A FRESH, SPIRITUAL WAY OF THINKING
Bishop John J. Myers
To the Young of Our Church and Community

Introduction

The love of God the Father sheds light upon every aspect of human existence. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not simply a program for getting into heaven that has little to do with life here and now. The plan that God has revealed to us in Christ is a plan that has everything to do with life here and now in the period of history in which we find ourselves[1].

Today, however, the teachings of Christ and His Church are frequently presented as "old fashioned" or "unrealistic." Many people claim that the Church is "behind the times," that she does not understand what life is all about or what people are experiencing. Some even go so far as to demand that the Church change and approve ideas and patterns of behavior that we have always known to be contrary to God's plan.

The confusion that comes from such mistaken ideas about human existence has had a terrible impact. Many people claim to believe but have no clear idea about the God they believe in. There seem to be as many ideas about God as there are people. It appears that people fashion for themselves "gods" they can feel comfortable with. When the teachings of the Lord which are handed on by His Church, become difficult for groups or individuals, Jesus is simply re-defined.

This distorted understanding of God, Christ, and His Church leads to misconceptions about the meaning and identity of the human person and the human family. These misconceptions manifest themselves most alarmingly in the tragic collapse of the ethical principles of solidarity and respect for the sanctity of human life. Our times are marked by ethnic tension at home and outright warfare abroad; by a hardening of hearts toward the poor, the sick, and the suffering; by the killing of the unborn and the abandonment of the elderly. The lesson of our age is that the problems of the human family only intensify when God is forgotten.

The hope for combating all that seeks to destroy solidarity and to devalue human life is rooted in a genuine knowledge of Jesus Christ and the God whom He reveals. It is in Christ that we encounter the God whose every concern and action is for our well-being and our redemption. Through a personal encounter with Jesus, the firstborn of all creation, we come to a correct knowledge of ourselves. The Son of God made flesh reveals the meaning of human existence, the plan that existed from the foundation of the world.

God's plan touches every aspect of our existence and every dimension of our lives. It is not surprising, therefore, that misunderstanding the truth about God has led to misconceptions about the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of human sexuality. The purpose of this letter is to help you reflect on the truth about God and, therefore, the truth about human existence. As the custodian of the teachings of Christ, the Church is by no means behind the times; she is always ahead of them. Our age needs to catch up to the Church and to conform itself with the mind of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.


I. The Human Person

A. The Human Person is an Image of God

For the Christian family, the truth about the human person is beautifully described in the Book of Genesis. Against the background of the creation of our world, we learn important and necessary truths about God, about ourselves, and about everything that exists. We learn that "In the beginning" God desired to share Himself and so freely created us and our universe as an act of love:

We believe that God created the world according to His wisdom. It is not by blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God's free will; He wanted to make His creatures share in His being, wisdom, and goodness[2].

Because God was not compelled to create anyone or anything, everything that exists is the fruit of His freely given love. The wonder and the beauty of creation should move us in love and gratitude toward the God who made the earth, the sea, the sky, and all that they contain.

We also learn from the story recounted in Genesis how God's crowning achievement was the creation of the human family. Out of everything that God makes, only man and woman are made in His image and likeness. As good and beautiful as the plants, the animals, and all of nature may be, nothing compares with the goodness and beauty of humanity. Only women and men are images of God.

But what does it mean to be made in God's image? While the full meaning of this is revealed by Jesus in His teaching about the intimate living communion we call the Trinity, the truth of God's nature is already present in the Book of Genesis[3]. When God chooses to create the human family He says, "Let us make man in our image and likeness." These words prepare us for Jesus' teaching about the Trinity and about the intimate loving communion that is the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Being created in the image of the God who is three persons in One, we can love in a way that reflects the love of the Persons of the Trinity. This is not merely an ideal for which the Christian strives, it is the truth about how we have been made.

