Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Battlefield Between Love and Lust

The Battlefield Between Love and Lust
Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

“The heart has become the battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the heart experiences the nuptial meaning of the body…. The body remains an object of lust and, therefore as a “field of appropriation” of the other human being” Pope John Paul II

Last night was a delightful rarity. My wonderful wife and several of our children relaxed in the living room and watched a movie that at least had some comedic content and redeeming value. That alone made the experience a rarity these days, given the standard fare on television! However in calling it a rarity I am also referring to the hectic pace of our lives that seems to leave so little room these days for relaxation. We “moderns” seem to be so “busy” and yet have so little to show for the toil.

My wife and I have five children. Only two are still “being raised”, as they say, under our roof. We also have a beautiful grandson who, along with our adult daughter, his proud mom, also lives with us. These days, it is this particular adult daughter who seems to have the most blunt and accurate insights of all of our children. Her comments prompted the writing of this article.

Last night, a commercial for a mens’ hair care product came on several times during the course of the movie. She pointed out the presence of a woman hair stylist in a short skirt who made absolutely no contribution to the promotion of the product. “Why is she there?” she asked. “You see, men just see women as objects”. Well, I could not disagree with the comment. I simply did what I always do; I tried to “expand” the insight. “Well, unfortunately, it is a deeper problem”, I said. “Women increasingly see men the same way. Love has been robbed, replaced by a counterfeit called lust”. “Dad”, she responded, “Let’s just watch the movie” came the reply.

We live in an age of lust. Now, do not get me wrong. I am not against sex or sexuality. Quite to the contrary, as a Catholic Christian, I believe that it is a wonderful gift from the God who fashioned us as whole persons and made us for authentic love. In the words of the one whose quote begins this article “Man as a person is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake’ and, at the same time, he is the one who ‘can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself’” Of course, “man” as referred to in this salient insight refers to the one whom God created “male and female.” (Genesis 1:27)

Men and women were constitutionally made to give themselves to one another in authentic love. That gift includes their physicality, their sexuality, and their entire selves. That gift of self reveals the “nuptial” meaning of the entire human person, including the beauty and wonder of the human body and the deep and profound mystery of human sexuality. It is in the sexual act, within marriage, that we give ourselves fully away to our spouse. It is intended to be a wonderful, enjoyable and deeply fulfilling experience. After all, God created our sexuality! It is His idea.

We do not “have” a body, as if it is some kind of carrying case, at odds with our “soul”. Such a view is not Christian. However, it has unfortunately crept into some of our mistaken notions of religion. That view, one that disdains matter as evil, was actually the bad fruit of one of the earliest heresies to infect Christianity. It was called Manicheeism. The Manicheans actually taught that all matter, including the human body, was evil. Sadly, this error still infects Christianity and impedes our ability to walk into a lust-obsessed culture and proclaim the truth about the beauty and purpose of human love and sexuality as created by God and redeemed in Christ.

Christians called to marriage and family need to understand the plan of God in creating us as physical and sexual beings, live it within chaste, happy marriage, and offer it to an age that has been sold a counterfeit. The Christian view of the human person is that we are a body. We are “body persons”, in a sense we are “ensouled bodies” or “embodied souls”. Matter is not evil. In fact, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God came into our midst, becoming one of us bodily. Our ancient faith proclaims the resurrection of the body and the coming of a new heaven and new earth where we will, in the fullness of the Resurrection, live in resurrected bodies!

The God who the Psalmist David tells us “knit us together in our mothers wombs” (Psalm 139) created us to give ourselves away in love to another. Our bodies are configured sexually for that gift. Such a gift, now elevated in the “Paschal mystery” (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) is a symbol of - and becomes a participation in - the ultimate gift that defines the very meaning of our existence, God’s gift to us in Christ and our return of a life of surrendered love back to Him. For those who are invited into the vocation of Christian Marriage, that gift includes a physical and sexual expression in the beauty of the conjugal act within the marriage of committed spouses.

Since love is the complete gift of self, that physical gift of self is to occur only within the lifelong bond of faithful marriage. It must also always remain open to its fruit, new life in the gift of children. Thus, we speak of married acts of sexual intercourse as being both “unitive”, deepening the unity between the spouses who in the act of sexual love fully give themselves to one another, and “procreative”, always open to the fruit of married love, that is children. This profound truth and insight is not about “restrictions” on our human sexuality. To the contrary, it is about its’ very liberation and its fullness! Faithful marriage is the environment of love.

It is this vision of the dignity and beauty of sexuality, with all of its enjoyment and intimacy, that moves us away from lust to love. The personal battlefield concerning this is fought in the “heart”, which, in the biblical and Hebrew sense refers to the center of a man or woman, the place where the fundamental choices are made. It is there where we also struggle with the reality of what Catholic Christian faith calls “concupiscence”, one of the bad fruits of sin, a proclivity to choose wrongly. Our capacity to make right choices has been impeded by sin. We need help; that help comes to us through grace. It enables us to make the right choices and to be converted, made new, in Christ.

The “battlefield” also has a corporate expression in a culture that has lost its way and has been deeply infected by the structures of sin. It is into this sinful, lust obsessed, utilitarian, hedonistic and mechanistic culture that we Christians are now sent on mission. The joy and beauty of sexuality is part of our message of freedom for the contemporary captives. It is also one of the significant contributions that the Christian Church has to offer to an age that has lost its way in a sea of sexual counterfeits that reduce the human body, male and female, to objects of use.

We who bear the name Christians should proclaim, in word and lifestyle, what the Apostle Paul calls the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31,13). Our bodies enable us to speak the language of authentic intimacy and love. We need to tell this age that we are not “against sex”. To the contrary, we seek to liberate it and invite men and women to experience it in all of its intended beauty, pleasure, wonder and fullness within happy marriages! We need to live such compelling and attractive lives as Christians that contemporary men and women are drawn to this truth and opened by the working of grace to receive it!

Here is our challenge. We need to learn to articulate the truth about authentic human love and sexuality in a contemporary language that people can understand. One of the greatest voices of our age, Pope John Paul II, teaches us how to do just that in his extraordinary writings on human love and sexuality entitled “The Theology of the Body”. It is his quote with which I began this piece. His insight into the Christian vision of human sexuality, the human body, the nuptial mystery, human personhood, and marriage is compiled in this incredible volume. It is subtitled “Human Love in the Divine Plan.” It has the potential to completely transform our age if it is read and lived. I encourage everyone reading this article to obtain a copy of this historic work, read it, pray through it, read it again, pray through it again…then begin to fully live and proclaim it!

The encounter in our living room last night is not an isolated one. Raising children and continuing to guide them when they “grow up”, is not an easy task. I understand the challenges of being a father and a grandfather in this lust-obsessed age. I also understand the challenge as a clergyman, a deacon of the Church, called to proclaim the fullness of truth to the faithful who live in a culture that has lost its moral compass. Finally, I also understand the challenge of facing all of this as a citizen, called to live in the “real word”, and to create a more just and human society that serves the common good.

The “battlefield between love and lust” is not only fought in the heart, it stretches out across the emptiness of contemporary culture. It will take well trained and truly enlightened Christians to enter into that battlefield, expose and confront the lies of the age, and build a culture of life and a civilization of love.
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Rev. Mr. Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia and also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, The John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Long active at the intersection of Faith and Culture as a human rights lawyer and public policy activist, Deacon Fournier is the founder and Thomas More fellow of the Common Good Movement and the editor of Catholic Way.