Question: Despite the conservative Catholic stance on morality and church issues we've taken all our married life, our older unmarried son and daughter have no problem with sleeping over at a lover's home, in the same bed, with the full knowledge of the person's parents.
Though my wife and I have always expressed our opposition to this practice, and don't allow it in our own home unless the two people sleep in separate rooms, we've been told we're the only parents who take this "extreme and old-fashioned" position.
We've also been told that even priests have sex (the evidence being the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church). Therefore, we're perceived not as living according to a Catholic moral code, but observing our own personal moral code and using an archaic and outdated form of church morality as the basis for our personal choices.
How do we get through to our children when even the Catholic Church itself has completely eroded away any sense of moral standards in the eyes of today's young people? — F., West Babylon, N.Y.
Answer: Parents of all faiths and no faith have many obligations to their children. They must provide them with the necessities of life: food, clothing and video games, along with a clear, morally upright code of conduct for their lives. Part of this moral education is to teach children about sexual morality. This can't be done by denying and distorting what you believe and what your faith teaches.
Premarital sex has two dimensions. The first is promiscuous sexuality, in which sex is treated as simply a morally neutral bodily function and personal urge. This is wrong because it severs the links between sex and love, sex and marriage, and sex and procreation. It's false to good sex and false to good faith.
The second dimension is committed monogamous sex between two loving but unmarried people. At least this form includes love and a form of commitment, but still falls short of Catholic teachings and short of what I view as the rational ethic of sexual morality because it breaks the connection between sex and marriage.
This view may sound old-fashioned to many, but old-fashioned is sometimes a good thing when cultural trends are morally bankrupt. I believe you have an obligation to keep telling your kids what you believe and demand respect for your morality when they're sleeping under your roof.
Don't worry so much about being relevant, trendy or contemporary. Worry about being right. The Catholic Church teaches the need for "remote preparation" for marriage, which means that you are central players in the establishment of sound sexual ethics in your kids. Even premarital sex with a loving partner brings in the ancillary issues of contraception and a potentially unwanted pregnancy. What seems like a simple act of love is actually a complex risk-taking behavior that should be avoided for the sake of physical health and moral virtue.
This teaching is basic to Catholic morality. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6:20, "Honor God with your body." Jesus, quoting Genesis 2:24, taught in Matthew 19:4-6, "At the beginning, the Creator 'made them male and female', and said, 'for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one."
In his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:4-5), Paul taught, "Each of you should learn to control his own body. In a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God." These are old-fashioned words, but they are true words and their values animate all major faiths of the world.
Finally, the argument about priests having sex is wrong and insulting. Priests take a vow of chastity, and citing the violation of this vow by some wayward priests as proof for its moral acceptability is breathtakingly false.
Q: I live in an apartment complex with many Jewish neighbors. Although I'm not particularly religious, I was raised in the Christian tradition. My Jewish neighbors never fail to acknowledge Christian holidays, greeting me with a warm, "Merry Christmas, Happy Easter," etc. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I know little about the Jewish holidays and their appropriate greetings.
I'd love to return my neighbors' thoughtfulness but tremble at the thought of an inappropriate greeting. Could you compile a list of Jewish holy days that should be acknowledged, and the appropriate corresponding greeting? Or is there a website or online calendar I could consult? — K., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: I'm not a "Happy Holiday" kind of guy, but I appreciate and endorse greeting religious folk with words appropriate to the holiday. I'm glad your Jewish neighbors seem to be doing that.
As for Jewish holidays, the simplest English greeting is to just say, "Happy..." and then name the holiday. "Happy Passover" and "Happy Hanukkah" work just fine. For the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, which begin the evening of Sept. 28 this year, and Yom Kippur, which begins the evening of Oct. 7, the best greeting is, "Happy New Year" or the Yiddish/English hybrid, "Good yontif."
Jews tend to use the abbreviated, "Have a happy and a healthy," which always amuses me because it begs the question, "Have a happy what?" Thanks for your concern about how to be a gracious spiritual friend.
Send questions only to email@example.com.