[Ah, spring, that heady time when a youth Catholic's mind turns to, "Is this a sin?" And to answer these questions, and generally provide a brief respite in the tactical politics which we all enjoy so much, I present a book review written by my wife, the lovely MrsDarwin. Enjoy. --Darwin]
In my days as a young unmarried Catholic, I often suffered through chastity talks or had dating manuals pressed on me. The Protestant dating manuals (or, more accurately, not-dating, since apparently dating is right out in those circles, to be replaced by the nebulous concept of “courtship”) were painfully earnest in their descriptions of hypothetical couples who were keeping their relationships 99.44% pure by following strict rules of behavior. Chastity talks were even more painful because you had to be there in person, squirming in your folding chair and wishing the floor would swallow you as the speaker hemmed and hawed, or, even worse, was wildly enthusiastic for Purity! There seemed to be no happy medium between either rigid guidelines that seemed designed to minimize contact between a couple, or hazy exhortations to purity that gave one no practical guidance in the matter of a relationship rooted in reality.
After the discussion following this post about the proper level of physical interaction before marriage, Darwin ordered a book on the subject by Brett Salkeld, a fellow blogger and acquaintance. Brett and his co-author Leah Perrault know this sad scene all too well, and they have written a refreshing remedy and valuable resource, How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.
Here are two famous answers to the question “How far can we go?”
- Keep both feet on the floor.
- Asking “How far can we go?” is like taking your girlfriend or boyfriend in your arms, walking to the edge of a cliff, and asking, “How close can I get to the edge?”
We had to write this book because we think both these answers are unsatisfactory. We think we can do better. The first answer is very practical, but anyone with a little imagination can get around it. In trying to set out an easy-to-follow guideline for Catholic couples, it ignores the question of Christian formation. It says that physical intimacy is only about how you act, and has no connection to the kind of person you are called to become.
The second answer is much more dangerous. The foundation of the metaphor it uses is that sex is roughly equivalent to suicide! In other words, sex is dangerous and sinful. Any advance in physical intimacy is just getting you closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. When we give answers like this it is no wonder the world thinks the Church is down on sex!
…One of the reasons that Christian books on sex and dating have given a misleading view about sexuality is that they ignore the essential communicative aspect of sexuality. Sexual sin is presented as crossing some vague boundary partway up an imaginary list of increasingly intimate physical acts. But, in the context of physical intimacy, sin isn’t crossing an arbitrary line. Sexual sin is about using your body to lie to your partner (and probably yourself) about the nature of your relationship. There need to be one or two clear lines about what is appropriate for unmarried people, but those lines are not drawn to keep people from acts that impure in and of themselves. They are drawn to keep people from lying with the language of their bodies. This book, then, is not primarily about which acts are and are not permissible. This book is about learning to speak the truth with your body.
One thing I really appreciate here is that Salkeld and Perrault have a respect for their young audience, and don’t treat the question “How far can we go?” as an attempt to find out how much whoopie one can get away with, but an honest query about what is right and appropriate at any point in a relationship. (I snickered out loud at their description of a youth group leader who answers this question from a young couple by saying, “I’ll let you in on a little secret. Your relationship will do much better if, instead, you ask yourselves how pure you can be.” If you haven’t heard twaddle like that, you haven’t been around the Authentically Catholic! youth scene much.) They emphasize from the start that their model of dating “presumes that those who use it are sincerely trying to live holy lives. If you’re hoping to find loopholes so you can get away with as much as possible and still say you’re following Catholic rules, this model isn’t for you.”
From the New York Times:
There was a time when not having sex consumed a very small part of Janie Fredell’s life, but that, of course, was back in Colorado Springs. It seemed to Fredell that almost no one had sex in Colorado Springs. Her hometown was extremely conservative, and as a good Catholic girl, she was annoyed by all the fundamentalist Christians who would get in her face and demand, as she put it to me recently, “You have to think all of these things that we think.” They seemed not to know that she thought many of those things already. At her public high school, everyone, “literally everyone,” wore chastity rings, Fredell recalled, but she thought the practice ridiculous. Why was it necessary, she wondered, to signify you’re not doing something that nobody is doing?
And then Fredell arrived at Harvard.
The practice of celibacy in the priesthood is apparent in the years following Jesus’ resurrection. Single priests and priests who were married abstained from sex, of course with approval from their wives. Just as Jesus chose celibacy giving up a family in order to give himself to mankind, priests are called by God to imitate Jesus. In fact, the priest is able to better serve all people because he is more available.
