If You Wanna Be My Lover by Ken Fitzgerald

“You’ve ravished my heart, my sister, my bride” (Song of Songs 4:9).  I’ve been fascinated by this line in Scripture from the moment I first read it 12 years ago.  The lover calls his beloved, “his sister, his bride.”  Now, this not Marcus Aurelius’ son in the movie Gladiator, tying to hook up with his blood sister.  This is a man who is deeply in love, who God is speaking through to show us a little somethin’, somethin’ about love.  Let’s dive into this…

For me, the journey started 13 years ago when a beautiful young lady ravished my heart.  I had a big crush on this woman and she knew it.  I went to ask her out and she says to me, no, she will not date anyone until she’s known them a year.  She wanted to be friends for one year before dating.   What?!?  At first, I took this as a rejection, but then as a challenge.  This girl was worth waiting for.

When the year came around, I asked her out.  Again, she says, no, there’s another stipulation.  I have to read the book Love & Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla, first, and then she’ll decide.  For real?  Yep.  So I got to work and I’m a really slow reader, but I was motivated like never before and I knocked it out in week.

I can’t tell you how much respect I had for this young lady.  I’m so thankful for her.  She made me wait; she wanted to see if we could be friends first and then possibly build a relationship on that foundation.  In the book, I found out what love is and is not, and what its opposite is:  use.  I learned about the hard-core responsibility one has in using the word love in the context of a relationship between a man and a woman.  I enjoyed having to work for this young woman’s heart.  As it should be!  To a playboy like me, she said, “Prove it, that you really want to love me and that I’m worth it.”  I had so much respect for her, and though we never got married (I decided to pursue the priesthood), that foundation we established has never gone away, and we both, I hope, left each other as better people.

Now a lot of people agree with me on this principle of building a friendship first, but the Scriptures seem to take it a step further and say be brother/sister first before becoming groom/bride.  Ladies, do you feel your spirit jump at the sound of this?  Hopefully!  Guys, are you feeling a little sick in your stomach?  Hopefully not!  This idea is good news, great news!  To learn to express my love/affection for my beloved as a brother to a sister, and vice versa, is a wonderful blessing and a beautiful call.  This is something that will help build a healthy relationship, one that is not based on pleasure derived from making out, fondling, or intercourse, but on care and concern for the other, based on love and service to the other.  It will give you the opportunity to learn to communicate well, the foundation of all relationships.  Learn to have fun together in multiple ways that don’t involve a bedroom.  Learn how each other interacts in group settings, out in public.  Serve the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the youth, together, as a couple or encourage the other to do so even without you.  Do things for one another, pray with one another, build each other up as a brother should his sister, and vice versa.  Protect one another from the dangers of this world, and help them be holy because there are only Saints in Heaven.

Man, to view my beloved as sister/brother first and go from there, that’s tough.  It can be, but for God, nothing is impossible.  Come Holy Spirit!  God come to my assistance.  Lord make haste to help me.  And may we always do what love requires.  Amen.

P.S. If you’re already in a romantic relationship, one that did not begin as sister/brother, it’s never too late to put aside the physical relationship and concentrate on the emotional/spiritual elements, learning to love one another intimately without so much the kissing and/or fondling and/or clothes coming off.   Be creative.  “I can do all things through Him (Jesus) who strengthens me.”  Amen.

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Bruno Mars and The Universal Longing

A few weeks ago, while riding in the car with my roommate, the song “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars came on the radio. I made an offhand comment about how the song was “nasty” and made a move to change the station, but my much wiser(and, perhaps,much less jaded) roommate made the comment that she believed Bruno Mars was onto something profound. She and I have both been amateur students of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and she expressed to me that she thought that Mr. Mars, in what might not be deemed as the century’s most subtle or poetic presentation, was brushing elbows with Truth in a major way. Upon arriving home, I did a quick Internet search for the lyrics and, after a time of reflection, came to agree with my holy-sex-savvy housemate. Let’s break it down:

Verse 1

Never had much faith in love or miracles

Never wanna put my heart on the line.

But swimming in your world is something spiritual

I’m born again every time you spend the night

Bruno tells us that he has always been reticent to offer himself to romantic partners due to his lack of belief in love’s veracity, but upon his acknowledgment that sex with the subject of this song is far more than just a physical undertaking, he feels compelled to “put his heart on the line,” that is, to give of himself with more fullness and depth than he previously had. This is consistent with the teachings of our former Pope. True romantic love, and the rightly ordered sexual expression that is the privilege which comes along with it, impels us to make full gifts of ourselves to our partners, both body and soul. Married love, which is meant to be a visible sign of the invisible nature of God, demands that we love one another the way that the Lord loves us: Freely, Faithfully, Fruitfully, and Totally. To do this, we must be willing to risk putting our hearts on the line, to entrust the fullness of our bodies(this includes our fertility) to our lovers, and to live in the the complete faithfulness that can be ensured only by the bonds of Holy Matrimony.

