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LEARNING TO LOVE

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life "Love is not something that is learned, and yet it is the most important thing to be taught! As a young priest, I learned to love human love. If one loves human love, there naturally arises the need to commit oneself completely to the service of "beautiful love, because love is beautiful. Deep down, young people always look for the beauty of love, desiring their love to be beautiful" (John Paul II)

1. Does love exist in the real world or in a dream world? Stay awake, life is short, said an advertisement for a brand of coffee, reminding us that we often live our lives as if we were sleeping, like someone who is dreaming. But as vivid as dreams can be, they will never be able to replace reality. No matter how beautiful or pleasant a dream is, it is only something of our own making: it has no beginning, and above all, it has no goal, it has no destination. To live truly, to live in reality, it is necessary to be awake, as the advertisement suggests. It is necessary to accept that we live in a world with real people who can enrich us or disappoint us, because we do not create them. To wake up to life, it is necessary to wake up to love. Only the one who loves wakes up. Love prevents us from confusing life with a dream. This is the real world, with people alongside us, who have an existence that is always greater than our desires or the ideas that we have of them. Love confronts us with a horizon that does not suddenly vanish like a dream. Rather it always makes us reach towards a goal, a destiny that is far off and marvelous. Life is short ...wake up to love! 2. Why is love so attractive? Today the earth and skies smile at me / today the sun reaches into the depths of my soul / Today I have seen her ... I have seen her and she has looked at me ... / Today I believe in God! This is how a Spanish poet sought to describe his feeling of falling in love. For him as for everyone, love changed his life, filled it with an unexpected and overwhelming enthusiasm, seemingly supernatural, even divine. This is the power of love: it elevates the one who loves beyond his or her expectations; it opens new horizons and infinite possibilities. The happiness that love gives is so great that those who experience it run a risk: they believe that they have already reached their goal. The one in love is so surprised by the light that has flooded his or her life that he or she can do nothing except contemplate it. This is like what happens to a hiker who, having journeyed along dark paths, finds himself before a wonderful and endless plain, and instead of passing through it, stops to contemplate the new view. When someone in love behaves like this, his or her love ends up exhausted, tires quickly and soon becomes bored. Love fascinates us because it contains a promise of beauty, something so great that we desire to possess it immediately, in an instant. But this is not possible. Love invites us to walk along its path, a new path that we can only build step by step. If we do not accept the invitation that love extends to us, if we forget that love is a promise of beauty and not something ready-made, it quickly ends, leaving us disillusioned. Happiness is not bought. It is built, said the slogan of another advertizing campaign. The same goes for love. 3. Is love always the same, always true, or are there also false loves? Love contains a promise of happiness: to live it is precisely to accept with confidence the promise it makes to us. Those who trust only in their own certainties, because they dont want to make mistakes, do not believe in love and will never be able to love. Love is something that does not belong to us, that is, it does not depend on us. It is necessary to entrust oneself to love, to open oneself to it, to let oneself be led by it. It doesnt matter that we have had bad experiences. Love is not the weak and fleeting feeling that some describe to us. Rather, love is the force that accompanies us from the beginning of our life; that existed before we came into the world, into the embrace of our parents; that has sustained our first steps. And so we say: Yes, it is possible to believe in love, because love has first come to us. Give love credit: love has already given credit to you.

