Sex and the Eucharist ~ the latest in the series exploring different aspects
of marriage by Jane and Charles Perryman
Fr Ronald Rolheiser’s short book “Our One Great Act of Fidelity” is a series of short reflections on various aspects of the Eucharist. One of them is entitled “The Eucharist as God’s Gentle Kiss”. In some ways it might be appropriate to have called it “The Eucharist as God’s Passionate Embrace”. God’s infinite love and desire for humanity reached its fullness in the incarnation of Jesus, God’s only Son as one of us. Psalm 139 expresses the depth of God’s knowledge of each one of us, “Oh Lord you have searched me and you know me” (Ps 139:1).
We were created by God to come to know God in as great a depth as we can manage. Those of us who are old enough to have learned our catechism will remember the second question, “Why did God make you?” The answer starts “God made me to know him…..” That is a call to intimacy with God. We pursue that lifelong quest through prayer, through pondering the scriptures, through the liturgy and most importantly through our union with Christ in the Eucharist.
In a homily we heard when on holiday the priest, Fr Bernadino, said, “You know most people think that the Christian religion is about love but it isn‘t really. It’s about intimacy”. We only have to pause for a few minutes and think about the parable of the Good Samaritan to realise the truth of what Fr Bernadino said. The Samaritan was moved with compassion for the man who had been beaten and robbed. He acted in a loving way towards him but it cannot be said that he had come to know him at a deep level that we would call intimacy. Intimacy goes way beyond loving.
In marriage couples are called to intimacy. We seek intimacy. We want to be known by our spouse at a very deep level and to be accepted as we are, even in those aspects of ourselves that we don’t much like. Not only do we want that level of intimacy, it is hard wired into our brains. The author of the second chapter in the Book of Genesis expressed great insight when he has God saying ”It is not good for the man (all human beings) to be alone.” Three thousand years later the modern neuroscientists have shown conclusively that this is true.
One of the most important ways in which we express and experience that deep sense of intimacy is in our sexual encounters. Our sexual experiences have their seasons and their moods. They are not always the same. A lot depends upon what the whole of our relationship is like at the time and how as individual spouses we approach each event. When we are in periods of peace and unity and life is running smoothly our sexual experiences will be different from those times when life has become hard for us. If we have been at odds with one another and sexual intercourse is a part of our reconciliation, the experience will be different from when we are expressing our joy of simply being us together.
It is like this too in our approach to the Eucharist. Our participation in the Eucharist cannot be separated from the whole of our lives. When we enter the church building we carry with us how we are at that time, with our anxieties and our joys, our hopes and our disappointments, our successes and our failures. All this comes with us to be embraced by Jesus in his self-giving to us. Sometimes, perhaps often we become distracted, particularly if we have brought our young children with us. Many years ago Jane wondered to our, then, parish priest, whether coming to Mass was doing her any good as she spent so much time trying to keep the children attentive. His response was to say that she could not know that and she should leave that with God who knew best. If she came with a good intention, that was enough.
When we come to Mass, we begin by looking at the state of our relationship with God. We then listen to the Word of God, we reflect on the Word, we ask for what we need, we thank God for all his gifts to us, we offer to God all that we have and then as we receive God’s great gift to us, we are held in God’s passionate embrace. Whether we are fully aware of all that leads up to our Holy Communion or not, God welcomes us and embraces us.
When we make love we bring all of our relationship with us. The act of sexual intercourse in many ways sums up the whole of our relationship. When we listen to on another at a deep level and reflect on what we hear; when we give ourselves fully into the marriage relationship; when we celebrate the generosity of our spouse then we are ready to receive the total gift of themselves that they give to us. We hold them in that passionate embrace.
The last few lines of a popular hymn express all of this very well:
Take all that daily toil, plants in our hearts poor soil,
Take all we start and spoil, each hopeful dream.
The chances we have missed, the graces we resist,
Lord in Thy Eucharist, take and redeem.