Monday, 18 April 2016

True Romance: chastely does it


At the weekend I heard an excellent homily in which the priest spoke frankly and with insight and orthodoxy about the necessity and benefits of chastity, both spiritually, practically and interpersonally.  One of the points which resonated was that a lack of chastity in any relationship, be it a marriage, dating or within single/consecrated life, will poison it and stunt its growth – sometimes permanently, I hazard to add – by marking a point at which we cease to see one another as persons whom we long to know and be known by in increasing fullness and integrity and, asserting that we’ve passed the turnstile and  ‘begun a romantic relationship’, all but cease seeking to deepen our ‘knowing’, and begin unwittingly[?] treating each other as objects; entities whose persona is irrelevant, for “gratification comes first”.

But what do I mean by a lack of chastity? After all, surely we all know to avoid such things as fornication, lustful thoughts, speech, pornography, inappropriate touching etc. ...  Indeed we hopefully do; and we would probably never convict ourselves of using the body of another for our own selfish means, or of lusting after him/her.  But what if it occurred in a manner, and under the belief, that it appeared to be a ‘good’?  Isn’t that how Satan tempted our first parents, by suggesting they would become more like God in whose good image they were created?

Isn’t that what many can do but have been conditioned not to recognise, and even to see it as a good to be aspired towards?  As with any good and holy thing in this world, the Father of Lies will attempt to distort the development of love between a man and a woman in an occult, subtle way.  He seldom tempts an honest man with an impulse to rob a bank, or a chaste spouse to leave his family in search of a mistress.  Faced with such glaring temptations, he knows we would immediately recognise them as wicked and reject them.  So instead he corrupts our will in piecemeal fashion; gradually tempting us toward lesser sins in increasing gravity until our wills are so weakened and damaged that, like a snowball rolling down a debris-strewn slope, we numbly assimilate anything that approaches.  And since we can only love another to the degree that we know and recognise them as persons, what better way of undermining the strength and love of a marriage than by impeding spouses’ knowledge of one another?  But only a fool would expect success by nicking away at a well established marriage: an oak grown thick and sturdy under the nourishment of grace.  Instead, why not poison it as a sapling?  Why not impede relationships at their earliest point: friendship and dating?  How?  By introverting our gaze; the essence of all sin: the turning towards self.

Now, almost all of us have probably experienced the excitement –albeit of lesser frequency in the current spiritual climate– of meeting new persons with whom we see eye to eye on matters of The Faith and whose personality we initially strike a rapport with: each person enjoys the spiritual and intellectual stimulation and the germinating bond that comes with sharing who they are: their pasts, presents, future aspirations; their joys, struggles, tastes and dislikes.  Conversations can seem endless; joint prayer, enriching.  And it is upon such foundations that grace works to produce a solid bedrock of mutual respect, admiration and love; a base which, though injury, sickness or distance assail and impede physical contact, cannot be fractured, for it is a union of persons, whose minds and hearts know and embrace one another with strength, and a willed permanency no hug or kiss could match.

However, I think such a real and truly good enjoyment of another person has been undermined by the subtle introduction of secular ideologies and praxes into Catholic dating.  Though many laugh and scorn historic courting practices like chaperoning and avoiding ‘unnecessary’ touching et.al in favour of ‘modern’ courtship, I cannot help but see their comprehensive rejection as detrimental.  Rather than esteeming the increasing rapport and growing understanding of one another’s needs and preferences (and the discernment they facilitate, not to mention the ability to show true –affectionately charitable– ‘romance’) that come with conversations and activities shared, many seem to have ascribed a huge and unhealthy importance to things like beginning to hold hands, cuddling whilst watching a movie, and ‘the first kiss’, as though they were intrinsic to love or dating relationships with mutual affection.  Even to the point of acting contrary to their own personality because of pressure from unwritten rules to be ‘forward’ lest they appear lacking in confidence or feelings of attraction, or come across as is pejoratively termed, ‘puritanical’ or ‘prudish’.  Many men and women seem led to believe that without romantic kissing ASAP, “They’re just not that into you”.