The truth about the original beauty and meaning of the human person is revealed in the account of the creation of the human family found in Genesis, chapter 2:

The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man[4].

In the description of Adam's solitude, we find insights into our own lives, insights that are beyond what a literal reading would convey. When Adam realizes that no created thing can relieve his solitude, God moves to satisfy Adam's longing for intimate, loving, and life-giving companionship. Only someone like Adam, who has been made in God's image, will be able to love the way that Adam longs to love and be loved. God creates the woman not as an object for the man, but as someone who also longs for love and who can love him in return. Through the complementarity of their bodies and their gifts, the man and woman will be able to love like God: freely, completely, exclusively, and fruitfully[5].

B. Sexual Awakening: Freedom to Choose the Good

This sexual awakening of Adam and Eve contains both a bodily and a spiritual dimension. In the presence of one another, each awakens to the truth about the capacity of the human body for giving and expressing love. God confirms this truth for them when He blesses their union—"Be fruitful and multiply[6]." In the light of this truth about the human body, Adam chooses to give himself to the woman and praises the dignity they share in common, "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.[7]" Though their bodies are different, it is through them that they are to become one. Their bodies allow them to give visible expression to the love out of which they have been created.

Adam's encounter with Eve, however, is primarily spiritual. The Book of Genesis is describing a spiritual awakening in which the woman and man recognize their freedom to give themselves to one another. Only in the presence of one another do the man and the woman understand the truth about the loving nature of God, and thus the truth of their existence: to share with one another the love that God has shared with them. They also learn that their love can give life, that their love can participate with God in creating another person. In fact, God has so created human beings that they can only discover their true identity through this "sincere gift of self" that describes the type of loving for which they have been made[8].

But to live this way, God must be the center of their lives. True loving communion is only possible if the man and the woman accept that God knows what is best for them. This is made clear when God commands them not to eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden:

The Lord God gave the man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die[9]."

At that moment, the man and the woman discover something important about their own freedom. They can choose to cooperate with God or to abandon His plan. They recognize that they are free even to sin—in their relationship with God, in their relationship with one another, in their interaction with nature.

The reality of their freedom is made clear in the account of original sin in Genesis, chapter 3. Since the man and the woman are not forced to obey the Lord's command, they respond to God in freedom. The original sin of the man and the woman in the garden was their rejection of the Lord's authority over their lives and their rejection of His authority over nature.

The practical consequence of their decision to determine what is best for themselves is a radical break in their relationship with God, with one another, and with nature, That which was created to give expression to God's way of loving is no longer seen as beautiful. Private or personal sin has an exterior dimension. That which is most good and true and beautiful can, because of sin, be regarded as something bad, something dishonest, and something ugly. Thus, ashamed of their bodies, the man and the woman hide as much from one another as from God.

Fractured by sin, naked and ashamed, they try to conceal themselves in the garden. In spite of their sin, the Lord reaches out to them. He calls the man and the woman to step into the light of His presence. In conversation with the couple, the Lord explains the full impact of their rejection of His authority. God describes the dimensions of this original sin: it hinders their relationship with Him, with each other, and with nature. Sin has touched every aspect of their existence.

But the Lord does not call out to them only to explain the effects of sin. In the midst of His explanation, God gives the man and the woman something to hope for. God promises that redemption will come to them, that the far-reaching effects of original sin will be made right. In the promise of salvation, God guarantees that we will once again be able to live as He has created us: in loving communion with Him and with one another[10].


II. Spiritual Awakening: The Meaning Of Human Existence

A. Sexual Maturity and Personal Growth

As the Book of Genesis teaches, our sexual nature is related to the deepest spiritual truths about being human. These truths can be understood even after the fact of original sin because our bodies continue to bear the imprint of their Creator. Sin does not take this away, it just makes this imprint more difficult to see[11]. Yet, in the Light of Christ these truths about the dignity of the human person—body, soul, and spirit[12]—have been revealed. The Church's teaching on human sexuality provides insights into the changes that occur as one grows from a child into a young adult.

This important time of growth is really a spiritual awakening like that of Adam and Eve before they sinned. The changes of your body should awaken within you a new and deeper understanding of yourself, of others, and of the meaning of human existence. Sexual maturity is not merely one stage of life among others. It is the stage in life when we begin to recognize more fully the meaning of human existence. We quite naturally begin to appreciate other persons in their own uniqueness. We understand the need for friendship and for human community, especially that of the family. Through the sexual development of our bodies, we encounter in a personal way the beautiful mystery of being human. We come to see ourselves as women and men capable of a genuine and fruitful union of body and spirit.

Unlike animals, who respond to the urges and inclinations of their bodies only by instinct, we awaken to the sexual dimensions of our bodies in terms of freedom. We are not to respond to the drives of our bodies in the same way that animals respond to theirs. During our sexual development we are faced with important decisions about the true and proper way of responding to the drives and feelings that accompany these changes. But we are not determined or enslaved by the drives and urges of our bodies. They are not forces over which we have no control. They are not given only for our pleasure. The human person is called to allow the actions of the human body to communicate honestly the plan of God written on the heart.

B. Living God's Plan for Us

Following God's plan, however, is not always easy. At every moment of our sexual awakening, we remain free to decide how we will respond to the changes of our bodies. Like the man and the woman of the garden, we can push aside the God of all creation who has ordered the sexual union of husband and wife as an expression of love and the source of new life. We are free to separate ourselves from His wisdom and authority, and to try—though we will fail—to establish for ourselves what is good and true and beautiful. Without knowledge of the spiritual truths that emerge during our sexual awakening, we may come to think that sex is just another dimension of life in the body. Like the man and the woman in the garden, we may even come to regard our sexual nature as something shameful and embarrassing.

The way we choose to respond to the changes of our bodies should respect the truths of human sexuality that have been revealed by God, and it should be in harmony with the purpose for which God created us male and female. The meaning of human sexuality is not imposed or determined by individuals, social customs, or political mandates. While these may positively or negatively influence how we think about ourselves as sexual beings, the true meaning of human sexuality is in the way God created us. The teachings of the Church not only affirm the worth and splendor of the body, they also prevent the body from being thought of as an instrument capable of expressing "whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want." The human body is not merely an instrument of personal pleasure. The human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. After all, it is in bodily union that spouses are able to give expression to that loving communion of Father, Mother, and Child that shares in and mirrors the very life of the Persons of the Trinity[13].

C. Celibacy as an Expression of Loving Communion

Another way in which this living communion is made present in the world is through the lives of those women and men who have taken the vow of celibacy. In every age, God calls men and women to be a sign to the world of the presence of His kingdom. Those who respond generously to God's call are united to the Church in a way similar to that in which a man and a woman become united in marriage. Celibacy is the sign that they have given their lives as a sincere gift to God and His Church. This sincere gift of self raises men and women to a way of loving that, like marriage, is also meant to bear fruit. Celibacy is not an abnormal way of life that brings loneliness and isolation. The symbolic meaning of celibacy has been confirmed by Christ Himself, who lived His earthly life in a celibate state but who nonetheless affirmed the dignity of marital union. Celibacy and married life each in its own way serves to manifest the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of human existence. Like married life, celibacy is a profound way of loving, a comprehensive way of life filled with many blessings.

Unfortunately, many people have difficulty understanding the purpose and meaning of the celibate state of life. This has happened because the truth about the naturally symbolic meaning of the sexual act is widely rejected. While the claim is made that sexual expression does pertain to love in some way, few are willing to accept that there is only one type of loving to which human sexual activity is properly directed. Like Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss that should have expressed friendship and affection, many people try to impose their own meaning upon human sexual activity. As a result of this serious mistake, not only is the worth of the human body diminished, but love itself becomes completely misunderstood and, ultimately, is rendered meaningless[14].


