In his book, “Love and Responsibility”, Karol Wojtyla (later, Pope John Paul II) began the framework for a body of theology that is slowly flipping the world’s view of the body and sexuality on its head. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about the need to pay tax in Matthew 22, He answered their worldly question with a heavenly answer “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He took the Pharisees’ focus away from the world and its problems and reminded them of heaven. Wojtyla’s response is similar; instead of addressing the issue of worldly sexuality, he turned our hearts upward and began discussing human love and dignity. He shows us that these topics are so closely linked, that to discuss one is to discuss the other.
What is love? Put simply, to love someone is to want what is best for them, in every way and in the fullest sense, regardless of personal needs. We use the word love in so many different ways that who can be blamed for confusing its meaning? We ‘love’ our new shoes; we ‘love’ our TV; we ‘love’ our cousin; we ‘love’ our dog…. How is it possible to use that same word to describe what we feel for the one person we long to be around constantly; who we think of every other minute; who we can trust or talk to about our hopes and fear; who we want to protect from getting hurt… I think you get my point. The idea of love is sold to us every day and most of the time it is not the true authentic love that we are made for, it is the counterfeit. Love sees the bigger picture and acts so that the other becomes a better person for encountering it and we come to a deeper self-knowledge by giving it.
In this book, Wojtyla outlines the idea of ‘giving versus using’, an important part of later work. When we use someone for our own personal gain we are disregarding who they are. We are saying that this person’s dignity, their value and their wellbeing is less important to me than my needs. We can see that this idea stands in firm contrast to authentic love. Love never uses because it is selfless. We come to see that the opposite of love is, actually, the use of another as an object for personal gain.
However we live in an increasingly utilitarian society. We are told that we must do all we can to get what we want and that people are just another tool to get us there. And what has been the result? One only has to look at the statistics of broken homes, damaged relationships, suicide, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, abortion, depression, and the list goes on. We have all experienced the use of someone who was supposed to love us, all hoped for love and kindness and received nothing but having been used in one instance or another. Love is sold as the very thing that love is not! We are told that to use is part of love. How many of our relationships are based on ‘how much we get out of the relationship’? How often are we told that if things don’t feel great, then they are not good for us? Did Jesus’ dying on the cross feel good? And yet we can not find a single act of love that comes close to matching it. No, true love is not always easy and not always nice but always has the good of the other at heart. It is NOT a feeling. Feelings come and go. Wojtila talks about love being a choice – something that requires a daily decision from us. God doesn’t have to make this decision because God IS Love.
So now, using Wojtyla’s thoughts on love and dignity, what can be said about our sexuality? Well it’s easy to see that if a man truly loves a woman then he will want the very best for her in every situation. Would he put his sexual gratification above his girlfriend’s well-being? Would a few moments of pleasure truly mean more to him than the possible regret, shame, guilt, disease, unwanted pregnancy that she may encounter? Would he ever do anything that has the slightest possibility of causing her suffering? No, not if his love is true and pure because these would be examples of using: an act that is everything that love is not.
I encourage you to look at all your relationships. How can we love more fully: the way that we are intended to? Do we use others for our own personal gain? When I first encountered this message I was shocked at my answers to these questions. I find it is an extremely challenging thing to ensure that my motives are pure in all my encounters with others. I must continually be reminded to pray for a deeper understanding of the dignity and worth of others. I believe that if I truly understood the value of human life and dignity as God created it to be, I would be unable to use others. Already, how much worth has Jesus placed on each of our lives by dying for us?
This work is not a condemnation of our lives, our relationships or who we have become. It is a call, a challenge, to love in the way that we are called to. It is a hint of the glory of heaven and a life that stirs something in our hearts. It is the call to live a life free of shame and confusion by acknowledging the longing for receiving and living a love that satisfies. This is True Love, the love of our Saviour and God, Jesus Christ – this gives us the Meaning of Life.