"Avoiding sex is something religion — especially Catholicism — excels at," writes the always awesome Frances Kissling. And for heathens who just can't give up marital nookie, there's a new prayer book to take all the fun out of it.
The UK's Catholic Truth Society has produced the 64-page Prayer Book for Spouses, which, according to Kissling, "contains prayers about pregnancy, about caring for children and elderly parents" — along with one to be said before getting nekkid. Which goes like this:
Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts. Place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes. Open our hearts to you, to each other and the goodness of your will. Cover our poverty in the richness of your mercy and forgiveness. Clothe us in our true dignity and take to yourself our shared aspirations for your glory, forever and ever. Mary, our Mother, intercede for us. Amen.
Whoa, is it getting hot in here? I know invoking a mother figure even more saintly and prudish than my own mom always gets me in the mood.
As Kissling points out, there's plenty of hot biblical poetry they could have worked with, if Catholics for Truth had any interest in presenting sex in a positive light. They could have drawn on the Song of Solomon, she suggests, referring to "fine wine, the nectar of the pomegranate, the 'waters that cannot quench love,' the 'floods that cannot drown it.'" But really, what did we expect here? "Even today," writes Kissling, "the Catholic Church does not accept sexuality separated from procreation."
Kissling goes on to detail how modern Catholics just go ahead and resist that teaching, with 90% of the American faithful using contraception and not many asking God to forgive them for it. Big news: The Church is out of touch with the people, who, instead of taking their cues from the Pope or Catholics for Truth, "follow their common sense and their conscience." Technically, that's even sort of allowed; the catechism has a lot to say about conscience, including that "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters." Sure, that's pretty much there to say that if someone tries to convert you at swordpoint, you should go ahead and die. And sure, there's also a lot of other stuff telling you that if your conscience says something different from the Pope's, it's probably broken. But there is, at least in theory, a loophole to account for a la carte Catholicism. There's also a strong argument to be made that the church is its people, not just the hierarchy, so if 90% of Catholics are doing something, it probably qualifies as A Catholic Thing to Do.
But, as someone who spent a long time trying to reconcile my love of some aspects of Catholicism — the intellectual tradition, the social justice tradition (in some areas), the stories, the rituals, the art, the bugfuck crazy saints — with being a pro-choice, gay-friendly liberal who'd be reluctant to piss on the current Pope if he were on fire, I also feel like at some point, there must be a definition of "Catholic" that goes beyond "What my friends and I do, while self-identifying as Catholic." That's why I ultimately stopped identifying as such — well, that and the fact that, in my heart of hearts, I'm agnostic at best — so when I see people claiming that Catholicism (or any form of Christianity, not to mention many other organized religions) is not really about the corrupt, ultraconservative, punitive, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-sex stuff you always hear about, I get hung up on one question: "How do you know?" Because to be sure, those people are saying with just as much conviction that you're the ones who have the religion all wrong. And they've got just as much evidence in the Bible and church history for their position, if not more.
If anyone needs to pray for forgiveness it is Popes and bishops for the pain they caused to children by scaring them into believing they'd go to hell if they masturbated, for the divorced and remarried Catholics who have been denied the sacraments, for couples who followed the teaching against contraception and had more kids than they could care for, for gay Catholics who have been denied the right to marry, and for infertile couples who are told they can't use modern fertility treatments.
Agreed. Heartily. But instead of joining in her prayer that more Catholics will tune out the most oppressive teachings to "follow their common sense and their conscience," I'd like to offer a different suggestion: Let's pray — or hope, for those of us who don't do that — more and more people will come to agree that religion has no place in free citizen's bedrooms, period.