III. Seeking The Truth

A. Seeking the Truth with Your Parents

The desire to know the truth of human sexuality is part of the process of bodily change. During sexual development it is both natural and good to want to understand what is happening to your body. Unfortunately, many young people are not sure whom they should speak to, or how to ask questions. Since the physical changes concern that which is most personal and private, people often feel embarrassed or uncomfortable asking questions about the meaning of these changes. But we all need those questions answered, and there is no one in the world more appropriate to ask than your parents.

Because a husband and wife become one flesh in marriage, you are the sign of that one-flesh unity!

The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord[15]."

As the embodiment of your parents' love for one another, you proceed as the fruit of their unity in a way that resembles the procession of the Holy Spirit from the love between the Father and the Son. Your parents love you for yourself, but also for the way you express their love of one another. Their immense love for you is what best clarifies the Fourth Commandment, "Honor your Father and your Mother." You honor them by allowing them to live out their proper role as your teachers. By sharing their own wisdom, and, especially, by sharing the deepest truths of our Catholic Faith, they demonstrate how they want what is best for you: that you know yourself as a child of God.

It is my hope that this letter will serve as a starting point for your discussions, providing a common ground for working together toward understanding the teachings of the Lord and His Church. The path to understanding these teachings can be just as difficult for your parents as it may be for you. They may worry about not having a complete or adequate answer to give. They may also feel that some of their own past choices, or even choices they are currently making, prevent them from sharing with you the beautiful truth about our ability to express ourselves sexually. It may be difficult for them of share with you what they have learned with great struggles, and even with pain. You need to let them know that you do not expect them to be perfect or to have all the answers at once. Seek the truth together; listen to one another, and your love for each other will only grow and deepen.

Because the spiritual and moral side of being a person is frequently omitted from the discussion about human sexuality, seeking the truth with your parents is extremely important. It is not enough that you know how your body works; you are not simply an intelligent animal. The truths of biology must be understood in the light of the truths of the spirit. Animals follow biology instinctively. We, however, know the God-given purposes of our sexual biology and make choices in light of what God created us to be. Without knowledge of God's purposes, our ability to express ourselves sexually can be shallow and trivial. Instead of being the great gift that God intends it to be, human sexuality can easily become a burden or a source of pain. Unfortunately, our public schools are not allowed to teach human sexuality in all its fullness. If you attend a public school, realize that your teachers do want what is best for you, but they are not allowed to teach you what your parents can about the fullness of life in Christ.

B. Seeking the Truth with Friends

In your teens, it is not uncommon that the questions you have about the changes you are experiencing are discussed with friends. While it is important to have people with whom you feel comfortable in discussing such personal issues, this can cause problems. Since much sexual education excludes mention of the spiritual truths and innate values of human sexuality, it is likely that your friends are also unaware of the full truth and meaning of human sexuality. Knowledge of the biological changes of the human body does not guarantee knowledge of the deeper and more fundamental truths of human sexuality. While friends and peers can be of some help, they may not be able to explain what you really want to know. It is absolutely essential that you not settle for partial or limited information.

C. Seeking the truth in Today's World

Today there are countless social pressures that completely contradict the truth of human sexuality. We live in a world that has lost sight of and outright denies these spiritual truths. Political leaders, the media, social behavior, family conditions, entertainment trends, all can work against how you should think about and experience the changes of your body. Wanting to know the truth and wanting to live by it is difficult today.

Against the negative influences of modern culture, the Church raises her voice, speaking positively and consistently about the goodness and the true meaning of human sexuality. The teachings of the Lord should be part of your sexual education. They are not one <possible> way of living and expressing oneself sexually. They are the <truly human way> that guarantees that the experience of sexual union will be exactly what it is meant to be. The way of the Lord Jesus is the only way that will make you truly free and lead you to personal fulfillment. The Church takes seriously her responsibility to preach the truth, even in the face of great difficulties, because she knows that the truth is best for you.

