Thursday, December 08, 2016

Sex and the Immaculate Conception

Today is the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If we think on this for a moment, we are actually celebrating the day on which St Joachim and St Anne had sex. My readers will no doubt be shocked by what I have just said and, to tell you the truth, I feel rather uncomfortable even writing that. But why? Because sex is dirty, unclean, and ungodly? Or is it rather because even to consider that fact is a forensic intrusion upon the private relationship between two people.

Here is the fact that we must accept: our parents had sex. If anyone has children then, unless God has some kind of new miracle He wants to show us, then they have had sex. It's a fact we either don't like to speak of primarily because it has absolutely nothing to do with any other person than the husband and wife. It is not polite to discuss such matters.

There may be some of my readers who are scandalised by my juxtaposition of the Conception of Our Lady with the whole topic of sex. Our Lady is a virgin perpetually and held to be a pillar of Christianity. Most female saints are consecrated virgins: there are more married male saints than female. In the breviary, married women seem to be an afterthought. There is something terribly wrong with this. Parenthood is a quintessential role in any community, especially the Christian Church. BOTH parents are needed, BOTH have a role and a responsibility, and BOTH should be valued highly. We know that child-rearing is a gift from God as much as consecration to the Religious life. For St Elizabeth and St Zacharias, as well as St Anne and St Joachim, to be married and not to have children is painful and tragic. Except for Our Lady, childbirth involves sex and God's blessing on that act of conjugal union. It is far from being sinful and wrong, but rather as a means of God's grace to the married couple and to the world. A child is a gift to a community, not just to the parents. We need to cherish children, not view their production as something vile.

Yet, we must be careful. Sex is only meant for married couples and the mutual commitment that surrounds them. Our Lady's conception does indeed bring us to consider facts that intrude upon the relationship of two saints, but we must learn to stop and pull back out of respect for their intimacy. We can become too curious to be respectful of others. It suffices us to know that Our Lady was conceived by a mother and a father who desired her existence and blessed God with great joy when she was born.

It suffices to know that the Angel called Mary full of grace when he met her, implying that she was already so before the annunciation. It can only really be true if she always was full of grace. The Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers recognize that she was indeed sinless. If one subscribes to the doctrine of Original Sin, then this does provide evidence for the Immaculate Conception. If one does not subscribe to the doctrine of Original Sin, then one can still accept that the Blessed Virgin was unique in humanity to have been saved from sin by her yet unborn son without compromising her free-will. The fact that she was a virgin when she conceived the Lord is not to do with any concerns about the sinfulness of sex, but rather because the Lord was the Son of God, not the son of Joseph - at least not biologically.

King David laments "I was shapen in wickedness and in sin hath my mother conceived me." Is he being literal here? Or does he recognize the depth of sin in his life, how the world around him has affected him as he has grown, and how the sins of his parents have affected his view on life? This may be an argument for the weakness of the human will and its need for redemption but not, I think, evidence for sex as means of carrying the infection of sin.

The Conception of Our Lady shows that we all need to have a much more healthy and thus godly view of sex. We need to affirm that it happens, and not be prurient about it. We cannot afford to regard it as sinful but rejoice in it as the means of creating loving, stable, and happy families. However, we must give it the respect that it is due and preserve it as part of the intimacy of marriage rather than vulgarizing it with seedy and unseemly media, and cheapening it as some kind of sordid recreational activity. Our viewpoint must always be to look for the good of children and to remember that each child is an instance of the miraculous. To be a parent is a high calling and a privilege of hard work. That is what sex is for.

Of course, today, this does lead us to pray for all childless couples and those who are trying hard to have babies, and support them appropriately in our communities. The cheapening of sex trivializes their plight, and this is deeply unfair. As Christians, It is our duty to weep with the childless, and to bring them hope. We need to pray hard that God will help the childless and the barren in ways that will transform their lives into fulfillment, joy and love. May they indeed have fruitful lives, and may each child conceived receive the blessing of the love of good people!

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