Verse 2

You bring me to my knees

You make me testify

You can make a sinner change his ways

Open up your gates cause I can’t wait to see the light

And right there is where I wanna stay

Bruno is getting real in this verse. The man is about to testify, and I don’t blame him. Contrary to what our increasingly anti-Catholic culture might want you to think, the Church views sexuality as great and glorious good. The pleasure that we humans are blessed to experience in the context of the sexual act is a GIFT from God and a foretaste of the unimaginable bliss that we will (with God’s grace) one day experience in Heaven. The blessing of sex OUGHT to make us testify to the goodness of our loving God and this little taste of Heaven better be getting us seriously pumped up for the hereafter.

“You can make a sinner change his ways,” says Mars. This line reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Fulton Sheen, who says it much better than I ever could:

        “When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Amen, brother.

This particular verse is just chock-full of theological truth. Maybe he knows it, or maybe he doesn’t, but Bruno Mars is using STRAIGHT UP BIBLICAL LANGUAGE when he asks his lover to open up her gates. I’m serious. Open up to the Song of Songs (one of the most beautiful and, might I say, sexy, parts of the Holy Bible)and check out 4:12 and 5:2. Tell me you don’t see it too.

Bridge and Chorus

Can’t I just stay here?

Spend the rest of my days here?

Cause you make feel like, I’ve been locked out of heaven

For too long

As I mentioned earlier, sex serves the dual purpose of facilitating married relationships (this inherently includes procreation) as well as imaging the relationship between Christ and His Church (His free, faithful, total, and fruitful love) and giving us a sneak preview of the joy of Heaven. God has designed sex to draw us closer to our spouses, to become one flesh with them, but, ultimately, spousal relationships are designed to draw us to our true and eternal Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Love makes us desire moments that last forever because, from the very moment of our conception, we have been yearning for forever-ness with the Lord.

Since the commercial release of “Locked Out of Heaven,” the song has charted in the top ten of 20 different countries, has been downloaded hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times, reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for five consecutive weeks, and gets played (from what I can tell, anyway) about every 1.5 seconds on the radio. Why the raging success? Well, besides the catchy melodies and irresistible beats, of course, I think it’s because this song hits home for humanity. Even though I’m fairly certain he didn’t do it on purpose(but, hey, anything’s possible!), Bruno Mars has touched upon the universal longing of every human heart-to be in Heaven- and he has managed to figure out that God uses our sexuality in a powerful way to get us there. Although most people aren’t aware of all these deep theological truths, I believe that truth is written by God in each of our hearts, so that, when we hear the it, it resonates deeply with us, even when we don’t necessarily give our consent to it. God is God of the present day (and every day) and He is willing to use every medium necessary to win the hearts of His people back to Himself, no matter how depraved we may have tried to make them. The Lord, today, is using art, movies, music, yes, sex to take us to Paradise (you know it, Bruno!) with Him. Even though our own sinfulness has often marred the true beauty of these instruments, our God of transformation will continue to use them as an avenue to hand us the keys to His Kingdom, and He will never allow us to remain locked out.

Gotta Give it Away Now by Michael Zimmerman

When I ran track at BU I didn’t just love running, I loved competing and the best was the indoor 500m. You’re all nerves days before and up to the very start of the race. As soon as the gun fires it feels like there’s just one long yell going on inside your head as you barrel along the track. I’m getting my heart rate and adrenaline going just writing about it. In every 500, you reach a point when you have to make a decision, usually with about 150m left to go, and you’ve only got a split second to decide: “Am I going to give my all, or am I going to simply try to finish the race?” In one sense, it’s not an easy decision to make, you’re tired, your legs are starting to go lactic, and you know as soon as the race is over you’re going to be suffering from “booty lock” as your glutes and hamstrings seize up and you can barely walk while your head is exploding as your vision darkens and your throat is burning and your head is in a trashcan with three other guys who are also dry heaving because nobody could stomach any food before the race.

And did I mention that I love competing? Because in the other sense, it’s the easiest decision in the world to make. In those last 150m you’re giving everything you’ve got and can’t hold back. In everyday life we have to hold back so much. Maybe it’s just something I experience as I guy; how I feel the need to climb a mountain and pick up a car and toss it off the ledge while yelling at the top of my lungs and solving complex math equations and somehow this involves saving orphans from a burning building. I’m not able to do this too often, so track provided me a way to for me to be entirely me, to be me for every ounce of me and so give every ounce of me until there was nothing left at all to be. And 20 minutes after the race and I was recovered, I wanted to do it all over again.