In light of her responsibility of teach the truth about human sexuality, the Church has an obligation to offer support to those trying to live the Christian way of life. It is not enough that we speak the truth; we must help people in living it out. As young women and men who hunger to know the truth and who want to experience the freedom that comes in living as sons and daughters of God, you have the right to expect the Church to provide you with what is necessary to be sustained in living the truth.


IV. Living The Truth

A. A Matter Of The Heart

As I have mentioned before, living the truth of human sexuality is not an easy undertaking today. Most public educational systems either ignore or deny that there is a spiritual meaning to human sexuality. However, biological data and statistical information about current sexual attitudes and practices alone is not sufficient for making decisions that will have a lasting impact on the way you think of yourself and others. Information about the body and information about contemporary sexual attitudes and practices must be complemented with the spiritual truths that are expressed in the Christian way of life.

We must not forget, however, that the Christian way of life is more than simply learning what the Church teaches about the nature, the beauty, and the dignity of human sexuality. Fundamentally, the Christian way of life is a matter of the heart—an accepting response to the truths of Christ expressed by the choices we make in living out our lives. While this response, at times, may be displayed heroically—as in the case of martyrdom—it is most often displayed through the common activity of one's daily life; at home, at school, at work, and at play. The ability to give heroic witness to Christ is dependent upon living out all the dimensions of life according to the life of Christ. It is not so much a matter of obeying laws as it is a matter of looking at oneself, at others, and at all of creation and seeing the purposes for which God has created all things.

Today, because of changes in cultural outlook about sex, the Christian vision of human sexuality might seem to be merely the imposition of laws. All too often this is how the Church's teachings on such sensitive issues as abortion, contraception, premarital sex, masturbation, and homosexuality are presented[16]. But once we find ourselves in the loving glance of Christ, once we see ourselves and others as Christ sees us and them, we cannot help recognizing that the unselfish way of life He calls us to is the only way that makes sense and that fulfills us.

It should come as no surprise that living this more meaningful and fulfilling way of life is neither easy nor automatic. To live in the truth, we must allow Jesus to be part of our everyday lives. God is not distant and uninterested in the difficulties and challenges we face. In Jesus Christ, God comes to us as we are, fully aware of the burdens that result from living in a world disordered by sin. Through Christ, God offers us the possibility of living and experiencing, right now, all that perfects us as persons created in the image and likeness of God. Like Christ, the Church calls us to life in the Spirit, whom Christ has given as our helper and our guide[17].

B. Remaining Close to Jesus

For the Spirit to animate our lives, we must be united with Jesus in a close personal relationship. Like all healthy relationships, our relationship with Christ requires that we spend time with Him, honestly sharing the secrets of our hearts. Living the truth requires an ongoing conversation with the Son of God. But a life of prayer does not work like magic. The recitation of formal prayers, while valuable, is not enough to enable us to live the truths we profess. Like the work required in school for growth in learning, like the physical discipline and training required for enhancing one's ability to play sports, like the work required for developing skills necessary to express beauty in drama, art, and music—the new life offered by Jesus Christ requires work and discipline, and it always involves struggle. But living this new life is possible with His grace and with the help of your parents, your priests, and others who are able to be of assistance.

The life that grace makes possible is characterized by a freedom that is more than just the absence of restrictions. The freedom that comes through the grace of Christ and through the animating power of His Spirit enables us to face any situation—however difficult—looking toward God, Who is the true and ultimate good of the human person. With the freedom that comes from being a child of God, one recognizes that each action is a personal statement, that each action says something about "who I am." True freedom comes when one's actions honestly express the truth about self that has been revealed by Christ. By the power of the love of Christ present within, one is always able to act in a way that honestly affirms the dignity of self, as well as he dignity of others.

