Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Love and Sex and Keeping your Mouth Shut


Paul Stilwell brings up a fascinating subject in his daily Lenten post on Christopher West.

He shows how West misunderstands a remarkable homily by Fr. Ramiero Cantalamessa entitled The Two Faces of Love - Eros and Agape, a homily which itself elaborates on a subject Pope Benedict XVI deals with in Deus Caritas Est: the relation between the gratuitous love of agape and the passionate and possessive love of eros.

In this blog I've struggled quite a bit with trying to express my own "eros", the eros of actors, which is a powerful and passionate love for our vocation and at the same time for the God Who calls us to our vocation. In fact, just before the Christopher West subject came up, I wrote The Problem of Love and Frozen Banana Stands, which dealt awkwardly with the perennial problem, how can we love?

For this is a problem, and as Fr. Cantalamessa points out, it's a problem that gets split in two. For the world (and for Christopher West), eros is reduced to lust. But in a similar but opposite error, for many in the Church, agape is reduced to good will.

Now we know what it looks like when people think that love is the same thing as sex (we see that every day), but what many of you who have normal friends may not know is what happens when people think love of God is the same thing as keeping your mouth shut.

My friend Noah Lett tells me of his frustration with devout Catholics who, for example, might have a child diagnosed with a terrible disease and they will pray "God's will be done". Noah says, "Yes, you must pray that, but you can't begin and end with that! Look at David! When God struck his son with illness, he fasted and prayed non-stop from the depths of his heart for the life of his son - and only after he knew that his son was dead, did he accept God's will and move on."

Noah continues, "If you don't pray for your son, if you don't plead with God from the depth of your soul to spare his life, who will?"

I knew a very devout Catholic woman who married a man who turned out to be mentally disturbed, and it was clear from looking at her that the marriage was wearing her down and wasting her away. Knowing her, there's no way she prayed, "God, why did you do this to me? Why did you let me marry this man? I was trying to do your will! How could you let this happen to me?"

Praying to God with that kind of affect, or from the heart, is a movement of eros. It is a hot love, not a cold one. It is the fury of Job, who loves God even in the midst of his suffering, but who will not keep his mouth shut (as his facile comforters suggest). Job will not keep his mouth shut precisely because of his very deep love for God.

And yet there seems to be, in devout Catholic circles, a kind of Quietism that presumes that we can't approach God with any heat or humidity - we must cool the heat of our hearts and dry the humidity of our tears before we dare approach Our Lord in prayer.

And it is this kind of phenomenon Fr. Cantalamessa adresses in his homily; but it is exactly this sort of thing that the Westians so utterly misconstrue. If Christopher West would focus on eros, and on the fullness of eros (which is much more than what he makes of it - mere sexual desire), he might be able to do some good.









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