Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spiritual Sensuality

Father John J. Lombardi

Sensually speaking, the challenges are all around us today: the "sexualization" of young girls, making them into objects of lust; football games littered with sexualized pictures; pornography--one of the biggest dangers in, and exports of, the United States-has become mainstream; and the international sex trade growing and gnawing at more men women and children causing chaos.

Fascination with the flesh and other sexual disorders are narrated in the recent, excellent book, "Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses," by Donna Freitas.

The major thesis: promotion of promiscuity is rampant and dangerous on American college campuses today, and there is a desperate need for the integration of spirituality and true sexuality, not divorce or repression.

The Solution: Assistance and brave mentoring from parents, teachers and administrators to clergy and teens themselves to re-create an open and holy culture where young people can lead chaste lives.

Freitas, a professor of religion at Boston University, toured many Catholic, evangelical and secular colleges and found:

  1. "hook-up" culture where collegians sexually meet without commitment (a very degrading experience for many-especially women);
  2. a lack of "safe harbor" places for collegians seeking a holy life;
  3. a void of evangelization and Christian identity to anchor people in chaste values
  4. a spirituality-without-religion attitude

These phenomenons exist at most colleges except evangelical ones. The "problem" at evangelical colleges is an intimidation and/or embarrassment to converse about sexuality. In the book Freitas summarizes: "While most evangelicals can't get enough traction when it comes to sexual freedom, virtually everyone else can't get a foothold on sexual restraint."

Freitas, a Catholic, presents a stark contrast between Catholic and evangelical colleges. According to her book, in Catholic schools spirituality, sexuality, religious identity and doctrine are largely downgraded allowing an unchaste environment to flourish. While in

Evangelical colleges the same topics are promoted as well as strong leadership and student-chastity.

Freitas cites the failure of parents and administrators to become aware of the sexualized environment on campuses or take action against it. She also notes the excessive-drinking environment on campuses which serves as entrée to illicit sexual practices along with the phenomenon of male predation on subservient women.

The main question of this book is: how do God, girls and guys relate to each other spiritually and sexually? Obviously, there is a dynamic connection among the three: God, girls and guys (think of The Martin family who birthed St. Therese of Liseaux and several other children); however, this sexual-spiritual communion is a largely untaught and for most of the uninitiated is an unstable mixture. Freitas asks: How many colleges teach the relationship of romance, dating, sexuality as it relates to religion? Many Evangelicals schools do.

Freitas insists that the refusal to teach these things or the silence about them is an implicit consent to sexualization. But even at Evangelical schools the "ring by spring" phenomenon exists, whereby some ladies seek a guy to marry by commencement. At other college parties, sexual stimulation and moral liberation overwhelm much of what is learned in the classrooms and chapels, and therefore God and restraint are neutralized.

Though this book was realistically raspy in its depiction of religion at colleges, Freitas is suggestive along the way on how to repair this desperate situation: heroic leadership from administrators, top down; frank discussion about sexuality and spirituality (integral, not divorced); classes and groups which foster chastity and religion.

There is resurgence at some Catholic schools of a dedication to orthodoxy, Catholic identity and holy, spiritual-sexuality teachings, especially in line with what John Paul II called "the theology of the body."

The idea emphasizes:

  1. we are persons not objects of lust
  2. there is beautiful communication, purposefulness and communion of human bodies within the design of God for 'sexual spirituality"
  3. the procreative purpose of sexuality (new life as the fruit of love) and unitive goal of loving couples (to emotionally bond married lovers) should be emphasized over lust and "pleasure"

I recently read a challenging letter in Christianity Today Magazine:

"Consider this thesis: Increased discussion of sexuality actually exacerbates the frustrations and problems issuing from it. How ironic that man is the crown of creation ruling a created order that includes many creatures that combine sexually and do so with no instruction or discussion per se. Yet humans, at least in this post modern age, need more and more discussion of it. It is also ironic that our prudish hushed-up forbearers, whether sexual or sacred, clearly related well sexually as testified by their prolific offspring. Hear C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity's" 'sexual morality': 'Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is not getting away for it; the Christian rule is, 'Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner or else total abstinence.' Now, this is so difficult and so contrary to our instinct that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct as it now is has gone wrong. (The propagandists) tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last 20 years it has not been. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess." (John Schwane--Oct 2008).

Nonetheless Freitas' book is an excellent starting place to re-evangelize our world and grow in holiness. She writes: "There is evidence that some Catholic youth do care what their tradition teaches about sex. In 'The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy,' Colleen Carrol shares evidence that 'young people both enthralled by, and committed to Catholic teachings about sex and celibacy do exist.'" Let us all work to integrate spirituality in all parts of our lives especially for our youth.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi