When I read St Paul VI’s (I love writing Saint before his name) encyclical Humanae Vitae last year, the section on “What Love Is …” startled me. As I read his descriptors of what love is, especially what sexual and marital love is, I immediately drew the connection to St. John Paul II’s lecture series “Theology of the Body” (1979-1984). The themes of sexual love within Humanae Vitae mirror Theology of the body. Love is FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL, & FRUITFUL.
Below is a graphic representation of God’s plan for sexual love according to Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical:
What does a Catholic romance look, feel, and act like? Does it differ from other Christian relationships? Do our heartfelt relationships follow swoon worthy scripts of the popular romantic comedy? The Notebook? P.S. I Love You? Or do our “rigid” moral teachings, practices, and beliefs squelch the passion and pleasure of erotic love?
Catholic romances are individually written by God and the brokenness of each couples humanity. Despite the taint of original sin, our love stories are filled with a passion and fire beyond the popular romantic comedy or epic romantic fail like the 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight series. Our love stories, as any Christian love story should, mirror the wood of the manager that leads to the wood of the Cross.
But our love stories are worth a laugh. A song. A dance. A prayer. Even tears. I can think of many moments between my friends and I that are more than romantic comedy worthy. So I decided to share a few.
There is a special man in my life. . . . Not a shocking catchy first line. Nonetheless, the sentiment in very true. I do have a special man in my life. During the course of a close friend’s wedding weekend, I spent quality time with the above mentioned individual.
Here are a few first memories. I present the art of subtle, good clean flirtation:
“Are you going to join us? . . . ” When followed by a muffled response expressing he wasn’t joining us on the carousal ride, my benevolent invitation seemed to fall on deaf ears. I entered the carousal ride carefree and indifferent but puzzled.
“That’s more like luv not love.” I stared with a quizzical befuddled expression on my face. Internally I was thinking, “Only my family and I talk like that. On occasions my friends. Who is this guy?” Who in my general peer group actually knows how to delineate between luv the hokey superficial version of love rampid everywhere versus the real deal, authentic expression of Christ-like love.
By the rehearsal dinner Saturday night, I recognized there was something different going on. I felt a perpetual gaze and adorable smile penetrating the back of my head all dinner. Every time I turned around to address the bride and groom at the table behind me, smiles and light blushes met my gaze.
Scandal!!!! I’m alone in a bedroom with a handsome man yelling nonsense. He had no idea. This occurred the morning of the wedding while the bride and bridal party prepared before the pictures and ceremony. Being the made of honor, I took my job very seriously. Time arrived for the bride to don her wedding dress. I marched into the master bedroom and yelled, “WHY ARE THE LIGHTS OFF & DOOR CLOSED?” I honestly thought a fuse had blown in her 1940s ranch. On the opposite side of the master bed, a lone photographer quietly crouched on the floor snapping pictures of her bridal gown hung on the closet door while I yelled. Looking over, I blushed bright red embarrassed and mortified. I promptly marched out of the room and shut the door.
I may have aggressively competed with another member of the bridal party for the bouquet toss. The whole scenario was in-jest. I didn’t care that much about catching the bridal bouquet which I did not catch. The entire incident is captured in beautiful and vivid detail. This includes a picture of me going “missed it by that much!” When I looked up, a bright blushing face and smile met my gaze. Our eyes met and I blushed bright red too.
One of my best friends is getting married this weekend on the Feast Day of St. Therese of Liseuix. A weekend of celebration with family and friends, fancy bridesmaid dresses and suites, and most importantly committing one man and one woman to each other before God and loved ones in the Sacrament of Marriage. The Sacrament of Marriage means an “an outward sign of an inward grace instituted by Jesus Christ.” A living testimony of heaven and earth living in union/communion and poured out to humanity. A reflection of the continual exchange of love shared between the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That is marriage.
What is this “love” that propels Jesus Christ’s instituted sacrament of marriage? A wedding is a day. A marriage is, hopefully, in the original plan of God is intended for a lifetime. As Jason Evert delicately put it “compatible comes from the Latin word compati, meaning, ‘to suffer with.’ If you are unwilling to suffer with someone until death do you part, then you are not compatible.” Marriage though joyous inevitably comes with sorrow and suffering too. I defer to the ever popular wedding Bible Passage:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
How much do you and I really stop, ponder, and prayerfully process this reading? The words are powerful. This isn’t a butterflies in your stomach, roses, and chocolates sort of love. Instead, the above love describes an authentic, not easily attained and maintained love without a tremendous amount of daily grace, humility, and striving with the help of the other Sacraments like the Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation. etc.
