To promote real change, we must start with ourselves. Cultivating a culture, especially one contrary to what’s popular, requires education and conversion, beginning with those who cultivate. If we are to teach others, we must first put our best efforts into rooting ourselves in these truths. For me, it’s about a God-centric, and love-centric lifestyle. Cliché as it may be, above all things I believe in love. For many, including myself, this is a mission, an answer to a calling; a passion, a core-belief and a lifestyle.
This week, Yale University is holding a series of events organized under the title “Sex Week.” This has been taking place since 2002; however the University banned it last year stating that had created a “hostile sexual environment for women.” Some may think given this assessment that the door had closed for good, but a few weeks later the decision was reversed. The goal of Sex Week is supposed to be sexual education, and an opportunity to “discuss sex openly.” Another group on campus decided to provide an alternative to Sex Week, sponsoring talks and activities of their own because they believe Sex Week inappropriately emphasizes “sheer, gratuitous and physical pleasure.”
I know this may sound like a sharp critique of a program that sponsors the event “Work It: Founder of Babeland Sex Toys talks about Queer-Friendly Business and Pleasing Women”, but hear me out. One area that I have devoted much of my time and study to is John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and overall call to chastity and sexual dignity. A topic many young adults avoid, I see it as absolutely vital not only for my character, but also for my faith journey and ultimately my vocation. The idea that our bodies can have a specific purpose in and of themselves is not a widely accepted idea in current society, never mind on a college campus. Although many dating couples claim to be unconcerned about the permanence of their relationship and immune to the adverse consequences of their actions, sex for such couples introduces an exclusively physical bond that is illusory, disordered and devaluing of the gift of total intimacy.
It is possible for a wide variety of people to agree that it is easy for us to mistake physical intimacy for love. This is a logical idea because physical intimacy has a unifying power, which is one of the attributes of love. The problem lies in the fact that lust also has a tendency to draw two people together, and this counterfeit intimacy can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. This is not to say that the lack of chastity as a core value causes all relationships to deteriorate into lustful encounters, but rather that the likelihood of a couple being able to accurately assess the worth and sincerity of a relationship is less. When a couple is dating, it is love that they seek. As stated in the Catechism, Catholics believe that “either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” It is often the case that a person’s intentions become masked by desire, usually of a sexual nature, and that is where chastity comes into play.
Supporters of Sex Week have criticized the founders of True Love Week for having a “narrow minded view of sex” and “encouraging marriage” rather than providing ‘sexual education.’ While sex is pleasurable, it maintains greater importance than pleasure. Most couples do not deliberately use each other, but sometimes the objectification that ensues is unconscious. Though this is not a constant with every couple, pop culture and magazines, like Cosmopolitan, “urge people to take the sexual pleasure that’s due them” creating an environment that praises such activity. This might be why Sex Week never assumes any of its participants are in any sort of committed relationship. However, the fact remains that the act of sex between two people creates a bond dissimilar to that of any other. When two people choose to promote and express their romantic affection or “love” through fornication, the trivialization of human sexuality and its virtue is present. Christopher West, who has written several books on theology of the body, describes this as “telling lies with the body”. In sex, the body is saying, “I give myself to you freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully”… Sound familiar? If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’ll recognize those lines from traditional wedding vows. In marriage, God enables humans to use their bodies to create a love that is more than just the sum of their parts. By enjoying the expression of full love without giving full love, and accepting the commitment and sacrifice, the couple wounds the relationship and one another.
In the words of Pope John Paul II, “Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” By keeping the focus and order of dating relationships on happiness, couples come to discover that sacrificial love brings true joy. Where there is selfishness, there is no love. Taking into account the intrinsic truths of sexual bonding, properly tempered desires, and a proper understanding of the value of a full gift of self is necessary even for couples neglecting to acknowledge their damaging present actions in order to prepare for a potentially permanent and unitive future. To reiterate, I understand these are not popular views, and the ideas and facts I have presented may provoke less excitement than a sex toy exhibition. However, nothing short of “til death do us part” would be making any of Sex Week’s agenda relevant to this university student. In fact, some of it will never apply to me, and that’s okay with me. I know what God’s love looks like and it’s because of this that I know my own worth and dignity as a woman. This is the love that’s worth defending, and certainly worth waiting for.
