Investigating NFP: The Joy of Sex

A good friend of mine introduced me to a bit of writing by Alice von Hildrebrand, whom I’m never read. The book is called By Love Refined and it’s a series of letters she wrote to her goddaughter when she was a newlywed. I thought the portions my friend related to me very neatly explained something that Pius XII had only briefly touched upon in his address to midwives.

"There are some who would allege that happiness in marriage is in direct proportion to the reciprocal enjoyment in conjugal relations. It is not so: indeed, happiness in marriage is in direct proportion to the mutual respect of the partners, even in their intimate relations; not that they regard as immoral and refuse what nature offers and what the Creator has given, but because this respect, and the mutual esteem which it produces, is one of the strongest elements of a pure love, and for this reason all the more tender."

That’s the end of Pius’ rebuttal of hedonism and his answer to those whose worry about "sexual compatibility" in marriage and avoid or end marriage for lack of it. Marital happiness is dependent on love and respect between spouses, not the frequency and quality of orgasms. Here’s how von Hildebrand puts it.

"God Himself linked the sexual union in marriage to a profound, ecstatic experience, which is deeply symbolic of the sublime union constituted by marriage. there are various reasons, however, why sex can sometimes lead to disappoitnment."

"First, you must constantly call to mind the fact that in the sexual sphere (as in so many other spheres), joy is a gift, which cannot be claimed as a right or even generally expected. Sometimes, it’s given to us; sometimes, it evades us. (The same is true with great music: there are days when listening to Bach’s Saint Matthew’s Passion brings tears to my eyes. On other days, the response is very low-key. I know the music to be equally beautiful in both instances, but fatigue, nervousness, or preoccupation sometimes prevents me from enjoying it fully.)"

"At such times, patience is called for, so that we can learn always to welcome deep experiences with gratitude, while humbly accepting our apparent failures. It’s also possible that you and Michael have entered the mysterious garden of sex withoutfirst donning your ‘nuptual garments’, that is, without being in that loving, recollected, and yet ardent attitude which is the desirable antiphon of this great experience."

"Moveover, since the sin of Adam and Eve, the intense pleasure of sex has given it a powerful attraction in itself, detached from its true meaning as a union of love between spouses, open to procreation. Perhaps the feeling of estrangement you sometimes experience comes from your isolating (however little) the ecstatic experience of sexual relations from your self-donation to Michael, thereby sapping this experience of its profoundest meaning. The less you’re concerned about your own responses and the more you concentrate on Michael, the better. (Ironically, these kinds of problems can be particularly acute in the first months of marriage when the newly experienced intensity of sexual pleasure may overwhelm one or both of the spouses.)"

"Unfortunately, even in marriage, spouses can use each other merely to achieve their own sexual satisfaction. Severed in this way from its true meaning and purpose, sex loses its God-given nature as a source of deep joy, and is reduced merely to selfish pleasure-seeking."

"Some people even argue that self-gratification is the essential purpose of sex. Happily, they’re wrong-very wrong! To view sexuality as merely biological, as an instinct that craves satisfaction, is totally to misunderstand it. Such a view is the opposite of the sublimity of sexual union that is experienced when you are both animated by love, when you seek sexual intimacy not for its pleasure, but as a way of manifesting the deep love which exists between you. At these times, your sexual ecstacy trancends bodily pleasure and includes a genuine joy that springs from the union of your souls deeply delighting in each other."

"In such cases, sexuality doesn’t serve pleasure; it serves love (and this is its God-given purpose). Even abstinence from sexual relations can serve love. Suppose one of you were sick. To insist on sexual relations would deprive both of you of the deeper dimension of your union: the will to do good to each other. Sexual relations in such circumstances would not be love-making but love breaking."

"So you see I dont’ have a puritanical view which judges sex to be evil. Rather i know that an increase of true love between you and michael will elevate your sexual relations to their most sublime heights. For the essence of your love for each other doesn’t lie in sex at all but in your constant concern for the temporal and eternal well-being and happiness of each other – even were that to require a temporary (or, in rare circumstances, even a permanent) abstention from sexual relations."

"The Gospel says, ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all else will be added unto you.’ in the same way, the more you and michael succeed in giving precedence to love, the more beautiful your intimate relations will become. This is achieved by self-giving and self-forgetfulness."

"Let your main concern be Michael: his happiness and his welfare. Instead of observing yourself, give yourself. In so doing, you’ll find deep joy."

"But remember to be patient, too. Sexuality is a turbulent realm, especially for young people. love will channel these waters, but like all good things, love takes time."

Alice certainly had a way with words, didn’t she? 😉

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

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