Sexuality and Marriage From a Catholic Perspective

Since the 1960s and arguably earlier, there has been a slow, but relentless deconstruction of traditional marriage in the West.  First, divorce went from a topic to be shunned to common place in our society.  Then, premarital sex became not only accepted, but pretty much encouraged, especially in pop culture.  Now, we're seeing the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions across the board amongst developed nations.  As most of you know, I am what you can call a traditional Catholic.  I agree with pretty much all Catholic doctrine/teachings.  However, I do not blindly subscribe to them.  Today, I will try to explain in layman's terms why the Church teaches what it teaches on the topic of sex and marriage (note that these are tightly linked together, as opposed to the contemporary understanding).  I understand this can be a touchy topic, but I feel that the media paints the Church as an archaic institution, which is set in its conservative views and is unyielding.  Yes, it is unyielding, but it is unyielding because of what it believes in.  And I will attempt to explain that here.

The Model of Catholic Marriage

Before we delve into the marriage itself, we have to see how the Church understands God and our relationship with Him.  First and foremost, Catholics believe that God is Love (1 John 4:8).  This is an abstract yet important concept. If there is any human concept that comes most closely to the concept of God, this is it.

To begin, let's talk about the Holy Trinity.  For those of you who don't know what the Trinity really means, it's essentially saying that there's only one God, but three different persons in that one God (yes, very trippy).  We know that the Christian God is a Trinity, but how many of us know why?  At least I didn't until well into my late 20s.  God is a Trinity precisely because He is love.  Without going too philosophical, I'll try to explain this.  Our understanding of God is that He is all-loving, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, has no beginning or end, and also that he is not "contingent" (or put simply, not dependent) on anything else.

If He is not contingent on humans or any creature, then how can He be love?  There is no one else to love and loving oneself can't really be love, right?  That is why God revealed to us that He is a Trinity.  God can only truly be love if He can love someone.  That someone is God the Son.  In fact, out of love between God the Father and God the Son proceeds God the Holy Spirit, such that the Holy Trinity is a family of love.  Further to that, God's love is so overflowing that He created the universe and intelligent beings (us) to be loved by Him.  We were created to be loved...Wow!

Now, back to marriage.  By now, I think you might be anticipating the next point, that the Church believes that marriage is modeled on God's love, or maybe more precisely, on God Himself, the Holy Trinity (CCC 2331 - By understanding this simple belief, we can answer all questions sex and marriage related.

Marriage as an Indissoluble Institution

Catholicism is one of the few Christian denominations that do not allow divorce.  It is not so much that the Church does not "allow" divorce as much as that it claims to have no authority to dissolve a marriage.  Looking at God as our model for marriage, this is a simple one to explain.  God's love is everlasting (Jeremiah 3:13). In fact, His nature IS love.  If human marriage is to be modeled on God, how can it not be indissoluble?  Moreover, it boggles my mind when I think about marriage vows.  Isn't a vow supposed to be a promise that is not to be broken?  I don't quite get a "vow" that only applies as long as both parties feel like it.  It'd be kind of funny (and sad) to say "till death or whenever we feel appropriate do us part".  The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony creates an indissoluble bond between the man and the woman that only ends at death.  Therefore, the Church has remained humble not to claim a power which it does not have.

Why Not Condoms?

The Catholic Church teaches against the use of artificial contraception.  The only forms of contraception that are acceptable are abstinence based methods, the most popular of which is Natural Family Planning.  In short, if you don't want to get pregnant, don't do it (at least not at the right/wrong time)!

This has been a difficult one for Catholics.  Depending on what sources you use, it is safe to say that a majority or large minority of Catholics use some form of artificial contraception.  I believe Catholics generally don't know of this teaching or believe it's generally a small enough sin that they can overlook it.

