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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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)
Something horrible happened to me last year.
While sitting in a theology class (that I loved) during the course of my master’s work at a Catholic graduate school (that I loved), one of my professors (whom I really loved) boldly stated that he didn’t believe that God “had someone” for us. To him, the notion that the Lord wills and has in mind a particular mate for those of us that are called to marriage was overly romantic and false. The alternative that he offered was that God’s will is for each one of us to be holy and, if one were earnestly pursuing that, should they choose a mate (and should that mate choose back), God’s blessing would be upon it. However, (as I perceived it, anyway), the specifics of how and with whom this potential vocation occurred were not of huge importance to Him. As soon as the words were uttered, I knew I didn’t like them and a small seed of unease began to worm its way into the previously peaceful soil of my heart.
After class, upon returning to the home I shared with several other theology students, we launched into a heated a discussion about our professor’s comment. After much debate, the majority consensus seemed to be that our beloved professor was correct: God doesn’t have some fantastical soulmate waiting out there somewhere for us. Our mates are our own choice. We are on our own.
My roommates pointed out many beautiful and positive things about this particular worldview on vocations: the obvious respect that our Creator has for our free choice, His unwillingness to corner us into only having a single chance to get it “right”, the beauty in our mates being with us, not because they are supernaturally destined to, but because they choose to be. Yet, despite all of these true and reasonable points, this new reality did not settle well with me. That seed of unease began to beget deep, twisted roots of dissatisfaction and sprout creeping vines of passive panic.
I, like many young adults in their mid-twenties, had been fed years of college campus ministers and well-intentioned speakers on retreats telling me that God had a plan for my vocation. I, like many other young adults, had said goodbye to a life of promiscuity when I heard the Good News at the age of 19 and said hello to a life of righteous, but difficult, chastity. I, like so many others, had began to watch younger friends, non-religious family members, and promiscuous classmates find love, get engaged, and start their happily-ever-afters, while I, who was trying desperately to follow God’s will for my life, remained perpetually single. But I was content. I trusted in the Lord’s plan for my life. When the man that I adored through most of my undergraduate experience told me that he was only interested in me as a friend, I trusted. When I graduated from college without having been asked on a single date, I trusted. When the man on my post-college missionary team took my breath away and then decided to become a priest, I trusted. Through all of my self-discovery and loneliness, through my tears, in the bitterness and sweetness, I trusted. The blessing and the aching of my singleness would surely end in my being rewarded for my stern struggle with a wonderful husband. Every heartbreak and unexpected turn of my life was okay with me, because I trusted that it was all part of God’s Greater Plan to lead me to the one that He always had in mind for me.
To confront the fact that my vision might not be true changed everything.
Were all the twists and turns in my life just arbitrary?
What if no one else ever decided to choose me?
What was the point of persevering along the difficult path of righteousness if it were just as likely to result in loneliness as in marriage?
How dare God call me to follow Him, make me all these promises, and leave me hanging out to dry?
I decided that, if God wasn’t about to help me out in the mate-finding department, I needed to take matters into my own hands. And since His way of doing things had gotten me a whole lot of nowhere, I was going to do it my way. I rebelled. For the first time since making my commitment to live chastely, I willingly gave into sins against my purity. I gave way to many temptations, I got involved with men that I knew weren’t good for me, and I stopped praying. I was angry with God, but the more I spited Him, the emptier I felt, and the farther I wandered from Him, the more directionless I really became.
At the bottom of my ravaged heart, I knew that I missed the Lord. I found myself in the confessional one Saturday afternoon, pouring out my feelings of confusion and anger towards God. The loving priest’s counsel to me was humbling: He said, “You’re not really mad at God. You’re mad at who you think He is.” My deep, deep discontent wasn’t just about my frustration at still being single. It was at the idea that God didn’t care about my life or my future. The idea that my hurts and hopes, fears and wishes were pretty much irrelevant to Him. The idea that the God Who knew every hair on my head didn’t really give a damn whether I got married or not. The idea that my best friend wasn’t Who I thought He was.
This realization was the beginning of my slow healing, the start of the process of letting God back in. The journey has been difficult and gradual for me, and I’m still in it. I’m still learning to be faithful and learning to hope, but, with the Lord’s patience and grace (as well as the counsel of several holy people in my life), I have learned several important lessons:
- Righteous living is worth it for God’s sake.
I was so busy being absorbed in my own misery that I became completely transfixed on the rewards I thought I deserved for being holy. I thought that my pursuit of purity and prayer were going to result in the prize of a spouse, when, in reality, my prize is Jesus Himself. He gives us a model for life because He knows it’s what’s best for us and we should be impelled to adhere to His commandments out of love for Him, not out of earthly gain.
