Skip to comments.Christianity and Sexual Pleasure
Posted on 12/16/2008 4:43:12 PM PST by stfassisi
Christianity and Sexual Pleasure by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Sex and Sanctity The first reaction to a subject like sex and Christianity, or even sex and sanctity, is wonder and misgiving. We have become so accustomed to associate sex with sin that even our vocabulary has been affected. The first thought that comes to most people's minds on hearing words like impurity or immorality is some failure against chastity, as though there was something basically wrong with the use of sexual faculties, or as though the essence of evil was sin against the sixth and ninth commandments of the Decalogue.
I think there are two explanations for this spontaneous connection between sex and sin. The first is the Manichaean virus that first infected the stream of Christianity in the third and fourth centuries that became a major heresy in Europe, as Albigenseanism in the thirteenth century, that re-entered Western society under Calvinism and Jansenism and that still deeply affects large segments of Euro-American culture. To this day the words "Victorian" or "Puritan" suggest an exaggerated fear of anything that might cause sexual pleasure.
A second reason why sex and sin have become so commonly associated is the prevalence of sexual crime. The murder of millions of unborn children through legal abortion brings out the tragic cause and effect relation between the fifth and sixth commandments of God. As the history of the human race shows, those who indulge their sex passions through adultery, fornication and contraception are the ones who are led to abortion and infanticide. Sexual perversity leads to homicide.
But that is not the focus of our present conference. I wish rather to show that, as Catholic Christianity understands the body and the functions of the organs of reproduction, sex is a creature that in God's providence, is intended to help mankind reach not only their eternal destiny but to become holy. It is not as though we can be saved in spite of sex, but sex is a divinely instituted means of achieving our salvation, in fact our sanctification.
The stress in our presentation, therefore, is on sex as a means, and sanctity as the end. Sanctity is achieved by doing the will of God according to one's state of life; and sex is an inevitable part of everyone's state of life. Sex is inescapable, sanctity is attainable. A major factor in attaining sanctity depends on how a person copes with sex in his or her own particular state of life.
For the sake of convenience, I will distinguish three general states of life in each of which sex is divinely intended to be a means of sustaining and growing in the life of God.
There is the state of marriage; the single state in the world; and the state of consecrated celibacy.
In what follows, I plan to deal with each of these three in terms of sex that I will call:
Sex as experience
Sex as temperance and
Sex as sacrifice.
Sex As Experience Some the origins of Christianity, the Church has uniformly held that Christian marriage is holy. It is moreover not only sacred because instituted by God as the Author of nature and human society. It is a sacrament because instituted by the Son of God as the Author of grace and of the supernatural society which is the Church.
But marriage is not only holy in its origins. It is also holy in its purpose. This purpose is to sanctify husband and wife and, through them, the children they may bring into the world. Since sex is an essential part of marriage, it stands to reason (and faith) that the experience of sex is also part of the sanctifying purpose of marriage. Since all the faithful are called to holiness, it is only to be expected that the married faithful are to become holy too. Their experience of sex within marriage must be one of the divinely-appointed means of becoming holy.
How so? How is the experience of sex sanctifying? It is sanctifying as joy, as charity, as restraint and as generosity.
Sexual experience is sanctifying as joy because the intense satisfaction associated with the marital act is intended by God to be enjoyed. Enjoyment is sanctifying insofar as the pleasure experience is accepted with gratitude from the Almighty and received from Him as a gift of His bounty.
After all, we are sanctified by every conscious act we perform according to the will of God. The more noble the act, the more it contributes to our sanctification. Who would doubt that marital intercourse is a noble action or that properly performed it is pleasing to God. What pleases God sanctifies us, which means that by their "coming together," as the biblical phrase has it, husband and wife grow in the divine life in their souls through the loving union of their bodies.
Sexual experience is sanctifying as charity because by it the married spouses express their mutual love. We are to love one another, as Christ told us; and loving one another means showing this affection not only in words but also and especially in deeds.
By their marital embrace, the husband tells his wife that he loves her - as his wife with an exclusivity that no other woman on earth has a right to share. And she tells him that she loves him - as her husband, with the same uniqueness to which no other man on earth has a claim.
If even the least act of kindness is everlasting and every token of charity makes us more God-like, what shall we say of the sanctifying power of the marital experience where, among Christians, it partakes of the sacrament they have received?
Sexual experience is sanctifying as restraint because in every marriage sometimes, and in some marriages many times, the married couple must elevate their natural desire for intercourse and express mutual affection in other ways.
No two marriages are the same in this respect. But, given the normal differences between the two genders and the additional differences of mood, and temperament and state of health and attitude of mind - married people are to expect that each must often practice sexual self-restraint in a hundred different ways--if their love is to be promoted and not injured by marital intercourse. Whatever patience, prudence and forbearance this calls for is immensely sanctifying. After all, where there is true love between the spouses, they know it is fostered by mutual restraint and injured by selfish indulgence, no matter how the selfishness is popularly named. True love is not cheap. True love is costly. And the highest price we have to pay for our love of someone --here one's spouse is to restrain our desire for satisfaction in order to please the one we claim to love.
Finally sexual experience is sanctifying as generosity because it is by their marital embrace that husband with wife generously welcome new human life into their lives according to the will of God. Their readiness to accept whatever children the Lord may wish to send them is more than avoiding sin. It is an expression of selfless altruism that puts into practice Christ's mandate of love sometimes to a heroic degree.
As the Savior made it plain throughout His public life, but especially at the Last Supper, love is always self-giving and self-effacing. Can anyone doubt that marital intercourse that is open to new life, in today's contraceptive world, is a self-giving? Can anyone further doubt that such conjugal love is sanctifying? It is genuine Christian love because it is selfless love, with a selflessness that requires much grace and merits further grace from the God whose name is love.
Underlying this exalted concept of love is profession of faith in Christ's divinity. When He told His disciples to love others as He loved them, He was telling them to love their fellowman as He, Who is God, loves the world He created and then became man to redeem. God's love is boundless and totally generous. It is not coerced, but totally free. It is not self-seeking, but looks only to benefit the creatures whom God lovingly brought out of nothing to communicate to them, not yet existing, a share in His own infinitely happy being. The same God, with the same freedom and generosity, took on our humanity--not to enrich Himself, since it meant suffering and the Cross--in order to give of His goodness and (as God ) to receive no profit from us in return.
This is the kind of love that Christ, through His merits, enables the married faithful to practice not only between themselves but from themselves (as one flesh) toward the yet unknown and un-conceived children whom Providence wants to entrust to their care.
The realism of this love is understandable only where the faith on which it is based is strong and ready to give testimony to what it believes.
Hence the new-found role of matrimony as a sacrament of sanctification twice over; once to the married couple because God enriches those who for love of Him love the children He wants to send them; and once again to other people who see such Christian witness of generosity in the midst of a sexually selfish and self-preoccupied world.
To such couples the Lord has entrusted the task of making visible to men the holiness and sweetness of the law which joins the mutual love of husband and wife to their cooperation with the love of God who is the Author of human life.
In this way, Christian husbands and wives help to sanctify the world by their witness in making visible to the world Christ's law of love by a two-fold visibility: by their marital fidelity, which testifies to their unitive love for each other; and by their marital generosity, which testifies to their procreative love of the children whom they bear.
Sex as Temperance Our second level of reflection on Christianity and Sexual pleasure is to see how sex as temperance is a means of growing in holiness.
Before we say anything more, however, it should be noted that God's creatures, her sex, can lead us to heaven and make us holy not only by being used but also by not being used. Everything that God made is good, because God made it; but its goodness for us depends on its being used according to the will of God according to each one's state of life.
For those who are not married, or even though married, in their relationship to anyone else other than their own spouse, sex is sanctifying if it is not deliberately experienced. Another word for this is temperance.
We usually associate temperance with avoiding excess in food and especially drink. But actually temperance refers to the proper control of all our bodily and emotional impulses. When temperance refers to the control of the urge for sexual gratification it is called the virtue of chastity.
As such, it is morally binding on everybody, men, women and children; the married and the unmarried; priests, religious and the laity. All are bound by an obligation that is grave; to deliberately not indulge in sexual pleasure except in marriage, according to one's married state in life.
For the un-married, therefore, the nature of chastity means total abstention from any deliberate desire for an indulgence of sexual (or, as we also call it, venereal) pleasure.
Hence, as the latest declaration of the Holy See makes clear, premarital relations are mortally sinful, so also are masturbation and homosexuality, and no amount of sentimentalism or psychologism can make these sins sinless.
Basically, then, sex as temperance is the virtue of chastity. It means that through self-discipline and the help of God's grace a person refrains from deliberately giving in to a powerful human drive. The drive is powerful because on it finally depends the continuation of the human race. It has been compared with the instinct for self-preservation; only here it is the preservation of human society.
As such, sex as the virtue of temperance is knowable by reason and provable by human logic. If nothing else, we know that people who do not control their sex appetite end up not controlling other desires. They become victims of their lusts, and the hospitals and mental institutions have their share of the slaves of sex passion.
But one question still remains. How is sex as the virtue of temperance sanctifying? The answer is simple. Everything morally good we do in God's friendship is ipso facto sanctifying. We gain supernatural merit which means we grow in the divine life, every time we perform the least good action in the state of grace. And the degree of merit is proportionate, other things being equal, to the effort we put into whatever we do in the practice of virtue.
As everyone knows, the practice of self-control in sex demands more than ordinary effort. It has been called "The Difficult Commandment." Accordingly sex-control is not only pleasing to God but extraordinarily sanctifying.
Sex as Sacrifice Our third and final reflection of Christianity and sexual pleasure goes beyond chastity as temperance. We may call it the practice of chastity as the love of God and the greater love of one's fellowman--but its essence is sacrifice.
Except for Christ's revelation on the subject, we should hardly know about the existence of this virtue, let alone would we see it put into practice.
What does this mean? It means that provided a person has the grace to make the sacrifice, he or she is able not only to restrain the sexual appetite but actually offer up to God the pleasure to which we have a perfect natural right.
What are we saying? We are saying that, since the grace of Christ has been given to the human race, it is possible not only to practice sexual self-control but to make what we may call sexual self-sacrifice.
There is quite a difference between controlling, in the sense of not indulging, and surrendering, in the sense of freely and voluntarily giving up to God.
When I practice chastity as sacrifice, I am more than abstaining. I am willingly and (with divine grace) cheerfully offering God the pleasure as an oblation to the divine majesty. I am offering a sacrifice, which is the surrender of something precious, and sex is precious, out of love for God.
No other motive is adequate because no other will inspire a lifetime surrender of sexual experience except love. I elevate the virtue of temperance to a divine plane. I surrender what God and I know is a source of great and (in marriage) legitimate satisfaction not only because I fear to offend God but because I want to do something more for God by pleasing Him through this noble sacrifice.
But it is not only out of love of God that people undertake to practice consecrated chastity that we are calling sexual sacrifice. They are also moved by their love for others.
How so? We have the answer by now in the annals of human history since the time of Christ. Tens of thousands who wished to signalize themselves in the service of their neighbor, in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, sacrificed the blessings of marriage. They knew what experience testifies, that loving chastity is really loving charity. It does many things:
It liberates the human spirit to give itself generously to the service of others.
It enlightens the human mind to see the needs of others and become extraordinarily thoughtful of their wants.
It sensitizes the human heart to know human problems and want to relieve human misery. And all the while, chastity as sexual sacrifice out of love sanctifies those who are faithful to their chaste commitment. It empowers them to draw close to the chaste Christ and His virgin Mother; and again, provided they are faithful to their generous surrender, it enables them to sanctify everyone who enters their lives and draw them nearer to God.
Epilogue We began this teleconference by emphasizing the fact that Catholic Christianity considers the human body sacred. It was made by God as our Creator and was assumed by the Son of God in the Incarnation. I would like to close the conference by making this observation. It is unrealistic to even talk about sanctity, and impossible to achieve it unless we take sex seriously and see it as a measure of our desire to please God.
Not all have the same calling and not all receive the same grace from the Almighty. But no believer in Christ can become holy unless the sexual desires in his or her life are in harmony with the will of God. Or, put it another way, everyone who loves God knows we must live a chaste life according to our vocation. Chastity in every state of life is the norm of a person's charity. Chaste people, whether married or single, whether priests, religious or the laity, are selfless people. They love God more than themselves and are therefore ready to prove their love; if they are married, by the grateful use of their powers of generation according to the divine will; and if they are called to celibacy, by the generous surrender of an experience that divine revelation compares to the enjoyment of Paradise.
If we shall all finally be judged by our practice of charity, it is not too much to say we shall also be judged by our practice of chastity. Why? Because only the pure of heart shall see God; all others will be excluded from the marriage feast that God has prepared for those who love Him.
But chastity has its reward already in this life, as anyone who sincerely tries to keep himself chaste can testify. It is not as though chastity were oppressive and sex indulgence exhilarating. Just the opposite. Chaste people are happy people; the unchaste are not happy. What a discovery for some people to make! That as they grow in self -mastery and use or sacrifice sex pleasure as God wants them to do; they grow in holiness, which is known to God alone. They also grow in happiness, which God wants us to have now as a foretaste of the heaven where "there will no longer be marriage or giving in marriage," and which is our destiny in the life to come.
“Christianity and Sexual Pleasure”
Being a good Greek Orthodox, I am in favor of both!
I’m sorry, but this article is filled with one-liners... LOL...
It said — “ I wish rather to show that, as Catholic Christianity understands the body and the functions of the organs of reproduction, sex is a creature [ ... ]”
Yes, I’ve found, many times that “sex is a creature...” all right... (a “beast” if you will...) :-)
Yes, I posted the last name of the author of the article and my post was killed... LOL... (#e up above... uh-oh...)...
Here is some things about his life
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Father Hardon has been a priest for over 52 years, a member of the Society of Jesus for over 62 years.
He holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from The Gregorian University, Vatican City and several graduate degrees from various other universities.
He has taught:
Over 600 of his fellow Jesuits.
In six different Protestant seminaries.
Several large Catholic Universities.
In a large secular university for one year.
He is the author of over forty books, many booklets and innumerable published articles.
He has been a consultant to the Holy See for thirty-one years.
In 1995, when 81 and for the first time in history, he inaugurated full semester courses by teleconference and simultaneously began publishing them in beautiful albums of twelve audiocassettes each. They have proved to be eminently popular by filling a hunger for the truth through a media innovation that had not previously been explored.
A catechetical study program originally written by Fr. Hardon for the Holy See after the Holy Father requested Mother Teresa to educate her Missionaries of Charity to become catechists. The program has been expanded and adapted nationwide. There are currently two home study courses called The Basic Course (16 lessons) and the Advanced Course (36 lessons). The program has grown and spread into every part of the country. The laity are now encouraged to participate.
Another study program on Eucharistic Education is being written for home study complete with test sheets and lesson plans. It is designed to develop a small army of thoroughly educated honest to goodness, Catholics who will be intellectually equipped to teach the truth about the faith throughout the western world but especially in the United States and Canada. It has tremendous potential!
Father has over 2,000 unpublished manuscripts which several of his skilled volunteers are at present cataloging and editing. Projections estimate that this as yet unnamed massive project will contain from 5 to 7 volumes.
Soon to be in print is “Father Hardon’s CATHOLIC PRAYER BOOK with meditations “ a 488-page jewel that bids fair to bring America back on its collective knees. Also Father is reprinting his reference masterpiece, “THE MODERN CATHOLIC DICTIONARY.” Both should be available in the fall of 1999.
In 1990 voices in the intellectual world were writing Father off. He had serious sight and hearing difficulties together with other ailments that would reduce his productivity to zero, they predicted. They failed to reckon with the fact that one major faculty does not age THE INTELLECT !
Father gradually surrounded himself with many volunteers with a variety of talents and skills that has enabled him to magnify his amazing talents at a time when any normal human being would be consigned to a full care nursing home. Instead, supported by these volunteer arms and legs, minds, hearts, skills and abilities, he has proven to be even more the master teacher and the world class theologian with an encyclopedic mind. So he continues to use his amazing God-given talents to move hearts, build zeal, convert sinners and expose heretics. The final curtain is far from “going down.”
He has other projects on the drawing board but that's an interesting footnote, which awaits the third millennium!
From: Whos Who In America (p.1466):
HARDON, JOHN ANTHONY (Society of Jesus), priest, research educator; b. Midland, Pa., June 18, 1914; s. John and Anna (Jevin) H. A.B. John Carroll U., 1936; M. A. Loyola U. Chgo. 1941; S.T.D., Gregorian U., Rome 1951. Joined S. J. Roman Cath Ch., 1936, ordained priest, 1947. Assoc. prof. fundamental theology West Baden (Ind.) Coll. 1951-62, assoc. prof religion Western Michigan U., 1962-67, prof fundamental theology Bellarmine Sch. Theology, North Aurora, Ill. and Chgo., 1968-73; rsch prof Jesuit Sch. Theology, North Aurora 1973—; prof advanced studies in Cath. doctrine St. John's U. Jamaica, N.Y., 1974-88 vis prof comparative religion St. PaulU., Ottawa, Can., 1968-74 prof Notre Dame Inst. (a Pontifica Catechetical Inst.), Va., 1981-90; v.p. Inst. on Religious Life, dir retreats priests and religious; chmn. bd Cath. Voice of Am., Inc. Author: The Protestant Churches of America, 2d edit. 1968, rev edit., 1981, Christianity in Conflict, 1959, All My Liberty, 1959, rev. edit., 1981, For Jesuits, 1963, Religions of the World, 2d edit., 1981, The Hungry Generation, 1967, The Spirit and Origins of American Prostestantism, 1968, Religions of the Orient-A Christian View, 1970, American Judaism, 1971, Christianity in the Twentieth Century, 2d edit. 1972, rev edit., 1978, The Catholic Catechism, 1975, Holliness in the Church, 1976, Religious Life Today, 1977, Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1980, Salvation and Sanctification, 1978, Theology of Prayer, 1979, The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism, 