The Goodness of Sex
Sex is, after all, a part of God's good creation (Genesis 1:28; 31). Like all creatures, sex images transcendent realities. Seen through the eyes of the spirit, physical attractiveness reflects the Divine Beauty, romantic love images the love between God and humanity. Sexual desire is an "icon", so to speak, of our longing for God, arousal signifies desire for union with our Creator. Pleasure is the physical counterpart of joy, while orgasm images mystical ecstasy.
Though the spiritual originals are "higher" than their physical images, that does not mean the latter are "bad". If sex is a dynamic icon of the Christ/Church union, then hatred of sex is a form of "iconoclasm". As the seventh century iconoclasts were wrong to despise icons of Christ and the saints made with human hands, so it would be wrong for us to despise sex, the God-made "icon" of Christ's union with the Church. Such an attitude is incompatable with a sacramental view of the universe.
Sexuality mirrors Spirituality
Some seem to have difficulty seeing this connection between sexuality and spirituality. This is expecially evident in the varying interpretations of the Song of Songs. Many past writers have adopted an allegorical view of the Song, namely, that the book is entirely symbolic of God/Christ's relationship with Israel/the Church. Another school of thought insists on a purely literal reading - that this is a divinely inspired love poem extolling God's ideal plan for marital love and sexuality, with no symbolic significance whatsoever.
I personally believe that both of these interpretations are true but not mutually exclusive. The Song of Songs presents the divine ideal for marriage and portrays Christ's love for His Bride. After all, human conjugal love is itself an allegory of the Christ-Church union, so a divinely inspired poem extolling sexual love will necessarily image the transcendent union of the New Adam and Eve.
Some espousing the allegorical view seem to believe the book must have a higher, symbolic significance because it is inspired by God (the unspoken attitude seems to be "Why would the Spirit ever inspire someone to write about sex?"). And some of the "literalist" interpreters seem unable to see how such blatantly sexual imagery could have any spiritual significance. Both of these views reflect a profound ambivalence toward the relationship of sexuality with spirituality. I believe that we can begin to heal this rift by seeing the powerful eroticism in the Song both as a literal celebration of human sexuality and a mystical image of God's infinitely passionate love for us.
The goodness of the heavenly original affirms the goodness of its physical counterpart. Thus earthly marriage and sex are essentially good, as is mystical marriage and union with God. In Catholicism, the latter two are often (but not exclusively) sought through consecrated virginity. The nun gives up marriage and sex for union with her Divine Bridegroom and the priest gives them up to serve the Church, his spiritual Bride. Properly understood, celibacy is not the rejection of a bad thing for a good thing, but the sacrifice of a good thing for a higher goal; of a symbol for its original.
Herein lies the paradox: consecrated virginity actually affirms the goodness of sex. Jesus Christ never had intercourse on earth, nor does He have literal physical coitus with Holy Mother Church, yet that does not diminish the fact that marital lovemaking on earth images their heavenly union. Even so, though Mary is Ever-Virgin, her intimate union with God and His passionate love for her are the heavenly originals of sexual union here on earth.
Gazing on her Divine Bridegroom, rapt in joyful ecstasy, Mary enjoys the unitive bliss of which a physical climax is only a hint and foreshadowing. Her passionate love for God is reflected in the eyes of every earthly bride as she gazes on her new husband on their wedding night. Her perpetual virginity does not leave her cold and loveless, for she is consumed with a Divine Love that is stronger than death, with a passion relentless as the grave, whose "flames are a blazing fire, the very flame of the Lord" (Song of Songs 8:6).
The image of the Bride of God - whether manifested in Bat Zion, Ecclesia or Mary - calls us to rejoice in the gift of sexuality and to use it for God's glory. It shows that God does not hate sex, since He uses it as a symbol of His relationship with His people. We see examples of this in Ezekiel's depiction of God "making love" to Israel (16:8-9), or Olier's statement that the God the Father loves Mary as a spouse (17), or Saint Paul's comparison of the Christ-Church union to the one flesh union of a married couple (Ephesians 5:30-31) or the parallel between the Spirit-Mary relationship and the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage. Hopefully, we can use this knowledge as a basis for a holistic and truly Christian perception of God's great gift of sexuality.
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