And so a man’s gaze can be diverted practically by focusing on choosing the ‘right moment to make a move’ in order to secure his date and assert his manhood, rather than enjoying dialogue; and spiritually because the life of grace in his soul risks being undermined as concupiscent lustful appetites are fed rather than mastered.  Whilst a woman’s gaze can equally risk being diverted spiritually; and practically, by seeing the absence of kissing as either a lack in masculinity, confidence (noted as a major attractive quality) or a slight against her value and beauty as a woman.

But is a kiss during dating truly necessary and a sign that we care for and respect another person, or simply a way in which both parties enjoy carnal delight.  I suspect the latter.  After all, the joining of lips is not necessary in order to express affection or to get know a person.  And let’s not kid ourselves that saintly selflessness and purity are the driving forces: true, people may indeed come to admire and esteem one another highly, but the ivy of lust can grow alongside such goods and strangle them. 

It seems to me both more charitable, holy and fruitful for dating Catholics to agree to abstain from romantic kisses.  From prayer and discussion, I believe it will preserve and foster the virtue of chastity and self-mastery and prevent us seeing one another as simply members of the opposite sex to be enjoyed.  That it will prevent hastily-formed emotional bonds which are painful when broken, and instead allow focusing upon the development of mutual interpersonal knowledge without the emotional fog which follows in the wake of seizing upon a tangibly defined ‘romantic relationship’ before coming to know one another as individuals and discerning whether each actually wants to consider courtship towards marriage.  That it will allow for development as individuals in our ability to gain pleasure from innocent things like conversation and shared activities; and that it will ultimately benefit our marriages and families, because marriages can be entered with persons who are known and valued independently of the contours of their bodies or sensations experienced, and with whom both can be shared greater certainty of being ‘well-suited’ for the Pilgrimage to Heaven: for raising holy families and growing in sanctity and love in the presence and assistance of one whose company is truly enjoyed and treasured.

And of those who would insist that kissing whilst dating remains a romantic necessity, I would ask,  “Is it really asserted from a convinced conscience as a requirement; or rather because, ‘I want to.’ ? Because isn’t that the essence of self-will we’ve discussed: “I will do this, because I want to”?  There are numerous ways to demonstrate affection and be romantic without it: opening doors, genuinely asking how the person feels in given situations, ensuring they are warm/comfortable, buying treats that they enjoy, learning about their hobbies and interests, listening to their stories or opinions...to name but a few.  And let’s not forget the spiritual aspect of praying together; or of praying privately for the person; offering sacrifices and penances for them and their intentions, howsoever small the act may seem.  It may be giving up a biscuit; allowing your shirt/blouse sleeve to stay, unbeknownst to anyone else, in that irritating ruffled position when you put a jumper on; pausing your music in the car until you’ve passed the next on-ramp; not savouring that last little bit of jam that fell from your scone onto the plate...because when united to Christ’s Precious Blood, even the smallest good things gain infinite value.  Let’s not forget that St. Therese’s motto of ‘Doing little things with great love’ is not a flowery, dilute way of resigning oneself to offering shop-soiled sacrifices to God, but a way of great heroism and trust that, as Fr. Dickson has often said, “For every mile we walk, God will walk three”.  We do worship a God who multiplied a few loaves and fish to feed thousands!


17 comments:

  1. awesome commentary. married 58 years and your every word is true.

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment: It's great to hear from someone whose marriage has 'stood the test of time'.

      God bless.

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  2. Andrew this is a great blog it makes me wish I could go back a few years and change the way my husband and I courtes. You have enlightened me thank you and God Bless I will keep you in my prayers.

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    1. Hi, thanks for you comment, SallyAnne: credit to God and those who helped with the discussion beforehand.
      I will keep you and your husband in my prayers.

      God bless.

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  3. Thank you for this beautiful post. I look forward to sharing it with my nearly 17 yo daughter, who will greatly appreciate this. Twenty years of marriage blessed with children who treasure their purity and seek God above all else. Deo gratias!

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    1. My apologies for the long delay due to a hectic weeks.
      Thank you for your comment, Stabat Mater; and for your inspiring testimony!
      Prayers promised for your family (and sought for myself also!)

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  4. Well said Andrew. But it's a shame that this teaching is not mentioned in Catholic schools. All they get is instruction about contraception as though love and marriage and having children were secondary. It's a shame that bishops and priests don't teach this. The holiness of their charge should be their top priority. Not appealing for funds to train priests. What's the point of more priests who are not holy.