Another popular wedding reading is the “submission” bible passage. Women cringe and rant/rave. Men smirk or shift restless in the pew. Sadly, original sin mucked this up. Men are historically and personally susceptible to the taint of original sin in the form of domination or “Lording over.” Woman and children have born the brunt of this taint of original sin throughout the ages. In the Greek and Hebrew,”submission” entails a serious degree of obedience, a gravity of obedience. What does the passage actually say?
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.“For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.”This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband” = Ephesians 5:21-33
This is what I took away from reading the biblical passage above.
Both husband and wife are subordinate to one another.
Wives should be subordinate to their husband as the Lord.
Husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the Church. WHOA! Hold on one sec. . . . So a husband is suppose to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. Ponder and weep men. You’re called to self-sacrifice, die to your sins and selfish desires for your wife as Christ did for the Church. So crucifixion isn’t out of the job description.
Sanctify her. Cleanse her body by the Word. Who is the word? Christ is the word. Men are spiritually responsible for leading their wives and family to heaven. Sanctification!
Present himself without spot or wrinkle . . . sparkly splendor. i.e., NO SIN.
He who loves his wife loves himself. If the man loves himself, he loves his wife. And if he doesn’t love his wife, he doesn’t love himself.
The man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This means growing up emotionally, spiritually, and mentally as a man. A man can love and honor his parents and family, but cannot his use his family as a selfish, hurtful tool against his wife and children.
Now women, we aren’t off the hook either. We are called to respect these men. Hold them to a higher standard. Call them to better behavior. We can’t drag them into bad behavior and then complain about how awful men are. Sadly, many men and woman wouldn’t want the above relationship. Some will act a certain way but deep down are hypocrites. Many times, we will fall short of the perfect plan God outlined for us. That does not mean it isn’t the ideal.
Please, join me in praying for holy marriages and families. Because only with holy marriages and families willing to sacrifice together in authentic love will peace be in our world. For all those in relationships, engaged, and newly married . . .
May the Holy Family inspire, support, and guide them. AMEN.
This past weekend my friend and fellow bridesmaid and I made the trek (okay, it’s really not an arduous drive) from Eastern Washington to Western Washington for our mutual, good friend’s bridal shower in Lake Stevens, WA. My friend, who was driving, married her husband 2 years ago in a Western Washington Catholic wedding. She and her husband celebrated the Sacrament of Marriage in her childhood church followed by a reception at a Community Center in Mulkiteo overlooking the breathtaking, gorgeous waters of the Puget Sound. Our mutual friend that prompted the trip is getting married October 1st on the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux in Eastern WA.
On Saturday, upon arriving at the bridal shower, a basket full of fake diamond engagement rings greeted us with a card explaining “Put a Ring on It.” The rules of the game involved avoiding saying “bride” or” wedding” and if the forbidden words were uttered, you could claim the offenders ring. The person with the most confiscated rings won.It’s a silly game; thankfully, much more innocent than most bridal shower games.
Starring at the shiny, faux diamond ring that poorly fit any of my fingers, I solemnly processed the symbolic meaning of an engagement ring – an outer sign of a deeper reality and impending commitment to another. A simple ring that, hopefully, represents a future lifetime together. Not all engagements end in marriage nor should. Not all relationships end in an engagement nor should.
For me, years ago as a Freshman in college, my Senior boyfriend graduated, moved to Arizona for graduate school, and asked me to remain in an open relationship. I chose not to “wait around” for him. I knew he wasn’t the one whom my soul loved. I chose a clean break-up. Three years later before I graduated from college, he contacted me. Asked me to take him back. Desired marriage. etc. If I really had been bound and determined to marry for the sake of marrying, I could have easily married him. He was convenient. In many ways, he was a”desirable” and an “appropriate” person to marry, but I knew differently. I knew the real him. I advised him to make better, more loving decisions. And I walked away.
I didn’t put a ring on it 5 years ago. And I thank God everyday, I did not. Instead, I pray for my future husband each night. During the day, I worked on myself and my relationship with God. If and when I do “Put a Ring On It” it will be a moment of celebration with my beloved as we commit ourselves to preparing for lifetime of drawing each other closer to heaven.