Monsignor Angelo Amato of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints states:
“Jesus was chaste, virgin, celibate and he defended it. His virginity distanced him from others, but it’s what made him able to show, compassion and forgiveness to others.”
Thus priests are called by God to imitate Jesus in this discipline.
By the end of the fourth century Pope Saint Siricius pushed for a celibate priesthood in order to maintain continuity with earlier centuries. Later this became a discipline* in order to carry out the tradition of celibacy, thus priests could not marry in the Catholic Church.
* The Eastern Orthodox still allow their priests to marry, but they must be so before entering the seminary and are not allowed to become bishops.
Here is a good explanation on the origins of Saint Valentine’s Day, which today has been truncated to Valentine’s Day. It is written by Ronald J. Rychlak of InsideCatholic titled simply St. Valentine’s Day.
The Catholic Church actually recognizes several different saints named Valentine or Valentinus (including St. Valentin Faustino Berri Ochoa, St. Valentine of Genoa, and St. Valentine of Strasbourg). Most people, however, trace the story of St. Valentine back to a Roman priest in the year 270. He was arrested and imprisoned for performing marriage ceremonies for Christian couples at a time when such ceremonies were prohibited (as married men were exempt from the Roman army). Valentine also may have aided other Christians who were being persecuted during the reign of Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II).
Valentine was brought before the emperor and told to renounce his faith, but even under extreme torture he refused to do so. According to legend, couples whom he had married brought him flowers and gifts while he was in prison, which gave rise to the tradition of giving flowers and gifts in his honor.
Valentine tried to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity, but his efforts were not well received: Claudius had Valentine executed outside Rome’s Flaminian Gate on February 14, 270. According to another legend, while still in captivity, Valentine restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. On the day before his execution, he sent her a farewell message and signed it, “from your Valentine.” That, of course, is said to have established another tradition.
More than two centuries later, in 496, Pope Gelasius marked February 14 as a celebration in honor of Valentine’s martyrdom. According to some accounts, this date was chosen to preempt a pagan fertility festival known as Lupercalia, which took place at about that same time. Lupercalia involved a lottery by which young people would draw the name of a mate for a year. With the new holiday, Gelasius instead had participants draw the name of a saint to emulate for a year.
Unfortunately, the heroic story of Valentine’s piety has been almost completely eclipsed by the “flowers, candy, and cards” holiday that we know today. Gelasius’s efforts to Christianize mid-February seem to have come to naught, and we are left in the ironic position of celebrating romance on a day named after a celibate priest.
To read the complete article click here.
Happy Saint Valentine’s Day!
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They are a new order that arose from Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization. They are devout and orthodox in our Catholic faith which explains why the average age of a nun is 26 and they are already turning back inquiries since they are packed to capacity in their new convent.
They recently made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show this past Tuesday, February 9. I’ve only seen some of the show online and my assumptions were validated. That being they were knowledgeable about our faith, energetically orthodox, and calm in their disposition.
I strongly advice you to watch all four videos that I have been able to track down of the entire show. Some of the videos have a few seconds where the digital relay distorts the picture, but the sound is not disturbed.
Part I: I love hearing the sisters talk about their faith unapologetically, ie, you hear “God called me”, “I am married to Jesus Christ”, etc, etc. Simply beautiful!
The case against adultery seems clearly spelled out in the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Even if that does not prove sufficient, we can always quote Jesus Himself: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mt 5:27-28)” For Catholics, as for any who profess that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, this seems to rest the case. What more is there to say?
What follows here is the first of a new batch of letters written by that infamous demon, Screwtape, who was immortalized in a collection put together by the late C.S. Lewis.
. . .
My Dear Wormwood,
When last I had written you, I had assumed that you had everything well in hand with your patient, and so I am dismayed to find this hastily scribbled note of panic. All seems lost, you say. Your patient has turned away from all the pleasures that sexual iniquity can provide and has dedicated himself to a chaste life, and thus has made himself nigh unassailable to our devices. I must say that I am disappointed, Wormwood, not that any mismanagement on your part has led to this setback (though we will discuss that in due time), but that you are so quick to cry defeat. The Enemy ever persists in granting his graces to these featherless bipeds, so you must remember that our work is never done as long as the patient lives.