Social Justice and Sexual Sins, Part II
March 20, 2020
Last Sunday I began cataloguing sins against marriage in light of the transmission of human life and the intimacy of self-giving marital love. I finished by noting that because marriage is the first and most fundamental social order, all these sins bear on social justice. Indeed, in these days of the pandemic and the extraordinary measures being taken out of concern for the public health, we can observe not only the absence of even equal concern for the more important matter of public morality, but ongoing promotion of public immorality.
So far, I have mentioned only sexual sins outside of marriage. I concluded with what is called ‘fornication’
When neither the man or the woman is married the sin is called ‘fornication’, which even though it involves a natural sexual union between a man and a woman, rather than truly ‘making love’ is pretending at ‘making love’. This is because it lacks the commitment of total self-giving and makes no adequate provision for the potential offspring. If fornication is pretending to make love, then cohabitation is ‘playing house’.
The gravity of the evil becomes much more serious when either the man or the woman, or both, are actually married. This is the sin of adultery and contains a specific and grave injustice against the spouse. Every man or woman who has ever entered a marriage with anything approaching a right intention knows that adultery is a radical betrayal of the love and trust that was given to the spouse on the wedding day. It is also a betrayal of the children who have been born of the marriage, who are deprived of the mutual love of their parents. If a child is born of the adultery, that child is from his very conception deprived of the possibility of having his parents married, while the father will be obliged to support that child, depriving his legitimate children of the some of the support that is their due. If the mother is married, she might end up imposing on her husband the need to bring up and provide for a child who is not his own.
The will of God is that children be brought into the world through the committed married love of their parents, who will then, in the normal course of things, care for their upbringing. To engage in any action that risks bringing children into the world in any other circumstance is thus a grave injustice and violation of God’s law. The present public immorality promotes a culture of adultery and divorce, depriving children of the love of their parents.
We also need to turn our attention to marriage itself, because marriage is not simply a license for sexual pleasure, but a commitment to a mutual self-gift in love, to achieve a communion of persons, in which the man and woman place themselves at God’s disposal, to collaborate with his creative power in bringing into the world new human beings created in his image.
Consequently, every use of sex in marriage, every marital act, must serve the communion of persons in love, while remaining open to the gift of life. There is no place for what I referred to above as ‘mutual abuse’, nor any sort of contraceptive sex that deliberately frustrates the possibility of a conception.
Contraceptive sex not only violates the laws of the transmission of life, but also violates the totality of the gift of self; the husband and wife hold back from each other their generative capacity, their ability to become a father or mother. In the end, contraceptive sex likens the natural sexual union to the various forms of ‘mutual abuse’. Without openness to life, true sexual union is not really achieved.
In contrast to contraception, which places a positive obstacle in the way of the generation of life, thereby truncating the marital act, both physically and in its meaning and purpose, natural family planning, which is based on making use of the woman’s natural cycle of fertility, does nothing to the act itself, except observe the time, an external circumstance. If, in order to space births, for a legitimate reason, the couple has recourse to the woman’s infertile periods, they are completely giving themselves to each, such as they are at the time.
How about couples who are sterile, whether by physical defect or by age? If marriage is ordered to the transmission of life, why are they allowed to marry? Here I think it is necessary to admit that a couple that knowingly enters into a sterile marriage do not sin, enter into a true marriage, but fall short of the full meaning of marriage. Still, they are capable of achieving the communion of persons in love through the marital act and are engaging in the same sort of act that, in other circumstances is capable of bringing forth life, while not putting any obstacle to the generation of life.
The Josephite marriage (which in one unique miraculous instance, from which this type of marriage draws its name, bore a child) is another matter altogether, since by mutual consent the couple refrains from the marital act altogether for a higher good, mutual help in belonging completely to God.
We would do well to call upon St. Joseph, the head of the Holy Family, to intercede for us and lead us away from and protect us from the ruinous destruction of our culture and lead us towards a saner, healthier, holier family life in accord with God’s plan.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.