Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine November – December 2011
THE PURPOSES OF SEX
Dear Father Editor,
We write as a married Catholic priest and wife (ex-Anglicans) in response to the article by Fr Dylan James, "Contraception and the Imperfection of Natural Family Planning". There is much to praise in this, and he gave a clear exegesis of pertinent sections of Humanae Vitae and also affirmed that NFP is good in itself. We have been glad to discover this teaching and practice. The whole issue of contraception was one that we had to struggle to understand as we came into full communion. There is so much of the Church's teaching and its wisdom that is not understood. We see the virtue of working with nature and the body and the principle of being "per se destinatus" to life.
Having said this, we were very concerned about some of the statements from Fr Holloway's writings. We fear that he reduced sex in marriage to a function, a tool, and speaks so highly of the primary purpose of procreation that he downgrades and devalues the relational intimacy and bonding through sexual intercourse.
We can critically deconstruct his thinking in three steps. Firstly, to stress that sexual intercourse was created to allow the incarnation to happen contains a beautiful truth. However, it needs to be recast. Let us recast his maxim, "God did not fashion sex 'for loving' but that the incarnation might be the gift of creation..." as "God fashioned sex as a beautiful way of intimate sharing and loving that provided a vehicle for the incarnation to happen." Sexuality is such a dynamic vehicle of relationship and trust, of tender intimacy, desire and mutual self-giving, it was an appropriate preparation for the coming of the Son.
Don't relegate sex but put it up there in the spotlights; it is God's good creation in itself and how much more wonderful it seems when we see it as a rightful passageway for God making flesh.
Secondly, to state that "sex is not for loving, sex is for children in a state of loving" is again to devalue sexuality as a function. In the creation story, Adam looks upon Eve as one like himself after discovering that the animals cannot be soul mates. That I/Thou relationship reflects something of the sharing of the Holy Trinity in whose image we are fashioned. The self-giving of sexual intercourse involves and embraces this and takes a general quality of respect, trust, communication, touch and intimate surrender deeper and further. Sex does not create love by itself; that is true, but it can deepen love. Love and sexuality are more than sexual intercourse for they are part of our make-up, of our whole being as embodied beings. Surely Fr Holloway is mistaken to equate Godwith asexual angels and the human soul with such. God is beyond sexuality but God includes it as it is part of his creation and it reflects something of himself. God is totality, not incompleteness. Angels are partial. Remember the various traditions where the angels long to understand what has been disclosed to humans, and the jealousy of the fallen angels at the creation of man. Something of the dynamic of human sexual relationships reflects the creativity, life giving and mutual sharing of the Trinity.
Thirdly, Fr Holloway's sexless soul idea leads him to the static and sterile view of human sexuality before the Fall. This is pure speculation and he wrongly equates human being with animal nature. The latter work by instinct and by seasons. We work by freewill and choice. Such things make mature, caring relationships. His vision is degrading, actually. To return to the creation story again, Adam does not see his own face reflected in the animals, but only in woman, that which was from him and of the same stuff. Humans work differently, following the imago dei.
It is true that our present sexuality is corrupted and a pre-Fall sexuality would have been pure and harmonious, but this does not necessarily mean it was ritualistic, utilitarian and passionless. The passions are out of control but passion is a zest for life that can be holy and balanced. Allowing sexual intercourse for secondary purposes only as a remedy for concupiscence is also degrading, for sex can be bonding and uplifting and not just about self-gratification. Rather let us see sex as a celebration of intimate, sharing love that takes all our communication and contact a dramatic stage further, which, in its most perfect expression creates new life from the coupling of the two.
To have a primary purpose does not devalue the secondary. That is also sublime and beautiful and we are dealing with a whole, a whole that is in many ways greater than the sum of its primary and secondary parts. Likewise, an infertile couple can work with nature and experience the bonding effect of sex, as can a post-menopausal relationship. Both, like the analogy Fr Dylan uses of the damaged eye, are ordered to procreation in general terms. Too strict and cold a view of sex could lead some to counsel abstinence for both sets of people with dire pastoral consequences.