Angela Chiappetta is the Program Development Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
 Evert, Jason. If You Really Loved Me. Ann Arbor, MI: Charis /Servant Pub., 2003., 62
 Catechism of the Catholic Church. Liguori: Liguori Publications, 1994. §2339
 Eden, Dawn. The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006. 2
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Student Leadership National Conference at the invitation of one of our campus FOCUS missionaries. The distinguishing feature of this conference was that it was geared toward student leaders with a special emphasis on equipping those present for engaging in the New Evangelization.
Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS kicked off the weekend with a roll-up-our-sleeves and get to work talk that laid out the mission before us. He painted the bleak reality, presenting the Catholic population of the United States. Although 77 million strong, research has found that only about 22% attend mass on a weekly basis and even fewer support the Church’s teaching on procreation and life as found in Humane Vitae. However, Curtis’s call to action urged us as active members of the Church’s young adult laity to help increase this small but powerful number of Catholics. It’s not enough to simply increase the existing 77 million, rather we need to take the 77 million and, through evangelization, help to form new apostles who are more learned in – and ready to spread – their faith.
This is all well and good, we may say, but that’s a lofty goal even for the average engaged Catholic layperson. Therefore, it’s good to understand this entire New Evangelization movement. Many of us are familiar with the term evangelization but not exactly sure what makes it “New.” Fr. Michael Keating shared three thoughts explaining precisely why this New Evangelization is just that… “New.”
First, we must understand this as a re-evangelization that is rather new in the light of the entirety of Church history. The Church has been evangelizing since Christ himself walked the earth, but this concept of revisiting those who have heard the Gospel message and in return have either grown indifferent toward it or outright rejected it, can prove much more difficult. As C.S. Lewis once said, “It’s the difference between a man attempting to woo a young maiden and a man attempting to reanimate a relationship with a cynical divorcee,” which, unfortunately, aptly describes the challenge before many of us.
Secondly, Fr. Keating noted that this evangelization has to happen in a different context than it has throughout history because the Church is no longer mainstream. Throughout the centuries, evangelization was made easier because the teachings of Christ permeated the culture and the very way that people lived their lives. In the span of Church history, this is considered a very “new” problem.
Lastly, the moral and human truths the Church teaches have never before been under attack as they are now. Some of these are direct attacks and others are more subtle, as they have existed in our culture for many decades and have now became mainstream.
The only way to help turn this around and face these new challenges head on is through building and promoting a culture in which the moral truths and teachings of the Church are promoted. Fr. Keating emphasized this change, saying that the deciding factor of the success of the New Evangelization through this change of culture lies within the very source and summit of everything we are as Catholics – the Mass. Our ability to be engaged in the Mass and submit ourselves to the liturgy so that it may form us needs to be our primary concern in building ourselves as apostles.
It is in the Mass that we are united with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, including all the saints who have gone before us. We should use the saints as examples of how to be evangelizers, and they should serve as our inspiration in our task ahead. Jesus didn’t choose the most talented or skilled rhetorical speakers to be his apostles – take Peter and Andrew who we recently heard about in the Gospel reading. They weren’t scholars of the ancient Jewish law or customs – just fishermen. Yet it all started with them and ten other humble apostles as they evangelized throughout the lands and, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of spirit” (1 Cor 2:4).
This is certainly reassuring to someone like myself, who is no theologian and writing a blog post on the Church. But, perhaps, that’s just how God intended to use me. And perhaps He is just waiting to use you, too.
David Burkey is Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.