I know, you’ll probably get like, “Oh please! This priest is at it again. Always claiming to know everything. Does he think he’s God?” But since I get that a lot, I really don’t mind, trust me. I would perhaps even react in the same manner if I weren’t the one writing. Right? You see, I write things that are mysterious even to me. I don’t know these things until I know them. Does that make any sense? It does to me, hope it makes sense to you too. Serving God has been enlightening for me. I have had several transformations, and today, I don’t quite know what I’ve found. But I’m certain that God gives me just the knowledge I need, one day at a time. So shhhhhh… Listen! God’s words are spirit, and although I’m one of his most unworthy servants, he lives in me.
Theology of the body for teens
Some years ago I stumbled on a book at a bookstore. It was my final year in the seminary and I was already a Reverend gentleman, anticipating priestly ordination, which was due in a few months. What caught my attention was not ‘Theology of the Body.’ I knew Pope St John Paul II had a series of his Wednesday audiences that came to be called his Theology of the Body. It was like a compendium of his teachings on Love, sex, and vocation. What caught my attention was “for Teens”. Though I was 25 at the time, no longer a teenager, I was still very much struggling with teenage related issues. So I was interested in anything that had something to do with young people. I went back, got the book out and flipped through. It had a very colourful cover; two young boys and two young girls laughing happily, without a care in the world. Something in their smile trapped me. That was it. I would spend the next few days poring over its pages like a starved baby.
On page 39 of the book, I came across a story that has remained with me till date. “In the early Christian Church, several Bishops were gathered outside a Cathedral in Antioch, when a beautiful prostitute passed by on the street. Upon noticing her, the crowd of bishops looked away to avoid being seduced. Bishop Nonnus, however, stared intently at her, and then said to his fellow bishops, ‘did not the wonderful beauty of that woman delight you?’ The bishops remained silent. Nonnus insisted, ‘indeed it delighted me,’ but he wept for her. When the prostitute saw how the bishop looked at her, she was caught off guard. No man had ever looked at her with such purity. He was not lusting after her, but rather saw something in her that she did not even see in herself. The simple purity of that one bishop’s glance marked the beginning of her conversion to Christ. She soon returned to find him, and today, we know this former prostitute as St Pelagia.”
Negative vs positive purity
St Pelagia was used to lustful stares from men. She loved it and even yearned for it. It was business for her, and she lived on its proceeds. In a sense, the other bishops in our story had negative purity. That was why they looked away from the beauty of the prostitute. They were right to avoid the occasion of sin of course, by turning from what, for them, would have been a serious temptation – but God ultimately wants to transform our hearts so much so that we’re no longer afraid we will lust every time we see an attractive person. This was the freedom expressed by Bishop Nonnus. The same freedom that God used in letting St Pelagia grow above the habit of letting herself be used by men.
Love in a brothel?
We all want sex, one way or another. We have a serious thirst for something we don’t know. So we begin to search, sometimes in the oddest of places, seeking pleasure and fulfilment, till we end up totally wasted, or believing whatever we seek can’t be found. The man who goes to the brothel seeks something more than sex; unknown to him, he yearns for love. But he never gets love in the arms of a prostitute because he’s looking in the wrong place. So he keeps coming back till he loses his inner peace. The teenager who experiments with masturbation, pornography, fornication, and other forms of sexual perversion seeks love. He/she may not know, but it’s true. IF SEX WERE THE ULTIMATE KEY TO LIFE THEN ALL MARRIED PEOPLE SHOULD BE IN PARADISE!
Understanding our Vocations!
Failed marriages alone can testify that sex is not what we need. But we also have failed relationships that were sexually active while they lasted. These again testify that sex isn’t the answer. What we want is love. And love is a decision. It comes from deciding to make a self gift to another. When we continue to see marriage as a way of easing our lust we will constantly fail. Lust does not go on holiday just because we’re married. In the same vein, celibacy isn’t all about abstaining from sex. This is most absurd. Celibacy just like marriage, is a decision to make a self gift to another. In marriage, one makes this self gift to a spouse and decides to channel all energies towards making the decision worthwhile. They strive to always act in the best interest of the one they have decided to love. In celibacy, this self gift is directly to the people of God. Both vocations ultimately lead to union with God.
If we continue to think of marriage as an outlet for lust or sexual tension, we’re bound to see the religious life as sexual repression. This leads to a general attitude of negative purity. Pleasure isn’t happiness. In fact, repeated pleasures in the wrong contexts could lead to bondage. The married person and the celibate should therefore strive to attain a level of positive purity, where every attractive person no longer appears as a potential situation for sin. This comes by grace and self control – gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The idea here isn’t to downplay sex or make it dirty. The idea is to make sex assume the dignity it has as a sacred expression of the intimacy between couples. Love is possible without sex. But sex is catastrophic without love. Finally, St Augustine, who was himself a sinner through and through says to us “our hearts are restless, till they rest in God.”
If there were a better way, I would be the first to write about it. Trust me!
God bless you!