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In the Image of God: Church Teaching on Human Sexuality
Throughout this series, we have attempted to show how Church teaching and medical science agree on many aspects of the issue of homosexuality. But in order to fully grasp Church teaching on this subject, we must go much further than the few catechetical quotes cited in this series. In order to fully grasp what the Church teaches about homosexuality, we must first come to understand what she teaches about human sexuality in general.
In the Image of God: Church Teaching on Human Sexuality
Part 6 of 6
It's no accident that during this time of immense sexual confusion, God sent us the great gift of Pope John Paul II. Two-thirds of what the Church has ever said on the subject of human sexuality in her 2000 year history has been said by this Pope. Although he didn't change what the Church teaches, he expounded upon it and put it into a more contemporary language that might better equip Christians to carry the message of Jesus Christ into the modern world.
This new way of teaching about human sexuality has come to be known as the "theology of the body."
God's Plan For Sexuality
"According to John Paul II, God created the body as a 'sign' of his own divine mystery," explains Christopher West, moral theologian, author and speaker, who is considered an expert on the theology of the body. "This is why he speaks of the body as a theology, a study of God."
Because God Himself is the source of the complementarity of the sexes, when He created man in the image of Himself, he created both a male and a female. They were then directed to "be fruitful and multiply" by becoming "one flesh."
This was the original vocation of man and woman, to unite their bodies and produce life, but to do so in the "image of God" which means it must bear the following characteristics: it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful.
This teaching was not something invented by the Church but taken directly from Scripture. From the book of Genesis onward, "The Bible uses spousal love more than any other image to help us understand God's eternal plan for humanity," West writes. "God wants to 'marry' us. (Hosea 2:19) to live with us in an 'eternal exchange of love.'"
The marital analogy is used because it best describes what God intends for us to love as He loves, and to be united in that love with an "other" as well as with Him. We were made for love and communion and this desire is inscribed into our very bodies. West calls it the body's innate "language," but it cannot achieve its desire without an "other." Male and female have a built-in desire for an "other"- not a "same."
But it goes even further. Because humans have a soul, their union should far surpass the mere sense level of animals, and should involve the spirit as well as the body. In other words, it should be love that unites them, not just a physical urge. And this love that unites man and woman is meant to mirror God's love, which has certain characteristics: it is free, total, faithful and fruitful.
As West writes, ". . . .This is exactly what spouses commit to at the altar . . . to give themselves to one another without reservations, to be faithful until death, and to receive whatever children God wishes to send them." Every time this couple unites themselves in the marital embrace, they are, in a sense, renewing those vows. This is the proper reflection of God's 'marital' love for us, in the 'marital' embrace of those He created in His own image.
When one understands the "soul" of Church teaching about human sexuality, it becomes clear why she maintains that homosexuality, as well as adultery, premarital sex, contraception, do not image God's free, total, faithful and fruitful love.
Homosexual unions and the use of contraceptives are not "marital"as God's love is "marital" because they are not fruitful. Premarital sex is not 'marital' because without the self-sacrifice of commitment, it is not total. Adultery is not 'marital' because it is not faithful.
But does it really make a difference if we follow God's plan? The answer to this question can be found in the sad global statistics on divorce, domestic abuse, sexual disease, abortion. "The truth of the Church's teachings on sex is confirmed in the wounds of those who haven't lived it," West writes.
The sacrifice of remaining chaste outside of marriage doesn't seem so bad when one considers the enormous social ills that a chaste lifestyle can prevent. But even more important, by remaining chaste outside of marriage, we keep sexual activity within its intended context.
Any other approach to human sexuality diminishes not only the nature and meaning of married love, but the nature and meaning of God's love as well. Sexuality is reduced to a mere sensation and lacks the true gift of self that constitutes authentic love. The longing for union that is stamped into our very bodies becomes distorted and confused, driving us hither and yon in search of a satisfaction that does not exist outside of God's plan.
Union with God
But the meaning behind Church teaching on human sexuality goes deeper still.
"Experience attests that even in the most wonderful human relationship, that 'ache' of solitude isn't entirely satisfied," West writes. "We still yearn for 'something more.' If sex really was our ultimate fulfillment, then marriage would be nirvana.' . . . The marital embrace, as beautiful as it is, is only a foreshadowing of what's to come only a 'sacrament' (sign) of something far greater . . ."
Union with God.
This is what G. K. Chesterton meant when he wrote, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God." Our desire for union with an "other" will never be ultimately satisfied until we are united with our Creator. "God created sexual desires as the power to love as He loves," West writes. "And this is how the first couple experienced it."
But remember, original sin robbed us of this ability to love as God loves. This is why we need a Redeemer. Jesus didn't die and rise again just to give us a kind of coping mechanism for sin. As the catechism states, "Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins." (CCC2336) He came to give us what we lost. That's why the Church claims that our longing for union can only be satisfied in Christ.
The good news is that through genuine conversion of heart to the message of life found in Jesus Christ, we can all be liberated from what John Paul II calls the "domination of lust." His grace can accomplish all that we cannot.
John Paul II said, "If we live according to the truth of our sexuality we fulfill the very meaning of life." God's plan for human sexuality is the answer. With it we can destroy the culture of death and bring a glorious new springtime to the face of the earth.
Homosexuality: The Untold Story
Part 1 of 6: The Phantom Gene
Part 2 of 6: Known causes of same-sex attraction
Part 4 of 6: Treatment and prevention
Susan Brinkmann. "In the Image of God: Church Teaching on Human Sexuality." Catholic Standard & Times (May-June, 2004).
This article is reprinted with permission of the author and Catholic Standard & Times.
Susan Brinkmann is a correspondent with the Catholic Standard & Times.
Copyright © 2004 Catholic Standard & Times