marriageThe National Post  seems to be having a bit of fun with the response of a couple that has been married 55 years and recently gave their testimony at the extraordinary synod of bishops:

“The little things we did for each other, the telephone calls and love notes, the way we planned our day around each other and the things we shared were outward expressions of our longing to be intimate with each other,” the couple said in a joint statement to the closed meeting late Monday.

“Gradually we came to see that the only feature that distinguishes our sacramental relationship from that of any other good Christ-centred relationship is sexual intimacy, and that marriage is a sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.”

The audience of celibate men was a bit taken aback.

I have no idea how the audience actually received it, but I find their testimony endearing and honest. The same story reports:

“That’s not what we bishops talk about mostly, quite honestly,” a sheepish British Cardinal Vincent Nichols told reporters Tuesday. “But to hear that as the opening contribution did, I think, open an area … and it was a recognition that that is central to the well-being of marriage often.”

It’s an interesting answer. I don’t expect bishops to be sitting around talking about sex, although sometimes I do think a serious conversation about sex is exactly what the Church needs. But more on that another time.

If the audience was in fact taken aback – again, something which I can’t confirm apart from the article – then it suggests that there’s a very important segment of the Catholic population that has not studied St. John Paul II’s theology of the body (or his very provocative Love and Responsibility, written before he was Pope, as archbishop of Krakow.) Some less academic (not less specific, just more readable) resources include Patrick Coffin’s Sex au Naturel: What it is and Why it’s Good for Your Marriage and Prof. Edward Sri’s Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love.

Yep, marriage has a lot to do with sex. In fact, sex  is the consummation of the marriage. The marriage is only ratified until the married couple consummates (fulfills/completes) it with sexual intercourse, the specifics of which are very clear in canon law, namely vaginal intercourse that is unimpeded by a condom, withdrawal, or anything that would prevent the “deposit” of semen into the vagina.

Yes, there are some marriages which do not engage in sexual activity, starting with the model of Joseph and Mary, the earthly father and biological mother of Jesus. Such marriages are called “Josephite” marriages and are not the norm, nor are they something that should be entered into without serious spiritual direction. Some marriages become sexless after the consummation because of illness, injury, or other factors. Other sexless marriages resulting from dysfunction in the relationship are relationships that need serious attention to be healed.

In general, the Church does not intend for a marriage to be sexless. In fact, quite the opposite. Just skip ahead to chapter six of Karol Wojtyla’s (St. John Paul II’s) Love and Responsibility.

Sadly, the article contains an assertion that because the couple apparently received a round of applause when they told how they welcomed their son and his same-sex partner for Christmas that it’s a sign of a “homosexual agenda.” Maybe, but I think that’s a stretch. To my mind, that’s a family trying to keep itself whole and together. Just because we welcome someone who lives differently than we might, it does not necessarily follow that we endorse their choices.

Again, there are lots of layers to both of these issues. The National Post seems to have skimmed the surface. After all, sex sells. Sex and the Catholic Church really sells.