LEARNING TO LOVE

In this way the openness to love is not a leap in the dark. Every love always has a goal. If not, then it goes around in circles and loses itself in fleeting moments, incapable of following a path that guides it towards a distant horizon. When love doesnt have a goal, it ceases to be love. What is our path and our compass for believing in love? How do we distinguish a true love from a false one? Ask yourself if your love has a goal or if you are going around in circles. Ask yourself if your love builds something or if it is a love-bubble, in which two lovers limit themselves to being spellbound by looking at each other... Ask yourself if your love makes you grow and mature ... if it engages you and opens up a path. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us (1 Jn 4:16), the Bible says. Knowing Jesus and having faith in him, is to believe in his love, because his love has already found you. It is to experience his strength and know that with this love, you can reach the end. 4. Are there different types of love? A music score is always the same, and yet there are many different ways of playing it. Similarly, there are also different ways to love. Music for example can be sung in choir. Our voices join with other voices. That way it is easier to follow the melody and to not lose the tone. When we sing in a choir, the same rhythm unites us, we are fired with the same passion for the same music, the same mystery attracts us. Well, singing in a choir is like a kind of love, friendship. Every love is distinguished by the goods that are shared in it: friendship joins friends in a common ideal, a shared vision, a common task. Thats why friends seek the same things and reject the same things, until they see themselves in each other, like those who sing in choir are united in a common passion and in a common melody. There is another type of music: a duet of instruments that dialogue between themselves, each one contributing a part of the piece, so that between the two of them a beautiful harmony is made. This resembles the spousal love between a man and a woman. Here too both are united by the same love of music, but now each one plays a distinct role, and the two complement each other, they inspire each other, draw out the best from the other in their difference. Without the other, neither could play the score, which would remain incomplete, full of pauses, broken. What goods does this love share? Its about a union in intimacy, of the formation of an intimate communion open to the transmission of life. That is why this love is exclusive to the couple; to open it to a third party would be infidelity. Finally, we can think of another kind of music, that of an orchestra. A single conductor distributes the sheet music and instructions to each musician, converting all the sound into a single movement of rhythm and harmony. This music resembles another kind of love, filial love, which every man and every woman receives from his or her parents and, ultimately, from God the Creator. This is the first love, from which the love of friends and spouses drinks, the fount of all kinds of music. 5. Is love something that we find, or is it something that we learn? When love is found, it seems to us that we have already reached complete happiness. Everything seems beautiful, perfect; we run the risk of acting like the traveler: stopping and looking at the horizon that has opened before us. However, as we have already said, in order to live our love in truth, it is not enough to contemplate it; just as it is not enough to love music in order to know how to play it. It takes time, study, and lots of practice to become real musicians. Like music, love is an art that we do not learn or cultivate by ourselves, but rather together with the person we love. We need also the help of a maestro to whom we must open ourselves, allowing his words to resonate within us and to introduce us to the art of love. Who is this friend, this expert in the art of love, who offers us his friendship and his wisdom? A Christian writer states: Many have tried to understand love. But none has found it like the disciples of Christ. because they have as their teacher Charity himself. Christ is the Master from whom we need to learn to love: He has loved us first and will love us until the end of our days, holding nothing back. In his school each of us will learn not only the fascination of music, but also the art of playing it, of composing new melodies.

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life

LEARNING TO LOVE

6. Is love something spiritual or is it lived and expressed thanks to our body? Our body is not just another object. Its true that it resembles other things (it has weight, a size, a color). At times others treat it that way: they pass us by without greeting us, or they look at us with possessive eyes, or they treat us with violence. But we feel bad when this happens. And this is because our body is not just something outside of us, it is not just what I see on the outside, but rather also what I feel on the inside, my own intimacy. With the body we do things, but in the body we also forge our inclinations, our tastes and preferences. The body is not just a thing we have, but rather something we are: the sensations we experience, the desires that move us. In this way the body speaks to me. It is as if it has a language of its own. And how important it is to be able to decipher it! The one who does not understand his or her body does not understand him- or herself. In the fist place the language of the body tells us: you are not an isolated being. Through our body, our life is manifested to others; external events affect us interiorly, and we participate in the world around us. Thanks to the body, we also understand that we have not given life to ourselves. Our body was formed admirably in our mothers womb. So the body invites us to look at our origin: where do I come from? And the body responds with the words from the Bible: Your hands have formed me and fashioned me in my mothers womb... (Job 10:8; Jer 1:5). It is true that sometimes we do not like our body. What if I were taller, stronger, more attractive? The answer is simple: then you would not be you; and people who truly love you, love you for who you are and as you are. What matters is not having a perfect body, but knowing that your body is good and accepting it as a gift, including its limitations. Only then will you learn to understand the language of the body, and you will know how to express yourself in it. 7. Is it true that our body is made in Gods image? In our body, the fingerprints of the one who has formed us are evident, the hands of the Creator who acted through the love of our parents. Thats why, first of all, our body tells us that we have been made, that we are sons or daughters. The body also speaks to us of the people who surround us and allows us to dialogue with them. An extended hand is a sign of help; a smile is a sign of approval; an embrace is a sign of welcome. And in the encounter between man and woman, the body allows us to love totally, so that we become one flesh. The body, where we live our intimacy, opens us to intimacy with others, and allows us to share the world. Thats why the body invites us to discover the other and to welcome him or her within us. In the encounter between man and woman the body speaks, through sexuality, the language of conjugal love. It is a language that, also in this case, is difficult to learn: speaking it is an art. The person who speaks it fluently, using the right words, is able to make use of all its potential, in the fullness of love. We now understand why the body is so important for the human being: it is capable of expressing love. It tells us that we come from love and that we are going towards love; it tells us that our life bears fruit in love. In the first Epistle of John (1 Jn 4:8) we read that God is love. He is not a being isolated from everything, solitary, enclosed within himself. But rather he is the full and eternal love between the Father and the Son, who are united in the Holy Spirit. God does not live in a monologue, but in an ongoing dialogue of love and life. And he wants to communicate the mystery of his inner life to us through the body: in the body one can engrave the image of God, because God is love. When we receive our bodies with gratitude, accepting them as a gift; when we express love to others with our bodies, welcoming them, helping them; then God places his seal in the body, God makes himself visible and transparent in the world. And we resemble him. 8. Are man and woman really different? What does this difference consist of? Certainly man and woman are different. The body has its language, and this speaks to us also of sexual difference. This difference allows for the fuller union between man and woman: a fruitful union that can give life. The difference were talking about, however, is not due to an accidental development of biological evolution or to different cultures, with their customs and ways of educating. Men and women do not come from chance, but from the love of their parents, which manifests the creative power of Gods love. If sexual difference between man and woman was only the result of coincidence or historical events, the love that has brought us into existence would also be random, and life would be a journey from nothing to nothing, like a dream.

