Author’s note: I am away this week preaching a retreat for priests in Connecticut. I may post some new material this week but I also thought in my absence to re post some of my older articles that some newer readers may have missed. Here is one I posted back in Sept 2009:
When I was in high school back in the mid-1970s catechism in the Catholic Church was at a low point. I remember making a lot of felt banners with slogans like “Gather as God’s People” and so on. We also had a lot of “rap sessions.” Now back in the 1970s Rap Music was unknown. So what was meant by a “rap session” in those days was an informal discussion usually conducted in a circle with issues that interested young people. Now a teacher may have tried to guide the discussion, but usually we teenagers dominated the discussion. We often tweaked the teacher by bringing up controversial issues and then taking exotic or extreme positions, meant to shock. We were playing the teacher. But since relevance was so highly touted in those days and adults seemed desperate for us to like them, we played the system and we played it well.
Point is, I learned very little in religious education in the 1970s. We were largely on our own in terms of learning doctrinal and especially moral issues. Among the issues critical to teenagers is sexuality. We got little or nothing in terms of instruction about that. Most of us had some awareness that there were teachings against premarital sex but why it was considered wrong was vague to us. We just sort of figured the Church had “hang-ups” and was in general “hopelessly out of date.” Our parents too were from a different, more repressed time, so what did they really know? Or so we thought. The generation of the 1960s just before us had blown the roof off everything. They were hip and free. Most of us took our clues from them. After all, when you’re a teenager, you usually look for the more permissive opinions.
Through most of this the Church was silent. Not, officially, but at the local parish level little was really done to counter the sexual revolution that had taken place a mere ten years earlier. I really regret that no one ever took the Scriptures and read me what God had written. I figured there was nothing wrong with premarital sex since God had only said not to commit adultery. I wasn’t married and so couldn’t break that, or so I wrongly thought. I just figured the prohibitions against premarital sex were hang ups of adults and clergy. But that God had something to say directly to me was never shown me. I think it would have made a real difference in my attitude had I seen premarital sex forbidden by God, right there in black and white, in the Bible. But it was not until years later, in the seminary, that I was finally shown such texts.
I would like to exhort teenagers and young adults to be familiar with what God teaches about pre-marital sex (or fornication as the Bible calls it). I would also like to admonish adults who are parents to be sure to teach their children what the Scriptures say about sex and sexuality. To that end, I have a attached a PDF document (see below) which summarizes about a dozen New Testament texts wherein God speaks clearly to the questions of sexual morality, in particular pre-marital sex. As I have noted, the Biblical word “fornication” is the word that corresponds to what we call today “premarital sex.” Hence, “Fornicator” means one one engages in premarital sex. There are a very few places in the Scriptures where the word fornication (in Greek Porneia) is understood to mean sexual misconduct in general. But usually fornication simply means premarital sex since there are other terms for adultery (moichao); and homosexual acts (arsenkoites). The passages in the PDF document all treat of fornication (premarital sex) and in each case God spells out very clearly that God it is wrong and a serious sin. Please share these texts:
But why does God say it is wrong? Is he just trying to take away our fun? No indeed. But God is trying to save us a lot of pain and to protect and dignify marriage. Consider some of the following reasons that God’s teaching makes sense:
- To Protect Marriage and Family – Sexual intercourse is a gift given to the married. God wants to strengthen marriage with a special gift that only the married enjoy. It is a great pleasure and thus helps make marriage attractive. It also draws the spouses to each other frequently and helps to knit them together in a stronger bond because of a shared joy. But the unique and restricted place of marriage for this pleasure is essential. If this pleasure is made available by a culture before or outside of marriage then marriage is both delayed and threatened by infidelity. Notice how much weaker marriage has become in a promiscuous time such as ours. Thus God wants to strengthen marriage as his first reason to limit sexual intercourse to marriage.
- To Protect Children – Children are also protected by God’s prohibition of sex outside of marriage. Obviously children need and deserve to be conceived in an environment that is stable, committed and loving. Marriage prior to engaging in sexual intercourse is a matter of justice and premarital sex is injustice. Children conceived outside of marriage are at high risk for abortion. And, although it reamins true that it is good when life is chosen over abortion, it must be admitted that Children in single parent families are raised in irregular and less than ideal settings. God wants to protect children from all this. And don’t tell me that contraception can prevent all this. Contraceptives have a high failure rate, aside from being immoral. Notice that abortion has gone up, not down since contraceptivces have become more widely available. Likewise, out of wedlock births have gone up, not down since contraceptives arrived on the scene. God wants to protect children and give them the best.
- To Protect the Individual – God wants to protect individuals from all sorts of ills. Promiscuity brings all sorts of woes: sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, broken families, single parenthood, broken hearts, objectification of women, abortion, adultery, Children without both parents, and on and on. God loves us too much not to tell us the truth and insist we live it.
So, another post that is far too long. I’ll end. But spread the word! God loves us and wants to save us some mileage. If you struggle with sexuality, don’t despair of God’s mercy. But don’t call good what God calls wrong. Repent, try to stay chaste. If you fall, get back to confession and start again. In the end, the truth will set us free.
Here’s a video from Archbishop Fulton Sheen recorded back in the 1970s. Sadly it never made its way to my catechism class. But the video sparked my reflection and memories this evening as I post. In it he explains the need for boundaries and rules. I post here only an excerpt. The full 29 Minute video where he goes on to talk about sexuality is available here: Bishop Fulton Sheen on Youth and Sexuality