Fr Holloway, for all his erudition and defence of the faith is not to be equated with the Magisterium. He can be criticised, and on this matter, we think he misses the mark terribly. He writes very much here as a celibate male. Listen to the responses of the married much more when seeking to evaluate sexuality.
Fr Kevin and Gill O'Donnell
Norton Road, Hove
We thank Father and Mrs O'Donnell for their constructive and thought provoking comments. The manner in which they have attempted to synthesise Holloway's insights with a rich view of the unitive dimension seems very helpful to the ongoing discussion. We feel that this needs to be linked a bit more closely with the insight at the heart of Fr James' article that the unitive is defined through the procreative.
The overarching goal of the vision we propose is to place the Incarnation at the heart of creation, arguing that it is not in any sense an after-thought in the plan of God. So the division of the sexes in evolution leads to the development of the womb as the environment in which human nature is formed and fostered. The human nature of our Lord Jesus is, in the plan of God, the foremost human nature. The human nature of us human creatures is built upon this image, “we were chosen in him before the foundation of the world.” The feminine power to form human nature is, through the distinction of the sexes, separated out from the human power to determine the creation of a new human person because Christ is an uncreated person, and the foundation of all humanity. Hence the Virgin Birth. Fromthis the primary meaning of sex as procreative follows. It is by fully engaging in the procreative act that a couple exercise their office of marriage and thus are unified as potential parents.
This dynamic is true and fruitful even if other factors prevent the specific high point of fruitfulness which is the conception of a new eternal life. As with all virtue the degree of perfection is related to the extent that the participants' intention is also generously in harmony with this design. Of course few of us, if any, reach perfection in this life.
We hold that the failure to recognise that sex has this primary purpose is a major reason for the current confusion over sexuality. Without it sex becomes just for loving, and it becomes very difficult coherently to defend Catholic teaching in this area. We would then beg to differ from the O'Donnells in as much that we believe that it is the view of sex as primarily unitive that ends up with "sterile" sexuality.
We made some suggestions towards a synthesis of this vision with some of John Paul II's insights in our March 2009 editorial, "The Assault upon the Sexes: Fostering the Papal Defence", and would also refer to Luke Gormally's pieces in our March 2006 issue, "Marriage and the Prophylactic use of condoms" and in our March 2004 issue, "Marriage, the true environment for sexual love".
Dear Father Editor,
Although I agree with the Fr. Holloway's interpretation of marital intercourse as oriented principally to procreation, I suspect that the physical union of the spouses unites love and procreation more than Fr. Dylan James' presentation admitted. While common acts of charity effect an increase of love ("make love" in Fr. James' sense) among spouses as among all men, marital intercourse seems to enjoy a pre-eminence in the symbolisation and augmentation of love. Love affects the greatest unity while preserving the greatest diversity. That is true in the Trinity and in Christ's union with His Church, which fully actuates human freedom and self-consciousness. The spouses should seek the greatest union, corporeal as well as spiritual, in marriage. They should use the marital act to express andincrease their love. But marriage should not devolve into an egoisme a deux. Marriage, recognised as the primordial sacrament of creation by Blessed John Paul II, joins spouses to God as well as to each other, because only God can ground the absolute commitment which the martial vows profess, preferring another human being to oneself even to death. The spouses partake of a mystery of love greater than themselves, the mystery of divine love. But God's love is not self-complacent; it is self-giving and, as such, expansive. In the Holy Spirit the Father gives all that He has, His divine nature, to the Son, and the Son returns the gift fully. Similarly Christ bestows His Body and Blood upon the Church. Marriage then should be expansive, going beyond the merely human love of spouses to involvethem in God's creative and procreative love for the world. Certainly children draw parents out of themselves in sacrifice and thus contribute to an increase of love in the family. Hence procreation is seen to be the final purpose of marital love - St. Thomas held that the final cause is the principal cause - and the physical openness of spouses in the physical act of marriage reflects and deepens the spiritual love that unites them to each other and Christ. This argument is spelled out in greater detail in my article, "Science, Sexual Morality, and Church teaching: Another Look at Humanae Vitae," in Irish Theological Quarterly 70 (2005), 237-61, if anyone is interested in pursuing the question. Needless to say, such an understanding of love also involves life-long monogamous fidelity andrules out homosexual unions. Christ restored the order of creation over the cross, and if marital love involves sacrifice, such is a deeper participation in Christ's life.
