This year we have the strange conjunction of Valentine’s Day falling on Ash Wednesday. It’s hard to imagine two more opposite celebrations on the same day. I would suggest that this incongruity might be an invitation from God to do some penance for the ways we have misused the gift of our sexuality. That might sound a little harsh; I guess I couldn’t find a way to sugar-coat my message.
We need to be careful to use every gift that God gives in accord with the intentions of the giver. Our sexuality is an incredibly beautiful, powerful, and precious gift. The greater the gift, the bigger the damage it can do when it is misused. This is why the misuse of the gift of sexuality is incredibly damaging and hurtful, both to ourselves and also to others.
When God gives us the gift of sexuality, this gift is meant to be given away. It is not meant to be used for our own purposes and pleasures. But too often, we fall into the trap of thinking there’s no name on this gift, and it looks so amazing, I should unwrap it and try it out. There’s no name yet; we need to keep this precious gift until we find the right person to give it to. This is why chastity is so important. Chastity is not fundamentally about “not doing it”, chastity is the way we treasure the gift until we find the person it was meant for.
Healthy sexuality, then, looks like this: If you are not married, you should not engage in sexual activity, not with other people, and not by yourself. If you are married, you should be sexually active, but only in a way that respects and deepens the free, total, faithful, and fruitful gift that you made to your spouse on your wedding day, and continue to make every day of your married life.
This, in a nutshell, is God’s simple plan for our sexuality. I know that our desires, and our choices, often fail to match up with God’s simple plan. I have come to believe that our struggles are rooted in hurts and wounds and unmet emotional needs that we may not be aware of. When we get healing for our wounds and find healthy ways to meet our emotional needs, we will find freedom and peace in the area of our sexuality. I can say from personal experience that chastity lived well is profoundly powerful and incredibly life-giving.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad, much less to throw stones at others. Only those without sin can throw the first stone, and Jesus knows full well my own struggles. I encourage you to check out my bulletin articles that cover this topic in greater depth. I hope that Lent will help you experience greater freedom and peace in every aspect of your life.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Joel Sember