Sexual Healing in Light of the Resurrection
Christos Anesti! (Christ is Risen!)
The beauty of Easter rightly fills us with the hope that one day we will leave this world of sin and suffering, enter into the glory of heaven where we will experience the fullness of God’s presence, and be reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. This is indeed a thought that should fill us with joyful expectation! While the aspiration for heaven is a good one, the Resurrection is not merely a static event in salvation history, or one that we ourselves get to experience on the last day. The power of Jesus’ resurrection has implications for our lives today, especially for those of us on the journey to heaven through the vocation of marriage!
Let’s be honest, no one makes it through marriage without having wounds, imperfections, and bondages exposed. The grace of the sacrament can often be like water poured into a dusty glass. We think we’re pretty decent, until the pouring water stirs up all sorts of impurities in us. I myself started the journey of healing through therapy when I noticed my own limitations in loving my husband and children as I desire to. In my first session, my therapist said something that struck me: “I have yet to come across a wound that cannot be healed.” I knew those words were true the second he uttered them, and I knew that he wasn’t alluding to his own skills as a psychologist. How can he say this so confidently? Because of the Resurrection.
The Meaning of the Resurrection
A few weeks ago, we heard at Mass the story of the death of Lazarus. In case you missed it, Jesus was away with his disciples and he purposely delayed his return to Bethany even after he got word from Mary and Martha that their brother, Lazarus, was gravely ill. When Jesus finally makes it to Bethany, He finds that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days! When Martha approaches Jesus, He says to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 1:23-24). How many of us still have this singular perspective on God’s power to restore what is dead within us?
In explaining the implications of the Resurrection, the Catechism of the Catholic Church first points out that through Jesus’ resurrection, He “opens the way to a new life. This life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace…which gains us a real share in the life of the only Son” (CCC 654). The first fruits of the Resurrection benefit our earthly lives by the gift of God’s help (grace). Then it explains how “Christ’s resurrection–and the risen Christ Himself– is the principle and source of our future resurrection” (CCC 655). If we want to attain that final, glorious resurrection–the beatific vision– we must avail ourselves of the power of His resurrection still reverberating in our world today, allowing it to transform us into a new creation.
Brokenness in Marriage
We can all think of areas that seem devoid of life and in need of grace in our marriage. Perhaps duty and routine have replaced true intimacy and spontaneity in our relationship. Perhaps we’ve been estranged from our adult child(ren), and this is a great source of pain and friction. Or maybe our spouse’s anger, bitterness, or addiction makes “til death do us part” an insufferable reality. Whatever effect of the Fall we may be experiencing at this stage of marriage, there is hope for redemption in this life because of the Resurrection.
As someone who has been involved in youth and marriage ministry (and the wife of a counselor), I’ve witnessed a great deal of brokenness but great hope in the area of sexuality. Yes, the culture of death is most obvious in the horror of abortion and the lie of contraception (and even in these, Christ offers his mercy and invites us to new life), but more subtle than these threats to life (and equally common) is the reality of unwanted sexual behaviors. Pornography, masturbation, affairs, buying sex, hook-up apps, etc. make sex in marriage less than the glorious gift it was made to be. All of us have good, devout friends that struggle with pornography usage in their own marriage despite their best efforts to pray and remain rooted in the sacraments and in community. They’re doing all the right things. Does God not want their healing?
I’ve been reading Jay Stringer’s Unwanted with my husband, a book that sheds light on this phenomenon and offers a new approach to allowing Christ to redeem our broken sexuality. (BTW, Christopher West, Catholic author and President of the Theology of the Body Institute endorses this book).
A Resurrected Sexuality
In his book, Stringer gracefully intuits that, “we spend time in prayer, fast, pursue accountability, and hope that God might change us. The complexity is that the underlying issues that drive our sexual lust and anger do not get examined. How many of us have ever asked God to help us understand our lust?” As a Church we are well aware of the prevalence of pornography and other unwanted sexual behaviors among our youth, in marriage, and even among our clergy. However, our efforts to promote chastity and accountability alone are not getting to the root of the issue. In fact, when piety and willpower don’t seem to work, persons struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors can fall deeper into the cycle of shame, loneliness and self-contempt that is fueling the behavior in the first place.
In God’s plan for redemption, He was not content with simply saving us from sin from the comfort of His heavenly throne. In the person of Christ, God chose to understand our condition by taking on our humanity with all its temptations and sufferings. Through impressive research and trust in God’s mercy, Stringer invites us to the same boldness. To not just pray and mortify ourselves for the sake of deliverance, but to boldly look at our sin with the compassion Jesus has for us. He invites us to holy curiosity about our fantasies and unwanted sexual behaviors as a roadmap to core wounds or unmet needs from our formative years. Stringer proposes the question of “How did I get here?” as the answer to “How do I get out of here?”
Just as Jesus entered into death to reveal the power of the Resurrection, let us have the courage to “cast out into the deep” and bring His light into the darkest places of our stories. There the resurrected Lord waits for us to raise us to new life in Him.
Restore the Glory Podcast– Sexual Healing Series (Episodes 37-43)
The Place We Find Ourselves Podcast– Your Story and Your Sexuality- an interview with Jay Stringer, therapist and author of Unwanted (Episode 108)
Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing– Christopher West
Find more resources from Witness to Love here.