What's sad, though, is that he had the "right" message but he delivered it in such a way that no-one in his or her right mind would want to follow it. By his or her right mind I mean vital, interested, questing, conflicted, on to one's own myriad defects and myriad gifts, preferably with a secret incendiary devotion to some doomed love/project/cause that promises to bear absolutely no fruit, compromises your physical/emotional health, and makes you look like a fool, loser and/or psychotic in the eyes of the world, and with a sense of humor.
Anyway, I was reminded of a quote by contemplative monk Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis--now known as Brother Simeon--from Love’s Sacred Order: The Four Loves Revisited:
“Léon Bloy…once said that if we receive the Eucharist and fail to practice charity, fail to allow the Eucharist to have in us the effects that by its very nature it must have, then ‘the sacred Host we have consumed, rather than nourishing us, will become within us like a bomb exploding our hypocrisy to high heaven.’”
It will be like a bomb exploding our hypocrisy, and it will be like a bomb exploding our timidity and fear.
Catholicism is not counter-cultural in that the world is liberal and Catholicism is conservative. It’s counter-cultural in that it is explosively, wildly, anarchically radical. Catholicism is our hearts, our bowels, our erotic energy, our lives! Catholicism is not some timid, rigid, dead set of rules. The whole purpose of the rules is to allow us to explode within them. To follow Christ, to be Catholic (or catholic-in-spirit) is to hover on the edge of metaphorical orgasm and to consent to continue to hover, indefinitely, in almost unbearable tension…which paradoxically allows us to break out in all kinds of other sublimely interesting, glorious directions and waysHowever, I was nonplussed by the evil the priest chose to rail against from the pulpit.
What prompted the reflection is a Mass I attended on the Feast of the Holy Family (at a church that was new to me), at which, for a full half-hour, the priest took the congregation to task (most of whom had excellent posture, were shepherding several frighteningly well-behaved children, and were dressed like Puritans) about how the girls should hide their knees and do they really want to be an instrument of the devil and as soon as young people kiss he tells them they must never EVER see or talk to that person again because they have wrecked their chances for putting God first, and in general complaining, gossiping, carping, and looking down upon all the parents with spoiled, ill-behaved children who refuse to properly discipline [super creepy emphasis] them, the result being that, unlike a couple HE knows, they will not grow up to have their very first kiss at the altar.
I hesitate to nitpick any of Heather's fine post, but the priest here does not have "the 'right' message but he delivered it in such a way that no-one in his or her right mind would want to follow it. " He is wrong. There are many actions that Catholicism forbids, but kissing before marriage is not one of them. Boiled down to its essence, Theology of the Body (referenced not by Heather, but by her commenters) states that physical actions have a spiritual dimension. Sex is an action reserved for marriage not just because the reproductive aspects are most truly realized in a committed marital relationship, but because the physical action of intercourse also bonds a man and woman together spiritually. Since all actions have spiritual effects, a kiss also can form a bond, but it is not remotely the permanent bond formed by intercourse.
The definition of a kiss is "a touch with the lips to show affection" (this I remember from my younger days of looking up salacious words in the dictionary). So in keeping with that middle-school tone, let me be clear: a kiss is not remotely the physical and spiritual equivalent of (avert your eyes!) a penis entering a vagina, no, not even a french kiss. Not even if it's an arousing kiss. A couple may choose, for mutual and prudential reasons, not to kiss before marriage, but that does not necessarily make them more virtuous or chaste than a couple who does. It makes them a couple who misses out on the joys of kissing.
... (Heather later says) The reason to save your first kiss till the altar, in other words, is not because you are so listless and etiolated and body-despising and intent on being a straight-A Catholic that you’ll suppress and deny your own God-given erotic urge, but because you are so vital, so juiced, so wild with longing, so crazy about your spouse-to-be that you want to make your wedding night a work of art. You want to offer your wedding night to the whole world.
