In my morning newspaper today:
Bernadette Snyder, age 29, became one of only 200 american women in the Catholic church to pledge eternal chastity in the rite that is called "Consecration to a life of Virginity of Women Living in the World". Ms. Snyder has a BA in math, and a post BA degree in geographic information systems. She works as a research analyst in the Catholic church Diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning, working on a strategic plan to help parishes facing a priest shortage. To clarify the nature of Ms. Snyder's committment, she is NOT becoming a nun. Yes she nows wears a "Bride of Christ' ring, but she has not taken the vows of poverty or obedience. She can work whatever job she wants to work and keep the money, and live her own life as long as she nevers has sex.
When asked about her decision, Ms. Snyder said: "My love for God consumes me. It is my reason for living. I love serving his people and being a part of the church. It's not that I didn't like the thought of getting married or raising a family-it was simply that I wanted to give God all of me, that I wanted to devote all my time and energy to prayer, ministry, and outreach, and the only way for that to happen was to remain single. With a husband and children, my time and attention would have been divided."
My reaction to this story is one of bemusement, but I want to try to keep it all in perspective. I was born into the Catholic Church, and left it in my early teens because of my perception that the Church performed "wrong thinking" on a massive scale. On one level, I wish Ms. Snyder all the best in her future life. On another level, I think that the thought that sexuality is more sinful than chastity is one of the problems that Christianity shares with Islam. Catholics assume that chastity is best, then get puzzled about why it is so hard to recruit new Priests who are not child molesters. Hardline Wahhabi muslims insist that sexuality is sinful, and that the only solution is to cover women from head to toe and watch them like a hawk and beat them with a stick if they dare to appear in public with a male who is not their brother or their husband.
Our sexual lives as humans are terribly complex and demanding, as well as potentially rewarding, and yes, uplifting. Sadly, each generation of humans must learn hard lessons about this, and often do so only through trial and error at tremendous cost. I believe that our burden is to stop viewing sex as something that inevitably sullies the participants, while keeping in mind that under the wrong circumstances it can be something that degrades the participants. We seem to think that women are always the losers in sex and men always the winners, but the reality is not so black and white. Women continue to suffer the brunt of intimate violence, unwanted pregnancy, and too many children in many places on our planet. It is men who are responsible for this, not simply by virtue of having a penis, but by virtue of using that penis with selfishness, cruelty, and lack of vision.
Jesus once spoke of becoming a man and putting away childish things when that time arrives. This I think is the context of our sexuality, and the belief framework with which we approach our sexuality. Sexuality is not inherently sinful, but it can be like a loaded gun in the hands of a child. We cannot make sex free of potential for harm, but we could raise our children better able to deal with that potential. We need to be able to reject the ignoble and damaging approach to sexuality, even at times when desire whispers into our eager ear.