ROME – In a 25-year-old book written by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández that has resurfaced amid disputes over his recent approval of non-liturgical blessing of same-sex couples, the Argentine prelate offers readers an in-depth spiritual reflection on human sexuality and the meaning of orgasms.
Titled La pasión mística: espiritualidad y sensualidad, meaning, “Mystical passion: spirituality and sensuality,” the book was published in 1998 and was written by then-Father Víctor Manuel Fernández, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF).
The book, noteworthy for its detailed and explicit description of male and female experiences during orgasms, has resurfaced in light of debates surrounding the publication in December of the DDF’s declaration, “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” in which Fernández’s, with the approval of Pope Francis, urges pastors to give non-liturgical blessings to couples in irregular situations.
At the time of his appointment as head of the DDF last summer, Fernández came under fire for another controversial book he wrote in 1995 on the spiritual meaning of kissing, titled, “Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.”
Speaking to Crux, Fernández said “Mystical Passion” is a book he wrote while still young and is one “that I certainly would not write now.”
“Long after that book I wrote much more serious ones like, ‘The Healing Force of Mysticism,’ and ‘The Transforming Force of Mysticism,’” he said.
Fernández said he cancelled “Mystical Passion” not long after it was published, and “never allowed it to be reprinted.”
He said the book made sense at the time after having a conversation with young couples “who wanted to better understand the spiritual meaning of their relationships,” but that soon after it came out he feared the book “could be misinterpreted.”
“That’s why I don’t think it’s a good thing to spread it now. In fact, I have not authorized it and it is contrary to my will,” he said.
In the book, Fernández opens with a reflection on the description of God as a spouse in scripture, citing the prophet Jeremiah saying he had been “seduced” by God and the sensual language used in the biblical book Song of Songs.
Arguing that God is the ultimate fulfillment of humanity’s desire for love and happiness, and that God meets a person’s deepest desire for intimate love, Fernández writes at one point that, “now, surrounded by your arms, caressed by your skin, letting me bathe in your breath, it seems to me that you are doing something new, Jesus.”
“You are not leaving my side, your arms, your skin, your heat, your shoulder that supports me are still there. But now you are entering me, you are taking over my intimacy, the deepest center of my heart. Without forcing me, without forcing me, with infinite delicacy,” he said, in what read as a quasi-love-letter to God in the second chapter.
Fernández’s most explicit language comes in chapters 7-9, where he describes the love shared with God as a “mystical orgasm and asks whether people experience this “orgasm” according to their sexuality.
To answer this question, he proceeds in Chapter 7 to explore how men and women experience orgasms and whether there is a difference.
In his reflection, Fernández said women generally feel less satisfied by sex without love and take less pleasure in looking at pornography, and that a woman needs her man “to play a little” before intercourse, whereas the man is more interested in getting down to business.
He asserts that men and women tend to make different noises during intercourse, and said women are “usually unsatiable” after an orgasm due to their anatomy, and need men to give them “something extra,” while a man “normally releases himself well…and remains satisfied and exhausted.”
Fernández then asked whether the differences experienced by men and women in orgasms also apply in one’s relationship with God.
On this point, “the mystical experience God touches the most intimate center of love and pleasure, a center where it does not matter much whether we are male or female,” he said, saying, on the basis of science, that the differences in how men and women experience sex come before the orgasm, not after or during.
In Chapter 8, titled, “The Road to Orgasm,” Fernández explored the question of whether faithful are called to a “passionate experience” of God similar to those had by mystic saints such as Teresa of Ávila and Therese of Lisieux, who had “inebriating experiences” of God after their conversions.
“If that loving and passionate experience of the presence of God is something fulfilling, something that wonderfully harmonizes and calms our affectivity and our sensuality, then we all have at least the right to desire it,” he said.
He then reflected on how God’s love can transform a person, but cautioned that while healing and restorative, God’s love cannot free a person from sin or “psychological weaknesses.”
To this end, Fernández used the issue of homosexuality as an example, saying that to experience God’s love “does not mean, for example, that a homosexual will necessarily stop being homosexual.”
