St. Agnes & a new sexual revolutionBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
I was born in 1960. It was a time of change, challenge, and the questioning of authority. Those of you who are my age or older recall television news reports that depicted riots and demonstrations in the streets as people protested the war in Vietnam. I remember seeing marches and clashes of people advocating for racial and civil rights. With the Watergate scandal rocking our nation’s capital, more and more people began to criticize our government. It was almost a “the perfect storm” of unrest. These protests generated a lot of distrust of “institutions.” For the first time, a large segment of the United States population questioned the authority of our government—really, all long-standing institutions, the Church included. This time was also coined the time of “the sexual revolution,” the anthem of which seemed to be “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” It championed the thinking of “I want to be free to do what I want, most certainly with my body.”
The pill became legal and allegedly freed women from the so-called “burden of fertility.” Without the confines of “boundaries” and boasts of “freedom,” the sexual revolution soon had society out of control, leaving women (and children) most vulnerable. Sex was no longer about a sacred commitment of marital love and raising a family. Sex became recreation without responsibility, sex was about fun: anytime, no strings, and with anyone.
By the 1970s, the effects of this “sexual revolution” were being seen: promiscuity and teen pregnancies began to rise. Abortion was legalized in 1973, ushering in never-heard-of “late-term abortions” and its companion horror, partial birth abortions. By now, sex is seen as entertainment in much of our culture, and pornography proliferates, becoming a multi-billion dollar business. Surprising? Not really, because if “I should be free to do what I want with my body,” so can everyone else, right? Sad.
Let’s fast-forward some 44 years: One out of four teenagers has a sexually-transmitted disease. My hometown of St. Louis has some of the highest rates of gonorrhea and syphilis. St. Louis is also reported to be in the top-20 cities for situations of human trafficking for sex. According to government statistics, the average age of entry into prostitution in the US is 13. Varied reasons are listed for this: coercion, physical violence, deception, and abuse.
Where is the “freedom” of the sexual revolution for these victims?
A glance at recent headlines in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch encapsulate the horrid details: Florissant Man Sentenced for Sex Trafficking; Kirkwood Man charged in Sexual Torture and Trafficking; Woman admits Prostituting 13-year-old runaway; Columbia man Pleads Guilty to Coerced Sex Trafficking of Child.
Young virgin, martyr, heroine
On Jan. 21, we celebrated the feast of St. Agnes. She was martyred in c.304 for the Faith when she was about 12 or 13 years old. This little girl gave her heart to Christ and rejected the physical advances of a young man. In anger, he reported her to the authorities and she was eventually martyred. This little girl has a lot to teach us today. In our society, saturated with sexuality and indulgence, all you have to do is turn on the TV, flip through a magazine, or look at most product endorsements and you will see shows infused with sexual innuendo and occasions where even fast food is sexualized. Recall that commercial of a scantily-clad woman with sloppy eating habits depicted as an object of sexual desire in an ad, presumably marketed to men driven only by physical urges, to sell a hamburger. Really? A hamburger?
I pray these people are not role models for our young people!
Christ desires to be our greatest love.
Which brings me back to St. Agnes: I believe that the witness of St. Agnes can lead us into a new “sexual revolution.” This new revolution is based on purity, modesty, and respect. St. Agnes gave her heart to Christ and nothing was more important to her than her relationship with Christ—no person, no object (no hamburger). Christ was her greatest love, and it was a pure love, one in which she treated her body as a sacred temple of the Holy Spirit.
That same relationship is one Christ desires with each of us. Christ desires to be our greatest love, and each of us is challenged to love Christ in return. He calls us to purity of body, mind, and heart. In fact, because of our Baptism, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. And if Christ is the focus of our mind, body, and heart, then everything changes. All of a sudden, a young woman would realize how foolish it is to allow herself to be objectified, and she would dress modestly, aware of her worth and value as a vessel of the Holy Spirit and a child of God. With a focus on Christ, modesty is attractive, because modesty is based on self-respect. And when there is respect for self—no matter one’s gender—there is respect for others and an intolerance of disrespect and exploitation.
In the 1960s, there was a sexual revolution where all the rules and regulations were thrown out the window. It wasn’t “cool” to be chaste and modest. And a generation later, what remains? Men and women are being more and more disrespected and exploited. The result is broken bodies, broken relationships, broken hearts, broken families, and broken souls.
If we allow it, St. Agnes could lead us to a new sexual revolution based on purity, modesty, and respect—a sexual revolution where we can rediscover the beauty of who we are as children of God and sexual people. This new sexual revolution is rooted in the dignity of both men and women, and raises the expectations of how we treat one another. Respect and dignity can help all of us out of the gutter.
Let’s keep St. Agnes and her witness in mind as we March for Life in Washington, DC, on Jan. 27. Let us witness for ALL of life at every stage with dignity and respect.
Let us pray: St. Agnes, pray for us.