At many youth conventions and high school retreats,
I've been asked why I, a Roman Catholic priest, choose to
address this topic of sexuality. Perhaps teens suspect that
I can have nothing to say on the matter, given priestly celibacy,
or perhaps they think I should have no interest in the subject.
I can answer quite simply. I want all teenagers
to be holy, happy and healthy. Your life, your body and the
gift of your sexuality are precious gifts from our loving
God. You only receive one body and it's yours for life. You
are the only person who will ever see the world through your
eyes, the only person to touch the world with your fingerprints.
When you use your body according to God's plan,
you can do amazing and wonderful things. Two that seem extraordinary
are entering into a marriage covenant with your spouse and
cooperating with God to create human life.
If you use the gift of sexuality properly,
you will be holy, happy and healthy. If you misuse those gifts,
you can end up feeling very sad, wounded and separated from
This Youth Update isn't so much a sex
talk as it is an attitude talk. I want to describe
a way to consider all the very concrete decisions about sexuality
you'll be asked to make. If you allow God to shape your heart
and your conscience, then your body will be better able to
Sometimes you and your friends may think that
the Church's teachings about sexuality are old-fashioned.
You hear claims that the Church's rules do not apply to contemporary
But rules are important. Imagine what a football
game or a basketball game would look like if there were no
rules. Because your sexuality is so precious, valuable and
powerful, you need rules to guide and direct you.
This Youth Update doesn't attempt to
list all the rules about sex and sexual activity. I'm simply
encouraging you to accept that rules don't equal repression;
they are for your good and for your growth.
$20 for Your Thoughts
When I was preparing a homily for a reconciliation
service, I searched for a message that would both challenge
and console. I found a story that I was able to usethen
and nowat www.coffeeintherain.com. It was entitled,
"Crumpled and Priceless," and the author is unknown.
It's a story about a $20 bill. I held one up
and asked, "Who would like this $20 bill?" Hands shot up quickly.
Then I crumpled it up and crushed it in the
palm of my hand. I displayed the badly wrinkled bill and asked,
"Who is interested in this bill now?" All the participants
waved their hands more vigorously.
Finally, I dropped it on the ground and started
to grind it into the floor with my shoe and asked, "Now who
wants this dirty, crumpled bill?" A sea of 900 hands greeted
No matter what happened to the $20 bill, it
didn't lose its value. Each of you has a gift much more valuable
than the crispest $20 bill.
Many of you are like a crisp, brand-new $20
bill, fresh from the mint or the ATM. You continue to face
challenges that are bold, blunt and powerful. You have faced
the challenges presented by a permissive society and you have
still made good decisions.
Even though it hasn't been easy and not always
popular, you have kept your focus and your faith. You are
worthwhile and valuable.
Some of you have been wrinkled or crumpled.
You may have drifted away from the values that you had when
you were younger. Mistakes and regret are now part of your
history. You can often feel dirty and ashamed of something
that happened. You need and deserve powerful and frequent
reminders that you are still worthwhile and valuable. The
example of the $20 bill is a reminder that just because you
may make a mistake with sex, that doesn't mean you are a mistake.
Jesus tells you that no one condemns you. "Go
[and] from now on do not sin anymore," he says in the Gospel
of John (8:11). This story of Jesus' compassionate care for
the woman caught in adultery is especially important for you.
Some of you have been ground into the dirt by
circumstances beyond your control. You have good, strong values
but someone hurt you, abused you or took advantage of you.
Because of unfortunate situations, usually not your fault,
you may feel worthless.
No matter what has happened or may be happening
now, however, you never lose your value in God's eyes. To
God, your life and your sex- uality are still gifts and treasures.
The Church has a strong message and the teachings
of the Church provide powerful guidancewhatever shape
you are in. I want to offer six values rooted in Church teaching.
Sex Is Good
Sex is a strong and powerful drive. It is not
dirty or automatically bad. God has not created anything that
should be banned or dumped. Both teens and adults canand
havemisused God's gifts but that doesn't make the gift
ugly or evil.
Food can be the object of gluttony and food
can be abused during food fights in a cafeteria, but that
doesn't mean that food is dirty or evil. Sex, too, can be
misused, but it always remains a decent and wonderful gift.
Sexual Activity Is Meant for Good
Sexual activity that hurts another person in
any way is not sexuality the way that God intended it to be.
No one has any right to pressure anyone into anything that
is physically painful, makes the future frightening or damages
Meaningful sexual activity, from holding hands
to married intercourse, should be pleasurable. It should make
both people hopeful and optimistic about the future and it
should build self-esteem and self-respect. If any activity
in a relationship causes pain, erodes hope or makes someone
feel worthless, it's not a good use of sexuality.
All Sexual Activity Is for Loving
Sexual activity is not about celebrating the
prom, exploring curiosity, keeping a boyfriend or a girlfriend,
proving "maturity" to someone or keeping up with the crowd
because "everyone else has done it." Sexual activity is about
loving, and love is about sacrifice.
