There is too much emphasis on virginity.
Now that I have your attention, and because I don't mind an each-way bet, on the other hand I don't think there's enough emphasis.
So that nobody is in any doubt, I believe unequivocally in the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth. Nevertheless, and at the risk once more of being labelled a heretic, I think the Church – and especially the Catholic Church – is obsessive about Mary's virginity.
I wrote recently about Mary and Joseph and their beautiful and heroic (no adjectives suffice) undertaking. During that exercise I wondered whether after the birth of Christ their relationship may have changed.
The reason I ventured down that hazardous path is because I have often felt that by putting so much emphasis so constantly on Mary's virginity the Church has unwittingly demeaned the billions of women who have chosen to become wives and mothers.
There is never a similar emphasis placed on male virginity even though the Church exhorts both male and female abstinence before marriage. This suggests hypocrisy – the result, I believe, of the patriarchal nature of the Church.
Undoubtedly, and regrettably, in general society there has always been broad acceptance that a young man will sow his wild oats before marriage. Nowadays there seems to be almost as much tolerance of young women behaving similarly.
I support the Church in encouraging sexual abstinence before marriage. I believe that, ideally, we should be sexually faithful to one partner. I further believe the Church needs to pay more respect to, and be more understanding of, our God-given sexual desires.
I have a deep devotion to Mary. I know that she was the most extraordinary of human beings. She could not have been anything less and still become the mother of God.
Nevertheless – and this is crucial – she was a human being.
Despite the apparent futility, I do not want the Church to stop fighting against promiscuity. I do want her to be more respectful of all human beings' sexuality, of which procreation is not the only aspect.
If God had designed our sexual beings with the single intent of procreation, need he have made sexual acts so pleasurable? This, of course, raises the obvious question: why did he give males especially such an incredibly strong sex drive? A drive that he, as a man, must surely have wrestled with himself. But I will leave that subject for another day.
The bottom line is, I believe, that God wants us to enjoy one another.
It occurs to me that one of the reasons so many in the Church struggle with sexual issues is because they see a contradiction between the sacred and the secular nature of sex. Aren't they – and the rest of us sometimes – forgetting that sex is the integral part of marriage and that marriage is a sacrament?
Now here's a thought: Although, hopefully, we all want God in our marriage, how many of us can imagine God being present in our bedrooms while we are making love? I can't. I am not being flippant. In every other sacrament God is paramount and we expect and welcome him there.
It's disconcerting, isn't it? But it shouldn't be, should it? Putting aside the enormous pressure society puts on us with regard to body image, why are we so uncomfortable with our bodies?
It may offend many readers, but if Mary and Joseph had made love then the Church would, or might have, paid more homage to sexual acts.
With great respect I wonder whether we shouldn't assume that they at least may have done so, thereby giving sexual relations between a husband and wife the honour and dignity they deserve while still rejoicing in the sublime pleasure of this God-given gift.
Bill Farrelly writes a regular column for Marist Messenger.
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