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life

LEARNING TO LOVE

The difference that exists between a man and a woman is more profound than the differences we see between races, languages and cultures. Man and woman are not only different, but complementary. They need each other to enrich each other reciprocally. This does not mean that men and women are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Man and woman are not the other half for each other, as if, when joined, they were closed in themselves, forming a complete whole. On the contrary, their love expands, bearing fruit that extends beyond them. In their union, they build something together and open themselves to a mystery that always goes beyond them. Love between man and woman is based on something greater than the two of them. They unite in the dimension of God, who has created them and has written in their bodies the language of sexuality, which reveals to them the mystery of the beloved and blesses their union with the fruit of new life, of infinite value. Yes, man and woman, with equal dignity, are different. The difference forces them to step out of themselves, to accept the other, to open themselves to a greater mystery, the very mystery of God, towards whom they journey together. 9. Is sex something physical or spiritual? The Church prefers to talk about sexuality, rather than sex, because sexuality permeates our entire life and not just part of it, not just to an organ or a particular desire. Sexuality has several dimensions: genetic (man and woman have different DNA), genital (different sex organs), physiological (different body shape), psychological (we have different ways of being, of reacting affectively), and lastly, spiritual (sexuality touches upon our very heart as persons, how we love and are loved). These are not separate dimensions, but they are united in our body, the source of our experiences. Being a man or woman is not a simple piece of data to put in our passport, but rather a dimension of our identity, a way of responding to the fundamental question: "Who am I?" Let us consider, for example, the importance of the fact that we have received our life from others, that we have been generated from the love of our parents. Let us think also of our ability to give life to other persons. All this is not incidental, but fundamental to our lives and strictly linked to sexuality. Thats why sexuality is not just an attraction towards the other person, but also an element that helps us to understand ourselves, something from which we build ourselves and our relationships. The importance of sexuality is well known to us by the force with which it manifests itself. Other bodily desires such as hunger, thirst, or wanting to possess something are extinguished when we obtain the object weve been seeking. This is not the case when it comes to sexuality. How come? It is because sexuality is, as we have said, an open window onto a mystery, a mystery that is not directed at a thing, but at the communion with a person. Through sexuality I perceive that I cannot live for myself. In sexuality, I feel a deep call to love, to a love in which the meaning of my life is at stake. If anyone uses it only to find easy satisfaction, he or she does not build a personal communion, and falls prey to a sterile narcissism. 10. How should I behave when I experience an attraction to someone? A man is attracted to the female body, and a woman to the male. Each awakens impulses and desires in the other. To learn to love, one must decipher the language of this sexual attraction towards another person, which has three levels. The first is the physical attraction that we experience towards a person of the opposite sex. This is so powerful because it points to something greater than ourselves, the mystery of the beloved. Only those who discover this deeper beauty can decipher the true meaning of their desires. Whoever stops at the level of physical pleasure will fall into an illusion that is similar to the one experienced by a drug addict, who becomes more and more the slave of a substance that gives him less and less pleasure. Then there is the psychological level of sexuality: we are attracted to the masculine or feminine qualities of the other person. This is the realm of the emotions and sentiments that bind us to the other. What makes them beautiful is that we can see in them the possibility of building a common world: the other person is present in me. Now feelings come and go, like the waves of a river. Many of these waves break on the shore, losing their force. But the river has a deeper moving force: that of its current, which leads it to the sea. Thus, we exert the art of loving when we render our sentiments deep as the current, capable of promoting life and of instilling and cultivating reciprocal love. Once we have arrived at this level, we discover that what is revealed in sentiment is something greater: it is the encounter with the other person that is manifested as something unique, singular, and distinct from all other things. This is the personal level of sexuality, in which I learn to live for the other, thus building a life together.

