WelCom October 2019:
In this month’s Catholic Thinking article, Lyn Smith discusses our being made in the image and likeness of God. Lyn Smith is a lecturer and Head of Religious Education at the Catholic Institute’s National Centre for Religious Studies (NCRS) in Auckland.
Our understanding of the Catholic Church’s teaching about human sexuality is varied depending upon how much we have heard, read or been taught. What is often the view is that the Church says ‘No’ to anything regarding human sexuality. This is far from the truth and in some ways, we could say to coin the phrase used widely today ‘Fake news’!
The Catholic Church has a very positive view of human sexuality; after all if we are wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God how can it be anything but positive (Gen 1:26-27; Ps139). Pope Francis in his Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (2016), suggests we all need to fully understand the nature of love in order to participate in a ‘life to the full’, which is what we are created for (Chapter 4). Pope Francis builds on the teaching of the Church proclaimed by his predecessors Blessed Pope Paul VI in Humanae vitae, ‘this love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive’ (25). When we ask what love is? St Pope John Paul II, discussed that it was and is to be given:
- of one’s own free will;
- in total without reservation or holding anything back;
- in fidelity to its promises and to the beloved, Jesus;
- and to be fruitful and life giving.
Pope Benedict XVI in an interview with German journalists stated, ‘we’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer…’ (August 2006). This ‘positive idea’ is one in which we can celebrate the gift of life and all that it offers to us while acknowledging the gift is from and of God and brings responsibilities with it.
As human beings we are more than just our sexuality; we are intellectual, physical, emotional, social and spiritual beings. Each of these dimensions needs to be in harmony for us to be fulfilled as human beings. We need to move away from the societal influence that one may be more important than another and that sexuality is a commodity to be bought, sold and often exploited. As a human being we are created and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God, our progress in each dimension of our being is at different rates and will ebb and flow as we grow and develop. Each dimension is needed to be woven together to grow into wholeness. We are growing towards wholeness on a journey with God, who challenges us to become more Christ like and to love as Jesus loved. This growth also helps us to understand that God loves us unconditionally and continued growth is always possible with this love of God accompanying us.
“The Catholic Church teaches that all human life in its physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual dimensions is fundamentally good.”
As human beings Pope Francis states it is important and a ‘profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them’ (Amoris Laetitia 323). Expressing ourselves as human beings who are of and reflecting God to others, we can see the importance of understanding what is it to be a sexual being. The Catholic Church teaches that all human life in its physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual dimensions is fundamentally good. As human beings we cannot and should not forget that we are both fleshed and sexed; that carries with it a responsibility to use both for the glory of God. As we develop in our sexual maturity, we must do so acknowledging the gift we have received should not be used to exploit or be exploited by others; as they too are made in the image and likeness of God.
“The Catholic Church teaching on sexuality should always begin from a place of love, a love which God shows each of us unconditionally.”
As sexual beings we are equal and complementary as male and female, with God living in and through us. The quality of our relationships is deepened by living the Gospel values as proclaimed by Jesus. The Catholic Church continues to teach the positive concept that the expression of our sexuality, as sexual intercourse, is best preserved within the sanctity of marriage and that all life must be preserved from conception until natural death. The conjugal act is an expression of the faithful life – enriching the bond between the love of the husband and wife and is to be open to the possibility of new life. This means each person has within them the divine spark that illuminates their life in all aspects of the dimensions that make us human, made wonderfully in the image and likeness of God.
The Catholic Church teaching on sexuality should always begin from a place of love, a love which God shows each of us unconditionally. We should respect all people as we grow in our understanding of what it is to be a sexual being. All people, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. (And that) every sign of unjust discrimination (because of their sexuality) should be avoided’ (CCC2358). All people, no matter what the sexual orientation they have, are also made in the image and likeness if God. The Catholic Church asks all those who are not joined in a relationship through the sanctity of marriage to live a chaste life and refrain from sexual activity outside of that sacramental bond between a man and a woman.
The Catholic Church teaching that expression of sexuality lies within the sanctity of marriage has other implications for us all. It means no one should be manipulated for the sexual pleasure of another; that all unwanted sexual activity is not acceptable; meaning that both pornography and a lack of sexual consent is unacceptable to the Catholic Church. The lack of the latter is an issue of great shame for the Catholic Church, as Pope Francis said in his letter to the People of God; ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike’ (20 August 2018). As a Church we are coming to terms with the deep and profound hurt this sexual abuse had and is having upon our faith today.
Despite our present suffering and disappointment with some of the people of God, the Catholic Church still has a positive stance to offer to the world regarding sexuality. It’s teaching and understanding of human sexuality is that of a great ‘yes’! A yes to wholeness, a yes to fidelity, a yes generativity, a yes to love and the greatest of all, a yes to God. Let us not forget in the darkest of times as people of God we should shine with the divine spark and say our ‘yes’ to what it is, to be wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God and that ‘yes’ does include our sexuality.