This post is rated M for mucous, among other things. I hope you're not letting your kids read it.
A friend of mine has a bunch of kids. She's pregnant with another, and she's worn out. Each year we're a little older, and she gets nervous thinking about the possibility of continuing to have more kids. "I'm at the point where I would travel all over the city," she said, "and talk to different priests until I could find one who said, 'You've done your part. Go ahead and have your tubes tied. I'll absolve you.'"
I can follow the line of thinking.
Still, neither one of us takes our Church's teachings lightly, so I asked her, "Would you ever consider just not having sex for the remainder of your fertile years?"
She looked me square in the eye and said, "I would rather live the rest of my life without the Eucharist than without sex."
It was a bold statement, an exaggeration even, still, she caught me off guard. Not because of what she would choose (though I was impressed that sex was more than an afterthought), but because she recognized with such clarity that there was a choice to be made between contraceptive sex and Eucharist. She didn't want to remain open to life, but she would not receive the Eucharist unworthily.
If I had to wager a guess, though, sexual issues would be the most likely stumbling block between a Catholic and the Eucharist, especially when you consider that unmarried sex, gay sex, masturbatory sex, adulterous sex, and contraceptive sex--roughly 90 percent of the sex that takes place in the world, and possibly even the Church--is incompatible with receiving the Eucharist. Really, the "kinds" of sex that are compatible with Eucharist are pretty slim: You're married, procreative and unitive or you're abstinent. There can be no groovy fertile (M) sex without openness to life.
I asked my husband what he would choose if he had to make a choice between sex and the Eucharist. "Both," he said, which was exactly the kind of hypothetical compromise I was trying to work out was well. And fine, we stay open to life, we can have our cake and eat it too. But if we're not open to life, God is merciful, right? God understands how difficult abstinence is. Maybe I could wriggle into some mode of feeling peaceful with a contradiction, or at least moderately at ease with it, and keep taking the Eucharist with everyone else in the line on Sunday mornings. There is no one to stop me. And after all, it's highly unlikely that everyone else has such a hunky-dory Catholic sex life.
But if we refuse to make a choice between sin and receiving the Eucharist, it can only mean that we drastically underestimate what we expect to receive from the Eucharist. Receiving the Eucharist worthily means eternal life, fellowship with Christ, grace in hardship. Receiving it unworthily means a curse. Nobody likes to think about that.
In order to favor Eucharist over sin, one has to succumb to a seduction by Christ that is far more powerful than any earthly seductions. To be won and conquered by Christ, wed to him in the Church, receive his body in the Eucharist, would be pleasant satisfaction over the fallen human dealings most of us prefer. But relationship with Christ comes with risk, a Cross, surrender of body and soul--just as married, procreative sex comes with risk and surrender.
My friend continues to work out this issue in prayer, and Christ continues to reveal himself to her. "I had this image in my mind while I was praying recently," she said, "that I could see a little white cross way off in the distance, and I knew it was in the future, but I couldn't take my eyes off of it, and Jesus was standing in front of it walking towards me, but I didn't realize it was him. I could only see the cross, and I missed out on Jesus."