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life

LEARNING TO LOVE

The period of engagement serves to verify whether our attraction and feelings have matured to this depth, whether we have arrived at the personal level. Are we still moved by the waves of the river that break on the shore, or have we reached a stable love, capable of building a path, like the path of the current that leads to the ocean and that fills its banks with life? 11. In my body I feel a call to love: how can I respond to it? The Bible tells us (1 Sam 3:1-18) that the young Samuel heard a call in the night. He woke up three times and asked who had called him, but with no response. Was it just his imagination? Something similar happens to us when in our body we hear a call, and when we ask ourselves where its from and what it wants to tell us. Like Samuel, we turn to those near us: "Have you called me?" Walking the path of love, John Paul II said, is like going upstream along a river that comes from a mountain until one reaches its source. To understand where love is taking us, we must discover where it is coming from. Who has inscribed this desire to love in my body? Why does beauty attract me so much? And, how do I make my life live up to that call, so that it becomes a beautiful life? As we have seen, our body first of all reveals to us that the source of love is God, who has created us through the love of our parents. It is he who speaks to us, it is he who calls us to love. In order to respond to him, we simply need to accept with gratitude the gift of life, and to place ourselves at his disposal like sons and daughters. Only if we are sons or daughters, if we receive the gift of God, will we discover that love calls us to a gift of self. Then we will understand spousal love: God has given me to this person so that I love him or her; God has entrusted my life to this person who loves and receives me. We are both a gift of the Father! And if our love drinks from the spring that is the source of love, then the two of us together will overflow with life, with paternal and maternal love, producing an unexpected fruit. Being sons and daughters, spouses, parents: this is the best response to the call to love. 12. Is the shame or modesty that I feel towards sexuality perhaps a limitation to be overcome? Modesty is a feeling with a twofold aspect. It has a negative side: with it we want to hide something, keep something from coming to light. But there is also a positive side: if we hide something, it is because it has value, because we understand that it is beautiful and precious, and we dont want others to abuse it. It has been found that in every culture, even the most primitive, shame exists in sexual behavior. In fact, shame is a fundamental experience that reveals the primary meaning of our lives and our actions. Not only do we feel shame in relation to sexuality, but also in everything that touches our intimacy. Our intimacy is something precious and we disclose it only to someone who receives it with appreciation in a framework of mutual communication. Thats why we get angry when a friend reveals our secrets without our permission. Sexuality is a dimension of human intimacy that touches the heart of who we are. It has to do with the capacity to love, with the truth of the body, with becoming one flesh in the love between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:24). The sexual revolution of our times has pushed aside shame and modesty, as being appropriate only for repressed people. But the real effect has been to trivialize human intimacy. Living sexuality fully does not consist in forgetting shame, but rather in discovering the rich meaning that it contains and the intimacy that it allows. 13. If sex is a natural impulse, why are there so many rules that forbid it? Sexuality, and the inclinations that it involves, are natural. But they cannot be lived in just any kind of way. There is a need to interpret their language, to discover their meaning. Otherwise they become forces that pull us in different directions, dividing our lives. Understanding how to integrate them into a single beam is our response to the great call of the vocation to love, which is the life of human persons on earth. In sexuality our ability to love is at stake and therefore instructions are needed to help us to orient ourselves: moral norms do not only represent rules and prohibitions, rather they allow us to recognize errors in our actions, errors that hurt us. Its like a tree that, when small, requires that we tie it to a straight stick, and protect its roots with a fence, so that it can grow tall and bear much fruit. The important thing about the tree is not the fence that protects it, nor the small stick that keeps it upright, but the fruit and shade it will eventually give. The same holds true in our
Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life 5

