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Monday, August 12, 2013
Sometimes when I hear about the experience of Singles, I get really angry. People tell Singles the most preposterous things, and virgins tell other virgins the most preposterous things about sex, too. Not always, of course. But, honestly, I wish unmarried people would stop talking to unmarried people, in mixed groups, about sex. If older Catholics have to lecture younger Catholics about sex, I recommend training widows and widowers (of all ages) to make the remarks. First, they will know at firsthand what they are talking about. Second, they will not be betraying anyone by talking about it.

Here's the experience that has most recently made me really angry. It belongs to Bernadette, who wrote it in the combox:

Once I was listening to a Theology On Tap on the topic What Celibate People Do To Have Fun. I think it was supposed to be a "it's fun to be holy and chaste" sort of thing. The speaker was a young-ish (under 40) priest, who had discerned his vocation before he was 21, entered the seminary at 23, and was ordained at I think age 26 or 27. He proceeded to tell a whole bar full of mostly single Catholics that the very best fun in the world, the only thing that's really 100% fun, is either having married sex, or concelebrating the Eucharist if you're a priest. 

When he was challenged on this during the Q&A (specifically, is there any hope for fun for the audience members, some of whom may never get married, and most of whom will never be priests), he basically said no. He then went on to say that if you weren't happy being single, then clearly you haven't prayed enough about your vocation. 

When he said that, I looked at the other ladies sitting at the table with me: beautiful, holy, accomplished, intensely prayerful, who have discerned their vocation to the married life twenty ways from Sunday (literally), and almost all currently single. And that's when I decided that maybe I should go home early that night so that I didn't have to go to Confession for punching a priest. 

Bless his little heart.

I am at somewhat of a loss to state what St Thomas Aquinas would have said to this priest, but I will give it a try. I think he would have blinked in the bright indoor light and wondered what on earth a young priest was doing in a common alehouse. Then he would wonder why on earth a priest that young was talking to women about sex. Then he would realize that the priest was talking about married sex as FUN and, not being able to find a burning brand in a handy nearby fireplace, he would grab a chair and make a rush at the young priest. Exit young priest, pursued by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Somebody please explain to me how it is an aid to chastity to tell twenty-somethings that sex (oh, excuse me, MARRIED sex) is that best fun you can ever have, and if you can't have it you have missed out on the greatest fun in the world.

First of all, we already have a serious spiritual problem around "fun," fun being defined as somewhat mindless enjoyment. Too many of us have been dissuaded from getting real work or making real sacrifices that will pay off in the long run or having more than 1.8 children all in the name of "fun." Parenting is not "fun." Work is very rarely "fun." Prayer is not "fun." Going to Mass is not "fun." If concelebration is "fun" for the young priest in the story, then there is something seriously wrong with the way the young priest concelebrates.

Second, we have to get away from the idea that sex--oh, excuse me, married sex--is "fun". (Scene shifts to St. Thomas raining blows on young priest as they run down the street away from the pub.) Hopefully there is an element of mindless enjoyment in sex, but if you think of sex merely as "fun", then you are the sort of person who thinks of dinner merely as a great opportunity for a food fight.

Married sex is necessary. It is basically the only activity that can heal up all the emotional bruises and bumps and scratches and scrapes that naturally occur when a man and a woman who are unrelated to each other by blood live in the same house and share the same bed and occasionally the same towel because who can tell the towels apart and, by the way, who used up my shampoo? I call it the Vitamin C of marriage so often you should quote me in your Sexual Ethics papers.

It is also, to paraphrase St. Thomas as he yells and wallops, where babies are suppose to come from. First and foremost, babies are what sex is for. That's why nature makes men and women fall in love with each other and want to live together when, let's face it, we are so different in some ways we're almost different species. That's the procreative part of marriage. The unitive part, the Vitamin C part, is the part that helps us to bear the craziness of two opposites living in one space. We don't get married to have sex; humans get married to make babies (whether or not we know or agree with that), and we have sex to stay married. Does that make sense?

I am trying to think of what the very best fun in the world is, or what the very best fun I ever had was. For some strange reason, I keep thinking of the time at a pyjama party when I, your extremely immature Auntie, then aged approximately 34, bounced to my feet on my friend Lily's bed and sang "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."  I suppose this points to my true belief, which is that the best fun anyone can ever have, is to just be silly with your friends and make them laugh.

Yes. That's it. Most of my friends in Edinburgh are Single, and I don't want to say I know what their experience of The Very Best Fun is, but I have my very best fun when we are all together at a party, and have eaten well, and have drunk well, and are sitting or standing around the piano and Benedict Ambrose is on a roll. When B.A. is on a roll, everyone laughs and sometimes he reaches such heights of comic genius, we laugh so much tears roll down our faces while he sits (or stands) there looking smug.

So that is my answer to the "What Celibate People Do to Have Fun" question. To have fun, Celibate and Married People alike should eat and drink and laugh with the people they like best. If inspired, they can sing songs around the piano and, if doubly inspired, they can spontaneously dance waltzes or polkas around the sitting-room. I am not sure if this is what the Communion of Saints get up to in heaven, but I suspect such unself-conscious communal merriment provides us with a clue.