We’re all called and feel this need for a complete gift of self, though I’m sure men and women experience it psychologically in very different ways. We find outlets for it, some of them are healthy and some of them are not. Some just deaden our feelings, and some don’t fully engage us and thus fail to satisfy us. When it comes to sex, it really needs to be ‘betrothed love’ in order to be complete and satisfying on all the levels of who we are: physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, etc. But how can we give ourselves completely in this way?

I have to admit, I hate lying. Whenever I lie, or am hypocritical or twofaced, I feel like there’s a hole deep in my stomach or that my soul is being split in two. It takes real integrity to not act with self-interest or change who we are just to please those around us. This integrity is essential for self-gift; for a gift to be complete it has to be whole, it has to be one. Since the ‘what’ we are giving is ourselves, we can’t be divided, we have to be integrated. For someone to be ‘one’ with another, they’ve got to first be ‘one’ within themselves. So exactly how does one become one so two can become one? (Love is a bunch of fuzzy numbers really).

Self-gift requires us to be one within ourselves and for that we need unifying or prioritizing values. Whether we are conscious of it or not, every action we make has some end, some value that it aims to achieve. Every day we face conflicts between competing values. Do I put the extra effort into this paper or do I get those precious hours of sleep. Do I enjoy this delicious ice cream or do I watch my figure. We need some kind of priority so that we can order those competing values so that the highest goals win out. We need a goal or value so great, so magnanimous, that it encompasses our entire human person so that we can be a person of integrity. We need a great love that’s worth living for and fighting for and directing everything else towards.

If the love is there, we need the use of free will, of self-mastery, to help us make this integrated and complete self-gift, so that all our attractions and desires are submitted to and directed towards their true end, the other person. This self-mastery, the virtue of chastity, allows us to be unified in our action towards the good of the other person. Chastity doesn’t just involve integrity of self though; it also means integrality in a gift of love. This is because the ‘what’ we are giving in love is the gift of ourselves – not just the body, but everything of ours and especially our free will. This is ‘betrothed love’, the complete gift of self, one, whole complete gift of self, and only when we are integrated can we give ourselves completely as a whole without holding anything back. True love involves an integrated self, true love is directed to the integrated value of the other person as a person, and true love is a one whole complete gift of self.  But in surrendering ourselves to another, this self is far from destroyed but is rather expanded and perfected. Expanded because the existence of the person now includes another, and perfected because ‘to love’ is our most perfect, possible act.

We can only give ourselves to the extent that we are free, and we’re only free to the extent of our self-mastery. Mary was Immaculately Conceived so that she – pure, chaste, free – would have the freedom to say “yes” completely to God’s will during the Annunciation. The same is true for Jesus; the completely free act of will in the Garden of Gethsemane allows for a most perfect act of love on Calvary.

The Responsibility of Men to Uphold the Dignity of Women by John Gancarz

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33

Christmastime provides the perfect opportunity to contemplate the feminine reflection of God manifested in women. For at the center of the glorious birth of Christ, we find a female – Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord. The fact that God chose to bring us a savior through a woman merits our attention. Jesus did not merely appear out of thin air or descend from the clouds as a babe. Instead, Our Lord became incarnate in the womb of his Mother and came to us through a natural birth on that momentous day two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. It is clear that femininity expressed in motherhood is something precious in the eyes of God. In this context, we also find a man at Mary’s side, Saint Joseph, who continuously supported, protected, and, unquestionably, respected Our Lady during those exceptional days. This standard, so profoundly enacted by Saint Joseph during the birth of Christ, is the one to which Our Lord calls all men. Ultimately, we find this same nature in Our Savior Jesus Christ, the supreme model of manhood. As our modern culture perpetuates the objectification of women, it is crucial for men to uphold women by following Christ’s model and recognizing the God-given dignity of women as revealed to us in His word.

First, it bears value to recall the place of gender in our identities. As written in Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Therefore, we know men and women are both created in the image and likeness of God. As described by Blessed Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of woman, Mulieris Dignitatem, we can draw from this that both men and woman are human beings to an equal degree. We each portray complementary masculine and feminine qualities of God. Furthermore, Bl. John Paul II notes that there is no way to characterize what is human without referencing both masculinity and femininity.

