God created mankind in his image; In the image of God he created them; Male and female he created them. (Gn 1:27)
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 Jn 4:16)
In God's Image, Men and Women
Are Made for Love!
God's plan for human love and sexuality is good news! "The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church" (Amoris Laetitia, 1). All that the Catholic Church teaches about human love and sexuality comes from this truth: that God, who is love, created all people in his image—male and female he created them—to share his love and therefore to reflect his love in the world and in their lives. Jesus Christ fully reveals who God is as a Triune communion of love—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He shows us the face of God and shows us who we are, and who we are called to be. Love and sexuality are bound up in this noble truth!
Catholic teachings on love and sexuality are founded on God's revelation of himself in Christ Jesus—as handed on through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 74-100), accessible to the light of faith; and, on the nature of the human person and the natural moral law, accessible to right reason and illuminated by faith. Here we will consider what it means to be made in God's image, why male and female are foundational to God's design, the gift of love, the nature of marriage, and why chastity is essential to love rightly.
To learn more about God's plan for love and sexuality, please explore the sections below on this page. See also The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 355-421, 1601-1666, 2331-2400, and 2514-2533.
God's Plan for Love and Sexuality
Male and Female He Created Them: The Gift of Sexual Difference
Marriage: A Unique Communion of Persons
Made in God's Image
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness…Male and female he created them. (Gn 1:26-27)
In the Book of Genesis, we read that man and woman are the unique crown of God's creation, made in God's image. In his image, men and women have received the capacity to be in relationship with God and with each other. "The mystery of the Christian family can be fully understood only in the light of the Father's infinite love revealed in Christ, who gave himself up for our sake and who continues to dwell in our midst" (Amoris Laetitia, 59). We are made for relationship, for communion, and called to love like God with faithfulness, trustfulness, responsibility, forgiveness, mercy, and generosity. Every person is created in the image of God and therefore has great dignity. Every life is of value. God has also given us the power to cooperate with him to create new life—procreation. Given we are a unity of body and soul, our human bodies and sexuality, male and female, are an integral part of God's design and essential to being made in the imago Dei. The human body, therefore, has great dignity, and human sexuality is a great good (see CCC, 355-373). "Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology" (Laudato si, 155).
Male and Female He Created Them
The Gift of Sexual Difference
Male and female he created them. (Gn 1:27)
Male and female is the twofold expression of human nature. Like human life itself, sexual difference is not arbitrary but is willed by God. Men and women are equal in dignity and yet are different from one another in important ways, including in their bodies and how they relate to each other and to the world. Sexuality affects every aspect of who we are (see CCC, 2332). Through sexual difference, we see that men and women are created for each other. As male or female, our differences complement each other and allow us to relate to one another in profoundly personal ways. "Valuing one's body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek 'to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it'" (Laudato Si, 155).
Through masculinity and femininity, God has written into the human person a mutuality of one to the other. This points to the "spousal meaning" of the body, whereby the human body is seen to be a gift (see Theology of the Body). St. John Paul II explains this as man and woman existing not merely "'side by side' or 'together,' but [also as] called to exist mutually 'one for the other'" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 7; see also CCC, 371-372). Men and women are created to give of themselves to each other. They manifest God's image both from their common humanity and their communio with each other (see CCC, 371-372).
Human sexuality is woven into the fabric of each man and woman. It carries within it the powers of love and life and is the human source of our most basic relationships as members of a family. Human sexuality indicates the capacity of persons to love one another and be united with others in friendship and community. Sexual difference is a sign of our call to love, to communion, inscribed within who we are, including our very bodies. As Pope Francis notes, "It needs to be emphasized that 'biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated'" (Amoris Laetitia, 56).
Called to Love, to Communion
It is not good for the man to be alone. (Gn 2:18)
Love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)
God is love. He is the Blessed Trinity, a Communion of three Divine Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—continuously giving and receiving love, one to the other. God calls all people to communion with Him and with each other through the Church, the Body of Christ. We live out this call to communion in various ways whether as clergy, consecrated religious, married persons, or in the single state—in families, friendships, in the parish, in a religious community, with colleagues at work, among fellow citizens, and indeed with the global community. A unique form of communion to which most people are called is found in marriage, the one-flesh communion of persons between husband and wife. "Marriage is the icon of God's love for us" (Amoris Laetitia, 121).
God desires that each of us grow in holiness by giving and receiving love like him. Such love requires putting the human ego aside and first considering the needs of others before our own. As we pray in the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, "it is in giving that we receive."1 We can only know our real selves when we give of ourselves to others (see Gaudium et Spes, 24).2
With regard to human sexuality, the mutuality noted above comes into play as men and women seek to love each other. Each has different gifts to present to the other. Whether it is in friendship or marriage, forming authentic relationships with other people may be the most profound way that we enact our likeness to God.
Of all the "communions of persons" that people can create; Scripture tells us that marriage is the fundamentally unique relationship (see Church Teaching on Marriage; Church Teaching and NFP; see also Marriage: Unique For A Reason). "[Conjugal love] is an 'affective union,' spiritual and sacrificial, which combines the warmth of friendship and erotic passion, and endures long after emotions and passion subside" (Amoris Laetitia, 120). God willed that marriage be the unique communion of persons, indeed, a covenantal relationship, that is designed for the well-being of husband and wife (the "one-flesh" union) and the "begetting and educating of children." (see Gaudium et Spes, 50). Marriage, as willed by God, builds the family!
The gift of human sexuality is precious with its powers of life and love, and it calls for an authentic and healthy integration in the person. This is the virtue of chastity. Chastity ensures "the successful integration of sexuality within the person" (CCC, 2337). It protects the inner unity (body, mind, and soul) of the person. It enables men and women to defend "love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness" (Familiaris Consortio, 33).
Everyone is called to chastity. Chastity is necessary to the right living of one's sexuality. It requires practice, or as the Catechism calls it, an "apprenticeship in self-mastery," where a person learns the meaning of true freedom (see CCC, 2339). The chaste person is not governed by his or her emotions. Rather, the chaste person understands the meaning of sexual feelings and appropriate behaviors. Chaste self-possession brings true freedom and peace.
In marriage, the joy of love needs to be cultivated. When the search for pleasure becomes obsessive, it holds us in thrall and keeps us from experiencing other satisfactions. Joy, on the other hand, increases our pleasure and helps us find fulfillment in any number of things, even at those times of life when physical pleasure has ebbed. (Amoris Laetitia, 126)
With chastity, we can avoid using others and abusing ourselves. We can live our sexuality according to God's plan for our lives. Chastity reminds us of the value of the person and of the body. It helps us respect interpersonal boundaries as well as our own bodies. Chastity enables us to "love rightly" according to our state in life. "The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person, it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it" (CCC, 2338).
- The Peace Prayer of St. Francis captures the spirit of God's love:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
- "This likeness…reveals that man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (GS, no. 24).
A Unique Communion of Persons
Marriage is a unique communion of persons, and it is on the basis of this communion that the family is called to become a community of persons. (St. John Paul II, Letter to Families, 10)
God is the author of marriage. God willed that man and woman would be joined in such a way as to help each other to grow in holiness and to protect and nurture new life in their sacred relationship. Marriage builds the family and the society. Pope Francis reminds us that at "the center [of the home] we see the father and mother, a couple with their personal story of love. They embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: 'Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?' (Mt 19:4)" (Amoris Laetitia, 9).
Husband and Wife, a Communion of Persons
It is God who calls husband and wife to be an image of his own love in the world. Marital love is therefore marked by faithfulness, permanence, and openness to life. The marital bond is brought into reality by the free consent of a man and a woman. When two baptized Christians exchange their marital consent, their bond is taken up into Christ's love for his Church. Christian marriage, rooted in Christ, is a sacrament and has a special firmness.
The "intimate partnership of life and the love" that God designed for marriage has its own unique characteristics (see Gaudium et Spes, 48). First, husband and wife are called to form a permanent communion of persons. Second, spouses are called to be stewards of the gift of life. They are to welcome children generously to their marital union. "The fruitfulness of the human couple is a living and effective 'image,' a visible sign of [God's] creative act" (Amoris Laetitia, 10). Indeed, the Church teaches that Christian spouses receive a "kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state" (Gaudium et Spes, 48).
Scripture has much to say about marriage. Probably the most telling is in the second chapter of Genesis. Adam's happy cry upon seeing Eve that this one "at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23) is an ancient confirmation of the truth and goodness of God's design for married love: "That is why a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body" (Gn 2:24).
Gifted with the Capacity to Give Life
To be a man or a woman includes the gift of fertility. "If the parents are in some sense the foundations of the home, the children are like the 'living stones' of the family (see 1 Pt 2:5)" (Amoris Laetitia, 14). Fertility enables many people to share in God's bringing of a new life into the world through procreation. Sadly, it must be remembered that we live in an imperfect world. The cross of infertility is part of many other people's lives.
Men and women bring to the act of procreation (sexual intercourse) their entire persons (body and soul) and only those reproductive cells that are unique to them. The great good of procreation is part of God's design for marriage:
God blessed them and God said to them: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it." (Gn 1:28)
In addition to the good of the spouses, God created marriage to be "oriented" or "ordained toward the begetting and education of children" (Gaudium et Spes, 50). The fullness of human sexuality—its power to unite the man and women in the one-flesh union (unitive) and its ability to generate new life (procreative)—is, therefore, to be lived within the context of marriage. This is true despite the fact that not all couples will be able to bear children. Marriage, the Church understands, "is not...the effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces, it is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love" (Humanae vitae, no. 8).
When a man and a woman come together in the conjugal embrace (sexual intercourse) and bring forth new life, it is an awe-inspiring act of God's generosity. It is a gift. This is why the Church has often spoken of procreation being a "primary good" of marriage. It is the invitation by the Lord of all Creation to share in the sacred task of procreating new people with an eternal destiny.
Although Church teaching holds up procreation as part of the nature of human sexuality and marriage, married couples may find that they are infertile. "Some couples are unable to have children. We know that this can be a cause of real suffering for them" (Amoris Laetitia, 178). The Church does not have an answer as to the "why" of infertility, despite the fact that medicine may be able to provide a diagnosis. With sincere compassion to those struggling with infertility, the Church can offer consolation and guidance to approach infertility in a way that reverences the person and respects God's plan for married love. In addition, the Church joins with St. John Paull II in saying:
You are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world. (John Paul II, Homily, 1982)
For more information, see the following USCCB webpages and websites: