It is sometimes said of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality that, like the sixth commandment, it is primarily a list of ‘do nots’. Such a perception fails to take into account the profoundly human and beautiful vision of love that is the foundation for the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on marriage, human sexuality, and the integrity of the human person.
It is perhaps a com-mentary on our age and how far we have digressed from the path set out by the Creator that chastity is now a ‘forgotten virtue’. Common amnesia concer-ning the value and place of chastity carries with it painful consequences. When we reflect on the offenses against the sixth commandment, we will find them rampant, condoned, and even encouraged in our age. The ‘lifestyles’ and ‘momentary commitments’ that are the storyline of most television ‘soaps’ and a great number of movies help form the attitudes and mores of our young people. In contrast, the Church holds up the image of personal integrity. Faithful to Scripture, the Church insists that love of God is incompatible with every form of fornication, sexual promiscuity, licentiousness, and other sexual behavior that deviates from the proper use of this gift from God. Christ warns that fidelity to God can be broken even by our desires (Matt 5:28).
The offenses against the sixth commandment are fed by lust. The catechism defines this vice as ‘a disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure’. First among the offenses against the marriage bond and family community is adultery, which grievously wounds a marriage, hurts the unity of the family, disrupts the proper relationship of parent and child. The distrust and doubt introduced into a family is evidence enough of why this action is considered wrong.
Offenses against the sixth commandment are not limited to those who are married. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians points out a number of attacks on the virtue of chastity. Pornography attacks the dignity of human sexuality by rendering it a product and by reducing the person to nothing more than an object. While there may be temporary physical satisfaction, the attitude that it generates and what it says about another person is so degrading as to make it an offense against God’s law and the human community.
All sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong. The Church does not invent laws. It passes on and interprets what God has revealed through the ages. No one has the right to change what Jesus has taught. To do so would be to deprive people of saving truths that were meant for all time. Our faith teaches that a sexual relationship belongs only in marriage. Sex outside of marriage shows disrespect for the sacrament of marriage, the sacredness of sex, and human dignity. ‘Cohabitation’ or ‘living together’, when it refers to a man and woman who are sexually active and share a household though not married, cannot be reconciled with God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage. It totally falls short of God’s plan. Sexual intimacy belongs only in marriage. Outside of marriage, sex is a lie. The action says: ‘I give you my whole self’ – but the man and woman are really holding back their commitment, their fertility, and their relationship with God. Before giving your body to another person, you need to give your whole life, and you need to receive your spouse’s whole life in return – and that can happen only in marriage.
God calls both heterosexual and homosexual persons to chastity.
While there are many ‘lifestyles’ and opinions on the meaning of life and sex, they fall short of the beauty of Christ’s plan for each of us. The Catholic vision of love holds out for us the promise that we can find in this life a communion of body and spirit, a level of happiness and joy, and the satisfaction and commitment that are signs of that ultimate completeness we will experience in heaven.