Critics of the Catholic Church's clear teachings on the correct use of the gift of sexuality frequently say the Church is 'obsessed with sex.'
The truth is that she is obsessed with Love. Her gaze is on Christ, love personified; and it is from listening to Him and watching Him that she has developed her understanding of love in all its forms, including human married love.
In the first place, we consider His words, in which we find love, mercy and justice in perfect harmony:
'You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she commits adultery.'
'Every one that puts away his wife, and marries another, commits adultery: and he that marries her that is put away from her husband, commits adultery.'
'Neither do I condemn you - go and sin no more.'
The meaning of this could not be plainer; so much so that the apostles were over-awed by the rigour of His teaching.
Then we observe His life: and recognise that if we are to consider ourselves Christian in any meaningful way, we are to learn from that, too.
And what we find is that Love had nowhere to lay His head; that love, in encountering the fallen world, suffers, takes the way of the Cross, and sacrifices Himself for those whom He loves.
It is the zeitgeist of our times that is obsessed with sex, and resents the Church's witness that there is another, better, way to understand human sexuality than the hedonism that makes consent the only moral criterion, or a woolly romanticism that makes romantic attraction the sole issue.
The truth is that the Church knows a thing or two about love both from the direct teaching of Our Lord and from her accumulated wisdom over the centuries.
What all but the most depraved long for in their romantic love is lifelong fidelity and mutual love. It is the Church who knows how to achieve this. Recognising that fallen man is pulled in all sorts of directions by emotions, desires, inconstant appetites and so on, the Church recognises firstly the need for sacramental grace: marriage is the surest foundation.
Given the inevitability of occasional tensions and temptations, a steadfast commitment to fidelity, bolstered by all the support and the moral weight that the Church (and ideally society) can bring to bear is also essential.
In order to grow in a communion of love, total self-giving, including openness to life, is also a pre-requisite.
And, in fidelity to the example of Our Lord, we acknowledge that love is always, ultimately, sacrificial; which is why we promise 'for better or for worse...'
None of this is a guarantee of happiness; we are not given that guarantee. But unlike hedonism, or romanticism, (which both spectacularly fail to deliver) temporal happiness is not the goal. The goal of Christian love is the good of the other, the dedication of the will to God, and ultimately eternal salvation and union with God and with all those in union with Him.
That is why the most loving thing for someone in an irregular union to do is to desist from pseudo-marital relations. For we know from the clear teaching of Christ that such behaviour is sinful, and we know that sin harms those who commit it. So anyone living in adultery, who claims to love his or her new partner is delusional: love seeks the good of the other, not to put the other's soul in peril.
Of course that is a difficult teaching, and impossible by human standards; which is why sacramental grace, found in the confessional and then (where a firm purpose of amendment is made) in holy communion is essential.
But the alternative is what we see all around us. Thousands upon thousands abandoned by their spouses; thousands upon thousands of children deprived of the stability and example of true married love. And the inevitable damage that ensues - not least the abuse by the thousand of the children in these irregular relationships by their mother's new boyfriend, or even their new step-father. That is not the way of love.