C. True Sexual Friendship and Freedom

This affirmation of human dignity is helpful in understanding all that the Church teaches about human sexuality. The misuse of one's sexuality does not lead the individual to sexual integration but to disintegration. For example, masturbation leads a person to regard the body as merely an instrument of personal pleasure. The sexual act is demeaned when it is expressed outside the context of married love. In this same sense, sexual activity between members of the same sex always fails to express that which the persons involved are trying to communicate with their bodies, namely a mutual surrender in love that ought to blossom into new life. In this case, the naturally symbolic language of the body is distorted. Love becomes characterized as one's willingness to bring pleasure to one's partner. Completely absent from this type of physical sexual encounter is the deeper and more profound expression of love in which a man and a woman united in marriage become "one Flesh" through, with, and in terms of their bodies.

Because of the strength of sexual drives that can sometimes seem overwhelming, it is essential to develop habits of self-discipline as you grow and experience the changes associated with sexual development. This development will include not only the ability to refuse those attitudes and actions that demean truly human sexuality, but also the strength to hold yourself to doing what is right. You will succeed to the extent that your spiritual life is nourished and deepened. Since we are not always fully aware of the different ways in which our feelings, thoughts, and ideas are influenced—living the truth requires first that we regularly examine the degree to which the circumstances of our daily lives affect us and second, that we make changes whenever necessary and whenever possible.

This examination is particularly important in terms of our friendships and our social behavior. Being surrounded by people who share our beliefs and who honestly try to live up to them can be of great support. Just knowing other young men and women who have chosen to live the heroic life to which Christ calls us can help us in living according to the plan that God has given to our human sexuality. By the same token, some friendships can be harmful. Often, people who consider sex to be merely a source of pleasure are already living lives that are not chaste. Friendships with those who practice contraception, for instance, and who perhaps are prepared to resort even to abortion, may lead you in a direction that is ultimately self-destructive. Though friendships are a good and vital part of life, they should always move you toward positive growth and personal enrichment. The conviction with which you live the truths of human sexuality may be the means for helping your friends to experience the freedom you have found in life with Christ.

Your commitment to the truth is especially important when you begin dating. The chance to grow close to someone—sharing thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, struggles and difficulties—is a good and beautiful part of life. But this must be preserved through boundaries that allow for living the truth and for growing freely in love. Being honestly committed to living the truth means being careful that activities and situations, ways of showing affection, and manners of dress respect the dignity of self and the dignity of others.


V. Chastity As A Christian Lifestyle

Like all Christians, you have been called to be a light to the world. While Jesus associated with sinners, He did not act as they did in order to be "one" with them. People admired and respected the differences born of His holiness. Your commitment to chastity will set you apart from the culture in which you were born. Living this freedom that has virginity as its hallmark will bring both admiration and scorn. Like Jesus, you may encounter ridicule from those who do not yet see the truth. You must, therefore, be strong in your convictions, and you should try, with charity, to help others discover the freedom you have found.

The preservation of one's virginity allows the vows of marriage to achieve their most joyful expression. Virginity is a great and beautiful gift that a man and a woman united in the sacrament of marriage, can give to one another. To be able to share with one's spouse that which has never been given to another is a tremendous sign of love. Virginity should not be the exception; it should be the norm. Women and men need to discover the beauty and dignity that comes when the ultimate gift of self has been reserved exclusively for their spouse.


Vi. Starting Anew: Life In Christ

Given the negative influences of our culture, men and women often learn the truth of Christ's teaching on human sexuality from experiences of pain and alienation that result from unchaste sexual encounters. One's virginity is most often given away in ignorance, doubt, or confusion. But virginity, as a response to the truth of human sexuality, can be regained. A conscious decision to live the truth and to secure one's life from the pressures and demands of a culture that distorts the meaning of sex will allow the exchange of marriage vows to be a solid testament to the power of God's Word and to the saving action of His Son.