John M. McDermott, S.J.
Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit
Dear Father Editor,
I'm sure Bishop Edward Daly, in his much reported comments against mandatory celibacy for priests last September, has unintentionally overlooked that to allow priests to marry would make the spiritual situation worse. Communication with Protestant bishops and clergy has confirmed to me the long and deep experience of our Catholic Church. Despite problems, celibacy considerably helps the dynamic of following the Lord in his priestly mission, providing more commitment, love and stability. This, I would suggest, entails a greater prospect for future recruitment.
The Lord abundantly demonstrates that the quintessence of human love is personal sacrifice. This is the key to deep involvement in the life to which priests are called. The more one follows this pattern of daily taking up one's cross in love, the more our inspiring, strengthening and stabilising Lord is in the midst of it all.
I have found it helpful, especially when confronted by "heart-breaking" situations, to remember the nun who once told me, "if we do not go to God, there's nothing else". That's right yet there's more. In having God alone, we have everything. Moreover the more we turn to God, the more everybody finds something to quench our incessant thirst for love. We're all tempted to think like Bishop Daly at times but reflection upon truly following Christ shows us something deeper. Our Church possesses an enormous, sacred and unique deposit of truth on the meaning of human love. We need to explore it much more.
Fr Bryan Storey
Bossiney Rd, Tintagel, Cornwall
Letters to the Editor Faith 17
Dear Father Editor,
The Editorial of the Sept/Oct 2011 Issue of Faith seems to make the possibility of knowing and loving God very difficult. It is not only our intellect that we need, but also our will. We must desire to know God and desire to love Him. And it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to this desire, because God wants us to know and love Him.
But surely the riches of our faith are the sacraments. There we meet Christ and Christ comes to us. How can we not know our Creator when he comes and dwells in us under the guise of Bread and Wine? Quiet contemplation after reception of Holy Communion surely touches our very being with the very essence of God. This is the glory of the Catholic Faith and it needs to be continually repeated. Left to ourselves we cannot know and love God but he comes to us and all is well.
This was echoed in the Communion Antiphon the Sunday after receiving Faith, 'The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to those who are searching for his love', and Psalm 62, 'O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul thirsts'. Hence it is so important to pray before Mass, imploring Him to come to us and vivify and sustain us as we make our way into the reality for 'in Him we live and move and have our being'.
St. Ignatius (Loyola) said he learnt more about God on his knees in prayer than he did studying his theology books!
Reed Avenue, Canterbury
LUNAR CALCULATIONS AND JOHN'S GOSPEL
Dear Father Editor,
I recently read, in a Catholic newspaper, a positive review of the new book 'Jesus of Nazareth' by Maurice Casey. Yet the book's negative view of the Gospel of John's chronology is outdated.
Pope Benedict writes "... there are good reasons to consider John's account chronologically accurate... well informed concerning times, places, and sequences of events ..." (page 18 Jesus of Nazareth Part Two). Since 1983 we have had scientific evidence supporting the Pope, not Professor Casey. This shows that Mark conflates several visits of Jesus to Jerusalem into a single narrative while John separates each visit into correct historical order.
In all gospels, Jesus died on a Friday. But was this before the Passover meal while lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple (the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan) as described in John 13:1,18:28 and 19:14, or the day after (15th Nisan) as implied by Mark 14:12-16? This question was answered in 1983 by the lunar calculations of Colin J Humphreys and W Graeme Waddington, Oxford University, and refined and confirmed in 1989 by Bradley E Schaefer of NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Centre, now Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Louisiana State University. Their papers are "The Date of the Crucifixion" and "Lunar visibility and the crucifixion" and are available online. They confirm two plausible dates for the crucifixion, both in favour of John.
Totnes Walk, London