Tag Archives: sexuality

Question: Sexual Morality Questions from Seniors (ROUND THREE!)

Ok, this is the last of the senior sexual ethics questions.   Here is the first part, and here is the second part


I PROMISE we’ll be getting back to more typical Quidquid material next post.  Whenever that will be. 


Why is the Church against artificial insemination?


There are reasons the Church is against artificial insemination, especially as practiced today.  I turn your attention to two magisterial documents, both put out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life) and Dignitatis Personae (The Dignity of a Person).  All other statements dealing with the topic of artificial human reproduction draw from these two important documents.  


Also, we should be clear that the Church’s qualms here are with human artificial insemination.  The procedures can be performed on pandas, elephants, and other animals, as well as plants, without any moral complaint.  


A few points, then.  


First, we must remember that children are not rights.  No one has a right to a child, as if a child were listed with food, shelter, and clothing as essential things for our lives.  Children are not property to be created, bought, and sold. They are human beings. They have their own dignity and natural rights.  


Second, the Church has issue with how these artificial procedures separate the sexual act from the process of creating life.  Sex is life-giving and love-giving. These procedures aren’t really life-giving, in the way sexual intercourse is. Really, they are life-making.  Just as the Church is not in favor of separating fecundity from sexual acts, as is found in recreational, casual sex, so also she is against life-making from sexual process.  


Third, the process of artificial insemination often involves other ethical issues.  The sperm used in the fertilization is typically procured via masturbation. Most egregious is the fact that many of the unused embryos (that is, developing babies) are either frozen, used in other IVF procedures, used for experimentation (and destroyed), or simply discarded (and die).  This does not get into the potential for “designer babies.”


For a brief overview of the Church’s teaching, as well as notes referencing key passages in Donum Vitae, see CCC 2373-2379.  



Are the people who run and work in the porn industry looked down upon by Catholics?


For a lot more on this topic, see Matt Fradd, The Porn Myth.  He draws a lot on statistics about pornography, including information relevant to this topic. 

Image result for matt fradd the porn myth

To the question.  


The Church has always taught we should hate sin but love the sinner.  Producing and distributing pornography is gravely wrong on several levels.  Let us parse this out.


Viewing pornography is wrong.  It reduces another person to the level of an object.  The person in the pornographic material is not viewed as a person, but rather as a thing through which the viewer will receive sexual satisfaction.  There is a similarity between using pornography and owning slaves; both stem from a mindset that views certain people as objects to be used. As such, many pornographers abuse in various ways the subjects of their pornographic materials.  One study found that over 88% of pornographic material contains some sort of physical abuse of women, while of the same sample size, 48% contained verbal abuse, again against women.


This doesn’t even get into the negative effects pornography use has on viewers, nor the reality of underage pornography, where subjects as young as 12 or 13 are made up to look over 18, or not, as there is a market for child pornography.  


The Catholic response to all of this should not be “oh my, pornographers are horrible people,” even if we look at the moral wasteland that is the porn industry.  We should pray for them and for the subjects of pornographic material, many of whom have no choice to be in those videos or pictures. The subjects often enter the industry out of desperation, or a need for funds, or (in the most dire cases) because their life was threatened.  Recall the sex trafficking video you watched last year in Theology. One of the girls interviewed was tricked into the world of prostitution, and was trapped by her pimp into being raped; the rape was recorded and distributed as pornography.


Few little girls and boys announce that they want to be porn stars.  That’s never, as far as I can tell, one’s primary goal in life.


The problem with pornographers is that they bring others to sin, be it their subjects or their audience.  All for easy money.


If you watch, make, or distribute pornography, especially of minors, please stop and get help.  Talk to a priest.  Talk to a counselor.  Talk to someone.  But get help.  


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Question: Sexual Morality Questions from Seniors (ROUND TWO!)

Welcome to ROUND TWO of questions my seniors asked last semester about Christian sexual ethics.  I think I will do one more post after this, and then get back to regularly scheduled nothing. . . 


Then answer one of the exciting reader questions that I haven’t answered yet! 


If you haven’t read ROUND ONE, make sure you go and do that.  The answers below make references to what was said before.  Also, if you want some resources, check out the list at the end of the Round One post. 




Q2: (a) Why is the church so overbearing about sex? Like if someone has sex before marriage, are they going to hell?  

(similar Questions asked: (b) Why is premarital sex wrong, but in marriage that’s the end goal?; (c) Why is it a sin to have sex with your future husband or wife?; (d) Is it wrong to engage in sexual activity before you get married if you think that the you are going to get married to them?; (e) What is your opinion on people deciding to lose their virginity when they “feel like they’re ready”?)


These questions all get at the same basic logical process.  


Premise 1: Sexual activity between people is a very serious thing.  

Premise 2: People should only do serious things only when they are “ready.”

Conclusion: People should have sexual activity whenever they are “ready.”  