If you want to know who really loves you, make
a list of all the people you know who will make a sacrifice
for you, even when they are not going to get anything out
of it. Try to identify the people who will give up what they
want so that you can have what you need to be holy, happy
A few years ago, I was explaining the importance
of sacrifice to a large group of high school seniors. From
the front of the room, I could see that one of the girls in
the group was becoming visibly upset. I called a 15-minute
When I approached the crying girl, she explained
her struggles. She and her boyfriend had been going out for
almost three years. They had lived through three false alarms
about pregnancy and a couple of scares about sexually transmitted
diseases. She was also very upset because she hid all this
from her parents.
I gently observed that she didn't look as if
she was feeling holy, happy and healthy. I told her that she
and her boyfriend should stop having sexual intercourse outside
of marriage. It was jeopardizing her future and her relationship
with her parents.
She agreed, but wondered whether her boyfriend
loved her enough to make that sacrifice. I suggested that
if he didn't love her that much, maybe this wasn't love. I
reminded her that the people who really love you are the ones
who help you handle the tension in life and not increase the
pressure. Two people who truly love each other will make sacrifices
and control desires so that they can both be holy, happy and
Sex Involves More Than Love
Sexual activity and sexual intercourse express
more than love. Some people conclude, "Sex is O.K. as long
as you love each other and are willing to make sacrifices
for each other." Not exactly!
You should definitely love the person that you
have sex with, but you don't have sex with everyone that you
love. Love and sexuality are more than that. Sexual activity,
especially sexual intercourse, is also a decision and a commitment.
Imagine that I give a very expensive necklace
to one of my nieces for Christmas. At graduation time in the
spring, I take the necklace back to give to another niece
as her graduation present. Suppose I let her keep it until
another niece leaves for college. I give the necklace to a
third niece who is going to college. I tell her that she can
keep it until her sister gets married. Then I will need it
to use as a wedding present.
A real gift is a gift forever, in good times
and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death. A "temporary
gift" is a loan and not a real gift.
Because your body and your sexuality are so
precious and meaningful, they are among the best gifts you
have to give. Sexual intercourse is the way that you will
share yourself as a gift to your spouse.
When you share intercourse as a sign of your
unconditional love for your spouse, you are loving each other
as God loves and that is the highest form of love on earth.
Your marriage covenant will be sealed with the gift of married
love and that is the best reflection of God's love that we
Sexual intercourse is not a casual activity
or an experiment. It isn't something you do to see if you
can get along and love each other. It is the ultimate celebration
and the bond between you and your spouse when you have committed
yourselves to each other. Sometimes young people think that
sexual intercourse should be allowed as long as they are careful
and are going to get married sometime in the future.
Your Body Is a Gift
A popular argument for intercourse outside of
marriage is, "What I do with my own body is my own business."
Your body is your way of expressing your Christian beliefs;
Your body is a tool on loan from God.
One day at a workshop, I asked if the teenagers
present had any special mementos from their grandparents.
One boy mentioned that he had his deceased grandfather's favorite
pipe. When I asked him how long he would have to know a girl
before he would give her that pipe as a gift, he said, "At
least five years!"
I asked him to think about his life and his
body as a gift from his grandfather and his father. Part of
his life, his inherited characteristics, his genetic makeup
and some of his physical characteristics were handed down
to him from his grandfather, just as the pipe had been.
Then I asked how long he would have to know
a girl before he would share his body with her. Later that
day, he privately told me that he was not respecting the gift
of life he had received from his ancestors. Although he would
not give the pipe to a girl unless he knew her for at least
five years, he had had intercourse with casual acquaintances
with whom he had no relationship or commitment!
Your life, your body and your sexuality are
not yours alone. They are gifts that you have received from
parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Someday, most
of you will share that gift with your children, your grandchildren
and your great-grandchildren.
It's Never Too Late
What if you are a crumpled, wrinkled $20 bill?
Our faith and our Church offer you a great gift of hope and
I have an old watch that has a cracked crystal.
It doesn't keep accurate time anymore and the gold-plated
finish has worn off. For sentimental reasons, I cannot get
rid of it.
Like the crumpled $20 bill, the watch is not
brand-new. Even if I took it to a jewelry store and had it
repaired, it would still not be brand-new. When it's repaired,
it becomes a valuable antique. As Jesus says in the parable
of the lost sheep, "[T]here will be more joy in heaven over
one sinner who repents—" (Luke 15:7).
No one can steal this gift from you.
If you have been abused, taken advantage of or pressured into
a bad decision, you are still a gift and will be a gift until
you freely choose to give yourself to someone.
So then, why is this Catholic priest writing
to you about sexuality? I hope that these ideas about a $20
bill, a necklace and an antique watch will give you some ideas
about how you can respect and understand the great gifts of
life and sexuality so that you will be as holy, happy and
healthy as our loving God wants you to be.