December 16, 2004
The news has recently reported that a leading media company, with preeminent positions in broadcast and cable television, radio, and advertising, has agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission $3.5 million, one of the largest fines ever given by this agency, to end allegations of indecency. Yet even as the debate about public decency goes on, TV continues to challenge its viewers with ever new boundaries about public decency. Not to be outdone by an alleged “wardrobe malfunction” that bared a performer’s breast during halftime at last January’s Super Bowl, a Cleveland news anchor, a few weeks ago, bared more than her viewers are accustomed to see of her in a report about photographing public nudity.
TV sitcoms serve up a daily diet of stars half clad and gladly engaging in pre-martial and extra-martial sex. So often with such humor that the real tragedy beneath the steamy scenes is lost. One can only wonder how a very popular comedy that aired on Thanksgiving night could have two of its adult women cavorting with a young man only 16 years old. Bad taste at a time when we are so very concerned about the sexual abuse of minors (i.e. those under 18 years old). But while the adults in the entertainment and news industries are giving into a culture of “liberated” sexual activity, teenagers themselves are no longer buying their example with the same rapaciousness as in the past.
Teen pregnancy is down. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the percentage of teenagers who engage in sexual activity has been decreasing in the last decade. All without much notice. More and more high school boys are virgins. Some strongly zealous libertarians insist on making condoms and abortions ever more readily available to our teenagers. But instead of helping them to value the precious gift of human sexuality and wait responsibly for marriage, they are only helping them prepare their lives for heartache and disaster.
Society cannot ignore the sexual values it passes on to its children and teenagers. A sound society is built on stability in the family. A strong family is formed where love is found. And love between a man and a woman is a gift and a challenge. Genesis teaches, “Male and female, he created them” (
Gen 1:27). It is part of God’s original design that man and woman find fulfillment in each other. In fact, He blessed them and said, “Increase and multiply….” “God created man and woman
together and willed each
for the other” (
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 371).
Human sexuality is a gift from God. It is also a challenge. It demands denying oneself for the good of the other. Where there are no boundaries to sexuality, there is no love. Where the individual puts himself or herself first, there is no love. Where the satisfaction of personal desire controls a relationship, love dies. To form a true communion of persons between a man and a woman requires discipline in controlling one’s selfishness. Casual sex before marriage injures the capacity to love. But chastity and purity increase the capacity for intimacy and love enjoyed in lasting fidelity.
The most amazing proof of this is found in Matthew’s gospel. “He [Joseph] did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.’ (
Mt. 1:24). Mary is a teenager. When the angel Gabriel announces to her that she is to be the mother of the Messiah, she responds, “How can this be? I do not know man” (
Lk 1:34). “To know” is a Semitic way of expressing sexual relations. There is no doubt that she is pure. Matthew himself indicates this in his story of the annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Joseph. He records the Incarnation of God’s only-begotten Son in the womb of Mary as a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel” (
Mt 1:23). When Isaiah made this famous Messianic prophecy, he spoke of a young maiden (in Hebrew,
alma). When scholars in Alexandria, sometime before the middle of the third century B.C., translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the word
parthenos (virgin). Matthew sees the Greek text as literally fulfilled in Mary. He clearly affirms her virginity at the annunciation.
Both Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels between 80-100 A.D. Independent of each other, they pass on the tradition of the virginity of Mary. This is one of the few places their infancy narratives agree. Obviously, they are dependent on an earlier tradition widely circulated in the Church. In liturgy and prayer, the Church celebrates Mary Ever-Virgin. Mary remained a virgin. The birth of Jesus “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it (
Lumen Gentium, 57). In fact, the angel’s words to Joseph may even be hinting at this. He does not use a word that speaks of marital relations between the two. The angel simply tells Joseph “to take” (
paralambanein) Mary into his home (
Mt 1: 20).
God chose Mary as a teenager. Young people can respond to God’s will. Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus. As St. Ambrose said in one of his Christmas homilies, "Behold the miracle of Our Lord's Mother. She conceived, a Virgin; she brought forth, a Virgin. A Virgin was she when she conceived, a Virgin when pregnant, a Virgin after childbirth…” Virginity enriches life. Causal sex cheapens it. Mary stands before us as a revelation of the deepest meaning of love. Love must come before commitment; and the covenant of marriage before intimacy. The fact that Mary and Joseph lived a true married life without the normal exchange of marital intimacy only highlights the deepest meaning of chastity. For chastity leads to mature, personal integration. It enables the individual to order body and soul, mind and heart to the greater gift of self to the other. And it was with the gift of self to one another in fidelity to God’s plan that Mary and Joseph experienced the gift of true love.
Causal sex leads to single parents, abortions, sexually transmitted disease, not even to mention emotional pain and heartbreak. Many are afraid to say sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong. Yet more and more of our young people are courageously taking a stand against our permissive society. Can we afford not to help our young appreciate the gift of sexuality by example and word? Do we want to deny our young the gift of real love?
Through the intercession of Mary, ever-Virgin, may we be given the grace to live chastely and purely.