likeness, is created for love.  Sex is God’s design.  “Male and female he created them…be fruitful and multiply,” (Gen. 1:27) God said.  A man and woman, their bodies and personhood, work like a road map which leads to and points to God, who is love (1 John).  Why did God create males and females at all?  Why did he create sex?  He created sex to lead us to love.  The human body, and our sexuality, is a sign.  That’s what Pope John Paul II’s premise is for the entire Theology of the Body.  The human body is a sign and revelation of God, who is the fullness of Love.  If we take a look at the human body we can come to an understanding of God.  In doing so, we can come to an understanding of ourselves who are made up of body, soul and sex.  This will have to be our starting point for a holy discussion about sexuality.  Without God and love in the picture for an understanding of our sexuality we get lost just like the examples above demonstrate.

So, stay tuned for next weeks answer to the question: How far is too far with my boyfriend or girlfriend?  What is a Theology of the Body and why is it so important?