- Our God is not a laissez-faire God.
My disillusionment with God began when I started to believe that He was out of touch with my every day and that He was more of a “big picture” type of Guy. I think this bothered me so much because our human hearts innately know that God has created us for deep and loving intimacy with Him. Psalm 56 tells us that “our wanderings have been noted by God” and that our tears are “stored in His vial.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a hands-off policy to me. In my rejoicing and in my suffering, God is before me always.
- The Mystery of Concursus
As members of the Christian family, we are blessed heirs to a faith that, at its very essence, is centered on the Incarnation. Our Lord came to earth and was 100-percent God and 100-percent man. Our Sacred Scripture is 100-percent divinely authored and 100-percent humanly authored (the Church calls this the “mystery of concursus”). Our faith is a “both/and” faith. I think it works the same way with our vocations. When I (God-willing, haha!) meet the man I am to marry, God has given me the freedom to choose him of my own volition. He’s not going to be my puppet master about it. However, it will also be entirely His will. How exactly does this work out? I’m not totally sure. As modern intellectuals, it’s often difficult for us to grasp that God’s ways are not always for us to understand in a complete way, but I am growing to trust the truth that He’s got it under control and that part of Christian freedom is not needing to pick apart every single method He’s got going on.
On the other side of all my turmoil, how do I feel about soulmates? I’m undecided. I think God would be a pretty narrow God if He only gave us a solitary chance to choose the right person. I think it’s possible that there are multiple people with whom one could be happy and holy and that God will bless the choices we make if we are seeking Him in the midst of them. However, I also believe that God is good beyond what our conceptions of goodness could ever contain. I believe that it’s totally possible that the Lord knows us and loves us so deeply that He creates us with another in mind. I suppose that I will not know the reality of the situation until I make it to Heaven. That is the one part of His plan that I am certain of. And I will choose to live in the joyful hope that I will see His go.
From the beginning of the book of Genesis to the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, God chose to use the imagery of marriage to show us the relationship He desires to have with His people. Because the human person has been created as a body-soul unity, God uses the physical realities to reveal to us the deeper meaning behind spiritual realities. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” Romans 1:19-20.
I would like to write specifically about the relation between Marriage, the Church and the Eucharist (the Eucharist according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church). This is an inexhaustible subject and all the time in the world would not be enough to penetrate into the depths of this great Mystery.
Like I said, marriage is what God chose to reveal to us the type of relationship He wants with us. So we must begin by asking what is marriage and what does the word of God show us about marriage? Marriage was established ‘in the beginning’ when man was created:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:18-24
In this passage we are given the ‘steps’ of marriage: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” From this verse we can see 3 chronological steps that occur in the ‘process’ of marriage. The first is a man leaves his father and his mother. The leaving of one’s father and mother shows that there is a certain type of commitment that must take place. Adam did not have a father or a mother, and so this verse has been given for all those after Adam—to us. In the spousal love between a man and a woman there must be a commitment. This committed love is an essential part of spousal love. Leaving one’s own family signifies the commitment to a new family, a new beginning, new life. The second step is ‘cleaves to his wife.’ This is the marriage ceremony. At the marriage ceremony the spouses cleave to each other. They commit themselves to each other by the total and complete gift of self. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The spouses seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives” (paragraph 1621). The third step is “and they become one flesh.” It is only once there has been the act of commitment and the offering of self, that a man and woman ‘become one flesh’ in the marital embrace. The marital embrace is the consummation of this love. From this moment on, each time the couple again embrace each other in the marital embrace, it is a renewal of their wedding vows. The marital embrace is a re-presentation of the total and complete gift of self offered at the wedding ceremony and fulfilled in the “becoming of one flesh.” It makes present again the offering of the bodies. The union that takes place between the man and woman in the bodies signifies the total and complete gift of self to the other.
And this is the type of relationship God desires to have with us. And Jesus Christ, taking the image that God Himself has given us, brought about and fulfilled the marital union between God and His people. He did this through the Incarnation, His Passion and Cross, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Coming down from Heaven, God is now God-with-us. In Jesus Christ, humanity has been wed to a divine Person and now God is with us. Jesus, leaving his Father, became man for us. And 33 years later, He also left his Mother Mary, for us. Can you imagine the dialogue between Christ and Mary before He left for Jerusalem? The trust that Mary had, knowing that her Son has been destined for “the rise and fall of many” and to be a “sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:33). The depths of Jesus’ love for us, to leave his home, his friends, his family, to embark on a journey of suffering, pain and sin, and death—for us. He who knew not sin came to know sin, for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see the free consent and commitment of Christ to us, as He prays only for the Father’s will to be done. Here is the beginning of the wedding ‘process’, the process of total self-giving. Jesus, choosing to give himself to us, unites His will to the Father’s and “moves towards the wedding day and ceremony”. The process of total self-giving reaches its fulfillment on the Cross. When all that could be given had been given, God said “it is consummated”—it is finished. Whenever a man and woman have made this commitment, given themselves to each other, and when the two have become one, God says “it is consummated.” The process of the total giving of self has been finished when the two become one.