There are several issues with this syllogism.  The first premise is fine. Sexual activity is a very serious thing.  Most (I think most; is there a survey on this?) reasonable people agree that sexual activity is serious, and that the hookup culture does much more harm than good.  The statistics are not just depressing, they are terrifying. The American Sexual Health Association, for example, notes that “One in two sexually active persons will contract an STI by age 25.”  That doesn’t include psycho-emotional effects, which are much more nuanced and more difficult to measure (without just listing a bunch of anecdotal evidence).  


The second premise is, likewise, true.  Going back to our jumping off of the Grand Canyon example from Q1: If you are going to jump off of the Grand Canyon, please make sure you are “ready.”  Make sure you have your hang glider and are properly trained in how to glide. Make sure someone else knows of your plans, so they can rescue you if you are alone.  Make sure you have rested, eaten, have hydration, etc. All of that good stuff. Because if you aren’t ready, it will be a long, long way to the bottom of that gulley.  


Be ready.  


But that conclusion!  It assumes something rather risky, that we are the arbiters of readiness.  That we determine what it means to be ready.


What does it mean to be “ready” to have sex?  Sexual attraction? The maturity of the couple?  The stability of the relationship? A particular age?  Income? Time spent dating? An engagement ring? Shared bank accounts?  


How do we know any of that means we are ready for sex?  How did WE determine this criteria? If you look at the list above, almost everything on that list is normally found in a stable marriage.  If you want a situation where you and your significant other are mature enough to make big decisions, have a structure set up to provide stability in your relationship, have reached a particular age, have been together for a substantial period of time, and have made shared promises to each other, then look no further than marriage.  Marriage has everything desired for sexual readiness.


There is a huge difference those vows make.  


Let me put two situations before you (full disclosure: I’m stealing this story from Fr. Jaffe, current pastor at Christ the Redeemer parish in Sterling, VA, who told this story at a day of reflection for engaged couples, which the future Mrs. Rose and myself attended before we were married)


Harry and Sally were an adorable engaged couple excited about their wedding day.  They were to get married on a midsummer Saturday, and then head to Europe for their honeymoon.  Everyone was so happy for the couple.


But then, tragedy struck.  


On the way to their rehearsal dinner, the night before their wedding day, Harry and Sally were in a horrific car wreck.  Harry was ok, but Sally sustained severe damage to her spine, paralyzing her from the neck down. She could do nothing for herself, and now required individual care for what used to be routine, like eating and bathing.  The wedding was postponed while Sally recovered.


Harry, at first supportive, soon found himself exhausted by the situation, and, terrified by the enormous burden he would have to carry, called off the wedding, the engagement, and their relationship.  With words of apology, he handed Sally’s nurse a breakup note to read to Sally, looked at his now ex-fiance one last time, turned and walked out of the hospital room and out of Sally’s life forever.



Now, let’s rewind and move the tragedy 24 hours later.


Harry and Sally were wed that midsummer Saturday.  The crash was not on the way to the rehearsal dinner, but on the way to the airport for their European honeymoon.  Harry was fine in the crash, but Sally suffered the same debilitating injuries.


Again, she would need constant care.  


Again, faced with the pressures of such a life, Harry crumples and hands the nurse not a break up letter but divorce papers.  When he walks out of Sally’s life, he likewise walks out of his marriage.


Let us compare these two stories.


In the first story, I think we can agree that, to an extent, Harry is a colossal jerk.  Did he really love her? We don’t really know, but he could have been a better man. But at the same time, while we may not like what he did, there wasn’t anything morally or legally wrong with what he did.  He was not bound to care for Sally, as he was just her fiance, which is really, in a sense, being a boyfriend with an end goal in mind (as symbolized by the engagement ring).


The vows change everything.  Harry promised at the wedding to be true to Sally “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, ‘til death do us part,” or something similar.  He is going against what he said, and is doing it in quite an impersonal way.


The vows make a difference.  What was once just a mean thing to do has, by those circumstances, become a morally bad thing.  


So it is with sex.  The vows make a difference.  The vows are VERBAL PROOF that you are “ready.”  You can never know if your significant other is “ready” until they have sworn they are.  That is why the words of the couple at the marriage are called vows. It isn’t merely a contract, an agreement between parties; it is a covenant.  The two become one new family. The promises, the vows, become incarnated in the marital embrace of the couple that night, and as Scott Hahn puts it, “God has designed it so that when the two become one, they become so one that nine months later you might just have to give it a name.”  


To wrap this question up, I’m going to give a short reply, based on everything I’ve said here and in the previous answer, to each of the questions


Q2a: Overbearing is kind of harsh.  Grant it, it is hard to follow the Church’s teaching on sex, especially if you are of the mindset that you know your body better than God.  And it is always hard to follow the rules for anything.


Let’s use a sports analogy.  Let’s pretend we’re playing soccer.  The match begins and I immediately pick up the ball and run towards the goal. You punch me, and then proceed to hit the ball with a baseball bat.  The goalie, seeing the ball coming towards the goal, hops on a horse and flings rocks at the other goalie. And so it goes, chaos reigning, everyone doing their own thing.  



From the greatest comic of all time, Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson, I give you CALVINBALL!