We are all called to be holy. We are called to live upright and generous lives that are in union with our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church honors the saints as people who became holy by intimately binding their life to Christ. This does not mean that they never sinned. It means that when they did sin, they were willing to admit it, and that through the Sacrament of Reconciliation—in which we experience God's forgiveness—they were willing to start over, as often as that was necessary. What lies at the heart of the human struggle to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is the willingness to seek forgiveness and to begin anew.

By confessing our sins, we rededicate ourselves to the truth and move forward in the power of Christ's love. Jesus wants no one to remain in the painful isolation of sin. Acting against the truth of human sexuality leaves people in pain. Jesus desires that all people know and experience fullness of life as a lived reality, despite their background, their family condition, or their self-defeating attitudes. Nothing stands in the way of the life Jesus offers, except the will of the individual.

While it is understandable that you may sometimes become discouraged, the message of Jesus should never lead to despair. Life in Christ is an on-going relationship. Through our growth in this relationship with Christ, we are transformed from glory into glory. But we cannot expect to understand fully what it means to be in relationship with Christ in an instant. We should be willing each day to turn our lives over to Him more and more. We should be willing to try responsibly to live as He commands, being willing to accept His loving forgiveness when needed and to learn from our mistakes. We should allow the peace of Christ to permeate our lives. No one should feel incapable of living the truths of Christ. By the power of His grace, everyone can live and experience fullness of life, today.

The Church calls you and all the world to a life that affirms the spiritual truths of human sexuality. Her teaching is not merely about abstaining from sex before marriage. It is a way of life, a manner of thinking and acting according to the truth of human and divine loving. The Christian vision of human sexuality brings the freedom to live and to express oneself honestly, celebrating and experiencing the beauty and the joy of human sexuality.


VII. Meeting The Challenge: Recommendations For A Chaste Life

Life itself is an exciting adventure filled with many possibilities and challenges. Among them is living honestly our sexual identity according to the plan God has intended from the beginning. Let me offer some concrete steps that you can take:

1. Develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a love for His teaching as presented by the Church. Pray daily and ask the Lord for help, for strength, for wisdom, and, when it is necessary, for forgiveness. Attend Mass every Sunday, and, when possible, even more often. Go to confession regularly—at least once a month. Read the Bible and reflect on what you've read. Learn traditional prayers, like the rosary, which Christians have used for centuries to stay focused in their relationship with God[18].

2. Talk with your parents, priests, teachers, and other trusted adults about your questions and your problems. It may not be easy at first, but it will grow easier.

3. Take responsibility in your own life. Know who you are and what you are about. Rather than going along with the crowd, join with your friends in living a new way, a better way, a way that Jesus has pointed out to us and continues to show us through His Church.

4. Cooperate with your parents when they try to help you learn to set appropriate directions and appropriate limits in your life. They may not always be right, but they are always your parents, and they always love you.

Our society has many problems, many of which can be traced to the improper use of God's gift of sexuality. Our society will be healed, renewed, and restored first in the minds and hearts of individuals who are willing to live the truth, even when it is not easy. Rather than continue the culture of death, I challenge you and your friends to join thousands of other persons of goodwill to begin to build "a civilization of love[19]" that respects each human person as a gift from God. You need not wait; in fact, you <must> not wait. The decisions you are making will shape not only your life now and your future, but also the future of our world. Living the truth of God's plan for human sexuality will be an important part of that undertaking.


VIII. Conclusion: True Freedom As God's Beloved Children

The promise of salvation found in the Book of Genesis has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. By the power of grace that flows from the Cross, we are able to live and express love according to the plan of God. For those who have accepted Jesus Christ and who have been re-created in the waters of Baptism, the body has been redeemed. Through Christ, men and women are able to live as God's children now[20], according to the plan that was from the beginning.