When Christ “slept the sleep of death” on the Cross, God brought forth from His side the Church. And this is signified by the blood and water which gushed forth from the pierced heart of Jesus. The water represents the waters of baptism, by which one enters into the Church. And the blood represents the blood of Christ, the blood of the Eucharist, through which we are able to receive Christ’s total gift of self. By Christ’s total gift of self on the Cross, man is able to receive Christ so that the “two may become one.”
Every time a husband and wife become one again through the marital embrace this is what is happening: the husband and wife are making present again the gift of themselves and the gift of their bodies (signifying their total gift) that they presented to God and to each other on their wedding day. Every time the husband and wife become one flesh, the bridegroom gives himself completely to the bride—to be received by the bride; and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. When the wife receives the husband into her body, she is receiving his love and his very life into her. And he is implanting the very seeds of life which could very well grow until a life is fully formed in her. The two, husband and wife, have become one, and very often bring forth another, a child. The two have become one have become three…it is here that the family of man most fully mirrors the family of God.
And how does this happen between Christ and His Church? “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church…” (Ephesians 5:31-32). This is where the heart of the Mass, the Eucharistic celebration, comes into play.
Mass is re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is not a re-sacrificing—the sacrifice is not repeated, rather the celebration of the sacrifice is repeated. That is why it is said that a priest celebrates Mass. During Mass, the priest, along with the whole Church (this includes all the members of the body of Christ, not simply the ones present), brings before the Father the sacrifice of Christ that was made 2000 years ago. The priest presents again to the Father the gift of self that Christ made years ago. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of a past event and this re-presentation makes present the event being recalled—Christ’s gift, our “wedding day”. Each time we receive Jesus Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the Eucharist, the two become one. The bridegroom, Christ, gives himself completely to his bride and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. The bridegroom gives to us His life and His love. Christ himself said “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…” (John 6:54). Christ, through the Eucharist, plants the seeds of eternal life in us.
We just knew the fun little fact that “98% of Catholic women use contraception” had to be steeped in bias and blatant error.
Many people view the single life in one of two ways. Either the single life is a torturous means of existence to be endured as bravely (quickly) as possible, or the single life is the time of your life free-from-all-responsibility and lending itself to promiscuity. Naturally the Catholic Church has some sort of answer for all the questions we face (that’s not to say the answers are clear cut or easy).
The two views mentioned above about the approach to the single life could seem like the “Catholic” approach vs. the “secular” approach. There’s a lot of hype in the Catholic world about the greatness of theology of the body, NFP, and living out the faith in the context of a Catholic family setting. There’s also the call to the priesthood or religious life, a mighty high calling indeed. But what about the single life? Are people called to the single life? How are Catholics to approach the single life without treating it like torture or utter freedom?
The truth is that all people are called to the single life at one point or another. How long each person is called to the single life is another story. If you’re in this gig (the Church) for saint-making (which we’re all called to), then it’s best to figure out how to handle being single (whether or not you want to mingle).
Being Catholic and trying to grow into the saint God wants you to be has a lot to do with our time and place in history. It does us no good to try to behave in the world the way Saint Ignatius did in the 1st century or St. Theresa of Avila did in the 15th century. It’s left to us to be a light to the world and salt to the earth in the 21st century. And frankly, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We have technology to take up, creativity to baptize, and discipline to learn. The work place is in dire need of honest, hard working, and just workers. The family is in dire need of true love and responsible parenthood. The political realm is in dire need of generous and devoted politicians.
Nowadays it’s very easy for us to get caught up in the romanticized version of married love; it’s easy to get caught up in the modern obsessions with sexualized-thinking because everything is sexualized; it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that ‘being married’ will solve all my problems.
The truth is if you’re single, God wants you to be single right now. God is calling you to something right now that you will miss if you are too busy looking ahead to other things. If you’re Catholic and you’re single, and you want to be married, you are being asked to trust that God will fulfill your deepest desires better than you can imagine. If you’re single and living promiscuously, God is ever awaiting for you to turn to Him with your desires for love and fulfillment.
