Shopping cart Shopping cartLog in / Register | Pressroom
Your shopping cart is empty
Home About Us Study Programs WOF TV WOF Radio Written Word Catholicism Series News Ambassador Store Contact Donate end cap
Written Word > Articles & Commentaries > August 2011 > A "No" to a "No" is a "Yes"
Current rating: 4.7 (6 ratings)

A “No” to a “No” is a “Yes”

By Rev. Robert Barron

One of the commonest complaints against Catholicism is that it is the religion of “no,” especially in regard to the sexual dimension of life. As the rest of the culture is moving in a progressively more permissive direction, the church seems to represent a crabbed, puritanical negativity toward sexuality. I think it is important, first, to make a distinction between two modalities of “no.” On the one hand, there is “no” pure and simple—a denial, a negation of something good. When a jealous person sees someone else’s success, he will say “no” to it, out of resentment. When a racist perceives the object of his irrational hatred, he will say “no” to him and try to undermine him. But on the other hand, there is a “no” which is in service of a “yes,” since it represents a “no” to a “no;” it is a double negative that constitutes a positive. Any golf swing coach worth his salt will say “no” much more than he says “yes,” precisely because there are a thousand ways to swing a club poorly, but really only one way to swing it properly. So when he says “no,” he is negating a series of negatives, trying to move his student onto the narrow path of the right swing. I would suggest that the many “no’s” that the church says to imperfect forms of sexual behavior are of this second type. 

Now what, according to the mind of the church, is the correct or proper expression of sexuality? In order to provide an adequate answer, it would be wise to consult a curious passage in the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Apostle to the Gentiles writes: “Think of God’s mercy…and worship him…in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God” (Rom. 12: 1). Sacrifice, of course, was central to ancient Israelite religion. A Jew would bring an unblemished animal to the Temple in Jerusalem and would then, through the mediation of a priest, offer it to God as a token of gratitude, worship, or penance. In doing so, he would align himself to God, bringing his mind, his will, his very body into right relationship with the Lord. Any pious Israelite would know that Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, had no need of these burnt offerings, unlike the gods of other nations who seemed to require them. But that faithful Jew also knew that he needed sacrifice, since it brought him into deeper communion with the God who loved him, making him like the God whom he worshipped.

Now in Jesus Christ, the face of the true God appeared, precisely as a face of love: “God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him” (1 John 4:16). To sacrifice to God, therefore, is to become conformed to the love that God is; it is to become love. Paul is telling the Romans (and us) to turn our bodies—our whole selves—into an act of worship of the true God, which is simply another way of saying that we should allow every aspect of our lives to become radical love. Now we can understand the great “yes” of the church in regard to sexuality. Sex is meant to be completely attuned to love, which is to say, to self-gift. Sex is designed to be a vehicle by which the good of the other is sought and attained. When sex devolves into something less than an expression of love, the church resolutely and loudly says “no!”

And so it says “no,” obviously, to rape, to sexual abuse, to the sexual manipulation of another. But it also says “no” to sexual expression outside of the context of that mutual and radical self-gift that we call marriage. It says “no,” furthermore, to a deliberate and conscious frustration of the procreative dimension of sex. In all of these “no’s,” the church is fundamentally saying “yes” to sex as a path of love. I realize that many balk at this, arguing that while rape and sexual violence should always be condemned, other forms of sexual expression should be left to the discretion of the individual. But would we settle for this kind of leniency and mediocrity in any other area of life that we take seriously? For example, someone dedicated to having an excellent golf swing will, of course, accepts correction of his most egregious faults, but he will expect his teacher to press forward, righting relatively minor errors, fine-tuning his swing until he reaches real proficiency. I imagine that he would want his teacher to hold up the example, not of a middle-level, weekend golfer, not even of a star on the junior tour, but of Rory McIlroy and Fred Couples and Jack Nicklaus. The one thing he would not want his coach to say is, “well, now that you’ve overcome the major problems, just swing any way you want.”

So the church, which desires to bring human sexuality into full conformity with the love that God is, corrects us, cajoles us, objects to us, encourages us, holds up to us high ideals, and invites us continually into the high and challenging adventure of sexual virtue. Do we often fail? Sure—just as we usually fail to hit the golf ball excellently. Does that mean that the church should dial down its ideals? Absolutely not. Its “no’s” are so strong, because its “yes” is so ringing.

Posted: 8/11/2011 12:00:00 AM by Word On Fire | with 0 comments
Filed under: sexuality

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.

Share with your friends

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to Yahoo MyWebAdd to FarkAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to StumbleUponAdd to Google BookmarksAdd to MySpace


Click on the title of any of Fr. Barron's Articles on the left to view the full article.  Please feel free to provide your own comments and feedback. Clicking any of the Tags below will show you a listing of articles and commentaries that relate to the word you click. Click on the RSS link to sign up to be notified of each new item that is published here. Past articles can be found in the archive.

WOF Blog RSS Feed SubscriptionSubscribe to our RSS Feed to receive new articles


2012 A Man For All Seasons A Serious Man abortion Adjustment Bureau Adolph Eichmann advent agnostic Agora Alister angels and deomons apocalypse apologetics Archdiocese of Chicago Ascension atheism Audacity of Hope baptism Barack Obama big bang theory Bin Laden Bob Dylan book Book of Job Brad Caritas in Veritate Carol Marin Catholic Universities celibacy Charles Lwanga Chicago childfree marriages children Christopher Hitchens Civilta Cattolica Coen Brothers commentariat confession conscience contraception devil District 9 dysfunctional Eckhart Tolle Einstein Elijah Emmaus encyclical encyclicals ends and means Evangelization exorcism Father Andrew Greeley Father Barron films financial Fr. Paul Murray Genesis Georgetown golf Hannah Hannah Arendt Hell heresies holocaust interviews Ireland Judge Judy judgement Julia Roberts Kenneth Clark Kierkegaard Laurie Brink Liberal Catholicism Libya lord of the world Lumen Fidei Man of Steel marriage McGrath Mother Teresa movie review muslim nazi nones Notre Dame Nuns Of Gods and Men Palm Sunday PBS Pentecost Peter Snow Pew Forum philosophy Pitt Political Corruption Pope Benedict Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Pope Francis Pope John Paul II priest pro life prosperity gospel protestantism Purgatory Ralph Grimston Richard McBrien robert hugh benson sacraments Samuel science scientism Sears Tower September 11th sex abuse sexuality Shari’a Law Simon Cowell spiritual St. Irenaeus St. John St. Patrick St. Thomas Aquinas St. Thomas More Superman Ted Kennedy The Hunger Games The Ides of March the shack The Stoning of Soraya M. theologian Time Magazine Timothy Dolan tolerance True Grit Twilight vampires Vatican Willis Tower Woody Allen World War Z World Youth Day YouTube


WORD ON FIRE CATHOLIC MINISTRIES | 5215 Old Orchard Road Suite 410 | Skokie, IL 60077
Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to Yahoo MyWebAdd to FarkAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to StumbleUponAdd to Google BookmarksAdd to MySpace
Copyright © 2010