The splendor of this plan stands in opposition to modern ways of thinking that regard young people in the most condescending manner. Do not be deceived and demeaned; you are not slaves to sexual passions. You are young men and young women created in God's image, created for loving others as God loves you. This is not an ideal; it can be your destiny. But to live out God's plan, you must see yourselves the way God sees you: no longer burdened and limited by the conditions of sin, but as His very own, as the one He loves[21].

The vision that must be yours is perfectly displayed in the life of Mary, the Mother of God. Her role in the salvation of the human family was made possible by her willingness to see and accept God's plan, even though it did not seem possible: "How can this be since I have no knowledge of man?[22]" Mary's fruitfulness is a sign that the dignity of human sexuality is based on God's plan and initiative. By the power of the Holy Spirit, she bears the fruit of God's love for us, the Eternal Son wedded to human flesh for all eternity. Mary's "Yes" to God's plan affirms that we can, like her, live out God's design by our own willingness to see and to accept all that has been revealed about the meaning and dignity of human existence.

The same power that enabled Mary's love of God to bear fruit for the whole world is present in the Church. Through God's gift of the Holy Spirit, the Church is the privileged community where today we encounter this fresh, spiritual way of thinking. The Church is not at odds with our bodily existence; she is its greatest defender. As men and women who long to love and be loved, the Church is the community through whom this longing is fully and properly explained. She is the community that nurtures and protects our ability to love. She is herself a loving communion, the very union of God and His human family. She is the Bride of Christ whom God sends to draw all peoples to Himself. Let no one deceive you: the Church is not the enemy of human sexuality, she is its truest champion.

Given at my Chancery, the 9th date of January, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in the year of Our Lord 1995.

Most Reverend John J. Myers, S.T.L., J.C.D Bishop of Peoria


Endnotes

1. Cf. Ephesians 1:3-10.

2. <Catechism of the Catholic Church>. (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company), 1994, p. 77, #295. For a fuller treatment of the Church's Teaching on creation and on human nature see part 1, article 1, nos. 355-424.

3. Ibid., p. 63, #237.

4. Cf. Genesis 2:18-20.

5. <Humanae vitae>, "On the Regulation of Birth," (July 25, 1968). English translation, United States Catholic Conference, #9, pp. 5-6.

6. Cf. Genesis 1:28.

7. Cf. Genesis 2:23.

8. <Gaudium et spes>, "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," 24.

9. Cf. Genesis 2:15.

10. See Pope John Paul II, <Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis>, (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1981), p. 41, ff. 1. The Holy Father demonstrates the reasoning behind his interpretations of Genesis 3:15 as containing a Messianic significance.

11. <Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education>, (Rome: Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education), 1983, p. 10, #26.

12. Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. For an explanation of this passage see <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, Op. cit., p. 93, #367.

13. <Educational Guidance in Human Love>. Op. cit., pp. 9-10. See also <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, Op. cit., pp. 94-95.

14. The natural symbolic meaning of human sexuality can never be removed from the sexual act; it can only be denied.

15. Cf. Genesis 4:1.

16. For a clear and concise presentation of the Church's teaching on matters pertaining to marriage, see <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, Op. cit., part two, article 7, nos. 1601-1666.

17. Cf. Galatians: 4:6-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8.

18. The <Catechism of the Catholic Church> has a beautiful section on prayer and the spiritual life that forms all of part 4 of the <Catechism>.

19. Pope John Paul II, "Letter to Families, " (February 2, 1994). English translation: <Origins>, (March 3, 1994), no. 37, pp. 640-52.

20. Cf. 1 John 3:2.

21. The proper object of the Father's love is Jesus, the Eternal Son. Through our incorporation into the life of Christ, the Father's love for us is extended through the person of His Son. Thus, we can say that God sees us as his own because He sees us in Christ. The love God has for us is the very love He has for His Son. Since Jesus is our way into the life of God, our experience of God's life and the loving communion that is proper to God's will come to use meditated through the Divine Son.

22. Cf. Luke 1:35.


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