Preaching, Practicing, and Conversion

Last week, the Church marked the 50th anniversary of the great encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. This event is being commemorated by Catholics around the world who share the Holy Father’s beautiful vision of marriage and love. We are particularly noting the Holy Father’s prescience in foreseeing all the ills that would befall society if contraception and sex outside of marriage were to become accepted.

This year also happens to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s comprehensive declaration on sexual morality, Persona Humana, which is best-known for its unequivocal condemnation of all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual acts and masturbation. It also marks the 37th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, which is noted for its magnificent teaching on the beauty of marriage and the integrity of married sexuality, including a rejection of any form of contraception. It is also the 26th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which comprehensively catalogued Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, again including an unequivocal condemnation of all sexual acts outside of marriage and any contraceptive act. It is also the 23rd anniversary of the Pontifical Council for the Family’s compendium of Church teaching and advice for families in educating their children, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

We can also note the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (13th anniversary), theUnited States Catholic Catechism for Adults (from the U.S. Bishops — 12 years old), and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (also USCCB — 9 years old), all of which reiterate the same immemorial Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.

All of these teachings offer us a beautiful, uplifting and affirming understanding of the nature of the human person, the meaning of our bodies, the way to experience true love, and the means to embrace the gifts of fertility and new life. If people accepted and abided by them, there would be an immeasurable increase in human happiness, and many of our social ills would be eradicated. Just imagine what life would be like for women in particular. There would be no more abusive objectification of women through pornography, no degrading hook-up culture, no sex trafficking, and no sexualization of young girls. Marriages would thrive in a climate of actual mutual self-giving and respect. The #MeToo movement would be incomprehensible and unnecessary.

Tragically, that’s not the case. The destructive legacy of the sexual revolution is everywhere to be seen and is even worse than Blessed Pope Paul predicted. The signs are all around us and are  almost tiresome to repeat  — the saturation of culture with pornography, denigration of women in popular music, out-of-wedlock births, a dehumanizing dating scene based on meaningless sex, the decline in marriage, the breakdown of families, abortion, and on, and on, and on. Hearts have been twisted into thinking that this is all normal and acceptable, instead of being an abberation from God’s plan for human life and love. Opinion surveys repeatedly show that Catholics generally do not accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality and are largely no different from the rest of society in approval of non-marital sex, homosexual acts, contraceptive use, cohabitation, etc. We are definitely not practicing what our Church is preaching, and we are paying the price.

In fairness, it has to be said that regular Mass-goers are more likely to accept Church teaching, but the numbers are still appallingly low. It is also enormously encouraging that there is a core group of Catholics — especially young adults — who not only accept but cherish the teachings of the Church and see them as the liberating and life-giving gift that God intends them to be.

The sex abuse crisis that we have been going through as a Church and society is certainly an outgrowth of the sexual revolution. It stems from the evil lie that sex is merely a physical act with no deeper meaning and no necessary connection to marriage. It then adds the perverse idea that it can be used as an instrument of power, exploitation and oppression. The sins of abusive clergymen are wicked on several levels. They are violations of the absolute prohibition on sex outside of marriage; they are an inexcusable breach of the obligation of perpetual continence for the clergy; in most cases they are acts that the Church has called “acts of great depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”; they are horrific betrayals of trust that corrupt the innocent; they cruelly mistreat people made in the image and likeness of God as if they were mere instruments for use; and they are egregious acts of violence that leave lasting scars. They also weaken — if not destroy — the credibility of the Church in teaching the will of God for sexuality, and lead people to believe that there is no truth in it. In characterizing these acts, weak phrases like “disappointing” or “morally unacceptable” are nowhere near sufficient. They must be condemned in no uncertain terms as wicked sins that cry out to heaven for justice.

In this context, it’s hard for our priests to preach the truth about sexuality. It must be disheartening that so few of their flock are practicing what the Church preaches, and to read the headlines about the sins of other clergymen. But we cannot be satisfied with this status quo. Those of us who treasure and live by the teachings of the Church must stand up and speak the truth, and encourage our clergy to do the same. Even with all the negative factors in play, this is no time for defensiveness, it is a time for boldness. God’s truth about sexuality is good for us and good for society, and is the ultimate answer to all the sexual sins that horrify us.

The Church has given us a wealth of teachings about sexuality. We need more preaching. We need more practicing. And we all need more conversion.

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