This all sounds so delightful, and it's quite true in a sense: if a couple was to choose to save their first kiss for the altar, this would be a good reason to do so, though I think that a couple could feel this way about sex even after kissing. But perhaps a better way to describe the wedding night (even for a couple who was juiced and vital and crazy) would be the beginning of a work of art -- not the completed masterpiece. Long-time readers will be weary of my insistence that only practice makes perfect, but it's true. Just as the wedding isn't the marriage (nor even the high point of the marriage), the wedding night is only the first broad sketch for the whole married sex life, which is in turn only a portion of the magnum opus of marriage itself. Sketches can be works of art, but they don't have the full force of the whole finished work -- and that's fine, as long as one can be honest about it.
For those with less tender sensibilities than the stern padre, here's some pre-marital kissing to curl your hair.
ADDENDUM: In a comment on her post, Heather rightly points out that I'm not focusing on the main issue of the exquisite creativity that comes from living within the confines of the Church's teachings. She makes this point so elegantly that I don't think I have anything to add to it. But that leads to the issue of what, exactly, the rules are so that we may follow them. The reason that the priest's exhortation to save kissing for marriage is so antithetical to me is this: as Catholics, we are called -- no, commanded -- to wait until the blessing and seal of the sacrament of marriage to have sex. There is a serious moral component to the prohibition against sex before marriage, which gives that stricture its force and allows those living under it to live in joyful and painful expectation of consummation -- Heather reminds us that the original consummation was that of Calvary.
But kissing is not Sex Lite. What makes Catholicism come off as "some timid, rigid, dead set of rules" is when huge moral force is attached to actions that can't bear that weight. Our end is to be joined to Christ forever and to live in his love for eternity. Here on earth, to achieve the end of joining our lives to his, we have certain commandments and prohibitions. One of those, to preserve the integrity of sexual relationships between men and women and to preserve the rights of children, is that sex take place only within marriage. What strictures are applied to guide Catholics in this goal? Turning to the teachings of the Church, we find certain things condemned: masturbation, pornography. That leaves a lot of prudential leeway for couples trying to navigate their way to the wedding day.
Another issue is that there are levels of interaction that are appropriate for different ages and states in life. Humans rely on physical expression to bond relationships. In Love and Responsibility Pope John Paul II makes some excellent and pastoral observations about the necessity of a proper understanding of chastity in relationships.
We noted earlier that virtue means something more than merely curbing the promptings of bodily desire or sensual reactions by pushing their content down into the subconscious. Chastity does not consist in systematic depreciation of the value of "the body and sex" any more than it can be identified with the morbid fear which they may inspire, sometimes as a reflex. Such reactions or symptoms not of inner strength but rather of weakness. Virtue can only come from spiritual strength. This strength derives in the last instance form the reason, which 'sees' the real truth about the values and puts the value of the person, and love, above the value of the person, and love, above the values of sex and above the enjoyment associated with them. But for this very reason chastity cannot consist in blind self-restraint. Continence, efficiency in curbing the lust of the body by the exercise of the will, the capacity for successful moderation of the sensations connected with sensual and even with emotional reactions, is the indispensable method of self-mastery, but it does not in itself amount to a full achievement of virtue. (p. 197)Later he speaks of the necessity of tenderness between a man and a woman even before the full sacramental bond of marriage, and here, I've found a reference to kissing:
Tenderness, then, springs from awareness of the inner state of another person (and indirectly of that person's external situation, which conditions his inner state)and whoever feels it actively seeks to communicate his feeling of close involvement with the other person and his situation. This closeness is the result of an emotional commitment... Hence also the need actively to communicate the feeling of closeness, so that tenderness shows itself in certain outward actions which of their very nature reflect this inner approximation to another "I". These actions all have the same inner significance, though outwardly they may look very different: pressing another person to one's breast, embracing him, putting one's arms around him (if this is only a form of physically assisting someone its meaning is quite different), certain forms of kissing. These are active displays of tenderness. (p. 202)Though of course I skirt the danger of laying down my own unimportant moral precepts, I'm inclined to think that it is unjust for a couple, especially approaching marriage, to withhold this form of of physical affection from one another in an attempt to save as much sensual interaction as possible for the wedding night.
I feel ridiculous going on at such length about an issue which must only be an issue to a very few strangely principled people, and yet it touches a nerve to see something which is so emphatically not a stricture of the Faith held up as such.