Putting the Soul Back in Sex by Rebecca Barclay

As Christians we are called to take all areas of life and render them unto Christ.  Perhaps the way that this is most necessary in the present times is to take back the bedroom, and the marriage bed, for the sake of Christ.  We live in a time where sex is used to in many different ways—from one-night stands to ‘free love’, from selling toothpaste to selling cars to selling children across seas.  It’s used in jokes and it’s used in song lyrics.  The question can be found on the tongues of the most sincere seekers to the most nonchalant: “What’s the big deal with sex?”

When I was growing up there was a hit song with the following lyrics:

You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals

So let’s do it like they do on the discovery channel

This song debuted as the lead song for the Bloodhound Gang’s album “Hooray for Boobies” in 1999.  I was eleven at the time, but knew almost all the words before quite understanding their meaning.  The phrase quoted above states the exact problem with modern thinking in regards to sex, and this is exactly where we must begin as Christians.  ‘We aren’t anything but mammals.’  If we were nothing but mammals, there truly wouldn’t be a problem with modern culture’s approach to sex.  However, we are a union of body and soul—and we must figure out what difference our immortal souls make—both for sex and for the rest of life.

This is what separates us from other ‘mammals.’  We have within us the ‘breath of God.’  This breath of God, this soul we’ve been given–this is what is made in the Image and Likeness of God.  The soul gives us two capacities above other creatures: the ability to know and the ability to love (free will).  We are made in the image and likeness of God because we, like Him, are capable of knowing and of loving.  The human person is a union of a body and a soul.  Until we fully embrace this truth we will always be falling short of the holiness and greatness to which we are called.  Christ came to set us free—and He came fully human and fully God.  Almost all heresies and ill-thinking in theology are a result of misunderstanding the truth that Christ both God and man, fully; that we are a body-soul union, created to participate in Christ, fully.

To be fully human, and to be holy, our bodies must be ordered to our souls and our souls must be ordered to God.  This is what separates us from other creatures—the truth that we can order our bodies and our souls to God.  Because we are a body-soul union and not simply a soul that has a body or a body that has a soul, we can’t just do whatever we want, though this is what Satan will tempt us to do.

Christ said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Satan works by taking the good and twisting it into something ugly and sinful.  A lot of people make the mistake of viewing Satan and God as ‘equal’ in power.  The truth is that Satan is a creature, a powerful creature, but a creature nonetheless.  He can’t create evil—he can only take what is good and twist it to be used against its purpose.  So, take a look at our culture.  It is filled with promiscuity, sexual innuendos, sexual confusion and temptations.  Clearly sex is something that is very good and Satan has done his best to twist it time and again so that we can hardly recognize the marital act as good or even holy.  Sex is the mutual exchange of the complete gift of self between a man and a woman—physical gift, emotional gift, spiritual gift.  Sex is called the ‘marital’ act because it is the embodiment of what married life is: the gift of yourself to another for the sake of love.  And this is holy—created good, fallen into sin, and in the process of being redeemed.  Holiness comes by way of struggle and strife.  “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by storm.”  (Matthew 11:12).

Each generation and times have their own difficulties and trials to face.  In the modern world we live in now, we breathe in the culture’s understanding of soulless sex.  It is the atmosphere we find ourselves in at the moment, and because that is the case, it is difficult for us (even as Christians) to understand and fully live out Catholic teaching in regards to sexuality.   Christians are mistaken in thinking that we are called to be chaste until marriage, and then we can be unchaste in marriage ‘because sex is dirty.’  The truth is that sex can, and ought to, be holy, each and every time a man and a woman enter into the marital act.   Basically, all sex should be soul-filled sex.

People often mistake the Church’s teachings—“the Church thinks the body is bad, that’s why you can’t have sex whenever you want.”  The exact opposite is the truth: the Church sees the body as so good that sex can only be so good when it’s viewed within the whole picture of human flourishing.  The Church sees the body as soo good and, therefore, the soul is soo good and just as much a part of what the body does.  The martial act, the total giving of oneself to another physically, is such a good act that it is impossible to separate it from the soul.  It’s impossible to “have sex”, to “make love”, to “exchange fluids” without the soul.  This is because the soul is the center part of the person—not the body.  The soul animates the human person—it’s impossible to do anything without your soul.  We can’t divorce our bodies and our souls, no matter how hard we try.  What we do to our bodies affects our souls; how we treat our souls affects our bodies.

Christ didn’t come to promise us a life of ease, comfort, and pleasure.  He did come to redeem us, by way of the Cross.  And the more we turn to prayer and to the example of Christ and the Saints before us the more we will be able to let Him redeem us, through and through, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, even sexually.  As we stay the course we can look forward to the day when this earth shall pass away, and with it, the tension in each of us between our bodies and our souls.

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Read more of Becca’s writing at her blog The Young Adult’s Guide to Taking Over the World – Oh Wait, I’m Catholic.