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On the Areopagus - 4 Glorify God in your body

Saturday, February 07, 2009
According to recent statistics, almost US$100 billion worldwide is spent on this, and almost 5 million websites disseminate it; that's almost a fifth of the entire internet. 42.7% of internet users patronise this industry, and according to the BBC, 74% of cases undertaken by family therapists and counsellors are directly affected by it. The issue at hand, which is silently entering our homes through the internet, is pornography.

The word itself, often used so nonchalantly, occurs several times in St Paul's letters, especially to the Corinthians. It comes from the Greek porneia, meaning sexual immorality. St Paul explains to the Christians of Corinth: "Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:18-20).

We believe in a God who loved us so much that he became human, taking his body from the virginal flesh of Mary; whose body was broken and raised on the Cross for our salvation; whose body - still bearing the marks of the nails and lance which pierced his body - was raised from the dead in glory. Jesus gives us his body in the Eucharist as an abiding memorial of his suffering love for humanity, through baptism we are incorporated into his body, the Church, and through sharing in his Eucharistic body and blood we share one life with Him. Until he returns in glory, Christians are the body of Christ and, with our own human bodies, we continue his work of salvation in the world, longing in hope for the raising and glorification of our bodies when we will be eternally united with God.

So, the body is central and sacred in our Faith. So too is sex, which is the union of the bodies of two persons in a love so fruitful that a third person is created. This beautiful and privileged act of sexual love, which mirrors the fecundity of the Trinity itself, is sacred to Christians. Sexual immorality, seen in this light, is not something private that is done in front of a computer: it affects families, real relationships, and deeply wounds the person. It also makes God's Spirit, who dwells in our bodies as in a temple, sad. It harms the body of the Church of which every one of the baptised is an integral member.

Pornography falls disastrously short of the great good that is sex; it twists the truth about sex - which is good, normal, and healthy - and makes it a secret compulsion, prone to all manner of deviation, and ultimately unhealthy and de-humanising. Research has shown that what begins as 'soft core' becomes increasingly 'hard core', as one's threshold for sexual titillation incrementally pushes the boundaries. Pornography has been shown to be addictive, and every addict needs more to achieve a 'high'.  Some people might think I am overstating the point and regard pornography instead as just some 'harmless fun'. But as C. S. Lewis noted back in 1955, "everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like the other appetites, grows by indulgence... There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance."

Others argue that pornography celebrates the body and our sexuality, or that sexual enjoyment of the body does not harm our soul or person. However, Pope Benedict XVI, in his letter on God's love (Deus caritas est), has noted that "Eros, reduced to pure 'sex', has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great 'yes' to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere" (para.5). For a Christian, then, the body communicates and our bodily actions are like sacramental signs. It is body language that, at best, reveals the self-gift of love.

A Quiet Corner...The ever-burgeoning sales figures of the pornography industry, and the increasing numbers of young men and women who casually engage in viewing and participating in internet pornography, both testify to the truth of what the Holy Father and C. S. Lewis have said. The statistics also point to the deep loneliness and desire for love that lies at the core of our humanity. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta called this loneliness, so prevalent in the West, the greatest poverty in the world. Such profound loneliness cannot be assuaged or solved by a retreat into pornography or casual sex. Indeed, this only deepens the wound and widens the gap between persons. A person who is ensnared by pornography needs to be rid of this false love and learn how to connect with people in real relationships, to experience the vulnerability of loving another person, and to give himself in love rather than take and possess via the realm of pornographic fantasy. So, fr Timothy Radcliffe OP says that "the first step in overcoming lust is not to abolish desire, but to restore it, liberate it, discover that it is for a person and not an object."

Ultimately, the fundamental human desire is for God. As the psalmist says: "O God, you art my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where no water is" (Ps 64:1). To our bodies which long for God, Jesus gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist and his Spirit as living water to vivify our souls. Fed by his body, we become part of his body, the Church, and our bodies - now united to Christ in the Church - become temples of the Holy Spirit. Hence, St Paul strongly reminds the Corinthians about the Eucharist and Christ's gift of his body to us. He also reminds them of the meaning of communion and the fellowship of love that the Eucharist entails. Thus, the Eucharist teaches us how to love. Communion in the Church teaches us how to love. Christian friendship, which is the basis of our communion with God and one another, teaches us how to love. Learning how to love and be loved is not easy, but it can be done. There are examples of love and friendship all around us, not least in one's parents.

Sacred Heart of Jesusfr Timothy exhorts us to "have the nerve to live through the crises of love, the turmoil of infatuation, the piercing of our heart, through into the deep and calm water of mature, adult, holy love". Pornography is not 'adult material'. It is for emotional infants, caught in a world of fantasy and false relationships, who dare not set out on this adventure of love and journey into the heart of a God who desires us more than we could ever imagine. Mature, adult, holy love communicates the gift of a person to another, glorifying God with one's body so that, at the end, God may glorify that body at the resurrection of all the baptised.

Therefore, Pope John Paul II said, "'Rise, let us be on our way.' "Let us go forth full of trust in Christ. He will accompany us as we journey toward the goal that he alone knows." It's never too late; now is the acceptable time of our salvation and liberation from the chains that may still bind us.

Lawrence Lew OP


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