We’re continuing our series on theology of the body, that is, God’s plan for human sexuality, and we want to remember that we’re treating a sacred subject, not one to be avoided, but one to treat with care and awe. In addition, we want to recapture God’s plan for sexuality, because the world has trivialized it. The initial question we’re going to ponder is: What kind of happiness is sex meant to produce? Our culture tells us that sex should make us happy. When you love someone, you might have sex with them.
But the Church teaches that sex between husband and wife should give us joy, satisfaction, and fill the depths of our souls. It should make us feel unrepeatable, so much so that we now have proof that our spouse is ready to die for us.
Let’s first reflect on today’s mystery, that of the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus says in the Gospel: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:12-13). God reveals things insofar as we can accept them. In this case, the disciples weren’t able to understand fully His need to enter His passion (Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI in The Anchor Bible, 714). Jesus humbles Himself to the point of death, and gives everything He has to us, even His life—that’s how He chose to save us. It takes most people some time to understand this kind of love.
Here’s another example: God never revealed all at once that there are three Persons in God. For over a thousand years, God focused on teaching the Jewish people that there was one God. Why? If you read the Old Testament, someone like Moses thought there were many gods; it’s just that he thought his God was the strongest. It was only over hundreds of years that the Jewish people started to understand that not only is their God the strongest, but He’s the only One there is! And, once they understood that, then He revealed that He has a Son, and then Jesus revealed that there was another Person in God.
Two people this past week asked a great question: Fr. Justin, if the purpose of sex is not pleasure, but procreation and the bonding between husband and wife, then, should a couple who is beyond child-bearing years stop making love? The answer is no. God doesn’t expect every act of love between husband and wife to produce a child. We know that because a woman isn’t fertile all the time. If God wanted us to produce a child all the time, He would have made women fertile all the time. There are other reasons that support this idea, but we’ll get to them another time. The point is that we’re teaching about God’s plan step by step.
Jesus says, “[The Spirit] will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears… All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:13,15). Here, Jesus starts to reveal the incredible union between the Persons in the Trinity. The Spirit speaks whatever He hears, and Jesus says all that the Father has is His, and finally, the Spirit will take what is Jesus’ and declare it to us. The three Persons in the Trinity are so united that they possess the same substance.
Think about it this way: If you’re in a dark room and you see something move, the first question we ask is, “What is it?” Once we identify that it’s in the shape of a human, we ask, “Who is it?” In every person, there’s a what and a who. All of us have the same type of what, we’re human. But we have a different who. One what and one who. In God, however, there is one what and three persons that possess that one same nature (Frank Sheed, Theology for Beginners, 28-29). The Trinity is so intimate that they literally possess the same mind and will.
This is what male and female, marriage, and sex are supposed to reflect. In Genesis, it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1:26-27). God is a communion of Persons, and so, in some beautiful, mysterious, and profound way, we image Their communion in being male and female.
Adam and Eve, as husband and wife, were created to love each other the way the Trinity does. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give of themselves fully to each other. Jesus gives Himself fully to humanity (which we talked about last week). And, believe it or not, every marriage, and every act of making love between husband and wife is supposed to reflect the love of the Trinity (Christopher West, The Good News about Sex & Marriage, 19-20)!
So, here are two consequences of this reality:
1) The Biblical view of marriage is what philosophers call comprehensive union: husband and wife are united in their minds and bodies, as well as in their openness to children and family life, and it’s exclusive and ‘until death do us part’ (Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson & Robert George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, 23).
Comprehensive union is part of the reason why sex before marriage and contraception are wrong in the Church’s eyes; neither respects the comprehensive union of marriage. Think about the difference between the following two statements. Our culture says: “I want to have coffee with you, I want to play tennis with you, and I want to have sex with you.” No big deal. Think about this statement: “I want to have a baby with you.” If you reflect on this, this means that the person loves you so much that they want another one of you: They love your eyes, hair, the way you talk, act, and love, so much so that they want another one of you. They want to be there in the long haul. They don’t want to be one with you only for a night in the body. They want to cherish you, and be one in your life goals until death. This is what we hinted at last week.
2) During a Catholic wedding, the couple answers questions by the priest or deacon that affirms that their lives will be a comprehensive union. They say they’ve come freely, will love each other exclusively and be faithful until death, and will accept children from God. For many, that’s the happiest day or should be one of the happiest days of their lives.
And God has designed sex between husband and wife to be the renewal of their wedding vows; it’s supposed to produce the same happiness. When they make love, they’re saying with their bodies what they said with their lips on their wedding day. I know this doesn’t always happen, but it is God’s plan for us.
That brings us back to our opening question. Our culture tells us that sex should make us happy. But God tells us that it should make us feel like it’s our wedding day, all over again: “Someone loves me until death; they’ll be there if, God willing, we have a child; they’re holding nothing back from me and just want to make me happy. I feel so special and loved, my heart is full. And I want my spouse to know that I’ll die for him/her too. I’m giving them my body and holding nothing back.”
Now, someone might say, “Fr. Justin, I don’t want that. I just want to be happy, have fun. I love this person, but sex doesn’t have to be such a big deal.” You can say that. However, just realize that you don’t love that person the way God does. And here’s the truth: That person was meant to be loved the way God loves them. That’s what we’re getting at when we understand the Trinity. That person is made in God’s image, to be loved perfectly. And so are you.
That’s the way God designed sex. Sex says that you do love that person the way God does! Sex says that you actually do care, you do want what’s best for them, you do want to be with them for life. That’s how sex is meant to feel. Biologically and physiologically, it communicates that we’re one in our mind, bodies, and souls.
As we grow older, we realize: I want more and I was made for more. I’m tired of ‘having fun’ and using people; I’m tired of being used—because that’s how it feels. If you’ve ever been used, it stinks. The point the Bible and the Church are making is that sex is about comprehensive union, about marriage, to show that we are meant to love and be loved the way the Trinity does.
When we use sex in any other way, we hurt people, even if it’s unintentional. If we actually know that we’re not following God’s plan for sex as an expression of marriage, then we do grave damage, and that’s why sins against sex are always grave matter, and can be mortal sins.
The fact that sex actually communicates something so powerful is what St. John Paul II called the language of the body. It’s the reality that we’re always communicating, not only with our words, but also with our bodies. We’ll delve into that more next week.
Right now, we’re pondering the idea that sex is supposed to give us the happiness of our wedding day, and, more importantly, it’s meant to communicate that we’re loved the way the Most Blessed Trinity loves.