LEARNING TO LOVE

actions: the most important thing is not the limits but above all, the journey towards perfection. But a minimum does exist, below which there is no true love. The Church not only teaches norms that prohibit evil deeds (deeds, we should remember, that in the first place hurt those who commit them). Rather her concern is above all to communicate the full meaning of sexuality. The Church does not only tell us no. She especially invites us to pronounce a big yes, to embrace our truest desires. And to do this, she reminds us that it is necessary to possess a virtue: chastity. Chastity does not mean not performing sexual acts. Chastity consists in unifying all the aspirations and desires of the heart, so that they can express themselves fully in communion with the beloved. Chastity means integrating all the meanings of sexuality so that they can be lived fully. Chastity means to love truly. 14. Why is masturbation a sin if I dont harm anyone? Sin is not only something that harms another person. We can hurt ourselves, making ourselves incapable of real love, even without directly harming another person. This is what happens in masturbation, where I look for sexual stimulation only for myself. In this way I express my sexuality in a manner that is against its basic meaning: the union with the other person and fruitfulness. It is like lying with my body. This sin is usually provoked by the sadness of someone who feels lonely, and it leads to an even greater sadness: the emptiness of a pleasure without meaning. The evil of this act is better understood when we discover the light contained in purity. Purity consists in the clear gaze that allows us to discover a special light: the light of love. My sexuality is understood then as an impetus to give myself to another person and to discover his or her dignity. In the light of love, the body of the other person is respected in its beauty. Blessed are the pure in heart, says Jesus (Mt 5:8). This beatitude promises nothing less than the vision of God, the key to which is precisely love. The pure of heart are capable of seeing the world with new eyes; they discover the light of love that comes from God. Therefore their power to love is not dispersed but remains united: love is the center that orders all their powers and gives them harmony and beauty. They can desire one thing with all their soul. Custody of the senses, especially of the eyes, is necessary to live the call to love happily and faithfully. 15. How should a person experiencing same-sex attractions behave? If we want to communicate something we cannot just use words in any way we see fit. Language has its own rules, its grammar, which is not dependent on my feelings or my inclinations. The same holds true for love and its language. Thats why feeling an attraction is not enough for a sexual act to be good. It is necessary that I express myself according to the language of the conjugal act, that I realize fully its objective and bodily meanings. What are these meanings? The union of man and woman in sexual difference, which is able to create communion and to be fruitful because it is open to life. But these are precisely the meanings that are lacking in a homosexual act. If I use the language of sexuality without these meanings, Im not communicating the truth of love but live in a fantasy. It is important to make a distinction: when we say that performing a homosexual act is wrong, were not saying that the person with a homosexual inclination is bad. The acts are intrinsically evil because they lack the basic meanings for realizing the communion of persons through sexuality. On the other hand, the person is not bad simply because he or she is feeling this inclination. Saying that homosexual acts are bad does not mean discriminating against anyone. Indeed, the meanings of sexuality are objective and valid for everyone, just as a language has the same grammar for everyone. What is asked of the person who experiences homosexual inclinations is what is asked of everyone: to live ones condition in chastity. It is true that due to the strength of the disordered inclination, this person may feel a greater difficulty. Thus a ready and adequate support from the ecclesial community is needed. 16. Is love exclusive, or can we fall in love with two people at the same time? At times we seem to fall in love at first sight, suddenly and without our noticing. The pagan god Cupid, responsible for these loves, was depicted as a winged child armed with an arrow that pierces the hearts of lovers. This suggests the mistaken idea that falling in love occurs without our being able to do anything about it. Fortunately, this is not so: love does not ignore our freedom.

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life

LEARNING TO LOVE

We can enjoy being in the presence of another person and in relationship with him or her. But this is not a clear indicator of true love. Hence one can feel like this towards several people. Things change when we involve ourselves personally in a relationship of love in order to build an intimate communion, each one living for the other. At this level we must recognize the uniqueness of the other person in his or her body and spirit. Thats why one experiences a progressive exclusivity in that love, a love that cannot be had for two or more people. When we think that were in love, we should not focus exclusively on the intensity of our feelings. These can change quickly and even fade away completely. What determines a true love is not only the strength of the feeling, but also the intention to live for the other. Therefore, falling in love is not just something that happens to me passively. It is a process by which the other person becomes little by little a goal of my life (and thus, a vocation). It is not only a moment of attraction, but a call to which it is necessary to respond with interior maturity and faithfulness over time. Love does not depend on a moment of fascination, but on the free and voluntary response that we give to a call. In the deepening knowledge of the other person, a mutual relationship matures, and it becomes possible to build a life together, the content proper to the marriage promise. 17. If sex is something good, why are there people in the Church who do not marry and who consecrate their virginity to God? In becoming man, Christ ushered in a new way of living the journey of love towards the Father, a new way of expressing oneself with the language of the body, and also of living sexuality to the fullest. He did so because, in order to make love eternal, he had to transform it, making it similar God himself. With this new language, Jesus could love human beings completely, giving himself for everyone, individually by name, with a spousal and unique gift. And he said: Take, this is my body (Mk 14:22). People who consecrate themselves and live virginity in the Church follow Jesus way of life. They can live like this because they participate in Christ and receive his particular call. They remind married couples that their love comes from God and that it must always tend towards God. They teach us to see that the ultimate goal of love is the merciful embrace of the Father, beyond death. Living virginity is not a renouncing of the body. On the contrary, this love is lived also in the body; it is lived as man and as woman. Moreover, the consecrated person teaches us to see the great dignity of the body: the body is capable of giving itself totally to God, to make him visible to the world, to make his divine love alive. In this way we understand that the love of God is not abstract but real and concrete, that it touches our heart of flesh and fills it, that it enables us to live in complete surrender to him. 18. Isnt a love that lasts forever unreasonable? It seems impossible that two people who are finite can promise eternal love. And yet, there is no lover who, in proposing to his beloved, would not say that theirs will be a love that lasts forever. Feelings can change, physical attraction can diminish, but love goes deeper than attractions and feelings. Its like the deep current in a river that pushes the rivers water to the sea, the ultimate destiny of the person. Only when the lovers look towards this goal, in which they have felt resonate the promise of something greater, will it be possible to love for ever. It is in that destiny, which is engraved in the person, that one recognizes something eternal. In order to love forever, we must therefore recognize what is eternal in the other person: his or her name, his or her history, his or her destiny. Without the help of God and his love, which is also manifested through relationships with family, friends and the Church, it is impossible to maintain the faith in this promise of eternity. Someone might ask: Dont we stop being free when we say forever? Isnt it better to live without commitments? But it is just the opposite. To say forever one must have the future in ones hands. Those who do not promise live only in the narrow confines of the present and do not have room to move, the future is not theirs ... they are not free. They cannot make plans for tomorrow or dream of bearing fruit. In front of them there is only a road whose horizon doesnt change. The promise of eternity that abides in love needs to be maintained step by step. The forever that love carries in itself is realized day by day and is built with patience and forgiveness.

