19 January 2008

A passionate rant

One of my regularly occasional stops when grazing blogs is Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor. He recently mentioned the Jane Austen presentations on Masterpiece Theatre, and seguéd into a review of Karl Keating's recent newsletter in which he opines about "soul mates":
Liking is something that "just happens." Loving is something we have control over. Liking is a spontaneous emotional reaction. Loving is an act of the will. You never will like everyone, but you can love anyone.
OK, I'm with him so far as that goes... but English is poverty-stricken when it comes to the word "love." There are lots of kinds of love - and some of them are not willed.
What seems incongruous is that "you can love anyone." I am not saying that you will, because in all probability you won't. But it is theoretically possible in a way that liking everyone is not.

Many years ago, when I first practiced law, I one day was appointed to represent a rapist at a hearing. He was perhaps the only person I ever have met who seemed to have an entirely dormant conscience. I found not the least thing likeable in him, and I knew that, unless he changed dramatically and unexpectedly, I never could like him. But I also knew that I could love him, because love is an act of the will.

Loving is not an act we carry out very successfully. I don't remember feeling any love toward that rapist--pity, perhaps, but not love. Yet I must have realized that I could have loved him, had I willed it. A saint would have willed it, but not even a saint could have willed himself into liking him, absent the rapist reforming and becoming likeable.
Of course. But already Mr. Keating's words betray a potential for deeper understanding. Saints generally give up pretty quickly on forcing themselves to do anything like love the unlovable. They love God and the souls He created, however not-Godlike their material selves are in that moment. If you force yourself to do anything without being conscious of God's love, you will soon exhaust yourself. Just sayin', is all.
In summary, then, when it comes to basically good people whom we meet, it is possible for us to love any of them. This even applies to prospective spouses, and here I come to the real point I wish to make.
That was an abrupt transition ... from the spiritually evolved ability to love the unlovable, to considering a prospective spouse, with only a "when it comes to basically good people whom we meet..." - but that's a stylistic nitpick, so let's soldier on:
As you know, Catholic Answers hosts chastity talks by various speakers. Such talks are aimed at young audiences--high school and college students, chiefly--and, by necessity, the speakers themselves are young. At least they are still years away from middle age.

Some speakers who have spoken for us, when first starting out, told their young audiences that somewhere out there was a Prince or Princess Charming, someone fated from all eternity to be a young person's perfect match. Listeners were told something like this: "Save yourself for that one person that God has set aside just for you."

When I learned that this is what was being said, I told our speakers to cut it out--because it wasn't true. It sounded romantic, and it sounded pious, but it wasn't true. It left each young listener thinking that there was one and only one person whom he could love and have a happy marriage with and that, if he waited long enough, God would arrange for the couple to meet.

That's not how real life works. When I have a chance to speak to young people, I shock them by saying, "Within easy driving distance, there are a hundred people whom you could marry and have an equally happy life with."
Yes, it is shocking - because it's not true. (What is 'easy driving distance,' anyway?) He backpedals with, "Of course, there also are a hundred or a thousand with whom they might be miserable" - but, as they say, the damage has been done. But wait - there's more:
My point was that a marriage is what you make of it, under grace. In the old, old days, marriages often were arranged--and often turned out very well, no worse than the average marriage entered into by people who imagined they were marrying a Prince or Princess Charming.
When you're talking about something as important as marriage, I think there's a bit more substantiation needed than a careless statement like that. How does he know? And what does "turned out very well" mean?
This does not, of course, mean that every match is a good one or that every match is wisely entered into. (I am reminded of Dr. Johnson's remark, when told that a man who had been very unhappy in marriage had remarried immediately after his wife had died: "It was the triumph of hope over experience.") But it does mean that fairy tales should be left to children.

It does no harm for a ten-year-old girl to dream of a Prince Charming, but half her life will be wasted if she still thinks, at thirty-five, that she should wait for the appearance of a Prince Charming whom God has reserved for her and that she should let pass other prospects with whom, in fact, she could be sufficiently happy.
There's only one word for nonsense like this.