Bottom line: that isn’t soccer.  I don’t know what it is, but it sure as heck isn’t soccer.  That’s because in soccer there are set rules that distinguish it from other games.  If you violate the rules of soccer, there are consequences, because otherwise the game cannot proceed properly.  


The consequence of rejecting God, of kicking Him out of your life, is Hell not because God likes it when we choose Hell over Him, nor because the Church is a bunch of prudish old men who hate sex.  It is because when we violate the law of sexual relationships, we are going against God’s direct commands and plan for us. We build our own Hells and lock ourselves in. God cannot save us because we won’t want it.  


Q2b:  I hate comparing sex to buying a car, because it sounds so tacky and crass, but I think the comparison is appropriate here.  It gets at the story of Harry and Sally, above. If I am test driving a car, I am not supposed to take it onto the interstate and drive four hours, go sightseeing, eat inside the car, run errands, and then drive the four hours back.  That would be wrong, because I do not own the car. However, once I do own the car, I can do those sorts of things. In fact, the test drive prepares me for the ownership of the car. In this example, test driving isn’t having sex before marriage so you can get practice in before the “real thing.”  The example points to how there is a difference between before and after buying the car. There is a difference between sex before and after the vows. One is incomplete, the other exactly the way things should be.


Q2b, c, and d: I addressed these already above.  


Let’s talk, really quickly about the phrase “losing” your virginity.  I lose my cell phone, my car keys, my books, my way while driving, my wife in the mall, my kids at. . . I won’t get into that.  My point is, losing is a negative process.


Your virginity is something special, something precious.  It is part of who you are. You don’t lose it the way you lose your keys or that essay for English class you printed during 1st period.  You lose it because someone took it from you, or because you gave it away like it was nothing, like Esau and his birthright. However, you can reclaim your virginity!  You can’t undo what you’ve physically done, but you can make a promise to your future spouse to wait for him or her, to wait until you’ve promised in word to give yourself fully to this person whom God has chosen for you.  Then you can give, as if new, your virginity. Because if you give in that context, you do not lose your virginity but perfect it in its ultimate purpose.


A quick word to those who lost their virginity because someone took it from them.  You have been wronged. You have been robbed of something beautiful. But the person or persons who stole your virginity have not changed who you are.  You are as precious as ever; no evil done by another can taint your inmost heart. Your virginity might be “lost” in a physical sense, but you did not give it.  You too can give it to one who deserves it. Again, those vows, the verbal give and receive of love.  

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Question: Sexual Morality Questions from Seniors (ROUND ONE!)

This past fall, I had the privilege of teaching a new senior apologetics course at Bishop O’Connell High School, where I am chairman of the Religion Department.  The course, entitled “Sharing the Faith in the World,” taught students not just the answers to theological controversies, but more importantly how to have intelligent, reasonable arguments based in logic rather than impulse.  It was a very student-centered course, meaning that I let the students direct the topics of discussion, rather than I, as the teacher picking the topics and lecturing.  The majority of the class involved students selecting topics within Apologetics (be it natural, Christian, or Catholic), researching both sides of the issue, and debating both the orthodox and heterodox positions.  It was a lot of fun, and I hope to teach the course again next school year. 


In the course of our discussion of Christian apologetics, the students wanted to examine in detail the topic of Christian sexual ethics.  Due to the constraints of time, we were unable to examine EVERY aspect of this huge topic, instead focusing on what the Church teaches about sexuality and why.  As such, there were many questions the students had that were left unanswered.  I collected many of their questions together, and composed short answers for them. 


I have decided to post several of the questions here, not just because I need to post something (although that is true; I have not been very good at posting every month), but also to show off my creative, inquisitive, and intelligent high school seniors.  Having spent a semester with these students, I can assure readers that many of the students are mature and serious when it comes to matters of religion.  Their questions stemmed not from a desire to trap the teacher or somehow prove that the Church is stupid in her teaching on human sexuality; rather, these questions are questions for which the students honestly seek the answers.  


I have not included all of the questions here, both because of time and because their questions come out of already having learned the basics of Christian sexual ethics.  Also, the answers may seem incomplete not because everything that could be said about the topic is in the answer I posted, but rather because my answers were meant to be short responses, with the hope that the more interested student might dig deeper into the wealth of the Church’s teaching on this essential part of what it means to be a human being.   I will post the resources I sent them at the bottom of this post as well, for interested parties.  


So, without any more preambling, here are some student questions, with my humble answers, fixed up so that you, my beloved Quidquid readers, can follow along.  


What does the Church teach about sex?

(this isn’t a question they asked, but I’m including it to lay the groundwork)


The Church’s teaching on sexuality can be summed up in a short little phrase: Sex is beautiful.  Sex is an essential part of marriage, and it brings new life into the world and builds a bond between husband and wife.  Every aspect of Christian sexual ethics goes back to those main points.


The Church draws her vision of human sexuality from Genesis, where sexual intimacy appears in the context of married life.  The Creation stories portray sex as a command (“be fruitful and multiply”) and as a gift (see how Adam burst into song at the sight of Eve in Genesis 2: 23, and how that reaction is immediately followed by references to marriage and the original innocence of our first parents).  