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life

LEARNING TO LOVE

19. If we are truly in love, why not give ourselves sexually before marriage? Sexuality is a dimension proper to the love between a man and a woman, but not all of its expressions are right: it depends on the truth of love they express. It is easily understood that it is not enough to have a liking for each other to engage in sexual acts with the other person. The truth of a sexual act does not lie in liking each other but in building a life together... This is why a true sexual union with the other requires a communion of persons: it is the real and definitive condition of living for the other. This is why before marriage, sexual and affective expressions of love must respect the truth of a reciprocal gift that has not yet been fully realized. If I perform the conjugal act without having said to the other person a yes forever, then Im lying with my body. My sexuality expresses something (I love you forever) that I dont really want to say to the other person. Experience teaches that premarital relations do not make marriages more stable, but rather the opposite. The reason is that they seriously cloud the meaning of self-gift proper to human sexuality. 20. Doesnt marriage impose too many rules and responsibilities all at once? To love, we must stop being individualists. If this doesnt happen, then marriage will only be a satisfactory cohabitation where what matters most are the subjective desires of those living together: my tastes, my ideas of life, my projects. But when one meets with disappointments or frustration in the face of difficulty one discovers how fragile this bond is. But marriage is more than an agreement between two people who live together so that each may pursue his or her own happiness. Marriage is a communion of two persons. Its greatness is that each spouse lives for the other, so that it can realize a project that is greater than the desires of the two lovers. There is something greater, a common we, a story together: they both say yes to the good of the communion between them. Now love is no longer measured by the subjective desires of each. What unites them is the greatness of a promise that they have seen in the other person, and that goes beyond both of them: they perceive in their love a promise which God makes to them. This is why the meaning of marriage is not at the whim of the spouses, but rather obeys a plan of God to which the spouses consent on their wedding day. They do not only promise the love they feel, but they say, I do, to what God promises them, with all its grandeur and its demands. Therefore the communion of persons is not exhausted in the simple condition of being together, but requires the promise of an intimate community of life and love (Gaudium et spes, n. 48). 21. If the love between a man and a woman is so natural, why is it necessary to get married in the Church, with a sacrament? Jesuss first miracle takes place at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11). A couple was celebrating their marriage when the wine ran out. So Jesus wanted to make a gift, the gift of his love, of his joy. To do so, he asked them for something humble (water) and turned it into something better, something that they needed (the wine). What happened at Cana is what happens when we celebrate a sacrament, such as marriage. In order to give them his wine, Jesus asks the spouses to present him with the water of their human love, their reciprocal promise, their "yes that they exchange. Jesus takes this love just as it is in order to make himself present in it, to make it a sign of the love that unites him to his Church. The gift that the spouses receive is his blessing, his strength, his divine love, the only one capable of sustaining the love that unites them. It is therefore very important that we marry in the Church of Christ, because only if we bring before him our feeble love, can we love the other person as Christ has loved us. 22. Why cant two spouses who realize that they have made a mistake divorce? When we make a mistake, which happens often in life, we need to correct ourselves: at work, at home, in society. However, with love, it is different. If two people love each other and decide to marry, their choice cannot have an expiry date. Nobody says I love you until June 30 or I love you on Friday evenings. Love is nurtured by a faithfulness that requires endurance in trials. It is impossible to speak of the love between spouses without presupposing its continuity in the midst of difficulties, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. The conjugal self-gift is unconditional and cannot be put into question by trials. Rather, it is precisely in trials that it can manifest its truth. When difficulties come, we have to think: we have not made a mistake in loving, nor in choosing to give ourselves to each other, but we must continue to love each other, coming to terms with these concrete circumstances of our lives, which we have not chosen.
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LEARNING TO LOVE

