Sexuality is About Self-Giving

by Fr. Justin Huang

A: As mentioned last week, today begins a series of homilies on theology of the body, in other words, God the Father’s plan for human sexuality. We’ll start with four human insights about the body, which show the need for reverence when discussing this subject, and then reflect on the person of Jesus in the Scriptures.
1) First Insight: The philosopher Michael Pakaluk notes that every society recognizes a difference between rape and physical assault (Quoted in Fr. John Harvey, The Truth about Homosexuality, 140)—why? Why are they different categories? Both are physically hurting the human body. The insight here is that rape assaults the sexual organs of the human person, which are different from other organs of the body; they are special. As we know, to harm these organs causes greater damage to the human person, including emotional, psychological, and even spiritual damage.
• This is why, when we talk about sexuality, we have to do it with reverence, which has spiritual connotations.
2) The theologian Christopher West notes that, in every language, there are multiple names for sexual organs—why? How many names, for example, do we have for an elbow? An elbow is an elbow. A uterus is a uterus. So, why do we come up with so many names to describe our sexual organs? Because they’re unique.
3) The pleasure produced by our sexual organs is different from the pleasure produced by the rest of our body. People get addicted to sex, pornography and masturbation, but, no one gets addicted to massages. Massages feel great. But, no one plans their day around getting a massage; no one watches videos of people getting massages. But they do watch and get addicted to watching people engaged in sexual activity, because sexual pleasure is powerful, more so than any other physical pleasure. Our society says that sexual urges are like any other physical urge: If you have an itch, scratch it! But no one gets addicted to scratching, because sexual pleasure is completely different.
4) Many advocates of sexual freedom assert that shame was introduced by Christians. If we go to certain cultures where people don’t wear clothes, they feel no shame. But the writer Dawn Eden points out that, even in those cultures, people feel uncomfortable when others stare at their private parts (My Peace I Give You, 8). Even in cultures where people are naked, they know that their private parts are sacred.
S: These four reflections point to the fact that sexual organs are deeply personal, unique, powerful, and sacred. So we shouldn’t treat them like the rest of our body. How, then, should we treat and use them?
Jesus today says to His disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44). Everything in the 73 books in the Bible written over thousands of years points to Jesus. And one truth revealed about Him is that He’s the bridegroom, married to whom? The Church (Eph 5:32). He’s the key to understanding human sexuality. If we observe the way He, the Bridegroom, loves His bride, then we’ll know how to love each other in an authentic sexual way.
• “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day’” (24:45-46). Jesus has to open our minds, and hearts, to understand His teaching, which is so different from what we’ve been taught our whole lives. What He teaches us is that He had to suffer. Why? Because a sacrifice is a kind of giving, and, when we truly love people, we give ourselves to them. When Jesus died on the Cross, it was the greatest gift. A $1000 gift is worth more than $100. If I give you a year of my time, that’s even better. And if I give you my body to shield you from a gun attack, there’s no greater gift. The giving of the body is the greatest gift.
o Jesus teaches: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). He, the Bridegroom, offers His body as a gift, and that’s one of the keys to understanding human sexuality: Am I giving my body the way Jesus did?
• St. John Paul II said that the opposite of love is not hatred. What is it? It’s to use someone: We can use someone’s body for our pleasure, even while we care about them; we can use our body to get someone’s attention. But another word for love is… to give, whose opposite is to take. When we’re selfish, we take from other people. Finally, when we love someone, we sacrifice ourselves for them. And the opposite of this is lust, because lust sacrifices the other person for ourselves (
o Love: opposite: use
Give: opposite: take
Sacrifice: opposite: lust
Jesus then says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (24:47-48). ‘Repentance’ means a change of heart and mind. Because we’re wounded, we often experience sexual desire in an inverted way, not the way the Father intended it. Years ago, I heard about this billboard of Janet Jackson and how there were all these car crashes in front of it. What was happening? Men were experiencing sexual desire and I bet you that none of them was thinking: How can I love her? Believe it or not, when they saw her, they should have been thinking, “Wow, she’s beautiful! How can I love her authentically, as a person, not just as a body? How can I give myself to her to make her happy, to sacrifice myself for her?”
• Let’s clarify what we talked about last week. Impure thoughts are a sad part of the human condition. It’s no sin when they simply come into our minds—that’s a temptation. But, if we make a choice and give full consent, intentionally using them in our minds, that’s a mortal sin. If we struggle to fight it, resisting and giving in, that’s a venial sin, because it’s not full consent.
• When it comes to pornography, it’s always grave matter. So, if we freely choose to look at it, that’s a mortal sin. But, if something pops up on our screen, and we look at it briefly, and then our conscience reminds us that this isn’t respectful, that’s a venial sin.
• And touching ourselves sexually, masturbation, is grave matter for sin, because there’s no self-giving to another here. As we’ve just said, our sexual organs are deeply personal, unique, powerful, and sacred, and so, according to Jesus’ plan, they’re not meant just for pleasure, but for the gift of marriage. Admittedly, this sin is very hard to overcome, but, with God’s grace, we can do it. That’s why Confession is so helpful here, because we get grace to overcome it.
o Here’s the list of saints that I mentioned last week: Sts. Mary of Egypt, Thais, Pelagia all sold their bodies before turning to Jesus. Sts. Augustine, Mary of Edesssa, Ignatius of Loyola, Margaret of Cortona, Angela of Foligno, and Charles de Foucould all used people sexually ( I find it amazing that many saints often become known for the opposite virtue of their greatest struggle. St. Augustine, for instance, struggled with lust, but became a saint known for his pure heart. He once prayed to the Father, “Late have I loved You, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I love You.” There is so much hope!
• To be Jesus’ ‘witnesses’ means not just passively telling what we heard, but sharing what we’ve experienced. It’s such a different way of living. We get to go around all day thinking, “What’s best for others?” That might mean I affirm or encourage them, spend time with them, hug them, give them a gift, or do something for them. As we’ll talk about next week, sex is only good and beautiful within marriage.
V: Finally, Jesus says, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (24:50-52). You’d think that the disciples would be sad with Jesus leaving, but they’re joyful! That’s because Jesus’ ascension, Pope Benedict tells us, is a new form of closeness to us (Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, 280-281). He is present with us, helping us to love people authentically, and so there’s amazing joy! It’s awesome to uphold people’s dignity, to think how we can give ourselves to them as Christ did!

Source: Sexuality is About Self-Giving