At times I wish I had been married already, or feel like I am just waiting to meet ‘the one’ and then life can start. But this isn’t the right attitude to have as a Catholic who proclaims a God who works all things for good and whose Divine Providence guides all my half-heartedly devoted actions and choices (using even my poor choices and half hearted intentions for my good). The longer I am single, the more I realize what a gift of time this is for me right now. Had I been married at 22 right out of college I wouldn’t have the formative experiences, the learning, or the adventures of the last 3 years of my life. I’d be an entirely different person. As a single person you have a gift from God that you don’t know how long will be yours. You are given the freedom to learn about yourself in a collage of experiences of which the range and diversity depends completely on your willingness and your desires/choices. You are given the time free of direct responsibility of another, with which you can invest in hobbies, personal interests, volunteer opportunities, traveling, etc. You are given time alone with yourself, which is vital and necessary for self-awareness and holiness, for finding out who you are.
The following are three things I would suggest to all those who find themselves single and wanting to live well:
Learn how to pray. Learn how you best communicate with God, your maker and the one who has your plans for happiness. Discipline yourself in your prayer. Set aside a certain amount of time daily and stick to it. Not only will you feel an order to your day, but you’ll also find peace in your choices, joy in your state of life, and the courage to do what God sets before you.
Friendships & Adventures
Get out there and meet people! Do you have something you’ve always wanted to try? Go out and try it and find a friend along the way. Be interested in others who are different from you. And be willing to go on adventures. Travel if you can and how you can. Visit your close friends from college. Make the time to see your family. As a single person, you only have to juggle one schedule, so now’s the time to really juggle! Not only do you make friends and good memories, but you also learn about yourself from going through new experiences and trying new things.
And be willing to take risks. Don’t like the job you’re at now? Don’t settle. Find a new job. Go back to school. Take a risk. The time you have as a single person is, in the basest sense of the word, the time you’re most free to make a job change, to move, or to change your lifestyle. Don’t let yourself settle into a mediocre or complacent way of life. Don’t let the modern work-a-day world rob you of your joy or keep your eyes blind from God’s plan for your life. Your life as a Christian is an adventure but only if you’re willing to let God lead you. Have you always wanted to do a mission trip? Plan for it then. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the practical, financially-guided, modern world when the disinterested, free, and holy adventurous life of following the Son of God is waiting for each of us. Be willing to place your trust in God every day with the small things and when the big decisions in life come along, His peace will guide you in your choices.
God knows how to best fulfill our desires. Time spent as a single person is not meant to be torturous but is meant to be a time of growth and happiness. Learning how to live well and be holy should never be separated from your present state in life and your everyday living.
If you aren’t signed up for Helen Alvare’s emails, sign up. Who is Helen Alvare you ask? Helen is a woman who works to make our voices heard – the voices of women who value religious liberty for all people. She organizes women so that we can proclaim in a unified voice that we deserve better than contraception and abortion. In her emails, she provides excellent talking points and highlights major concerns regarding religious liberty and the well-being of women. You can sign up for these emails on her website called Women Speak for Themselves. Let’s follow Helen’s suit, and make sure that we are doing our part to protect religious liberty! Start by signing up for her emails today.
Men, please continue to stand by us and to help make our voices heard as well. We need your support and strength in this battle. It may be helpful for you to know what’s going on in the Women Speak for Themselves campaign – so feel free to sign up for the emails. For those men and women who are unfamiliar with the HHS Mandate and the serious threats it poses against religious liberty, here is an overview: http://womenspeakforthemselves.com/our-work/talking-points-mandate-and-religious-freedom
Lastly, here is an excellent (but 53 minutes long) talk that Helen Alvare gave regarding Religious Freedom and Sexual Liberationism. It is very relevant to the HHS Mandate issue and our culture as a whole. If you have the time to watch this, it is definitely worth it.
There seems to be an irrational confidence in the use of contraception. In the modern age, the use of contraception is accompanied by the blithely deluded comfort of ‘Well, at least they are not getting pregnant!’ This achievement, as well as the prevention of most STDs, has contraception being touted as a staple of modern medicine with unremitting alacrity. It is the preferred alternative–nay, the only perceived alternative–to unprotected sex. Abstinence is outdated and oppressive. We are sexual beings and should be allowed to act according to our own nature. For the secularist, such statements induce no qualms of conscience; but for the Christian, they should. There is a reason why prior to 1960, there were only two commonly known sexually transmitted diseases, and now over 25 venereal diseases are identified: people are having sex more frequently and recklessly because contraception promotes such behavior.
