A military chaplain during the Vietnam war described this anomaly: At a service for pilots before they went on bombing raids, the minister spoke against fornication. He warned the men about the spiritual, emotional, even physical dangers of casual sex. Some weeks later the chaplain visited a friend at the Newman Center of a large university. He noticed the room was full of energetic college boys and lovely co-eds. The theme for that evening: the morality of the Vietnam War.
The chaplain noted that while it was good for the pilots, even tho they were quite isolated, to hear Jesus' teaching on sexuality and while it was good for the students to reflect on the moral issues of modern warfare, still it seemed in both cases the more immediate matters were bracketed.
It's convenient to partition certain parts of our lives. We can then consider we are doing OK because we have avoided the more notorious sins. Sometimes elderly people, whose passions have apparently subsided, will say to me, "Father, I don't have sins like when I was younger." On the other hand adolescents will limit their examination of conscience to matters of cruel words and tale-bearing. "I've done pretty good. I haven't hurt anyone." The grandparents should be helping the young people - and perhaps visa versa. We can easily sense other people's sins, harder to uncover our own.
St. John tells us, "The way we can be sure we know him (Jesus) is to keep his commandments." (I Jn 2:3) He doesn't say this commandment or that one, but simply his commandments. A friend once admitted to me he had a hard time accepting some aspects of the moral teaching. I forget now whether it had to do with homosexual acts, premarital sex, fecundity in marriage or the sanctity of human life from conception. It did involve sexual morality because my friend in exasperation said, "Why is the Church so hung up on sex?"
As gently as I could, I tried to remind him that being hung up on sex is part of the human condition. But much more to the point - these teachings do not derive from "the Church" but from Jesus*. He has given clear, firm commandments in that area. Why? Because sex has great power to bring people together and at the same time endless potential for self-deception and the deceiving of others. As I told my friend, "The basic issue here is not sex but honesty." In this case the stakes are incalculable because we are talking about God's design for the creation of everlasting souls.
People want to brush aside the commandments with a simple expedient: As long as my spirit is right (i.e. I feel good about myself**) it does not matter what I do with my body. This is the New Manicheism. Today's Gospel rejects that spirit-body dualism. After his resurrection Jesus demonstrates he is not a disembodied spirit - a "ghost." He tells the apostles to look at his hands and feet, to touch him because a ghost does not have flesh and bones. (Lk 24:39) Then he asks for some food and, as they watch, he eats a piece of baked fish. (v. 42)
Like Jesus we will not leave our bodies behind for long. Our creed proclaims: "we believe in the resurrection of the flesh." This exciting future has enormous implications for the present. How we use our bodies will have eternal significance.
You might be thinking, "Then I am lost. I have abused my body - and other peoples - in such ways." Well, the wonderful thing about Jesus is not just that he sets an exalted standard for us, one that we know in our hearts is true. Much more marvelous is that Jesus' own body has become the "expiation for our sin." (I Jn 2:2) We come to him with our impurities - and I am not just talking here about the sexual area, in some ways that will be the least of it - and he gives us cleansing so we can enter the presence of the All Holy One.
Jesus' question to his disciples, he addresses to each one of us: "Why are you troubled?" (Lk 24:38) "It is I myself. Touch me and see..."
*Ultimately you cannot separate the teachings of Jesus from those of his Church. Nevertheless, one must note that - if anything - the Church has softened Jesus words. Consider the "rigorism" of Mt. 5:28, Mk 10:11, Mt. 18:8-9, etc. Chesterton develops this point at length in Everlasting Man
**Regarding "self-esteem" consider Jesus' words to the Laodiceans:
"Spirituality Not Religion" (Homily Third Sunday of Easter 1999)
An application of this teaching to Homosexuality and other moral issues
Annual Catholic Appeal - Too Much Bureaucracy?
Holy Family Pilgrimage
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church
Magdalene Sisters and other anti-Catholic Pornography (Warning: Contains graphic descriptions.)
Renewal of Vows, Prayers of Faithful and Blessing of Married Couples on World Marriage Day