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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sex, Marriage and Candid Conversations...

Fr. Larry making his point...
At a recent men's conference, nationally known speaker and author, Fr. Larry Richards said, "Yes, I am a 54-year-old virgin but don't laugh.  I know most of you are married and, after five years of marriage, you're probably as celibate as me!" 

A roar of laughter came from the crowd; understanding well what Fr. Larry was talking about.

In fact, as I recently told a gay friend, if opponents of the redefinition of marriage would only get this point across more effectively, the "gay-marriage" movement would dissolve in a heartbeat!

It's true; life has a way of complicating our sex lives.  Between kids, family obligations, work, responsibilities, stress, and the fact that couples are waiting longer to get married (I was 33, the same age Jesus was crucified, when my wife and I got hitched; not that I'm comparing the Crucifixion with my wedding but...), it's often hard to find the time and energy for a healthy sex life; which, let's be honest, is the lifeline of any healthy marriage. 

With that in mind, several weeks ago, the marriage covenant group my wife and I belong to held a candid and animated discussion on sex and marriage, which was led by a local OBGYN, who regularly counsels young couples getting married on the subject.

Since we have couples in our group that have been married longer than the doctor leading the discussion, it led to some hilarious banter and enlightening comments on what they do to put a little spice on their sex life and why couples need to overcome any obstacle to make intimacy a priority in their relationships.

By the sound of some comments, it must get easier when children get a little older and more independent and are out doing their own thing (I hope!), instead of coming into your bedroom in the middle of the night because they had a nightmare, aren't feeling well, or just want to sleep with mom and dad, which at our house is at least a couple of times a week; and, of course, it's usually on weekends!

It can be challenging.  Just as difficult for us, as I shared in the discussion, is that my wife and I practice Natural Family Planning, better known as NFP, and have  limited windows of opportunities to be intimate during a given month. 

Since both of us work hard, especially my wife, who after getting home from her day job, does homework with the kids, does laundry, teaches Zumba, and cooks dinner, what happens regularly is that she is exhausted by the time I come into bed (or so she says!).  Other times, I may be exhausted since I get up at 6:40am to work out in the morning and she' watching a show on TV (Not that you'd be able to tell by my svelte physique), or worse, we get into a fight the day we can and are not in the mood (In fact, sometimes we agree to avoid any controversial conversation on days we can to avoid getting into a fight!).  It's not easy.

I often joke that from marriage to the priesthood wouldn't be such a big deal for me.  Ok., so maybe I would have to learn to live alone, think of others instead of myself, be more humble and acquire some discipline, but, as far as celibacy, as Fr. Larry said, it would not be such a big stretch!

My wife and I have an ongoing joke and discussion with the group about laundry.  It's been a sore spot in our marriage for years.  My wife absolutely hates doing the laundry (although she has embraced it and offered it up to God in recent years) yet, after years of complaining (without much reaction from me; outside of internally thinking: suck it up, already!), I decided, after attending a recent retreat, to offer to do the laundry twice a week (It was like the heavens opens and the host of angels started singing!).  I've been doing it ever since.  (And actually enjoy it, though let's keep this between us!)

During the meeting, I shared, in my own self-deprecating humor, that even after volunteering to do the laundry twice a week, I was still not getting any! (Let the violins start playing here!) My wife quickly stood up and chimed in, "You've only been doing it for less than two weeks!"

But, all joking aside, there's something to be said about abstinence within a marriage.  It shows self-restraint and that, unlike animals, we can control our carnal passions.  St. Joseph was a chaste spouse (of course if the Godman was conceived and born from my wife's womb, I'd be gunshy myself!) and many couples practice abstention in their relationships.

But, as I noted before, sexual relations are a fundamental, if not essential, part of most healthy marriages because it enjoins a couple both physically and spiritually in the most profound way; in fact, more than any other single act or sign, which is what God meant our vocation to be; sacramental.

Taking our vows...
In his book, Be A Man! Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, Fr. Larry writes, "Both males and females reflect the image of God, but in different ways.  Our physical bodies are very different, but they are complementary, which is a glorious thing.  Male bodies and female bodies fit together; they become a whole person when they become one.  God created us that way on purpose."

If you consider the profundity of that union; just think that God creates life through it.  We become participants in God's creation!  In a sacrificial and self-giving way, a man gives his "life" to his wife when he does so freely, fully, and without restrictions, and a woman opens herself up to receive that life, when done freely, fully and without restrictions.  Two flesh become one and then become three (about nine months later!). 

In his Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II wrote that through the sexual union a husband and wife, enter into the innermost life of the Holy Trinity, who is family.  We become reflections of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the human family.  It's where we get outside of ourselves and learn to love like God loves. So Jerry Maguire was right when he said to Dorothy Boyd, "You complete me!"

John Paul also said that the ecstasy we experience during climax is but a foretaste of the ecstasy that we will experience when we're in heaven.  How do you like them apples?  (Let's just say, I really wanna get to heaven!) 

Sex is also a unifying bond within marriage and what happens to us is that, when, because of one thing or another, a few weeks go by without it, a corrosive tension starts building between us.  I can sense it in the way we interact with each other and our children.  There is this underlying conflict which is palpable and can be deteriorating, if we let it.  It happens to many couples.

In his classic, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis makes a great point on virtuous deeds which applies well here.  He writes, "Active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened.  The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel."

So, let us start acting like we feel (as often as possible!) so as to not start feeling like we act; it's what God made us for; to love!...

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