Disclaimer: This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I rec’d no other compensation and was only asked to write an honest review of the book which you’ll find below.


Catholic Sexual Ethics by William May, Rev. Ronald Lawler (OFMCap), and Joseph Boyle, Jr.

As many of you know, I am a cradle Catholic … elementary, high school and undergrad were Catholic schools. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how little real Catholicism I received through all those years of schooling. As I homeschool my own and review more and more Catholic fiction and non-fiction, I am becoming more and more amazed at just how everything fits together, the “don’ts” I heard growing up are not only explainable but reasonable, and the “do’s” are joyously followed now.

A case in point is this book, Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Summary, Explanation, & Defense (3rd edition), by William May (and others). I originally wanted to review this book to understand a little better what my dh teaches his high school students. Dh is a bioethics and theology teacher at a diocesan high school and sometimes when he tells me about what the kids are doing, what he has taught them or what videos he has shown them (and why) … well, let’s be honest: my eyes glaze over, my mind wanders, and I’m not getting all of it. I figured this book might help elucidate!

I got much more than I bargained for in reading this book. First, it’s amazingly readable — May (et.al.) has a way of writing that is gentle, understandable and yet not preachy. The authors don’t get didactic but are emminently reasonable in their approach to these topics … topics which are fraught with misunderstandings, especially over the past few decades. But, more importantly, I got a much clearer understanding of the Church’s teachings for single and married persons, teachings that are often misrepresented by the secular world in a ploy to denigrate the Catholic Church.

The book starts with a clear explanation of by what authority the Church teaches: “the Church presents and always has presented many moral teachings with entire assurance, expecting her sons and daughters to believe and live by this teaching. She [the Church] does not expect this because popes and bishops are so humanly wise, but because through them Christ himself guards the faith and its saving truths — truths necessary if we are to live worthily as children of God.” (emphasis added)

So, this book is a theological treatise. While the authors acknowledge that much of moral and sexual ethics can be understood on purely philosophical arguments, that is not what they will delve into. The authors’ belief is that the gift of faith in Christ and His Church are much more accessible than decisive than mere philosophical argument. So this book is written by and for Catholics who want the theological rationale for teachings on virginity, chastity, modesty and sexual behaviors for all married and single adults.

With this ground work set, the book continues to explain the sanctity of marriage with the three blessings assigned within the marriage bond: procreation and education of children for the worship of God, fidelity of each spouse toward the other, and the indissolubility of matrimony because it is a sign of the indissolubility of Christ and His Church. Because marriage is a sacrament within the Catholic Church, there are graces bestowed on the couple … graces that assist in the procreation and education of children, in the ability to be faithful to each other, in the richness of the Church to assist in keeping the marriage safe and strong. With these great gifts granted to a married couple, there are also great sacrifices: daily sacrifices of self for the spouse and children of the marriage and sacrifices of chastity, modesty, and moral behavior. As the authors point out throughout this volume: marriage and the family unit are a microcosm of the Church universal … a sign of God’s love for each one of us … a symbol of the rehabilitation of our fallen natures to holy souls who will reunite with the Trinity in heaven … evangelists to the world through the example shown by the family.

Thus, the Christian family, as Pope John Paul II insists, ‘is called upon to take part actively and responsibly in the mission of the Church in a way this is original and specific, by placing itself, in what it is and what it does as an ‘intimate community of life and love’, and the service of the Church and society.’ The Christian family … is indeed the sanctuary of life whose role in building a culture of life and a civilization is, John Paul II says, ‘decisive and irreplaceable.’ (pg 211)

The authors go beyond marriage and explain the obligations of the unmarried and their moral and sexual behaviors. The Church teachings (often secularly uncomfortable and misunderstood) to single people to live chaste lives are explained and defined. Further, the authors delve into the scriptural and traditional ratinales that have unfolded through the centuries to define these guidelines. The authors explain the beauty and reverence for ourselves and our bodies which is the root of these teachings; yes, we are passionate beings, but these passions need to be checked to ensure we don’t use or abuse ourselves or others.

Sighting extensively from Church documents, scripture, and tradition, the authors paint a beautiful and loving message for all adult Catholics — whether married or single — in how best to live out our mission of love and marriage. I highly recommend this book for 11th grade and above … for all those seeking a better, clearer understanding of why the Church teaches what She teaches … for all those confused by the secular pundits who disparage the Church and want to change these ancient teachings on love, marriage and sexuality.

Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Summary, Explanation, & Defense (3rd edition) . They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

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