1981, Spiritual Life in the Modern World, 1982, Pocket Catholic Dictionary, 1985, The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, 1987, The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan, 1989, Pocket Catholic Catechism, 1989, Catholic Catechist's Manual, 1989, The Catholic Answer Book, 1989, Masters of the Spiritual Life, 1990, Great Marian Writers, 1990, The Catholic Family in the Modern World, 1991, History of Eucharistic Adoration, 1991, the Catholic Discovery of America, 1992, Memoirs of Fatima, 1992, The Real Presence, 1992, How to Make the Spiritual Exercises, 1993; editor: Gospel Witness, 1971; contbg. editor Challenge mag., London, Can., 1987—; cons. World Book Ency. Founder, dir. Marian and Ignatius Catechists, 1985—, Recipient Papal medal, 1951, award outstanding work in field history Cath. Press Assn., 1973, medal Slovak World Congress, 1978, St. Maxmillian Kolbe award in Mariology, 1990, Mem Cath Truth Soc., Soc. for Religious Vocations, Instituto Slovaco, Internat. Assn. Mission Studies, Fellowship Cath. Scholar (Cardinal Wright award 1984) Address: U Detroit Mercy Lansing-Reilly Hall Detroit MI 48221 Conviction is the basis of courage, certitude is the foundation of peace. The secret of achievement is to have the peaceful courage of possessing the truth and acting on this conviction in everything we do.
I don’t equate contraceptive measures with infanticide because there was no conception, hence no baby to abort. This is a preventive act to prevent overpopulation of the species.
Having received sexual pleasure from some Christians, I’m going to say ‘YES’ to both. Being a Jew, I was perfectly happy that Christians had sex with each other as well.
In fact, we desparately NEED Christians to have sex and especially to have and raise children. Otherwise, not just Christians but all other people who follow the God of Moses are screwed because Christians have historically been the only thing between Muslims, Pagans and certain death.
So, on behalf of Jews around the world, I would kind ask all Christians to continue to have and enjoy sex and ask the Book says ‘go forth and multiply’ (I hope it say that and it wasn’t just a Hallmark quote).
Contraception is taking reproduction out of God's hands and placing reproduction in the hands of man.
Greed will bring about an end before overpopulation does anyway!
You said — “The late Blessed Father John Hardon is up for Sainthood.”
Ummmm..., you’re being too serious. I was connecting his last name with the topic of the article and that post got killed in #3... ooops..
If you don’t get it, I can’t say too much more.... LOL...
Contraception and abortion are different sins.
Contraception — the kind that prevents conception rather than kills the embryo — is a sin because it introduces human will contrary to the will of God. It is a sin against the First Commandment. It is akin to the sin of blasphemy. Since it does not hurt anyone other than the people voluntarily engaging in it, it is not considered a crime.
Abortion is the sin of murder, a violation of the commandment not to kill other than in defense of life. It does not matter if the abortion is chemical or surgical, on what stage of the development of the baby it is committed, or what are the reasons the “mother” chooses to commit it. It is not merely a sin but also a crime, albeit our society happens to not recognize it.
You didn’t ask, but there also is the sin of self-mutilation, inherent in vasectomy and tubal ligation.
God gave us a mind to reason with. We can’t blame God if we don’t use what He gave us. Don’t try to pin this one on God. Our natural resources are dwindling, famines and other catastrophes await us and overpopulation will only magnify the results. It’s not greed, it’s common sense.
I disagree. You can't prove that. But look around and see natural resources shrinking. Somebodys going to starve because somebody else misread the Bible.
Sin,especially greed disrupts nature.
I can see there will be no agreement here,so I wish you humility to search for truth
So much propaganda crammed into two sentences.
Which natural resources are shrinking? I refer you to the Simon-Ehrlich wager: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon-Ehrlich_wager.
Are resources mismanaged by the transnational overclass? Certainly, but don’t blame the baby for its starvation when it is being starved by the elites’ unwillingness to countenance any action against their kleptocratic client states.
If this was outside of marriage it is a grave sin in Christianity
From that angle I should add that deliberate childlessness of a married couple is also sinful, unless a valid reason for the childlessness exists. That is true even if the couple avoids pregnancy through legitimate methods and not using contraception or self-mutilation.
The valid reasons are severe economic hardship (never an issue in America), considerable risk to the health of the mother or high probability of birth defects.
Theoretical fears of “overpopulation” — whatever that means — are not a valid reason for a married couple to avoid pregnancies.
The vocation of single life, religious or not, is available for those who do not feel they are fit for parenthood.
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