A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Souls


by Anne Rampa

Reprinted with permission, from The Common Good, a newspaper of the Christchurch Catholic Worker, No 67, Advent 2013

I have been speaking to quite a few people recently about how to speak about sexual activity to young people. How do we help them consider the seriousness of it, when it’s often treated as casually as a game of tennis by society around us, as if it’s a form of recreation?teenagers

I find this especially contradictory in our Australian culture since we are so cautious about expressions of physical affection.

If we shake someone’s hand it’s a communication of readiness to be accepting and friendly. But we only hug or kiss on the cheek people we are especially close to, and have a friendship or relationship with. These people will be ones with whom we already have an established intimacy on a verbal and emotional level. Yet it’s supposed to feel perfectly ordinary to meet someone at a party, kiss them passionately, and even have sexual intercourse with them.

Jesus was saddened when Judas betrayed him with a kiss. Our bodies are vehicles of communication, and we shouldn’t lie with our bodies, especially when we are expressing a relationship. Yet this is what we are actively encouraged to do by our culture – to lie to each other through a physical expression of a relationship that isn’t true.

What should our relationship with someone be in order to speak truthfully with our bodies by having sexual intercourse? As Christians we would say we should be married, or at least this physical oneness should be expressing lifelong commitment and care, as if we shared the same body.

The fallout from the terrible meaninglessness of sexual activity these days is hard to grasp because it’s so pervasive, and unacknowledged. But the effects are physical, emotional and spiritual, because we are physical, emotional and spiritually integrated beings.

On an emotional level one effect written about by author and psychiatrist Dr Meg Meeker, in her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, is that engaging in sex puts teenage girls at high risk of depression. Casual sex is deeply degrading because we have given our whole self to someone without requiring the commitment such a gift should be accompanied by.

On a physical level we have unwanted pregnancies, and rampant sexually transmitted diseases.

On a spiritual level the result is a yawning emptiness. Our faith tells us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and as such should be communicators of truth and love.

Thomas Merton wrote about this in his book Seeds of Contemplation, saying: “Nowhere is self-denial more important than in the area of sex, because this is the most difficult of all natural appetites to control, and one whose undisciplined gratification completely blinds the human spirit to all interior light.”

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

We hear a lot of talk these days about leadership. Our schools are supposedly training young people for leadership. Yet the qualities of integrity, honesty, self-control, respect, and responsibility that we hope to engender our young with in order for them to be good leaders, are often disregarded when it comes to this most intimate of physical expressions! One young woman commented that, after a sex education session at her school, the presenters were talking to them as if they were cats and dogs that couldn’t control themselves.

Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche Communities, wrote in Man and Woman He Made Them: “When sexual relations between a man and a woman involve neither love nor celebration, when they are not the sign and fruit of a covenant, they cannot bring true joy. They are rather the fruit of anguish, and come from the fear of isolation.”

FamiliarisConsortio coverWe may be trying to solve our feelings of loneliness in this way, but it doesn’t work. The way forward, according to Jean Vanier, is to build stronger communities, and authentic friendships.

Of course this is not conducive to those who want us to be big consumers, because our lack of true connection with each other, with creation, and with God, is what drives us to material accumulation. We feel insecure without these vital, life-affirming relationships, and we turn to material to give us that sense of security.

I’ll end with these words by Blessed John Paul II, in his 1981 Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, which reiterates the sentiments with which this article began: “… sexuality … is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realised in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to each other until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving …”

Anne Rampa, mother of seven, lives with her husband Jim Dowling and family at Peter Maurin Catholic Worker Farm, Queensland.


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