Sometimes it appears that the only thing modernity is obsessed with is sexuality. From the debates surrounding pronouns to the question of sexual orientation, there is a deeper truth that the contemporary world reveals: human sexuality touches the core of our humanity.
It is important to understand that human sexuality is a much deeper and richer reality than human sexual expression between husband and wife. By sexuality, the Church means that “in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (CCC No. 2337). In short, it is an expression of our bodiliness – and therefore is something we share with the animals. But, the Catechism goes on to talk about how sexuality becomes “personal and truly human” when it is expressed in relationships. That is: this purely physical aspect of human sexuality also has a spiritual and personal character to it that also separates us from the animals.
The Catechism also states that sexuality “affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others” (No. 2332). It also says that “everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out” (No. 2333).
What the Catechism attempts to make clear here is that human sexuality is essential to human life and identity and is a good given us by God that brings about human flourishing.
Human Sexuality as Essential
If human sexuality is a personal living out of being embodied creatures, then a few necessary things follow. The first is that being male and female is essential to our human condition, and, more fundamentally, is a gift from God. This implies its goodness. But since it is a gift, meaning sexuality is something that is given, it is not something we make on our own. Our bodies determine our sexual expression and orientations.
This last claim is a difficult pill to swallow for contemporary society. The issues around gender and our given sex as male and female demonstrate, first, that the issue of sexual identity digs deep into our core as human beings. The fact that there are strong voices for different gender ideologies is a sign that human sexuality is a strong part of who we are. But the Church will always defend the givenness of our humanity. While it will not doubt the suffering of people who struggle with things like same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, it will always defend the fact that humanity is male and female and that the two sexes are created to be in communion with each other through the bond of marriage. These are the ends or purposes of our human sexuality. Only by living these given purposes by God do we find our identity and live more perfectly our humanity.
Human Sexuality and Human Flourishing
Human sexuality is the means by which bonds of communion are formed. This is expressed most perfectly in the bond of marriage between a man and a woman, but is not reserved to it. Human sexuality, again, is not reserved to the conjugal act. The bonds of friendship and the complementarity of the sexes are means by which the communion of persons is built up. In short, in as much as men and woman see the gift of being man and woman as core to their humanity, then society itself will flourish because of the essential character of the relationship between man and woman in the social nature of humanity. It is so essential that its disorientation can lead to the disintegration of communion in society.
This is why the Church is adamant on the male-female nature of marriage. The covenant of marriage is the “first society” and the “domestic Church.” As the relationship between the sexes is lived out in marriage, it trickles down and impacts the way the same relationship is lived out on a larger scale in society. The more the home is in harmony, the more society will grow to be in harmony, and this is all rooted in the male-female relationship that completes the total expression of being human. As Pope St. John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison. Read more from his Theological Anthropology 101 series here.