Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 43, “Christian Marriage and Virginity”

Dear friend,

When we were young, the title of this chapter would have been laughable. The laughter would have been nervous laughter, because at boarding school we were, almost all of us, virgins, and we were obsessed with ceasing to be virgins. Many made up for lost time once they were in college.

We were so obsessed with sex in those days of “Hair” and free love that for a long time—although I was not as amorous-adventurous as many—I pushed the idea of marriage to the side of the stage. It was only when I met Katie and then, in my 33rd year, began dating her, that I realized that marriage was what I desired: commitment, family, children. This month we celebrate our 28th anniversary. Soon our daughters will turn 27 and 25, respectively.

I am convinced that the idea of a single, committed marriage was something I picked up from my father, who probably was a virgin until his wedding night five years after the end of World War II. I remember long rides with him in his first-generation VW bug, laboring up the hills of the Merritt Parkway as he spoke warmly of the benefits of chastity before marriage and commitment in marriage. He always felt blessed in my mother, and he offered some of his friends, who had not been so blessed, as counterexamples.

I saw my parents enter the stage of marriage that Romano Guardini calls “second love.”

“Marriage,” he writes, “is not only the fulfillment of the immediate love which brings a man and woman together, it is also the slow transfiguration of that love through the experiences of a common reality. Early love does not yet see this reality, for the pull of the heart and senses bewitches it. Only gradually does reality establish itself, when eyes have been opened to the shortcomings and failures revealed by everyday life. He who can accept the other then, as he really is, in spite of all disappointments, who can share the joys and plagues of daily life with him just as he shared the great experience of early love, who can walk with him before God and with God’s strength, will achieve second love, the real mystery of marriage. This is as far superior to first love as the mature person is to the child . . . ”

Another thing that held us in thrall as adolescents was Freudian orthodoxy, and Guardini alludes to this near the end of the chapter, without mentioning the Old Austrian himself. The idea that sex was at the basis of everything—not just our drives but the artist’s creation, the paranoid’s neurosis, and the priest’s calling—threw a bucket of grey paint over everything. Sex, sex, sex everywhere you look quickly becomes boring, boring, boring.

RG writes: “One might object that Christian virginity was simply a transplanting of the object of affections; that often for very complex reasons a human being unable to attain his natural partner seeks him in the sphere of religion. In other words, that when he loves ‘God’ or ‘heaven’ he unconsciously means the person he has lost. . . It is in this light that non-believers usually regard virginity; and there are certain aspects of Christian life which sometimes justify their attitude; however, the essence of genuine virginity is quite other. . . .

“Christ says that it is possible for the human being to concentrate all his powers of love honestly, purely on God, for he is such that he can be loved with all the plenitude of life; that he can become everything, beginning and end, of man’s existence.”

I have been privileged to get to know the priests in our parish, as well as a couple of young men now in the seminary, discerning a vocation to the priesthood. I can attest to the possibility of “second love” in a Christian marriage through my own experience, vicariously through Dad, and now directly with Katie. Likewise, I can attest that there are men who have chosen to put God first—not to sublimate some frustrated desire, but because He is.

Your friend in Christ,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 44.

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