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    1. My apologies for the long delay due to a hectic weeks.
      Thank you for your comment, Paul.

      Indeed, the lack of sound catechesis and spirituality might be called a travesty. I don't doubt the good-will of those in positions of responsibility; though I wonder if many are enchanted by a concupiscent blend of ideals: hollywood romance and fear of offending.

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  5. Hi Andrew.
    I think I can see where you are coming from in this post: is it necessary to enter into kissing to secure a romantic relationship, or do we enter into kissing for the selfish, sensual pleasure of it? Indeed the latter it probably true, and it is facilitated by today’s secularism which says what pleases us is the highest good. I think you are right; we do not need to enter into kissing to establish or hold onto a romantic relationship; and that it can lead us into further impurities. What is difficult to know is when it becomes appropriate to begin physical intimacies. Certainly genital activity is always sinful outside of marriage between a husband and wife, but we can fall into it by gradually moving from simple kissing to ‘French kissing’ and from there to inappropriate ‘petting’. Those who think kissing is an essential part of a romantic relationship will probably believe that more than kissing is allowed (even if they do not see physical intimacy as extending to copulation), but it is possible they don’t see the danger of the rolling snowball under which persons get lost, which is what I think you are pointing out here. An interesting, reflective post.
    Father Dickson

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    1. Many thanks for your comment and insights, Father.

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  6. I'm sorry to sound the dissenting note here but whilst you may be 'technically correct' you come across as someone who would urge young people never to share any physical contact at all before the Wedding itself and reinforces my impressing (which I've had since converting) that the Faith is largely itzy bitzy little rules that must be obeyed to a degree that would make the Pharisees blush. The special pleading that the trad usually employees here is to say that I've been irredeemably corrupted by a secular upbringing blah di blah di blah.
    Do you not realise that for SOME people, physical contact is NECESSARY to know that they are loved? Autistic people for instance for whom instance who wouldn't get the little things such as having doors opened for them. For people such as myself physical contact of a chaste variety is the only way that we will know that the person's declared feelings are true. The standard reply to this being that I should refrain from marriage all together (before you ask I tried my vocation as a Monk and it didn't work out).
    But then again, my 'fellow' Traditionalists don't accept anyone who doesn't fit their Von Trapp cookie cutter model of what a family must be like. God knows why I bother turning up to Mass on Sundays, let alone during the week.

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    1. My apologies for the long delay due to a hectic weeks.
      Thank you for your comment, Jack. I note that Father Dickson has responded to you below.
      Promising -and seeking!- prayers,
      Andrew.

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  7. Can I say something to Jack? The post is not about autistic (or Down's Syndrome people etc) but about those who are sexually attracted to one another who may let boundaries down one bar at a time.
    I'm sorry you have the impression the Faith is about itzy bitzy rules. Try seeing this post as about maintaining personal boundaries; boundaries which are not part of The Faith but a prudential judgement on prudent behaviour during courtship.
    God Bless.

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  8. Dear Father

    It may surprise you but autistic people want to fall in love and get married as well, we have the same feelings as everybody else, even if we're not as adept at expressing them. When you cut us we bleed, when you tickle us we laugh. We're not some weird asexual sub-strain of humanity you know.

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    1. Dear Jack,
      Sorry if you have been offended. I was simply indicating that today society has brought down barriers and broken boundaries in such a way as to allow for an intimacy that leads folk onto more than simple kissing and hugging. I have two autistic nephews so I am well aware of the strengths, weaknesses and desires of those who are on the autistic spectrum. I am truly sorry if was not clear enough, but I did say that the post is not talking about autistic people (at all).
      God Bless.

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  9. Thank you for sharing these thoughts on approaching romance and dating in a way that is completely counter-cultural. I first read this post a few months ago, and have just re-read it and several things jumped out that were overlooked last time- particularly about the different ways of expressing care and love for a partner/spouse that still help develop intimacy but without engaging in physically intimate activity which leads down that slippery slope. No doubt I will read this post again, and something else you have written will jump out. Thank you again.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Clare.

      Please accept my apologies for such a delay during more hectic weeks.

      I'm glad you appreciated it; I think we both miss out on getting to know someone who's 'a good egg', avoid building good foundations in new relationships, and even on strengthening current ones, when we get tied up with 'physicalities'!

      With prayers,

      Andrew.

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