From all eternity, Almighty God has conceived of our salvation, and the image in His mind has been a heavenly wedding, the marriage feast of Christ the Bridegroom with His spouse, the Church. Thus He created us male and female, and in the fullness of time He made the stable and fruitful communion of man and woman into a sacrament of salvation.
Therefore, people love weddings. And not just for sentimentality’s sake. We love weddings because they show us an image of heaven. As the Fathers of Vatican II put it:
As God of old made Himself present to His people through a covenant of love and fidelity, so now the Savior of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He abides with them thereafter so that just as He loved the Church and handed Himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity. (Gaudium et Spes 48)
Beautiful. But we also have to confront the messier side of this business. If our First Parents had never fallen from grace—if sin had never entered the world—then no one would ever fornicate, or marry imprudently, or cheat, or divorce, or do any other destructive or unchaste thing. But…
Want to take a little trip back with me to a turning point in my life? I found myself trying to understand the true nature of human love, and two books vied for my allegiance.
On the one hand: Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents. If you will allow me to over-simplify a little: Love, according to Freud, is fundamentally a matter of blind “drive.”
In other words, a force which I will never understand impels me to seek the opposite sex, just like a force I cannot control impels me to eat. Attempts to control our urges rationally only make them more powerful, and they dominate us in every more convoluted ways.
The other book trying to explain human love: Plato’s Symposium. Plato explains sexual attraction quite differently. Something beautiful to me, a person with a mysterious luminosity, shines before my eyes. I approach because I seek something beyond myself, something more complete than I am all by myself. In other words, according to Plato, love makes me grow towards greater knowledge and goodness.
There is a lot more to both these books. But, for now, let’s focus on what seems to me to be the essential difference between these two explanations of human love.
When we act—when you or I do anything—do we do it because a clear reason motivates us? Whenever I get in the car, or talk to someone, or go to a store, or sit down at my desk, or eat a hamburger—whenever I do anything—am I prepared, if need be, to explain what I am doing to a reasonable person, so that he or she would say, “Okay. Makes sense. I see why you are doing that?”
Now, maybe you are saying to yourself, “Father, what kinds of questions are these? How else can a person act? To do things for good reasons is what makes human beings human. We are not apes who operate on instinct and the impulse of the moment! We have minds.”
Amen. Praise God. But here’s my point: This rule—of always having good reasons—this rule always applies. Whenever we choose to do anything, we have to have a good reason for the action. Even if the business in question is the kind of thing that Adam and Eve might have co-operated in doing in the cool of the afternoon so that Cain or Abel could come into the world.
Freud: Blind urges rule. Chastity is impossible. Plato: Clear thought, oriented toward a goal, rules. Love moderately; have peace.
Okay. No question that two widespread schools of thought envelop the Western world these days. 1: The Catholic Church does not know what She is talking about when She speaks on sexual subjects. 2: The Church teaches what She must teach, and a lot of people don’t like it, because it doesn’t suit what they want to do.
Let’s try to break down this unfortunate dichotomy. People doing what they want to do is actually pretty important. It’s how we all got here. God knows best, and He did not make it possible to procreate the next generation by reading a book or saying the Rosary.
But let’s distinguish: On the one hand, there’s doing what I want when doing it makes sense, when it stands to reason, when it serves a purpose bigger than myself. On the other hand, there’s doing what I want when no clear reason explains it, when plenty of reasons suggest a different course—and yet I do it anyway, just because I want to.
All Church teaching pertaining to the great beauty of Christian marriage—all of it makes sense, when we see that Plato hit much closer to the mark than Freud. Love means, above all, acting according to good reasons, reasons that are bigger than me.
If I am prepared to be reasonable in all my actions—including all my private actions—then I might find happiness in love, and I will definitely wind up in communion with Christ’s Church. If not, some analyst will certainly take my money to sort out the disaster that my life will become.