Contraception promotes promiscuity because it vilipends the sexual act; it makes the serious act of sex into a causal one. Many sensible and intelligent individuals, like Pope Paul VI, knew what contraception would cause because they knew what contraception promotes: a sexual license. Paul VI in Humane Vitae remarks on this fact in a compelling paragraph that is worth quoting fully:
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings — and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation — need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection (HV 17).
It grants the individual all the pleasures of sexual intercourse without the consequences and responsibilities. It tells the voracious child that he can eat all the candy in the store without getting sick. But, alas, far off in the distance comes the shrill repartee of the enlightened generation. They contend that contraception does not promote promiscuity inasmuch as a seat belt does not promote car accidents. Upon the sound of the final syllable being uttered, laughter fulminates from the enlightened peanut gallery. The matter thus seems to be settled, for, prima facie, this argument seems solid. After all, preventive measures do not necessitate that one engage in the action that causes the effects from which the measure prevents. Bulletproof vests, they will say, do not promote people to shoot each other. Seemingly, then, this argument settles the dispute. However, the intuitively conscientious person wants to object to this argument; they know that something is amiss.
The argument that contraception does not promote promiscuity inasmuch as seat belts do not promote car accidents seems sound only because it is deceitful; the argument is not strengthened by logic but by casuistry. The reason why this argument is false is that it rests on a false analogy. The intent is to fool the reader to focus on the category of instruments, namely, that both instruments (i.e. seat belts and contraception) act as preventive instruments. Thus, without further inspection, the argument seems logical because of the congruity of intent of the instruments—each one acts as a preventive measure. After careful analysis, however, one will immediately see the incongruity of the two acts. Sexual intercourse and car accidents are qualitatively different experiences. To compare the two in a positive argument (i.e. x does not do this because y does not) presupposes a factual error: that without the preventive measures, both experiences are equal.
Let us unpack this argument further. The sexual act has two primary negative consequences: unwanted pregnancy and unwanted STDs. Car accidents have many negative consequences, but two primary ones, assuming that you are driving alone, are serious injury and death. Clearly, the severity of the consequences of each respective act differs greatly, but the real qualitative difference is what precedes the consequences. As mentioned above, the sexual act is a pleasurable and desirable act, while car accidents are not. Whether the preventive measures exist, the former will still be a pleasurable and desirable act and the latter will not. The absence of the preventive measure will not make the sexual act any less pleasurable or desirable. In contrast, without seat belts car accidents are still undesirable and painful. Nothing changes with the addition of the preventive measure. The seat belt may prevent the person from being ejected from the vehicle, but the car accident itself, with or without the seat belt, is still painful and undesirable. The difference, then, between the two acts (the sexual act and a car accident) is that the experience of the sexual act does change with the addition of contraception–for contraception drastically limits the possibility of the two negatives consequences from occurring. The car accident is still painful, there is still a high probability of injury to the person(s) in the car, and the damaged car is still a burden to the person involved, even if he was not severely harmed in the accident.
To put it simply, seat belts mitigates the negative effects from an undesirable act (a car accident); contraception greatly decreases the negative effects from an otherwise desirable act (the sexual act). Therefore, one may argue, that the sexual act becomes more pleasurable and much more desirable with contraception, while a car accident does not become more pleasurable or desirable with seat belts. The vulnerability of the sexual act is removed, for the person using contraception feels like he is in control of the act. By greatly decreasing the chances of potential negative consequences, i.e. venereal diseases or unwanted pregnancy, the person believes that he can reap all the pleasurable benefits of the sexual act. However, it is clear that contraception does not always work. The issue, though, is not whether it objectively removes the potential negative consequences of sex, but rather it makes people think it does. This is why it promotes promiscuity because it promotes an inflated confidence in contraception, that one can have the thrills without the dangers, and this illusory feeling of invincibility makes one more inclined to have sex and to have it abundantly. In contrast, seat belts do not precipitate reckless driving, for the seat belt does not remove all the negative consequences of a car accident, and thus it does not invoke a sense of invincibility; the driver is still vulnerable to injury. At the very least, the car accident is a large inconvenience for the individual even if severe injuries are avoided.
Clearly, you can see how the comparison between the sexual act and car accidents is a foolish one to make. The only way that this argument would work is if the two experiences were similar. If car accidents were comparable sensationally to having sex, but still had the consequences of headaches and whiplash, then the invention of seat belts would make many car mechanics quite wealthy. However, the fact remains that car accidents and sex are not sensationally comparable, and thus they cannot be compared.