All posts tagged: sex

The Specter of a Sweeping Rewrite of Catholic Sexual Teachings

Last week, Pope Francis approved a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty. While the previous iteration already declared licit use of capital punishment to be “practically non-existent,” the new wording strengthens this stance, pronouncing the death penalty “inadmissible.” This change has prompted a flurry of speculation, from various media outlets, anticipating a sweeping rewrite of those Catholic teachings that most offend contemporary sensibilities—namely, Catholic sexual morality. Francis Debernardo, writing for The Advocate, cites the catechism revision as proof that the Vatican has “evolved,” and that any Church teaching can thus be altered following “decades of theological debate and discussion.” Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher begrudgingly agrees with Debernardo, calling the Pope’s Catechism edit a “big win” for LGBT Catholics who want to change Church teaching: “I wish [Debernardo] were wrong. I don’t think he is.” The revised section appeals to the principle of human dignity in its condemnation of capital punishment, and Debernardo argues that LBGT advocates can invoke this same principle to usher a new sexual …

Humanae Vitae and the Mystical Call of Chastity

How do we understand chastity? For many, the very word implies restraint, and restraint is not exactly the most exciting thought. The Ancient Greeks thought of chastity as a subspecies of temperance,[1] and if there is one virtue more alien to today’s so-called “late capitalism,” it is probably temperance—and not just in matters sexual. For others, talk of chastity brings to mind purity rings and virginity pledges, almost as if chastity is defined primarily by sexual abstinence before marriage. Hence we often speak of being chaste before marriage, but hardly ever about being chaste in marriage. Yet it seems to me that the paradigm of Christian chastity is not, in fact, abstinence, but marital sexual union. This thought may well be what distinguishes an authentically Christian understanding of sex from mere social conservatism or prudishness. For chastity, as Elizabeth Anscombe wrote, “is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty.”[2] But why, many would object, does sex need its own, dedicated virtue—does this not …

Sex and Symbol

I was reared in the cradle of Evangelical Protestantism. I passed from girlhood to womanhood in that world, and during the tumult of puberty an increasing awareness of my unruly female body introduced me to the contested terrain of “womanhood” itself. What is a woman? What is her place? What are her gifts and limits? In an Evangelical context, such discussions and demarcations focused primarily on the concept of roles. What is it that woman is supposed to do? Or, more to the point, what is she not supposed to do? I was something of a tomboy, with bushy eyebrows and generous facial hair. I was competitive, but also tenderhearted. I anthropomorphized everything, in accordance with the stereotypes of my sex, but I enjoyed doing boyish things. I loved sports. I wanted to be fast. I wanted to win. On the sports field, there seemed to be no limits. But lines were drawn starkly in church. A woman’s role, her task, was to be a helpmeet to her husband and care for her children. The …

The Annunciation and Vocational Fear

  Mary said: My soul is deeply troubled; what can this greeting mean? Am I to give birth to my king and yet remain a virgin forever? –Antiphon for Daytime Prayer, Advent I prayed these words most days last Advent. It looked like my bishop would be ordaining me as a deacon this May. At least for diocesan seminarians, at diaconate we make our lifelong promises to be celibate, obedient and faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours. It comes up fast and raises a lot of questions. Is it commitment possible and worth the risk? Mary’s heart was full of questions—Luke’s gospel and this suggest as much. These are not necessarily questions of pious wonder:  she was deeply troubled, utterly unaware of how this Annunciation was going to happen or what might happen as a result. This year Church observes the Annunciation on April 9 because March 25 fell on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday evokes Abraham, who was willing to offer his son. Both Abraham and Mary show us how to approach celibacy, commitment …

Natural Family Planning and the Myth of Catholic Contraception

Is our culture close to turning a corner on Humanae Vitae, half a century after its promulgation and the widespread rejection of it that followed? There are reasons for cautious optimism. The historical context of the encyclical is important, given that it came just 38 years after Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which had already reaffirmed the longstanding Christian prohibition on contraception. What occasioned Humanae Vitae was really the emergence of the pill, which unlike barrier methods of contraception did its work inside the body, and so looked scarcely different from confining sexual intercourse to the woman’s infertile period.[1] But while the pill is still the contraceptive of choice for many, there is now growing disquiet about its side effects. This is significant not just from the perspective of health but also a feminist one: We once thought the oral contraceptive liberating, but today the discourse is shifting towards recognizing that women are made to disproportionately bear the hormonal burden of birth control. Additionally, given our contemporary attraction to all things organic and natural, there …

The Sex Life of Joseph and Mary

I wonder if any of you have ever seen the film, “Bambi Meets Godzilla?” If so, you know that it opens, as most movies do, with a long series of credits, naming everyone who purportedly had anything to do with the film, including Bambi’s hairstylist, as we see Bambi dreamily walking through a spring meadow. When the credits are over, a huge, fashionably monstrous leg with a clawed foot steps massively and carelessly into the set while the music simultaneously thunders one single chord. It happens so fast, we do not even see Bambi disappear; end of movie. Perhaps, in like manner, the title of this paper might lead one to believe that after a few preliminary observations and teasers, the monstrous foot of tradition will ensure that the glimmers of seemingly humane and enlightened sympathy for Mary and especially for poor Joseph, her “most chaste spouse,” will be stamped out as decisively as Bambi was stamped out by Godzilla. Joseph and Mary did not have sex. In fact, this paper does begin from the …

Editorial Musings: Is Hypermasculinity a Problem?

This week, in honor of the Edith Stein Conference taking place at Notre Dame, Church Life is focusing on themes related to gender and human sexuality. A recent M.Div. graduate, China Weil, thinks about how to engage in pastoral ministry with those who use pornography. Drawing from the resources of the Christian iconographic tradition, she argues that we ought to form men and women to contemplate salutary images rather than those that lead us to exercise the pornographic gaze. In addition, we are featuring an interview with Kimberly Baker, Associate Professor of Church History at St. Meinrad School of Theology and Seminary, on a conference on Women in the Church held in the fall. And we have two articles dealing with parenting and fertility: one by Claire Fyrqvist on learning to practice (sometimes in difficult moments) the joy of parenting, another by Dr. Hanna Klaus on the problem of treating fertility as a disease rather than a gift and thus intrinsic to human sexuality. In our editorial meetings leading up to this issue, we determined that something that …