Image result for fall of adam and eve

Adam: First brat to yell “I DIDN’T DO IT!”

The Fall in Genesis 3 led to the division between men and women, which manifests itself through sexual sin (Genesis 3: 7, 16). Thus is the damaged world we see around us, but it was not supposed to be that way. Jesus makes that clear in his teaching on marriage (Matthew 5: 27-32; 19:1-15).


So what should sex be like?  Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (par. 9, 12) expresses this clearly (that said, I’ll use the language more familiar to you).  All sexual acts should be Free (that is, not forced), Total (a complete gift of the two people to each other), Faithful (exclusive to the other), and Fruitful (open to new life coming from the marital act).  This can also be summed up in the two-pronged aspect of marital love: Life-Giving and Love-giving.


If one of these aspects is not present, then the act does not follow the Church’s teaching on sex.  Keep in mind, as well, the three parts of an act which you learned last year in Morality class: the Object (what the action itself is), the Intention (why the person is doing the action), and the Circumstance (the context of the action).  While some violations of Christian Sexual Ethics are in themselves evil, that is, the Object is evil, others are violations because of the Intention or the Circumstance. All three (Object, Intention, Circumstance) must be good for an act to be good.


Let’s explain using a violation that everyone (I hope) agrees is bad: rape.  The Catechism defines rape as “the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person” (CCC 2356).  If the Object in rape (sexual intercourse) is morally neutral, the Intention and Circumstances are clearly morally evil (due to the violation of consent, the violence against justice and charity, etc).  Rape also fails the Christian Sexual Ethics test. It is not Free, as someone is being coerced into the act. It is not Total, as there is not a gift of self; rather, one party is taking what should be freely given.  It is Faithful, as it does not come from a context of exclusivity. It is not Fruitful, as rarely is the rapist open to new life. Likewise, it does not build up the relationship between the two people (Love-Giving) nor does it have as its goal the righteous act of bringing life into the world (Life-Giving).


See how that works?


If a sexual act fails to be Free, Total, Faithful, or Fruitful and/or is not Life-Giving or Love-Giving, then it is not justifiable.  You should not do it, nor should anyone else.


Q1: Is it impossible for sex outside of marriage to be holy and involve God?


Sex has a purpose, a reason for its existence.  God created it with that purpose. As with anything else in life, it is never a good idea to decide we know better than God.  About anything. Ever. God, in laying out the foundation of the universe, created the laws that govern the universe. Like gravity.  Gravity pulls and pushes planets and stars into their orbits, shaping worlds out of clouds of dust. It also drags you to your death if you swan dive off of the Grand Canyon.  Don’t mess with God’s laws.

As I mentioned earlier, sexual acts should follow the laws God laid out for them, just as we should follow laws of nature (airplanes and jetpacks aside).  When we don’t follow the laws, bad things happen. When we make, say, an airplane fly, we don’t defy the laws of gravity; rather, we use gravity and other laws of nature, such as wind dynamics and other things I do not have any sort of authority to discuss, to create lift, which leads to the craft flying.  Or falling, with style.



Back to extramarital sex.  What’s wrong with it? Well, God created sex to work within marriage.  Of course, people can, and do, have sex outside of marriage, but there is always something lacking in these extramarital sexual encounters.  Perhaps the openness to life is curtailed, either through contraception or non-intercourse sexual acts which make it impossible for life to come from the actions.  Or, perhaps the union of the two partners is not a factor, as is often the case with casual sexual encounters. Or perhaps the sexual union is open to life (or at least non-contraceptive) and is between two people who, honestly, usually really care about each other.  They genuinely want what is best for each other, and want to spend their lives together.


Except in this case, of course.  See, if you and I genuinely care about another person, we would avoid doing anything that would harm them, especially in a permanent way.  Few honest lovers seek, for example, to chop the arms and legs off of their beloved. We want what is best for them. And yet, in a moment of selfishness, the lover and beloved seek their own wants over what is best for the other.  Rather than a selfless giving of oneself, as a married couple does on their wedding night, there is a twinge of selfishness.


The couple, in engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage, sets themselves against God and His will for marriage.  They are saying, if they are properly informed of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, that they do not care what God has planned for them.  They do not want to wait; they are calling the shots. They are like the Prodigal Son, who told his father to his face that the father was more good to him dead than alive, who was only concerned for his own wants and desires.  


But let’s assume it isn’t that bad.  Let’s assume the person doesn’t know better, that they were never taught God’s plan for sexuality, and that they act out of ignorance because, as far as they know, sex before marriage is the norm in society, and if you don’t have sex before marriage, then there is something wrong with your relationship.  What then? Do they get sent to Hell?


That’s a matter for the next set of questions.  


For now, the short answer to your question.  I would say that, for the Catholic/Christian, not only is extramarital sex not holy, it is mortally sinful, and should be avoided at all costs.  


Don’t jump off the Grand Canyon.  Don’t dismember your significant others.  


And don’t have sex outside of marriage.  



WHEW!  That is enough for right now.  Below are the promised resources that might be of interest to readers of this post.  


