I don’t know if I’ve ever told all of you this before, but my favorite book is John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility.
Not that it’s an easy book to read. It’s not. It’s a philosophical treatise, and it can be danged difficult to get through. The first chapter is entitled “Analysis of the Verb ‘To Use’”. It’s not exactly exciting reading, but it establishes a important foundation for the rest of the book, which is about sex and love. And that’s always interesting.
I was thumbing through the book the other night, and I was struck by a line I had never noticed before. It’s about the relationship between chastity and love, and it fits in nicely with our ongoing discussion of “Sex and the Single Catholic.” So I thought I’d expand on it a little here.
The line is this: “Chastity can only be thought of in association with the virtue of love. Its function is to free love from the utilitarian attitude.” I was struck by it because it’s the antithesis of the way so many people view chastity – that it’s chastity that “gets in the way” of love. Two people love each other and want to make love, but the mean old Catholic Church and her mean old rules get in the way.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it’s this message – that chastity leads to real love – that led me to fall in love with the Church’s teaching years ago, and that I’ve based my work on ever since.
Allow me to explain. Remember that “Analysis of the Verb ‘To Use’” chapter that I told you about? In it, JPII lays out what he calls the Personalistic Norm, which is the basis for the rest of the book (and a great deal of his theology.) The Personalistic Norm says that “the person is a good toward which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” In other words, every human person carries the incredible dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God, and God wants only what is absolutely best for that person. Therefore, “the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end."
In plain English: we can use things, but we can’t use people. We can’t look at another human person, and only see that person as a means for us to get what we want. We need to recognize that he or she is created for his or her own sake, not for our sake.
That, my friends, is the definition of real love — recognizing the image and likeness of God in every human person, and acting accordingly.
Adam and Eve didn’t have this problem in Eden. They loved each other perfectly. Each one saw the other as God did – good for his or her own sake – and they only wanted what was best for each other. Then sin entered the world, and they both figured out “You know, if I wasn’t quite so concerned about you, I could get more for myself.” That’s the essence of using, and it has plagued us ever since. It has especially plagued the relationship between men and women, as God warned us it would when he told Eve “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall lord it over you.”
Using between men and women takes a lot of different forms. Men use trophy wives for status. Women use wealthy men to get “stuff.” But perhaps nowhere is the potential for using more real than in the realm of human sexuality.
I’ve written in previous columns (lots of them, I’m told) about how sex speaks a language – the language of self-donation, of “I give myself to you forever.” And everything about it is oriented to that permanence. New life is created. A powerful bond forms. As St. Paul said, the two become “one flesh.”
All of that is great and beautiful and powerful within the context of a loving, committed marriage. But outside of that context, it has the potential to do serious physical, emotional and spiritual damage – to self, to the other person, and to the innocent third party who could be conceived as a result.
That’s where the “using” thing comes in. It’s very easy for single people to convince themselves that if they’re “in love”, it’s okay to “make love.” But really, if they’re putting the other person at risk, what they are doing is not loving – not looking out for the best for the other. They are using. They may not understand that – it may be unintentional. But it’s using nevertheless.
And it’s very difficult for love to grow in an atmosphere of using.
Again, this is why I fell in love with the message of chastity. It’s why my book is titled Real Love, and my corporation is Real Love, Inc. Chastity isn’t just about living a bunch of abstract rules so that we can avoid pregnancy and get into Heaven. It’s about finding and living real love.
And in the end, that’s what everyone – single or married – is looking for.