Or, Why Catholics Do It... Infallibly
By Gregory K. Popcak
Most people believe that Catholics take a rather dim and ignorant view of sex. I used to be one of them. Growing up, it seemed to me that there were two prevailing schools of thought among Catholics. The first I call the "Keep God Out of My Bedroom" school. This is the more Mediterranean, must-leave-morning-Mass-early-so-I-can-have-breakfast-with-my-mistress, laissez-faire relationship between faith and fornication. The second is the "Aunt McGillicuddy's Antique Urn" school. This group grudgingly admits that sex is beautiful (in a somewhat grotesque, gothic sort of way) but more importantly, sex is holy, and therefore must be handled delicately, cautiously, and ideally, infrequently -- like Aunt McGillicuddy's antique urn. "Don' ye be fussin' with that now Missy! We only touch it if we have to dust it, and then only once a month er soo!"
The Truth Is Out There
But both of these misconceptions melted away as I learned what the Church actually teaches about sex. The truth is, Catholics do not fear sex; we esteem it. Sex is holy, but not in the "Aunt McGillicuddy" keep-it-at-arm's-length sense. It is holy in the context of the Incarnation. The Eastern Fathers spoke of the Incarnation as having "Divinized our Nature." Sex is holy because it is the most profound way of communicating that divinized Nature. Sex is holy in that it has the power to unite two souls and co-create life. Sex is holy because it is one of the most apt metaphors for understanding what it is like to be in the presence of God. Christian spiritual masters have often alluded to the orgasmic nature of intimate contact with God. The Imitation of Christ refers to God as a "Divine Lover," and saints who have experienced theophanies didn't call it "being in ecstasy" for nothing.
Finally, for the Catholic, sex is holy because when shared between a husband and wife, it plays a role in our sanctification. "How's that?" you ask. The Church teaches that when a married couple makes love, they are celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony. But sacraments are chiefly concerned with salvation. What could sex possibly have to do with getting ready for Eternal Life? Well, besides participating in the mysteries I have already described, when I die, I am going to stand before the Almighty and all His Glory -- in all my glory (so to speak.) Every blemish, wrinkle, crease, and bump of my physical and spiritual being will be -- for all eternity -- exposed to His penetrating gaze, vulnerable to His pervasive touch. Under such circumstances, for me to experience anything other than the sheer terror of Hell, I must be able to stand confidently in the presence of that gaze, like Adam and Eve while they still enjoyed their Original Innocence. What better way to prepare myself for this awesome responsibility than to challenge whatever vulnerability or shame I may feel when my wife gazes upon me in my nakedness and makes love with me? It is this unique power of sexuality to challenge shame and expand vulnerability at the deepest level that, in addition to its power to unite two people and create new life, makes lovemaking a spiritual exercise, first and foremost. Here are four ways you and your spouse can foster a truly fulfilling and sacred sexual relationship.
1) Approach lovemaking joyfully.
Catholics are encouraged to celebrate the sacraments frequently and joyfully. Marriage is one sacrament I hope you will not give me too much trouble about celebrating in such a way. Sex is not a duty, a chore, an extra, or even a "nice thing" to do when you have the energy. If you are married, then lovemaking is the foundation of your vocation. It is God's first commandment to all of humanity. (When God said, "Go forth and multiply," He wasn't giving math homework.)
Too many Christian husbands and wives think that they must be ashamed of their sexuality. Shame causes us to hold back just where we are called to be generous. It prevents sex from being the "self-gift" the Pope John Paul II said that it ought to be. Our sexual and bodily shame is a direct descendant of the shame Adam and Eve encountered after the Fall, standing before God in their nakedness. If we are ashamed of being exposed and vulnerable before a mate, how will we ever tolerate standing exposed and vulnerable before our Divine Lover? Challenge your fears of vulnerability, of "losing control," and you will find amazing joy in the arms of both your earthly beloved and your Heavenly one.