Also, if you are interested in seeing more questions like these or other questions connected to theology, Church history, or anything in apologetics, feel free to email them to mrose811@gmail.com or Tweet @quidquidestest using #quidquidquestion.  



Free.  Total.  Faithful.  Fruitful.


General Chastity Resources

The Chastity Project: https://chastity.com/

Evert, Jason.  Theology of the Body in One Hour (Totus Tuus Press, 2017)

Evert, Jason.  If You Really Loved Me: 100 Questions on Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Purity (Catholic Answers, 2009).

Evert, Jason.  Pure Love.

Evert, Jason.  Pure Manhood

Evert, Crystalina.  Pure Womanhood

Evert, Jason and Crystalina Evert.  How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul: 21 Secrets for Women (Totus Tuus, 2011).   

Sri, Edward.  Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility (Servent Press, 2015)

Bonacci, Mary Beth.  Real Love: Answers to Your Questions on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex (Ignatius Press, 2012)




Integrity Restored: https://integrityrestored.com/


Fradd, Matt.  The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography (Ignatius Press, 2017)

Fradd, Matt, ed.  Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women who Turned from Porn to Purity (Catholic Answers Press, 2013)

Fradd, Matt and Cameron, ed.  Restored: True Stories of Love and Trust after Porn (Catholic Answers Press, 2015).

Loverde, Paul.  Bought with a Price




USCCB on Contraception: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/contraception/index.cfm

Couple to Couple League: https://ccli.org/


Coffin, Patrick.  The Contraception Deception: Catholic Teaching on Birth Control (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2018).

Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (1968).  

Smith, Janet E., ed.  Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader (Ignatius Press, 1993)

Smith, Janet E., ed.  Why Humanae Vitae Is Still Right (Ignatius Press, 2018)


Same-Sex Attraction


Courage International: https://couragerc.org/


Harvey, John F.  Homosexuality and the Catholic Church: Clear Answers to Difficult Questions (Ascension Press, 2007)

Mattson, Daniel.  Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace (Ignatius Press, 2017).

Schmitz, Mike.  Made for Love: Same-Sex Attraction and the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2017).

Check, Paul and Janet E. Smith.  Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same Sex Attraction (Ignatius Press, 2015)


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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part V)

Pope Francis and Israel's President Shimon Peres plant an olive tree as a symbol for peace after their meeting at the president's residence May 26. (CNS photo/ Amir Cohen, EPA)

If you missed parts I through IV, check them out here


Chapter Four of Laudato Si is entitled “Integral Ecology.”  Here, Pope Francis again focuses on the interrelatedness of all of creation.  Everything in creation, every animal and rock, person and plant, is essentially good, since it has being, which comes from God (even mosquitoes!).  We are part of nature, not just living in it.  What we do to nature affects us, and what we do to ourselves affects nature.  The problems in today’s society are not divorced from the problems in the natural world.  As Pope Francis says, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139).  As such, we need to study and develop ways to live with nature and with each other, respecting others and the creation God gave us.  We depend on nature for our physical existence, for food, water and shelter.  “We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about” (140).  This, the Holy Father notes, is why “sustainable use” natural resources are so important, so that we can utilize our world while allowing it the chance to grow back.  One of the best examples of this is planting trees where forests were harvested, or having fish farms to protect wild fish populations. 

Two social issues expand on the pope’s discussion of sustainable use.  The economic systems of our nations should reflect our effort to protect the world, and our society should enforce laws which deal with environmental and human factors.  Economies are only helpful in so far as they help the people of a nation, and they should take into account environmental factors as well as human ones.  A nation which has laws protecting the environment or defending the innocent, but does not enforce such law, does more harm than good.  What good are laws if they are not enforced?  This leads to a culture of disrespect. 

Speaking of culture, Francis next turns his attention to a “cultural ecology,” which is not as much a culture of ecologists, but rather approaching human culture with the same care as one approaches the environment.  This is an important discussion because we face not just the extinction of plants and animals in our world, but also the extinction of entire ways of life.  Too often man-made environmental changes, either exploiting or protecting the ecosystem in question, ignore the needs of indigenous groups, who have coexisted with their natural neighbors for centuries, in some cases for millennia. 

Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems. (145)

Because of their important role in understanding an ecosystem, indigenous cultures should be brought into environmental discussions.  “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best” (146).  Working with these people, rather than against them, shows respect for the whole ecology of a region. 

Pope Francis next examines how we can incorporate this ecology into our daily lives.  It is, in a sense, about taking care of our own environment, specifically where we live and work.  The pope’s reflection calls to mind Christ’s teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31), for if we do not properly love ourselves, we cannot properly love our neighbors.  We cannot care for the world-wide environment if we cannot care for our local, personal environments.  In this context, Pope Francis addresses again the issue of extreme poverty, which plagues so much of the world.  In these situations of disease, filth, and violence, it may seem that all is hopeless. 

