In your letter, you expressed your displeasure with several articles published in one issue of that paper. The articles were all about the gift of human sexuality, extolling the beauty of God's plan for sex, and specifically the beauty of marital sexual intimacy.
Your complaint, about that issue and about the wider situation within the Church, was that, as a single person, you don't believe that information like this “applies” to you. You said that you're tired about hearing about these things from happily married men, and that you'd like to hear “from someone who sleeps alone, to whom God speaks in the lonely reaches of the night.”
Like I said, I'm Mary Beth. We obviously haven't met.
You see, I wrote one of the articles about sexuality you were reading that day. I also, word for word, probably write more about the Catholic understanding on human sexuality than any other author, living or dead. And, when I'm not writing about it, I'm out on the lecture circuit, talking about it. I spend a vast majority of my time, in one way or another, sharing my enthusiasm for the beauty and the wonder of God's incredible gift of human sexuality.
And yet, I'm single. I sleep alone. Always have.
I always assume that my readers know that. Maybe I should mention it more often. Maybe it would help others in our situation to know they're not alone. Maybe it would help them to see that, even if they don't participate directly in God's plan for marital sexual union, they needn't despise it or resent it.
So why on earth am I, as a single woman, so enthused about this subject? Why have I essentially given my life to helping people understand God's plan for human sexuality, when I have no direct experience with the expression of that plan?
The answer is two-fold. First of all, it's beautiful. So beautiful that is simply must be shared. When I first read John Paul II's Theology of the Body, I was flat-out overwhelmed. (John Paul II. See, there's another celibate who spends a whole lot of time talking about sex.) This is not the meaningless, body-centered activity that popular culture has taken to crassly glorifying at every turn.
This goes the very core of who we are as human persons. It is the centerpiece of His plan to “fill the earth and subdue it.” It is His love, reflected in the self-donating, life-giving love of a husband and a wife. I can appreciate the beauty of that plan, even if I don't participate directly in its expression. And, second, God's plan for sexuality is about me, in more ways than I can enumerate in a single column.
Sexuality isn't just about intercourse. It's about who we are, as male and female, in the image and likeness of God. My capacity to give myself in marriage teaches me about myself, whether or not I ever actually make that gift. It teaches me that my sexuality is sacred. It is not to be thrown around carelessly. It teaches me how to keep my dating relationships healthy. It teaches me to really love, by setting aside a sometimes very strong and insistent drive for the sake of what is best for myself, for my date and for my relationship with God.
Respecting the gift of sexuality helps keep me healthy, happy and sane as a single person. In your letter, you expressed concern about the idea that marital sexual intimacy mirrors the eternal love of God. This concept apparently left you feeling excluded. I understand why you might feel that way. But you're wrong. Yes, marital love mirrors the love of God. But that is by no means the only way His love is imaged. We reflect Him whenever we give ourselves in unselfish love to another human person. In fact, as permanent or temporary celibates, we are more free to direct that energy and that love, on a wider scale, to all of humankind. (I was going to say “mankind”, but I know it's politically incorrect, and in this context, it also sort of made us seem promiscuous, which was obviously not my intent.) This is the basis for the Church's teaching on religious celibacy, so beautifully described in the Theology of the Body.
I agree with you wholeheartedly, however, in your conclusion. More of the local Church's attention needs to be paid to single adults. We're a relatively “new” demographic. It is often difficult to find our place in the world, and in the Church. The Church's response thus far, in many quarters, has been simply to set up social groups, hoping we'd all marry off and be absorbed into the existing structure. That kind of “solution” is obviously not enough.
Where does the change start? As far as I'm concerned, it starts with me. I am finding myself increasingly called to reach out to single adults, to address their concerns and their struggles in the context of my ministry. And, to do that, I need to hear from you. All of you. If you're a single adult reading this, I'd like you to do me a favor. Log onto my web site at www.reallove.net, and give me your feedback. What are your struggles? How would you like the Church to respond? What types of ministries would be helpful to you?
And so, dear disgruntled reader, I hope this helps. I hope you see that you're not alone, and that the Church's teaching on sexuality is about you, and all of your single brothers and sisters, even if we don't always spell it out that way.
We're all in this together.
(You may visit Mary Beth Bonacci's website at www.reallove.net.)