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Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:
Question: I am a young man who recently came back to the Catholic church and I am happy to have found God back into my life. The problem is that i am in a serious relationship for 7 years now, are we are getting married in 2010 and are having sex regularly. Technically I’m in a state of mortal sin since I use condoms and I have sex before getting married. I do confess this in the sacrament of reconciliation but sometimes it don’t feel like I truly repent. In some ways I don’t … I enjoy sex and its hard to say no to my girlfriend. How can I continue to be faithful to god and his commandments while still be tempted by sexual activity?
The way of fidelity is to resist temptations. Married people have to resist temptations to engage in sexual affairs with people other than their spouses. Failure to resist gives us the spectacles of recent political figures whose lives where greatly diminished by their inability to resist (e.g. Former Presidential Candidate John Edwards and Gov. Sanford in South Carolina). The sex scandals of a small percentage of Roman Catholic priests have caused untold harm to the faith of millions, not to mention the financial burdens dioceses and religious orders have had to shoulder.
So, the church’s call to fidelity in matters sexual is not something irrational or against human nature. The culture of indiscriminate “hooking-up” or “friends with benefits” among a minority of college students has not made university campuses halcyon places where young people involved in such practices report being happy and healthy and holy and free. People who choose such a lifestyle are more likely to report frustration and unhappiness with who and what they are. They are also more likely to get an STD (“Herpes, the gift that keeps on giving!”).
The church calls Catholics to restrict genital, sexual activity to sacramental marriage in which two people give themselves to one another in mutual and lasting fidelity.
That said, and recognizing that what most people really want is one person to whom they can be faithful for life, a fidelity that mirrors God’s fidelity to us and Christ’s fidelity to the church, we find ourselves in curious times. For most of human history, people married as soon as their reproductive equipment became operative, i.e. in their mid to late teens. Today, we see young adults holding off from entering into marriage until in their late 20s or early 30s.
At the end of our lives, God is not so much going to ask us if we lived up to the rules, but rather who did we love? The real question about pre-marital sex is this: is what you are doing really loving? Much sex outside of marriage is frankly, mutual masturbation. “Hooking up” and “Friends with Benefits” are more evidence our inability to reserve sex for what it is intended to be, i.e., loving that reflects the ways God loves us, unselfishly, without limit as one who gives one’s very being to the beloved, totally and unreservedly.
Yale Law School professor and novelist Stephen Carter provides a provocative definition of love: “Love is an activity, not a feeling – didn’t one of the great theologians say that? … True love is not the hapless desire to possess the cherished object of one’s fervent affection. True love is the disciplined generosity we require of ourselves for the sake of another when we would rather be selfish…” – Talcott Garland in Stephen L. Carter’s The Emperor of Ocean Park. (2002:215).<BR>
In our sexual lives, our family lives, our economic and political lives, etc. are we loving? Are we requiring of ourselves the disciplined generosity we must practice in order to live happy healthy holy and free lives? Or are we being selfish?
Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, fisherman and author. He is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and serves as a Chaplain at the college. His book, A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, (Orbis Books 2007) examines the relationships between the practices of faith and the cultural currents and changes so rapidly occurring in our ever more technologized and globalized world.