However, as human history shows, “love always proves more powerful” than the evils of a corrupt city (149).  We need to remember that charity isn’t just giving money; it is acting in love, namely the highest form of love.  Charity is that sacrificial love of another, caritas in Latin, agape in Greek.  It is the love which St. John the Evangelists, the “beloved disciple,” uses to describe God (1 John 4:8).  So in charity, we help out neighbors, whether it be giving money to help them, or helping build them proper homes (in paragraph 152, Pope Francis notes that “lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world”). 

This section on ecology in our lives has a lengthy paragraph on “human life and the moral law” (155).  In this paragraph, Pope Francis looks at how we view our bodies, for how we view our body correlates to how we view our environment.  This is one of those paragraphs that I’m pretty sure socially liberal fans of the encyclical did not read (along with the ones discussed earlier about abortion and overpopulation).  I say this because here Pope Francis speaks out about gender identity.  The discussion in the encyclical is brief (it is only part, after all, of a larger tapestry about our common home), and there is a lot more that could be said about the issue in light of the Church’s teaching.  However, Francis felt addressing the issue of gender identity was important, particularly in light of charity.  Here are the Holy Father’s words:

Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” [here he is quoting Pope Benedict’s address to the German Parliament, the Bundersrat, in 2011].  It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.  The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.  Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.  Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.  In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.  It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it” [here he is quoting one of his own Wednesday Audience addresses from April 15, 2015]. 

Pope Francis is clearly rejecting the popular manipulation of the body.  He isn’t talking about staying healthy or trying to loose weight.  He is talking about gender identity.  He is talking about masculinity and femininity and the role those two aspects of human nature play in our lives.  There are certain traits, gifts from God, associated with being a man and being a woman.  We must embrace who we are and not seek to change our gender to fit our wants.  If I am a man, then that is part of who I am.  The same goes for women.  Otherwise I cannot “recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different,” which is literally every other human being in existence besides me.  If people in society cannot recognize themselves for who they are, then we have a society which cannot communicate, which cannot relate to its own members.  There is an important difference between men and women (and it is more than their reproductive organs).  Differences aren’t bad, of course; they are essential.  A woman isn’t less than a man because she is not a man, nor is a man less than a woman because he is not a woman. 

It is an important discussion, one which I should discuss in a later post.  For now, I would like to move to the end of the encyclical. 

Pope Francis concludes the chapter with a brief discussion of two points: the common good of society and justice between human generations.  Remember a point made during our last reflection: the Church’s teaching concerning care for the environment falls under God’s prohibition against stealing.  We cannot steal the gifts of God from later generations, in particular the gifts of our world.  We cannot rob our children of their planet, nor should we simply solve the immediate problems and leave the larger ones for someone else.  That is not the way a family solves its problems; our human family should not turn to that solution either.  In other words, when we plan how to protect our common home, we must think of long standing solutions, cures rather than bandages.  Take a polluted river, for example.  A short term solution to the pollution would be to remove the garbage that collects along the river’s banks.  A lasting solution, in light of what Pope Francis teaches, would be to educate future generations to respect the not pollute, to conserve water, etc. 

Nor should we sit back and say there is nothing wrong with our world from where we sit, so there is nothing we should do.  The pope’s major issue here is individualism, which is when we make ourselves the measure of the rest of the world.  It stems from one of the great moral evils of our modern world: utilitarianism.  The Holy Father is writing against such selfish evil, the “what’s in it for me” mentality that infects pseudo-philanthropy.  But we are not the center of the world.  Our world is more than an extension of our personal yard.  It is a home shared with all of humanity, our extended human family.  We must first recognize the other man, the stranger whom we dread to meet.  Again, the refrain of the encyclical appears: the environmental problems in today’s world stem from an even greater problem in our society. 

We need a proper human ecology. 

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Question: Why did God become a man?

I’ll get back to the reflections on Laudato Si next week.  This week, I want to answer a reader’s question.  It’s been a while since we looked at a Q&A. 

Ironic, since that’s the original purpose of the blog. . . . 

Anyway, so Marcy asks, “Why would God decide to come to us as one particular gender? It seems like such limiting form for an omnipotent and infinite being. And why male? Assuming heavenly omnipotence, why would he/she/it do something that would make many of his human creations feel so left out, disconnected, disenfranchised, and second-class, especially if said being could know all things and see how such a choice would be used against women? (Or anyone who wasn’t a white male.) (And don’t tell me about virgins and mothers. It doesn’t help.)”

Above: The Sinless One helps the Sinner.

There’s a lot in this question, much of which neither I nor any other human being can answer, since it requires knowing the mind of God.  But I have a feeling that Marcy doesn’t want me to just write “I have no idea” and leave it at that.  So I’ll do my best. 

Let’s first look at the gender of God.  God is pure spirit, meaning He does not have a physical body.  As such, He does not, properly speaking, have a gender, since one’s gender is linked to one’s physical body.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes.  He is neither man nor woman: He is God.  He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although He is their origin and standard” (CCC 239).  So God is beyond male and female.   

So why did he reveal Himself as male?  Why not female? 