One needs to approach marriage like any other vocation: with prayer, soul-searching, and thoughtful observation and learning.

I suppose a reasonable analogy would be when one called to religious life thinks about whether they want to join an order or, in the case of priests, become a diocesan priest. At one point I was discerning a vocation, myself. (And it was one of those where I often prayed, "would you please let me alone, Lord? Go pick on somebody else!" Heh.) But, in the course of my discernment, I learned that, were I to enter religious life, I would be happiest as a Discalced Carmelite - didn't figure out if the active life would suit me more than the contemplative, because at that point my family needed me and I had to abandon the project - whereas the Benedictine or Franciscan charism are not attractive to me.

One can't just "be a nun" any more than one can just "be a wife." Your vocation involves aspects which you must choose ultimately based on your heart and what you learn through prayer, meditation, and fact-finding.

In the same way, one needs to be very discriminating when it comes to one's spouse. To add to the difficulty, there is no time of one's life when it is more difficult to think clearly. But the one you marry will not only be your life's companion; you are engaging the co-creator of your children and the one to whom you will entrust the raising of those precious lives.

I believe Mr. Keating's intentions are the best, but I believe he is mistaken. I think his message to young people is erroneous, and risks hurting lives. His message discourages faith - the kind of warm, confiding faith which gets one through so many difficult years as a youngster.

It gave me such comfort to know that God had in mind the right vocation for me, and, in due time, if I was open to experience and listening to Him, I would find out what it would be. To say that there is no one He has picked out for us belittles His reach and His power and, most of all, His love. Either He is God, or He's not. If He is, let us trust Him.
It does no harm for a ten-year-old girl to dream of a Prince Charming, but half her life will be wasted if she still thinks, at thirty-five, that she should wait for the appearance of a Prince Charming whom God has reserved for her and that she should let pass other prospects with whom, in fact, she could be sufficiently happy.
Some of us are destined for the single life. The only way to find out is by the absence of a suitable spouse. Some of us are destined for religious life, and to marry without conviction of vocation will keep us from that. Life has those disappointments which, if patiently and prayerfully endured, can be turned around into joy beyond description. Mr. Keating may not mean his "shocking" words this way, but I hear, and those kids hear, "Just because God has been inside your soul, that doesn't mean He knows what you want and need. Even if He did, He wouldn't care, and He wouldn't (or couldn't) do anything about it. You're on your own. Just go find someone and quit dreaming."

Let's hear from a Doctor of the Church:
Thérèse, the little Spouse of Jesus, loves Him for Himself; she only looks on the Face of her Beloved to catch a glimpse of the Tears which delight her with their secret charm. She longs to wipe away those Tears, or to gather them up like priceless diamonds with which to adorn her bridal dress. Jesus! . . . Oh! I would so love Him! Love Him as He has never yet been loved! . . .(from her autobiography)
That was her vocation: to love Jesus. And she did, as fiercely as anyone ever has. She fought to be with Him and did so at a very young age. She knew what she wanted and would settle for nothing less.

That, my friends, is passion.

Is Pope Benedict XVI a passionate man? Let's see: he's 80 years old, but he works like a horse and does everything he can to be the kind of leader a Pope should be. He loves God, his brother, Mozart and cats. But, brothers and sisters, he is passionately in love with God, and passionate about serving God's people.

Do you want a priest who isn't passionate about God and his vocation?

Do you want a spouse who isn't passionately in love with you???

How can Mr. Keating counsel those with the vocation to marry to give up the idea that there is one person they are meant to love, and instead resolve to be content with only "...sufficiently happy"?

If God does not, or will not, or cannot give us what we need day by day, then it's God's intimate, caring, miraculous, all-powerful love which is the fairy tale.

This from an apologist.

God help us.

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