TO LOVE AND BE LOVED
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference

 

The Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops Speak to Youth on the Gift of Sexuality

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE SPECIAL

As young persons today you mature as adults in a world not only different from that of our own generation, but also in one much more difficult. It is an environment at times hostile to Christian values, and often exploitive in the way it treats other human beings.

This is all the more reason why we cherish and respect you for the strengths and the courage you show under pressure and in the face of troubling influences.

You are part of one of the most highly educated generations our nation has yet seen. Knowing this, we are confident for the future. But more than that, we admire you for your deep sensitivity to issues of peace and justice, for your insistence upon honesty in public life, and for the sincerity of your outreach to the poor, the disadvantaged, the elderly, and to your own suffering peers. You are helping to make Christ's love present to those who desperately need it.

WHO YOU ARE

To love and to be loved is for human beings a tremendously fulfilling experience. In this exchange we come to know who we are, where we are going, and the part others can play in our lives and we in theirs.

Adolescence is the time when you begin to experience your potential to reach out in love to another, and when your yearning for the affirmation of love in return is heightened. In the power of this need to love and receive love, which fills your whole being, you can recognize how important your own sexuality is for yourselves and also for others. Sexuality is what makes you a male or female person. It reflects itself in what you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As a male or female person you can express your sexuality then in many different ways, according to your current state in life or the vocation you have chosen.

A great part of appreciating who you are is realizing that your sexuality is a gift from God. The book of Genesis tells us in the account of creation, God our Father created us in his own image and likeness as his sons and daughters, male and female. Since he loves us this much, each of us is a lovable person. The Bible then tells us that God looked upon the way he made us — male and female — and saw that it was good (Genesis 1: 27; 31). And so because our sexuality reflects the goodness of God himself, that is why it is good. Jesus, the God-Man, as a male himself, reveals to us also the goodness of our sexuality.

It is then so important for understanding ourselves and others that we recognize that our dignity and worth as persons come from our special relationship to God. As a Father he has given us all the gifts we have, including our sexuality. Only when we appreciate our own goodness can we love and respect that same goodness in others.

Besides assuring us of our goodness, the book of Genesis also reminds us that we have been weakened by original sin. That is why we at times find it difficult to live out God's plan for using this great gift of our sexuality. This is also why at times our best self does not emerge as we would like. Quite the opposite, our worst self comes forward. When we knowingly and willingly allow this to happen, we sin — sometimes even seriously. But despite our weakness Jesus promises us his help to overcome sin.

COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS

Our sexuality relates us as male and female to one another, and can relate us to a person of the opposite sex in an emotional love relationship. At times you may find yourself in what you feel is a committed relationship by going steady. We understand how difficult it may be to delay the physical sexual expression of your feelings for each other because of the strong drives which move you to do so. But we are convinced that it is in your best interest to control those urges.

You are presently at a key time in the process of growing up. Sexual involvement now will considerably reduce the time, energy, and attention you need for personal development. This development comes through forming a variety of friendships with many persons. These friendships and different personal contacts are very important for developing your sense of who you are, your self-esteem, and for finding out what is important to you in life. Sexual involvement at this time usually means an unhealthy emotional dependence on one person, just when a successful maturing process requires having many and different kinds of contacts and friendships with others. It is on the basis of this broader experience in evaluating people that you will be able later on to make a mature judgment about the kind of person to whom you can make a permanent commitment. If your partner for life is to be your best friend, you will need a lot of experience with friendships, with sharing your ideas about life and your dreams for the future, without having sex overshadow everything else.

It is only when you actually commit yourself to your partner in marriage that there is enough guarantee for you both that the gift of yourselves to each other is really total and meant to last. This protects both of you, and it also provides a nurturing home for the children your love may place in the world. These are some of the reasons why the Church has always taught that the physical sexual expression of a mature and serious commitment has its place only in marriage.

If the intensity of your love is so strong that it makes you want to devote your whole selves and your whole lives to each other, then this desire should be supported by the commitment necessary for marriage. And if your committed love is true you will want it to last forever. It will also be a faithful love because it will exclude everyone else but the person you love.

Jesus established marriage as a lasting partnership between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:3-9), and so the Church has always taught that marriage is a sacrament which involves commitment for life. A whole life together of caring and sharing means also that you will have each other's support as you experience not only the joys and beauty of life, but also the challenges and sorrows which are a part of it.

CELEBRATING COMMITMENT

The Church has always viewed sexual intercourse as the expression of the faithful and permanent commitment which a man and a woman have made to each other in marriage. It is only in this context that a total gift of yourself — body and soul — to your partner can mean all that it is supposed to mean.

Sexual intercourse should express not only the gift of two bodies but the gift of minds and hearts as well — the gift of two persons — in true and authentic love. Genital sexual activity is the most profound and total response the physical part of you can make to another person. This total physical response or gift must then also be accompanied by a total spiritual gift of one's self — mind and heart — to be complete. Only then is it really worthy of your dignity as a person and therefore morally sound.

To engage in sexual activity in a promiscuous or casual manner means to act in a way which makes a gift of your body to another without the corresponding gift of your mind and heart in real love. This splits the person, so to speak, and turns the giving into self-seeking. This means that you are using another person. Self-seeking is also evident in solitary satisfaction which uses for oneself a gift intended for someone else.