Regardless, let's see why the use of artificial contraception is incompatible with the model of love that God sets for us.  As we see in the Trinity and also in the very existence of ourselves, God's love is life-giving and overflowing.  It is so overflowing that God created us.  God has no need for creating the universe, much less for our existence. So why did He create us?  Let's look at it in another way.  Why does an artist paint? Why does a singer sing? Why does a writer write?  It is because there's something inside of each of them that wants to share their gift with others, to make the lives of others a little better.  That is the same reason for God's creative love.  He wants us to be loved!  The love for the Trinity is not enough for Him; He wants to share it with other beings as well.

And so, that is the same understanding of marital love.  A man and woman loves each other so much that this love is boundless.  They want this love to be extended beyond themselves to others.  The love is meant to be overflowing; it's meant to be life giving.  For us parents, that is easy to understand.  We look at our kids each day and know that there is a greater good that offsets the sleepless nights, the pee, the poop, the vomit, the heartaches, and not forgetting to mention, the money that goes into parenting.  Why on earth would we sign ourselves up to such lopsided relationships?  It is because we love and our love overflows to the point that we're willing to sacrifice our comfort and freedom, just so someone other than ourselves can experience our love for each other.  If we can understand marriage and parenthood, we can catch a glimpse of God's love for us.

So there, if you ever wonder why there are so many crazy Catholics (like us) who have such large families, this is the reason.  It is not because we need to multiply to rule the earth, though that would certainly be good ;) , it is because we try to love like God does.

Same Sex Marriage

Often times, the Church is seen as an archaic institution not willing to adapt to the times.  Why does the Catholic Church not embrace homosexuality?  Why can't 2 women or 2 men love each other just like a man and a woman do?  Why is it considered sinful to love?  They are not hurting anyone; so why is it bad?

Here, I will try to explain the Catholic view of hetero and homosexuality.  I understand this can be a deeply personal and touchy subject, but my goal is to show that the Church's view is not based on stubborn arrogance, but rather, is a logical conclusion that are drawn from basic assumptions of the Catholic faith.

Here again, we look to that God's love for an explanation.  The Catholic Church sees itself as the bride of Christ (CCC 789 -  It's never described as the groom even though half of the Church consists of men, and way more than half were the ones who developed Catholic doctrine over the centuries.  Why is that?

In the bible, Jesus is described as the bridegroom in several places (John 3:29, Mark 2:19, etc.).  Meanwhile, the Church is the bride.  What does that really mean?  Let's go back to the basics.  What role does the male play in a relationship?  For the most part, the man is the one who takes the initiative.  Although I would like to describe myself as a charming individual, it would be a huge stretch of the truth if I were to tell you that before I got married, Renee and my ex-girlfriends were the ones who threw themselves at me...I was primarily the one doing the courting.  Certainly, you don't need to be an anthropologist to know that in most cultures, men are the ones who have to pursue women and not vice versa.

God's love, also, takes on a male role.  He is the one who takes the initiative.  Out of nothing, he created the universe and us in it; He is the one who pursues us with His love.  He is the one who gives of Himself.  Humanity, on the other hand, is the receiver of this love.  Even in the very sexual act itself, the male is the one who gives (sorry for the graphic description).

Therefore, as the Church understands marriage as the reflection of God's love for us, it is then impossible for it to see homosexuality as compatible with this vision of marriage.  There is one person  in the relationship (the man) who, from his role right down to his very physical nature, reflects God's role.  Then, there is the woman, whose role and also right down to her very physical nature, reflects the role of the Church or humanity.  Due to this unifying understanding of God, His love for His people and its relationship with marital love, it is not difficult to see why the Catholic Church has not embraced homosexuality.  (And by the way, this is also partly why the Catholic Church only allows men to be ordained as priests).


Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was because of the numerous conversations I've had with my secular friends on love and marriage.  In most instances, I either don't fully remember all of the points I'd to make or I just don't have the time to make them.   Perhaps I can just forward this link to my friends in the future.

I'd like to think that post has helped some of you in understanding the Church, or at least how its doctrines on marriage were developed, a bit better.  The Church is really not that archaic in its thinking; it's just unwavering in its doctrine that is drawn logically from the basic assumptions of our faith (that God is love). It's been a long post and I congratulate and thank you for reading this far!  I will end with something Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, "There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be."

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