~ Familiaris Consortio #37
The basic yearning to be in relationship with another comes from your sexuality. Sexuality is a fundamental, God-given characteristic of each person which allows for the full exchange of love. It is rooted in our gender – either male or female – and is ordered to the procreation of children and to the giving and receiving of love. Sexuality is part of humanity which God saw as being “very good.”
“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul.” (CCC 2332) How true this is! Sexuality impacts our emotions, our capacity to love and create new life, and our ability to form bonds with all persons. Clearly, sexuality is part of God’s plan for us. It is what causes us to relate to one another and to live in community rather than in isolation. Sexuality is an essential part of who we are and it is meant to be cherished and respected.
Sexuality distinguishes man from woman, not only at a physical level but also emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Beginning in infancy, sexuality makes it possible for each gender to develop either maleness or femaleness. And, as it continues to develop, sexuality allows the genders to complement each other. This complementarity fully reveals the deep mystery of love revealed through what is given and how it is received.
Sexuality is meant to be expressed properly and chastely at all stages of development. Children, for instance, express their sexuality through loving actions that are sincerely given and tenderly received from others. Young adults and those who are not married also express their sexuality through genuine, selfless relationships that “will the good of the other.” For those who are married, sexuality is rightly and correctly expressed genitally through the conjugal act. Truly, the underlying purpose of sexuality is the acceptance and donation of love between human persons.
One of the greatest challenges of parenting happens when a child becomes aware of the physical expression of love between a man and a woman. It is in this awakening that the young person becomes aware that the sexual union of a husband and wife has the power to bring new life into existence. In many instances, the youth will desire the good of physical intimacy long before they are ready for marriage. The longing to “become one flesh” with another often precedes marriage by several years. This presents the youth and his or her parents with a true struggle and conflict. In order to realize and respect the deep meaning of the role of the body in human sexuality (giving oneself and receiving another as gift) the youth needs to acquire and practice the virtue of chastity.
If you think back to the section on Developing Virtue, you will recall that chastity is the virtue or firm habit that allows a person to express their sexuality according to God’s plan. When developed, chastity puts a person in control of his or her sexual appetite rather than being controlled by it. It preserves one’s capacity to discover mutual respect within relationship and the ability to receive another as a gift from God.
Chastity keeps love pure. It strengthens one’s ability to avoid temptation, respect God’s plan for human sexuality and appreciate the dignity of each person. Chastity makes it possible to freely choose sexual expression in ways that are aligned with God’s will. It is called “an apprenticeship in self mastery” because it takes time and effort to fully develop this habit.
Sexuality is part of God’s plan for human persons. It is what causes us to relate to one another and to live in community. Sexuality provides us with a longing to give ourselves fully and to accept others as gifts. It is an essential part of who we are – a part of us that needs to be cherished and respected through the practice of chastity.
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