The difficulties of living together, especially when one suffers the infidelity of the other, are a cause of great suffering that makes it difficult or even impossible to continue living together. It is here that the Christian believer knows that he can experience a fidelity that is greater than him- or herself: it is the faithfulness of Christ to the Church. Christ is faithful even though the human person is unfaithful. Thus, even if unjustly abandoned, the Christian finds meaning in his or her complete faithfulness to the commitment he or she has made, which excludes any subsequent marriage during the lifetime of the other spouse. The grace of the sacrament allows the Christian to discover this meaning and to turn it into a source of life and forgiveness. A love that forgives is a love that remains in time and that discovers the source of the eternal love of God (1 Cor 13:8). 23. Is it possible to consider family models different from the traditional one? Sometimes family problems are so great that they seem insurmountable: the music of love seems to have faded away; we find it hard to forgive the offenses weve received... In these moments we must remember that what unites us as a family is something greater than ourselves and our problems. What unites the spouses, their common good, is more important than the good of each one taken individually. In view of such good, it is worth going on. In any case, the solution is never to throw everything from the past overboard and start from scratch: our lives cannot be reinvented whenever conditions are unfavorable. Problems that affect the intimacy of persons cannot be resolved by technical solutions to what is really a personal matter, in which human happiness and freedom are at stake. In particular, we must reject the image of a family la carte as a solution to family problems. Building a family means forming a communion of persons which has to do with a transcendent plan that goes beyond simple human decisions. This makes family relationships stable and unconditional, relationships which are essential supports for personal growth and the basis of society. One cannot pretend to equate the reality of the family based on marriage with other unions that depend only on peoples subjective desires. To consider different family models is to ignore the relationship between human desires and the fullness of life that they offer. In these alternative family models, the desire of the persons does not share all the goods of marriage and does not guarantee any stability, which harms both those who build this alternative family and society as a whole. The gift of stability, the education of children, and the hospitality that the family offers, are assets that must be appreciated by the state and recognized as the basis of family policies, because of the familys immense contribution to society. In fact, only the family with its stability guarantees true social progress. 24. If human love is in itself something so good, why isnt a civil marriage enough? We know that human love is very fragile; its language is obscure to us, and the path on which it leads us is difficult to follow. Therefore it is important that men and women place their promise before Christ: only in this way, as at Cana, will he receive the gift of the spouses and make it grow, transforming it into something better, stronger. In religious marriage the man and the woman ask Jesus to participate in the power of his love, the same love that allowed him to sacrifice himself until death. This is the gift that husband and wife receive from Christ on the day of their wedding: the same charity of Jesus, the love by which he gave himself until death. This love is the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), who is poured out on the man and the woman in marriage. Now they can love with conjugal charity, their love is transformed into the wine of Christs love. In the sacrament of marriage, the spouses love each other as Christ loves them. In Christ they find that they are welcomed, loved, forgiven. In addition, through Christ their love becomes fruitful in eternal life: not only do they give their children life on earth, but also a life which aims towards heaven. They become instruments by which God transmits his divine fatherhood. 25. Is there a right time to have children and a time which should be closed to the possibility of procreation? Nobody wants a barren life. To close oneself in ones own interests and conveniences is the best way to ruin ones life. But it is not easy to live this fruitfulness, which requires great inner maturity: to be ready for a new surrender beyond what one controls or dominates. That is why fruitfulness is a dimension of love that does not depend on mere human choices or on our subjective criteria, and it cannot be guided only by our desires. To enter into marriage, then, assumes that one is willing, in normal conditions of health and age, to receive children from God.
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LEARNING TO LOVE