A split also occurs when sexual intercourse excludes an openness to transmitting life. This power to pass on life is also an essential part of our sexuality. It goes hand in hand with its ability to create pleasure and sustain intimacy. Using a contraceptive, for instance, means denying an essential purpose for which God made our sexuality — to pass on life. To admit one dimension of sexuality without the other would be like giving only one part of the gift. It would be like redesigning sexuality for ourselves and not accepting it the way God made it. That is where sin enters the picture.

BUILDING A HAPPY LIFE

To love and to be loved is then in reality to respect the dignity of your own sexuality and that of others. This respect is not always easy because it sometimes imposes limitations which are difficult to accept due to the power of the sexual urges and forces within you. And many of the influences all around you offer you little help in controlling these urges.

Jesus tells us, "Love one another as I have loved you." His self-giving and life-giving love involved a cross. So too, if your love is to be self-giving and also life-giving it will always demand of you the discipline of momentary sacrifice in the interest of achieving long term happiness and fulfillment. Casual sexual activity is hardly a preparation for faithfulness in marriage and a happy married life. Putting off until marriage the genital expression of the love you find in a committed relationship can be the greatest sign of caring and respect you can show toward the person you love. This respect and caring can also be one of the best guarantees of a happy and fulfilled life together later on in marriage.

Building a happy life for yourselves means, then, celebrating your sexuality at a later time in life when you are married. But building a successful life requires putting off for the time being also many other joys and pleasures until you have completed the process of preparing yourselves for a profession or calling in life.

YOU AND YOUR WORLD

There can be no doubt that you are maturing into adulthood in an environment which is at odds with Catholic-Christian values. You deserve special, loving support as you struggle to understand and acquire for yourselves a healthy identity as a male or female person. This is difficult in a world which has cheapened sex by making it a consumer product. It is difficult also because of peer pressure from those who do not share your outlook on sexuality.

We can understand your confusion with the double standards which portray premarital and extramarital sexual activity in the media as acceptable, and yet which can turn around and condemn such conduct, for instance, in candidates for public office. Today, more than ever before, you as young persons deserve to be affirmed and supported by a clear vision of your sexuality as a gift from God and of his plan for using that gift.

GOD'S COMPASSION

At the same time you, should be aware that God understands better than any human being the difficulties and powerful urges you have to deal with in order to live God's design for the use of this gift. The supportive love God shows us in the person of Jesus Christ reassures us that even when we are weak and fail, the Lord's compassion and forgiveness are always there. Not only this, he gives us his power to overcome sin through prayer and the sacraments. But you have to try to do your part also by not putting yourselves in situations where doing the right thing is extremely difficult. Loving parents, caring educators, and understanding spiritual guides should be counted on too for encouragement and support.

Using the gift of sexuality according to God's plan can lead to the most deeply fulfilled life a human being can attain — loving and being loved. To you who yearn for such a fulfilled life, Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life and have it to the full." (John 10:10b)

 

The Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops Speak to Those Who Influence the Formation of Youth:

TO PARENTS

You are the primary and most important teachers your children will ever have. It is through your example that they receive values which will orient their lives. Your marital relationship can show them a living definition of what committed love and intimacy mean. Be sure of what your own Catholic-Christian values are regarding human sexuality. Talk about these values with your children. Use situations and examples from school, from among their friends, from what they see and hear in the media to initiate discussion and to explain to them why you feel as you do about the behaviors involved.

TO EDUCATORS

As teachers and school administrators you complement the role of parents in teaching their children the meaning of sexuality in their lives. Curricula in human sexuality education which teach both abstinence and "safe sex" are sending contradictory and therefore confusing signals to young people. Nor can education in sexuality be reduced to a treatment of mere biological facts and processes unattached to their ethical moorings in the human person. At all times the rights of conscience and religious conviction of both students and parents should be respected in the formulation of curricula in this area. You should actively encourage parents, clergy, and interested members of the community to cooperate in developing satisfactory programs.

TO THE CLERGY

Priests have a special responsibility to explain with clarity the Church's teaching on sexuality. Homilies, sacramental preparation, individual counseling and formal education programs for youth and adults should include such instruction when it is appropriate. This will not only provide sound moral guidance for young people, but help and support parents in fulfilling their responsibility as the primary educators of their children. Finally, you are called upon to be instruments of God's mercy and of compassionate human understanding in ministering to those who approach you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

TO MEDIA PROFESSIONALS

You who work professionally in the media, including television, movies, radio, theater, music and the press, have a pervasive influence in shaping societal attitudes toward human sexuality. With this potential you have comes also a profound and inescapable responsibility especially toward young people whose moral sense is in the process of formation. Consequently, financial considerations or ratings status cannot be the only criteria in producing pieces for the media. Media presentations often trivialize or even ridicule sexual abstinence in the unmarried, and faithfulness and commitment in married partners, by making these values seem out-of-date or irrelevant to real life. This does a grave disservice to young people because they are led to believe that casual sexual activity, especially so-called "safe sex," can be responsible behavior or in their best interests. On the other hand, the many presentations in the media which portray healthy family life are to be applauded for providing viable role models after which young people can pattern their own lives. We call upon you, therefore, to communicate in your productions that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God and that when it is used as ordained by Him, it fulfills one's life.

Used with permission of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference

 

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