The Holiness of Sex

(Twenty-Seventh Sunday, Year B)

Dr. Scott Hahn gives this insight about sexuality: For us as Christians it’s not enough to say sex is good. After all, Campbell Soup is good. Nor is it sufficient to say it is great. Kelloggs Frosted Flakes are grrreat. No, for us as Christians, sex is holy.

Jesus says something similar in today’s Gospel. When asked about divorce, he cuts thru the legal arguments and takes them back to the beginning: “male and female he create them.” (Gen 1:27)

This might seems like a simple biological fact, necessary for procreation. But Jesus recalls the deeper significance: “for this reason a man leaves his father and mother...” (Gen 2:24) In First Century Palestine (and really almost all cultures till modern times) parents held primacy of importance and authority. To leave them, to get married, was like radical surgery.

Father and mother take second place because they recognize a deeper bond than parent-child. In marriage the man “joins himself to his wife.” This is a delicate phrase for the marital embrace, the sexual union in which “the two become one flesh.” Jesus underscores the union's holiness. It is God who joins them together. Therefore no human being may separate them. (Mk 10:9)

Today many consider this teaching unrealistic. How can we ask a healthy young person to wait until marriage? And then tell them a single marriage act binds them for life?

It would be totally unrealistic - except for one fact: it’s what young people themselves are asking for. G.K. Chesterton said we give our youth everything but the one thing they want. You hear it in their popular songs, you read it in their poetry.

When I was young, Ritchie Valens had a song with these words (don’t worry I won’t try to sing them): “You're mine and we belong together. Yes we belong together for eternity.”

There’s never been a song which says, “we belong together maybe ten years, then we’ll evaluate things.” Or, “we belong together - till something better comes along.” No, they speak about a lifelong, permanent commitment. As Pope John Paul says, "young people desire a beautiful love."

As we age, we perhaps lose some of that vision. Jesus chided his contemporaries for their “hardness of heart.” How do we regain a more youthful heart?

After giving his extremely challenging teaching (divorce + remarriage = adultery) he turns again to the little child. The child represents not so much innocence as dependence. No one can achieve lifelong fidelity without depending on God. Truth is we cannot do it a single day without him.

A priest friend from Buffalo told me about a remarkable study. It showed that couples who go to Mass together every Sunday have a fifty times greater possibility of staying married. If besides attending Sunday Mass, they pray together - even just grace before meals or kneeling with hands joined at their bedside - that marriage becomes practically indestructible. The reason is clear. Even if we sometimes fall - for example, by saying bitter words - if we stay close to Jesus we do not keep lying on the ground. We allow him to pick us up. In Jesus we find what we need - forgiveness, healing, the reason to continue on.

“Let the children come to me...for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mk 10:14)

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Straight Talk on Sex

From Archives (Homilies for 27th Sunday, Year B):

2012: A Difficult and Controversial Gospel
2009: Male and Female He Made Them
2006: What God Has Joined
2003: Nuptial Meaning of Human Body
2000: The Holiness of Sex

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