“Let us remember that God’s grace can coexist with weaknesses and even with sins, when there is a very strong conditioning. In those cases, the person can do things that are objectively sinful, without being guilty, and without losing the grace of God or the experience of his love,” he said, and quoted paragraph 1735 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Likewise, he said, “There may be a religious sister who has to make great sacrifices to be faithful to her virginity, because her psychology has some strong conditioning in that order, and yet, at the same time, she has a beautiful, very authentic experience of the love of God, which makes her happy.”
In Chapter 9, “God in the Couple’s Orgasm,” Fernández said his reflection in previous chapters was about “a kind of fulfilling orgasm in our relationship with God, which does not imply so much physical alterations, but simply that God manages to touch the soul-corporeal center of pleasure.”
“If God can be present at that level of our existence, he can also be present when two human beings love each other and reach orgasm; and that orgasm, experienced in the presence of God, can also be a sublime act of worship to God,” he said.
Fernández reflected at length on God as someone who both loves and desires human happiness, and that in this sense, experiencing happiness can also be an act of worship.
He offers several quotes from scripture to back this up, and said that in this sense, pleasure in any form “is also something religious, because it is a gift from God.”
“Therefore, he who is able to enjoy the presence of God, can more easily be aware of God’s love, and thus open himself to loving others,” he said, saying, “All this can also be said of sexual pleasure, which has been created by God for the happiness of man.”
Sexual pleasure has “a particular nobility” above other bodily pleasures, because it involves two people and is thus shared,” he said, insisting that this is why sex can so easily lose its meaning when it is done selfishly or for one’s own satisfaction.
“When sexual pleasure is achieved in an act of love…then sexual pleasure is also an act of worship to God, who loves the happiness of those who love each other,” he said.
When sex is truly an encounter of love, and neither party seeks their own pleasure but wants to love the other and seeks their happiness and pleasure, “the pleasure of orgasm becomes a preview of the wonderful festival of love that is heaven. Because there is nothing that anticipates heaven better than an act of charity,” he said.
Fernández hit back against notions that sexuality is dirty or bad in some way, saying sexual intercourse best manifests the love between spouses and allows it to grow, and in this regard, as a spiritual act, it can also open a person’s heart and lead to contemplation of God.
He said negative views of human sexuality among Christians came the Greeks, who “negatively influenced Christianity” by passing on a “contempt for the body.”
The Greeks, he said, “understood man as consisting of two ‘parts,’ the soul and the body,” and thus developed a contempt for the body and for carnal pleasures, prioritizing spiritual things instead as nobler and of higher value, he said.
“When this Greek mentality influenced Christianity, it produced the idea that to be more ‘spiritual’ it was necessary to despise the body,” he said, but noted that what are traditionally viewed as the worst sins in Christianity, pride and hatred, have nothing to do with the body.
“They are rather ‘spiritual’; and we also know that the body also intervenes in the greatest works of love and dedication,” he said.
Fernández admitted that not every aspect of the body is holy, and even good things such as sexual intimacy can become perverse, saying a couple can lose the real meaning of sex and become “just two egomaniacs who masturbate each other.”
Sex should not be casual, but a way for a married couple to express love and make each other happy, he said, saying “sex for sex’s sake is a way of remaining in adolescence and a lack of maturity.”
To this end, Fernández noted that masturbation is the most common form of adolescent sexuality.
In the chapter he also notes that other religious traditions also hold a deep appreciation for sexual pleasure, and offers quotations, including the 15th century Egyptian theologian Al Sonuouti, who said, “Praise be to Allah, who establishes penises as hard and straight as spears to wage war on vaginas.”
Fernández closes the chapter saying that to separate God from pleasure “is to give up living a liberating experience of divine love. Wanting to hide from God when we experience pleasure…is believing in a false God who, instead of helping us to live, becomes a persecutor who hates our joy.”
“Just as an artist can offer to God, with immense tenderness, a wonderful work of art that he has managed to create, so too a couple can give to God a beautiful act of love in which they are able to overflow with pleasure and gratitude, making each other happy,” he said.
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