In a recent address to bishops of the midwestern United States, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the need to present a clear understanding of Church teaching on sexuality. The overarching goal is "the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships." Current expressions of sexual liberation in the American Church demonstrate the need for such sound teaching.
I suspect that many Americans would be unwilling to hear a thing coming from our mouths on these matters, and this for good reason: a considerable number of Catholic clergy seem equally malformed, and these bruised reeds have been wielding influence over other bruised reeds. The right training of the will complements the right intellectual formation. Will and intellect both rely on a healthy disposition towards our human passions: "Are they our servant or our master?"
A man ordained a year before me had the following verse from a psalm printed on his ordination card: "Let those who trust in you not be put to shame through me, Lord of hosts" (69:6). Earlier that year (2002), the major wave of revelations began, so that verse has seemed eminently appropriate to me. "May it never be that, as a result of my actions, someone's faith in God or men is weakened."
Over the years I have been blessed to know, and entrust myself to, mentors who helped me to recognize how bruised a reed I am--how much in need of the Lord's mercy, and therefore how much in need of growth I am. Growth happens for me within the context of community. I haven't gotten very far by isolated navel-gazing; but when self-examination is supported by trust in God and leads to serving His people, it is crucial to growth.
Misaligned intellect and will…passions gone awry…this is the stuff of every brother and sister of Cain. "Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master" (Gen 4:6-7). Earlier, Cain's parents heard this from the Lord: "I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing: in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master" (3:16). What's with this "urge"?**
In Christ's vision of the human person, made explicit in every age by the Catholic Church, man receives an authentic blueprint for community and sexuality.
(1) community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ONE in THREE, giving all of Themselves (Love) to each other. Human beings live together well when they lovingly subject their unique selfhood to each other. The result is not personal suffocation, but the unhampered breath of freedom.
(2) sexuality: as the Son assumed a human body and soul, and exercised unhampered freedom precisely in His human living, He is in the best position to teach mature, vibrant interactions with adults and children. We learn from Him to be givers and not takers--each day to engage in a series of choices for others' betterment and not in compensation for any perceived personal deficits. Through such giving, one receives; through such self-forgetting, one finds--and this precisely in one's capacity to propagate the race and enter into bodily union with another.
In this enterprise (i.e. implementing in one's own life the blueprint for authentic sexuality and community) it makes no difference whether one is married or not (celibacy); but it makes all the difference when one is intentionally, prayerfully choosing to give and not to take (chastity). As a priest I learn daily that you, Church, are no consolation prize. You are the prize--and if in any way I ever treat you otherwise, so help me God I will…repent and move forward in virtue.
**I wrote a paper on the "urge" toward my M.A. in Sacred Scripture from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary (2003). Interested persons, inquire at your own risk.