Remember something very crucial, something too many people who read the Bible forget: God did not give His Revelation to the modern world.  I don’t mean, of course, that He does not speak to us, for He speaks to all ages through His inspired Word.  What I mean is this: the Bible itself was written in a specific historical time by specific historical people.  God spoke to/through these people, and He used images that they would understand.  That does not make what they wrote wrong or anything like that, any more than a parent’s attempt to explain something complicated to a child makes the parent’s explanation wrong.  We all do that, using metaphors to explain what we know, but others don’t understand. 

We see this in the creation story.  It wouldn’t have helped the Israelites understand God’s role in creating if the creation story began, “In the beginning, God formed hydrogen atoms and compressed them into a tiny bundle of atomic energy.  Don’t worry about what atoms are; you won’t be able to detect them for another three thousand years.  And thus the atomic cloud expanded, and the atoms mixed and crashed into each other to form other atoms” and so on and so forth.  It’s hard to understand even today, and we HAVE the technology and science to understand.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my explanation here is lacking in some crucial detail, but hopefully you, kind readers, will move past my poor understanding of astrophysics and see this crucial theological point: God teaches to our level of understanding.  This includes when He teaches about Himself. 

In the ancient world, it was understood that the male of an animal (people included) gave life through sexual intercourse.  To use sort-of philosophical lingo, the woman was a passive receptor to the man’s active fertilization.  Remember that mammalian eggs were not discovered until 1827, and human eggs were not discovered until a century afterwards.  For the majority of human existence, people thought that the seed of the man gave life to the woman’s dormant womb.  Hence the strange phrase “sprung from your loins,” referring to a child of a man.  You see this ancient sexual image in the creation account.  God injects life into the passive world through His Word.  John Paul II draws out this point in one of his reflections which makes up his Theology of the Body (specifically the one on September 12, 1979), noting that Genesis 1 uses terms like “separated” or “placed” when speaking of inanimate objects, but uses the terms “created” and “blessed” when discussing the creation of animals and man.  When God creates living things, He gives them life in a unique way, different from the rest of creation. 

In the ancient world, that makes Him the Father, the source of all life.  In fact, the ancient Israelites called God Father for that exact reason, since He was the source of all that is.  It wasn’t until Christ came that we learned that God is Father in a completely different way: His divine paternity did not begin with His creating time, but rather is from all eternity as the Father of the Divine Son (see CCC 238-242 for a detailed discussion of this point). 

So God revealed Himself as the source of all creation, as Father.  However, He did not limit Himself to only masculine terminology.  We see God compared to a mother several times in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read how Moses reprimanded the Israelites for rejecting God: “You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you / You forgot the God who gave you birth.”  This quote shows the creative paternity of God (begetting is typically a paternal term in the Old Testament) and an interesting maternal aspect of God, one where God gives birth to the Israelites too; in a sense, it is a double reference to the Israelite’s dependence on God as a son would be dependent on his parents.  The Old Testament prophets likewise draw out the image of God as a mother, usually in reference to animals (Hosea 13:8, in reference to those who embraced pagan worship, reads “I will attack them like a bear robbed of its young, and tear their hearts from their breast; I will devour them on the spot like a lion, as though a wild beast were to rend them”) or to mothers of newborns (Isaiah 49:15 has the important comparison between a neglectful mother and God, that even if mothers forget their babies, or the child in their wombs, God will not forget us, and Isaiah 66:13 sees God comparing Himself to a comforting mother). 

Keep in mind, just as with the references to God’s paternity, we don’t have God saying, “I’m a woman” just as we don’t have Him saying, “I’m a man.”  Also keep in mind that God isn’t saying to the Israelites, “I am a mother,” but is rather saying, “I’m like a mother.”  These are metaphors and analogies.  Analogies are not the same thing as equivocations.  God isn’t equating Himself with a mother goddess, but He is comparing His love to a love which any human can understand, that of a loving mother. 

The best example of Christ comparing Himself to a mother is in the famous passage in Luke 13:34 (the equivalent is found in Matthew 23:37):

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!

Above: Don’t mess with Mama Hen!

Again, we see the image of God as a caring mother who would do great things for the Israelites if they would only follow Him.  But since they won’t, “Behold, your house will be abandoned” (Luke 13:34). 

So God revealed Himself using primarily masculine terms and images, but He also used feminine metaphors to explain other aspects of His divine love. 

So why did God choose to be incarnated as a man instead of a woman, or in a particular gender at all?  The phrasing of Marcy’s question has two alternatives to Christ being incarnated as a man.  On the one hand, Christ could have instead been incarnated as a woman, and such an incarnation could have allayed some of the sexism that has reappeared throughout human history, scandalously among Christians; on the other hand, Christ could have been incarnated as a hermaphrodite, a man-woman, and would theoretically have been “free” from gender roles, more indicative of God’s genderlessness, as discussed above.  Wouldn’t either of those have been better ideas, in the long term? 

Here’s where I stir the controversial gender pot.  From what I can tell, Christ’s Incarnation as a male was not a divine coin flip (“Ok, heads I come as a man, tails as a woman; flip the coin, Gabriel”).  God became a man, not just any human, as an essential aspect of the Incarnation.  I will give three reasons. 

