When we speak of sexuality, we often learn to speak our pain. We think only of how we might get hurt, or have been hurt, and so we guard ourselves. We do not risk the Gospel. So when it comes to sexuality, we do not tell of God’s glory. We only say our fears. In the end, we do not enjoy God’s good purpose for sexuality because we are too busy trying to be in control.
There is a shop on the corner of 2nd and Washington in Minneapolis called Sex World. It’s a neat and tidy world in which you are assured that you can get everything under control. Everything is promised to work out according to your expectations. In Minneapolis’ most notorious sex palace, you can plan and secure your entire “sex life.” You can even reinvent you. Sex, your way.
Most of us do not frequent places like Sex World. But that doesn’t mean we are not trying get everything under control. We want sexuality on our terms, according to our expectations. We want access to a mail-order catalog of values and beliefs from which we can pick and choose to satisfy our fantasies. To one degree or another, we all live in our own “Sex World.” We all want sex, our way.
Catholicism is grounded in the Bible, and when we read the Bible we enter a different kind of world. It is not a “nicer” world where we can get sexuality under control. Very little works out according to our expectations. It’s no dream world, but it is the real world: the world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy—the God-loved world. God lovingly created you. He has already planned and secured your sexuality for an incalculable price on the Cross. This is the world of revelation: the Trinity sharing a little bit of who he is with us, the Trinity showing us who we are, where we come from, where we are going, why we are male and female, and what sex and gender are for. We are included in the conversation, but God has the first and last word. Sex, God’s way.
When it comes to sexuality, you and I are not in charge. This is news for most of us, but when we are taken out of preoccupation with ourselves, and become insiders to the glory of God, the holiness of God, and the beauty of God, we become what we were made to be—free.
When we think only of how we might get hurt, or have been hurt, we are not free. We grasp for the wrong things (like control) and come up empty. We do not risk the Gospel, and so we never really know the Gospel. We only know our fears.
It’s time to stop trying to run the show and start walking in faith. How easy it is to type those words and how hard it is to live them out! But it’s the only way. Soon the soul must choose: self or God, pride or humility, too high a view of one’s self or an ever-higher view of God. It’s the choice between life or death. The Catholic Church invites you and me to live a life that is no longer about us. In this world, what it means to be a woman or a man mostly has to do with God. Here, God really is just that: God. He is the main character, the hero, the star, the point of it all—God, not us.
To know God is eternal life, and to serve him is perfect freedom. Even when it comes to sexuality, true freedom is found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). In the freedom of God’s love, we discover that there is far more to the world, more to us, more to sex and marriage and sexual identity—more to everything!—than we could have ever asked for or imagined (Eph. 3:20).
This “more” has to do with the triune God.
I want to invite you to experience that freedom yourself. It’s time to reclaim the gift of being male and female—not for our sake, but for the praise of God’s great name.
Is Catholic Sexuality Good News?
When it comes to sex, you do not want to be Walt Whitman. In all-American splendor, he sounded his barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world to celebrate…himself. But if you think human sexuality is all about yourself, you won’t get very far.
Sexuality is not about you or me.
And this is good news.
The only reason we forget it is because the story is not told. We have forgotten that the highest and best and final gift of being made male and female is not us, but God. The gift is Christ himself. So we urgently need to remember the biblical idea of sex, gender, marriage, and embodiment, and all that these topics entail: ultimately, the glory of God the Father.
As Catholics, what are we to make of sexuality in the light of Christ crucified? What is the loving answer to controversial questions about birth control, abortion, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, singleness, marriage and family, women’s ordination, and divorce? Is there such a thing as biblical womanhood or biblical manhood? And can it be at all attractive to someone who doesn’t want to join a coalition or insist that every woman find her life’s purpose in a Betty Crocker cookbook?
Is Catholic sexuality news for everyone?
Church teaching is anything but the ravings of a crusty old misogynist. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Grounded in the Gospel, it tells us what being male and female might look like from God’s eyes—what loving, careful, grateful, playful, joyful use of sex and gender might demand and yield in the Kingdom of God. It is, in part, an invitation to cherish being male or female as a necessary, God-ordained means of knowing and loving God.
The Church’s message is simple: sex is not about you or me, it’s about God. We are created to bring glory to the triune God as nothing less than sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. This is wonderful news. When it comes to being men and women, we are stewards who hold a great treasure in trust. This is the all-encompassing treasure of male-and-female creation: to see and savor the glory of Christ forever.
Sexuality is a tiny revelation of God’s glory. It is meant to awaken our longing for Christ and open our eyes to his beauty. Everything about being male and female is for the sake of knowing God, loving God, and showing God. Sexuality, like all God’s gifts, is good only to the degree that it leads us to God himself. So Catholic sexuality is good news only if it opens a way to the everlasting enjoyment of Christ.
In place of this, we all to often try to turn Catholic sexuality into a divine endorsement of our pleasure in lesser things. The pleasures of our lusts, our carefully groomed sense of entitlement, and especially the pleasure of thinking we are kind-of-a-big-deal.
But Catholic sexuality is not ultimately about you.
Are you the final and decisive goal of the universe? Are you an all-satisfying treasure? “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for what account is he?” (Isa. 2:22). The final and decisive goal of male-and-female creation is the glory of God. Revealed for our joy, yes, but ultimately for God’s joy. And God’s joy is our greatest satisfaction. The triune God is the only all-satisfying treasure.
Made for Praise
Why is their such a disparity between the beauty of God’s salvation story and the blandness of your vision for being a woman or a man? Why are you hoping the Church’s teaching will make the Gospel celebrate your “lifestyle,” rather than having it call you to live your life in such a way that will celebrate God?
When it comes to sexuality, we get scarcity because we live it. If we are more interested in pampering our personal opinions about sex and gender than we are in praising the magnificence of Christ, we have made an idol out of our opinions. We will think we are the ultimate goal of love and romance, when the Trinity is. Where passion for God is flimsy, our ideas about sexuality are flimsy. How can we kindle a God-exalting vision for sex if we are not striving to “declare his glory among the people” (Ps. 96:3)?
Catholic sexuality is not firstly performance and duty, but freedom and delight—not the kind of freedom or pleasures the world advertizes, but something deeper, richer, and more enduring: the deep satisfaction of relishing God, of knowing that God is most glorified in us when we are happy in him.
God is using sexuality to reveal his glory. In the Old Testament, God made Adam and then he made Eve. In the New Testament, Jesus is the new Adam and the church is the new Eve. Genesis opens with the marriage of a husband and wife, and Revelation ends with the marriage of the ultimate husband and wife. Adam and Eve, Yahweh and Israel, Jesus and his bride—from beginning to end, the Bible tells one love story. If we do not get this male and female thing right, the whole story of salvation simply dissolves.
When the flame of marriage burns with the heat worship, when the zeal and energy of singleness is hot with praise, then the light of God’s purpose in making us male and female will shine like a city on a hill. Male or female, married or single, you were made to play a part in the best love story ever told, a story that ends in worship. No one is an exception. Everyone is fashioned by the triune God to see and to relish his glory, and then to display that glory to the world. That is what Catholic sexuality is all about.