“The Church should stay out of my bedroom!”
As I continue to do some ministry at the parish and at the university level, I am more and more exposed to the challenges of pastoral ministry. This phrase has been one of them, and is it ever a delicate matter! What do you say to someone who has said this to your face? How do you respond in a charitable way?
The issue of sex is of utmost importance for the well-being of the global human family. Whatever strengthens and heals family life should be strongly encouraged. In this light, one’s faith should influence the way we live our sexuality. The first thing that needs to be communicated to someone with such an attitude, is that the Church and her pastors, above all, desire both the couple’s physical and spiritual well-being. What is taught by the Church – be it about contraceptives, harmful sexual practices, abortion, and so on – is taught out of love for the human family. This needs to be emphasized over and over again. The Church knows what is poisonous and what is life giving; she so loves the families within her that she wants what is best for them.
I am reminded of the following saying from the Gospel of Matthew: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Matt 7:9-11) The people of God are thirsty for the Truth, for what will bring them closer to God so that their lives be richer and more truly human. If they ask this of the Church, how can we give them a “stone”, or a “snake”? We must give them what is best for them, that is, “bread” and “fish”: sound and clear teachings on what gives life to a relationship and what stifles it. And we do this out of great love, not out of some sort of evil intent because we want to deprive families of the pleasures of marital life.
What also comes to mind is what is said about those who care for their loved ones: when you care about someone, you don’t hesitate to correct their ways if you see that they are going down the wrong path. Actually, once you start being silent on such matters, it is an indicator that you’ve stopped caring and loving them. Why is sex such a big deal? It seems to some that the Magisterium of the Church is obsessed with talking about it. The reality is, what happens in the bedroom affects what happens outside of the bedroom. In the Old Testament, some of the greatest troubles started with inordinate sexual behaviours. For example, the practice of polygamy began through the descendants of Cain, through Lamech who took for himself for the first time in biblical history two wives (Gen 4:17-24), clearly disturbing God’s original plan of one man and one woman. Other evils in that clan eventually led to the Flood.
Soon after the Flood, Ham, one of Noah’s sons, had an incestuous encounter with his mother, who bore him a son named Canaan (Gen 19:36-38). This led to Canaan being cursed. The offspring of Ham produced nations that constantly beat up on Israel. For example, Cush and his descendants later founded Babel (and later Babylon), and Assyria. Through Egypt (Hebrew: Mizraim) came the Philistines and the country of Egypt; through Canaan came the Canaanites. Israel was enslaved by Egypt, ensnared by Canaan, oppressed by the Philistines, annihilated by Assyria and exiled by Babylon, and it all started because of an incestuous encounter. These are but a few biblical examples.
Another thing you ought to say is that many couples today do not have a well-formed conscience: Church attendance has for the most part gone down in the last few decades and the teachings on sexual morality are not easily available. While many programs for Catholic young adults are beginning to gain momentum, they haven't been around for long. Then where do they get their sex education? Perhaps through the Cosmopolitan Magazine or MTV? The “Stay out of my bedroom” statement implies that the couple know what is right for them and so they don’t need anyone else’s “two cents”. This would be the case if they indeed had a well-informed conscience and they know all you needed to know about marital life.
The truth of the matter is that people know less and less about sexual morality and about the negative effects of contraceptives, such as the contraceptive pill. People have died because of the pill, and continue to do so! This is not to mention the physiological changes that the pill causes, such as hormonal imbalance and the thinning of the lining of the uterus. Sure, once they learn what the Church teaches about sexuality, then they can take their pick. At least they’ve been given proper instruction. No one will force anyone to live up to these teachings.
What is implied in the Bedroom Statement is the following: “What do you know about sex? You’re celibate! How can you comment?” It is true that Roman Catholic priests and religious are celibate. But following this logic, can oncologists truly treat cancer, even though they themselves don’t have it? Can a lawyer counsel his clients in a murder case, even though he himself has not killed anyone or has not been tried for murder? Psychologists most definitely don’t have to be schizophrenic to treat schizophrenia. Such thinking is absurd.
Actually, people from the outside often notice things that those on the inside don’t. Because they are not immersed in this environment, they may be struck by different aspects of the marital life that they can then bring to the couple’s attention. It isn’t like celibate people live in a vacuum. They also grew up in a family with parents and siblings; they constantly meet and have contact with married couples of all ages.
In the end, whatever happens in the bedroom is not only between man and woman. Indeed, God is always present as is the Church; for once we become a part of the Church, all that we do impacts the Church. Whatever harm or goodness happens in the bedroom most definitely impacts the mystical body of Christ, the Church. This we must also bring to the attention to these couples. They are not islands. All they do impacts others, starting from themselves and their children. It is out of love for the couple and for the Church that pastors and pastoral ministers should speak up.