The first reason involves creation.  Remember the point we made about fatherhood in the ancient world seen as the cause of life, planting the seed in the fertile woman.  Now, we know that you need a woman as much as a man to have a baby, but as pointed above, as far as the creation of the world is concerned, only one source was needed: God.  God made everything out of nothing (hence the earlier biblical language of God as father and mother, even though God has no passiveness in Him), so He is the only source of creation. 

We need to keep this in mind when discussing Christ.  Christ’s coming is a new creation.  He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3).  These phrases are reminiscent of the creating Father from Genesis.  In coming Christ does not create a new physical world.  Rather, He gives us new spiritual life.  He is the source of that life, just as God is the source of life in the original creation.  To emphasize this connection, it was more appropriate for God to be incarnated as a man.

The second reason is the historical context of the Incarnation, “the fullness of time” in St. Paul’s words to the Galatians (Gal. 4:4).  Christians reflecting on the historical context of the Incarnation, from earlier writers like St. Paul and St. Augustine, to modern writers like Warren H. Carroll and Brennan Pursell, note that the time of Christ’s Incarnation was really a great moment for God to become man.  The known world was “at peace” in the Pax Romana of Caesar Augustus; Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had fertilized the intellectual world with discussions of existence, truth, and the immaterial world, ideas that had been spread through the conquests of Alexander the Great; Hebrew priests prayed and sought purification in preparation for the coming Messiah, understanding that soon the prophecies of Daniel and Malachi were coming true.  These three cultures, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews, paved the way for the coming of Christ, and provided the historical context for the Incarnation. 

This historical context provides a key to why God became incarnate as a man.  Few would argue against the fact that the early Roman Empire was a man’s world.  In fact, one of the reasons some Romans avoided Christianity was because Christians taught that men and women were to be treated with equal respect.  For the Hebrews, the testimony of women was often dismissed in court.  These two points are crucial for understanding why God came as a man.  If He had come as a woman, both the Romans and the Hebrews would have rejected His (Her) preaching out of hand, simply based on gender.  By coming as a man, Christ gives weight to his teaching, touching the hearts of those who otherwise would not listen.  Crowds of thousands gather to listen to Him speak; they wouldn’t gather if He had been a She.  In a similar way, Christ as a hermaphrodite might have done more harm than good, as such a figure would not command respect, perhaps less than a female Christ would.

Why did He come as a man?  To get His Gospel spread throughout the world so that everyone could be saved, especially the marginalized women of antiquity.  The love of Christ extends to all men and women.   

The third reason involves the coming of the Messiah, as far as the Israelites were concerned.  The Messiah was to come as a fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the Davidic kings of old.  God promised David that his kingdom would last forever (see 2 Samuel 7); the Messiah would be the heir of David’s throne, a son of David.  Likewise, the Messiah was expected, somehow, to right the wrongs of Israel.  Christ did this in an extraordinary way, by taking on the role of the New Adam (see Romans 5), atoning for Original Sin just as Adam was responsible for causing Original Sin (if you ever come across someone who blames Eve for the Eden issue, tell them to read the WHOLE Bible.  Even though Eve was partly to blame for disobeying God, Adam ALWAYS carries the most weight for the sin). 

The masculine aspect of Christ’s Incarnation did not stop Christ from using women as his evangelists.  One needs to look no further than Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4) and how she evangelized her entire village.  We can see among Christ’s early followers a lot of women, albeit not among the Twelve Apostles, but certainly among those who helped with the early Church and who listened to Jesus (remember the story of Martha and Mary?  I wrote more about that earlierOf course, there is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who holds a place in the Church higher than any other saint. 

The most basic answer to all of this, to why God came as a man, and why we refer to God in masculine pronouns and titles, is that God wanted it that way.  Remember something so crucial, so neglected in our day: we are not God.  While we can theorize what could have happened, or why something happened one way versus another way, we have to keep in mind that things happen for a reason.  God came as a man for a reason.  Perhaps His reasons were none of the ones listed above, and my entire post has been a poor attempt on the part of a finite man to rationalize the actions of the infinite God. 

One final point.  This whole question centers on the issue of God limiting Himself in the Incarnation to one gender.  In a sense, this issue falls into a classic idiom, missing the forest for the trees.  Yes, by coming as one gender or another, God limited the physical body of the Incarnate Word.  However, we must remember that the Incarnation itself was God, in a sense, limiting Himself.  As that early Christian hymn recorded in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians states, Jesus Christ,

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:6-11)

The Incarnation shows the deep humility of God, for in emptying Himself of His divine splendor, by coming as one of us, He allows us to come to Him in a way we could not before.  Adam sinned by trying to make himself a god.  God rectifies what he did by making Himself man, with all his physical limits. 

I hope this long answer actually answers your question, Marcy.  If not, feel free to refine your question in the comment box below.  Actually, everyone else, be sure to comment on the post with questions and thoughts, to further the discussion. 

For Further Reading:

Brumley, Mark “Does the Bible Support the Feminist God/Dess?”  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

John Paul II, “Biblical Account of Creation Analyzed” Delivered 12 September 1979.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

I also go more into the nature of God in my second Reflection on the first part of the Creed.  

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