We may ask, “What happened?!” Why throughout history and in most realms of today’s world we cannot find such equality? The answer lies in the fall of humanity when sin entered the world. In Genesis we read God addressing Eve after she and Adam consumed the forbidden fruit, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). Note the order of events; it was not the original intent of God that this inequality would be present, but it came into existence with sin. After the moral order was disrupted after the fall, men came be inclined to objectify women. Of course, this is by no means an excuse for men. In fact, all of humanity should be correctly opposed to this tendency. Bl. John Paul II notes in Mulieris Dignitatem that although women obviously bear the greater pains of this reality, it also lessens the true dignity of men as well.

Bl. John Paul II also cautions us that in our just aim of restoring equality between men and women, we should be no means “masculinize” woman. By “this path, women will not ‘reach fulfillment’, but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness.” Rather, in the pursuit of equality, we must preserve diversity. It is in this way that a woman saves and treasures the unique image and likeness of God shown by her femininity. This is surely a challenge for our generation as we grapple with what is truly feminine. In my experience, far more women renounce what is considered feminine than men renouncing what is deemed masculine. It seems that at least part of the problem is that femininity is sadly confused with a weak, tacky “girly” stereotype that is simply unappealing to many women. This stereotype is almost opposite from the nature of our feminine role models, like the Virgin Mary. While all of humanity is to blame in one way or another for this confusion, men have a tendency to emphasize weakness in women out of insecurity of their own strength. By this, I mean not physical strength, but strength of character and resolve. If men would recognize and value this trait in females, they would reveal greater fortitude not only in women, but in themselves as well.

We can reason that the failure of men to uphold the dignity of femininity is in large part due to a crisis of true masculinity. While the problem of masculinity in this culture is a topic for another posting, Christian men know that the remedy to this lies in aligning one’s life with the absolute exemplar of manhood, Jesus Christ. When we look to the gospels to find Christ’s treatment of women, we find that it was exceptional, especially given the cultural and religious norms of his time period. Again in Mulieris Dignitatem, Bl. John Paul II notes that we cannot find anything in the actions or words of Jesus which show the discrimination against women which was so characteristic in the culture of His era. Bl. John Paul II writes further, “It is universally admitted – even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message – that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promoter of women’s true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity. At times this caused wonder, surprise, often to the point of scandal.” It is a gift from God that man has such an incredible role model in the most important man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, and that women can always be reminded of their true worth and equality through Him.

An example of Jesus taking Himself “to the point of scandal” is readily apparent in his dealing with the Samaritan woman at the well. It was not the cultural custom of His time to be talking to a woman alone at such a scene, no less a Samaritan woman. His own apostles “were amazed that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27). Jesus also knew the sin of this female as he says to her, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). Yet, He all the same proclaims the good news to her, “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). We learn through gospel passages such as these that Jesus shares the truths of the kingdom of God with women as well as men.

Perhaps equally as striking is the example of Christ encountering the woman accused of adultery. Jesus tells the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” and once they dissipate instructs the woman, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:7,11). Christ takes the attention off of the woman and instead focuses on the sins of the accusers. As Bl. John Paul II notes, the scenario of this woman is sadly repeated over and over again throughout history. How often is the sin of man hidden, while that of the woman is revealed? The man, also to blame for sins of adultery, does not face the same test and humiliation as the woman. However, Jesus Christ reveals to us that God is aware of all of our transgressions and insists that men also repent and face their wrongdoings.

We can also turn to the context of marriage. St. Paul writes, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife…” (Ephesians 5:22-23). This way of thinking was not foreign to the prevailing custom of the time. The insight of this passage can be understood in light of the previous line in Ephesians, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Bl. John Paul II writes that all motives of the subordination of woman to man must be considered in the context of mutual subordination. It is this mutual subordination for Christ, not only that of the wife to the husband, but also of the husband to his wife which “must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs” (Mulieris Dignitatem). Clearly then, any subordination of woman to man must never lead to exploitation. Rather, Christ calls men to a more intimate relationship with his spouse built on love instead of use and symbolic of the great love Christ has for His Church.

Christ calls each and every one of us to the highest standard as we embrace God’s true plan for humanity. In this way, Jesus specifically instructs men, “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). This teaching and all others of Christ are inseparable from authentic masculinity. On a grand scale, His example commands all men to actively defend the dignity of our sisters. Our faith teaches us that this mission is crucial; the passive approach to the degrading culture of our time is wholly insufficient. Yet, we need not despair in this challenge for we are never alone. Whether in Mary’s womb or as the babe in swaddling clothes, Jesus was truly present to Saint Joseph through the greatest trials in protecting his spouse and child. So too Christ is with us “until the end of the age.” We fight together to realize in our world the words of Saint Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(Check out Mulieris Dignitatem by Bl. John Paul II:  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html)