2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sexual Morality
Today I want to focus in on the second reading from 1 Corinthians 6. As in most of the year, the second reading does not follow the same theme of the first reading and Gospel reading this Sunday. They are about the call of the Lord. The second reading is about morality, specifically sexual morality.
I often try my best to avoid this topic because it hits too close to home. Just like every person, I also struggle with this, but then again, just like every person here, I am also human. Still, when people tell me in confession that they struggle with sexual temptations, I usually mention to them that when we stop struggling we should take our pulse because we will probably be dead.
Paul addresses his letter to people who lived in Corinth. That was the ancient equivalent of Sin City. Most of the people of the pagan world engaged in blatant immorality, but some of the worst were those in Corinth. They even had their own saying to justify their behavior. No, it wasn’t, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.” It was, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food.” It was like saying, “You have no choice: you have got to eat, and you have no choice, you have got to behave immorally.” Paul tells them and us that we are so much better than that. Our bodies belong to the Lord. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are far more than animals with nothing but animal instincts. He goes on to use a very important phrase: our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. If we are immoral, we are sinning against our own bodies, sinning against our union with Christ.
That is a beautiful concept: we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. A while back I overheard some of our Teens talking about the type of dancing that was going on at the high school homecoming. I was about to join in the conversation when I heard one of the girls say, “I don’t do that. I’m a sacred vessel.” I kept moving. This young one had the situation under control.
She also understood why we avoid immorality. It is not a matter of some sort of Catholic No No, rules that a person might not understand but does his or her best to follow anyway. This whole area of morality is far more important than that. It goes to the heart of whom we are. We are Christ's and He is ours. So, we do our best to fight off our temptations because we are united to Christ. He flows through us. We are not animals. We are so much better than that.
Let’s take a tour of Rome, specifically the most beautiful chapel in the world, the Sistine chapel. The chapel is beautiful not because on its architecture. It is rather plain that way. It is beautiful because of the art work inside it. Here in this relatively small building attached to St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican complex in Rome, we come upon frescos by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perrugino, and others. Every year, hundred of thousands of visitors gaze up at the ceiling at Michelangelo’s depiction of creation and the first sections of the Bible. The cardinals who meet in conclave to pick a new pope also do so under these magnificent frescos. This is shocking to people who depict Catholics as sexually inhibited prudes. The frescos are, as you know, nudes. They emphasize the beauty of the human body with God himself as the source of this beauty. In the frescos the creation of man begins with God touching Adam’s hand and concludes with the creation of Eve. Adam needed Eve and Eve needed Adam to overcome the loneliness of the human condition. They needed to give themselves totally to each other. And here is the message behind these frescos: the only way that we can find ourselves is by giving ourselves away. We are made in the image of God. God is a Trinity of Love, Father, Son and Spirit, forming a community of self giving love for all eternity. We are created in the image of this love, in the image of God. When Adam and Eve gave themselves to each other, they felt no shame. They could be naked. Shame came when they began to use each other.
Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke about this in the lectures that make up the Theology of the Body. He said that human happiness depends on self giving, not self assertion. That is the difference between love and lust. Love makes a gift of oneself to another for the other’s good. Lust is taking from another for personal pleasure. For us Catholics, sexual morality is more than self control. It is self mastery. For us sexual morality is the mastery of the desire that allows us to give ourselves to another in a way that affirms the other. Married love is the human reality that best images the commitment, the intensity and the passion of Christ’s love for the Church, for
whom He laid down His Life.
Now back to Corinth and to ourselves. Using others to fulfill selfish wants is no different than the sexuality of animals. It is imposed, instinctive and merely physical. We are far more noble than that. We have been created for love, love freely given and freely received, love which is based on a commitment for life. In this light Blessed Pope John Paul II speaks about chastity not as a matter of what we can’t do, but as a virtue that frees us to love another person as a person, not an object. That is why we speak about the chaste love of husbands and wives for each other. The married give their deepest selves totally to each other, entrusting their emotional center to each other. You here who are married are free to love each other as Christ loves us.
How should we teach this to our children, adolescents and Teens? Our emphasis should be on our human dignity as well as the dignity of others. We need to teach our children to respect their own bodies as well as those of others. They are God’s most beautiful creations. We should extend our “good-touch, bad-touch” lessons to the little ones to include how they treat themselves and how they treat others. We need to assure our adolescents that the massive changes that are rushing through their lives are gifts from God which will allow them to love as God loves. We should help them understand that going to Mom and Dad to learn about these changes is going to God who entrusts His children to their parents. We should tell them that going to the internet to learn about these changes is going to the devil. We need to reassure our Teens that they can fight off immoral society’s objectification of others. They can prepare themselves to be giving and not taking. They can prepare themselves for love. We need to assure them that they are not animals and should be repulsed by anyone who insults them by treating them as though they were animals as those do who say, “Here, take this, use this, because you are probably going to have sex.” What an insult! How degrading! Yes, in high school and college they probably will be tempted to enter into immoral relationships, but instead of facilitating these temptations, we need to strengthen our Teens by reaffirming in them that relations outside of marriage violate the integrity of love as giving because they lack promise and commitment.
I ask you, to reflect again on Paul’s message to the Corinthians, and us. “Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price, the Body of Christ on the cross. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
This is not the way of the world. But we are called to holiness, to be separated from the world. Sexual morality itself is one of the many ways that we express this holiness.
So today, as always, we pray that we may we have the courage to be Catholic.