The initial disposition to have children is lived in concrete circumstances, in which the spouses are responsible for the common good of the whole family. The possibility of receiving a child from God has to be lived out according to this responsibility. This is where the spouses can judge whether or not it is advisable to conceive a child. It is a judgment that belongs only to the spouses before God, taking into account the serious reasons related to the greatness of receiving a new life. This practical judgment, although it may at times be negative, is not in itself a closure to life, since it does not exclude the willingness to accept the judgment of God, the Lord of life. Only he can ultimately decide on the existence of a new life. Therefore responsible parenthood can judge that a new pregnancy is not opportune, but it cannot decide to rule out completely that a child should come into the world. This would be a contraceptive decision, closed to life. 26. Why should we be open to procreation? Procreation is one of the meanings proper to conjugal love that can never be denied. The spouses, in each act, communicate themselves fully, as they are, including the gift of fruitfulness. When I dont want to give this to my spouse, Im not giving myself totally. The possibility of procreating a new human life is included in a married couples integral gift of themselves. [] Thus it not only resembles but also shares in the love of God who wants to communicate himself by calling the human person to life. Excluding this dimension of communication through an action that aims to prevent procreation means denying the intimate truth of spousal love, with which the divine gift is communicated. (Benedict XVI). This procreative meaning is founded in the language of the body and is not a mere intention of the spouses, but is the expression of their love that is manifested through the conjugal act. Thus a sexual act between husband and wife that is intentionally deprived of its procreative meaning cannot be considered conjugal, and is therefore immoral. In the same way, a sexual act is not truly conjugal if it is forced on another person against his or her will; it is now missing the other meaning of the act: the union of love between spouses. The reality of the body prevents the reduction of fruitfulness to a mere general or universal intention. Fruitfulness is made present in every corporal donation. That is why it is not enough to be open to life in general, and then commit contraceptive acts; in the same way, it is not enough to have a general attitude of appreciation for truth, if on occasion we tell a lie. This dimension of fruitfulness is not manifested only in procreation, but also in the education of children. The human person is not produced, but begotten, and education is the continued expression of generation of human life. Responsible parenthood means to care for and educate ones children until they are mature enough to find their own vocation to love. 27. Why not use contraceptives? Arent natural family planning methods licit forms of contraception? Contraceptive techniques deliberately deprive the conjugal act of its procreative dimension. Spouses who use them have decided to renounce their fertility through an intrinsically dishonest act that is contrary to the truth of their conjugal love. But let us suppose a different case: two spouses foresee that a sexual act will be fertile and responsibly judge that it is not advisable to conceive a child. Consequently, they consider the act inadvisable and do not perform it. Now this is not a contraceptive act because the spouses do not act against any of the meanings of their conjugal love. On the contrary, this is an exercise of responsibility in the context of a real disposition to be open to life. This is the fundamental difference between the techniques of contraception and the natural methods: the first manipulate the meaning of the conjugal act, the second favor the responsible action of the spouses. The difference is of content and not linked to the fact that the some are artificial and the others natural. The first are immoral, the second are acceptable. 28. Can abortion be considered a lesser evil in some borderline cases? An act is morally wrong because it harms the person who commits it. Beyond its consequences or subjective intention, abortion is the killing of an innocent child and whoever performs it becomes a murderer. One of the main victims of an abortion is the woman who chooses to do it. It is she who needs the most help in order to heal the wound from the terrible evil she has committed. Abortion is never the lesser evil. Coming to understand the reasons of those who want to abort does not hinder one from exposing the false arguments of those who attempt to justify the evil deed. Christians must help each
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LEARNING TO LOVE

person, through an exercise of truth, to acknowledge their guilt and receive the mercy of God. The Church not only fights to defend the rights of the weakest, the unborn, but also fights to help mothers who have difficulty bringing up their children, and to heal those who have had abortions, helping them in the difficult journey of repentance and reconciliation. 29. If a couple does not have children and wants them very much, why not use assisted reproductive techniques? The desire of each married couple for parenthood is always lawful, just and beautiful. A child, however, is more than a wish; he or she is something too precious to depend solely on a personal decision. We cannot desire a child like an object is desired, which we obtain through effort or money. The only way to receive a child is to welcome him or her in all his or her personal dignity. Assisted reproduction techniques follow a productive logic: they eliminate any defective product (child), they freeze embryos, they perform research on them and destroy those who are not considered suitable. That is, these techniques act in a manner contrary to personal dignity. One can receive a child only as a gift from God. This is what Eve, the first woman, the first mother in history, says: I have begotten a son with the help of the Lord (Gen. 4:1). Hence it cannot be said that the spouses have a right to have a child, but they have to be disposed to receive a child with the gratitude of a gift. To do otherwise would be contrary to the dignity of the child. The Church knows well the suffering of spouses who cannot bear children. She helps them, informing them of lawful means to seek a child, and freeing them of the desire to procreate at all costs, she invites them to discover their fertility within Gods plan. The Church points out to them the fertility that one can live through adoption, through fostering or the generous gift of the care of children. 30. If love is between two people, why is a public celebration necessary to get married? Our life is always supported by others, it needs them, like we need oxygen to breathe. Above all, our life needs God, who sustains love, making it last and allowing it to grow. Thats why we need a public celebration: because in the religious ritual the request for help is expressed to those who will help us build up our love: our families, our friends, society. Most of all we ask for the help of God, who promises us his presence. The love of the spouses has a social dimension. They cannot love each other alone. The love they feel they have learned in a family, and with their own family they will build up society. So their love is not something private that concerns them alone. Upon entering the Church, the love of the spouses asks for help, recognizing the need for support: the support of other families, of society, of the community of believers, of God. In the liturgy the Church tells the couple something important: You are not alone. I offer you a place to build your home. I will open to you a large family so that you may lean on her to establish yours. Only then can you fully live out your destiny of love and embrace the gifts God will give you. At the same time, in that liturgy, the couple are asking themselves: what can we do for the Church? We will build her up in the small things, in our day to day life, with the witness of our love and work. We will make our life a liturgy, our home a temple where we pray and teach our children to pray. We will make our work praise to the Lord, who is the source of all good. We will be a small church, a domestic church.

Thirty questions about how to be successful in the most important adventure of life

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