by Richard Spinello
In the midst of a mid-day snowfall, an odd-looking couple stood outside the Hilton Hotel in New York City answering a skeptical reporter’s intrusive questions. The reporter was doing a feature story for a network news magazine on mail order brides. The lanky 51-year old man being interviewed had recently welcomed his new “bride-to-be” from Russia. She had been in the United States only a few days and spoke very little English. Nevertheless, this soft-spoken man declared that they were madly in love: “We fell in love almost the moment we first laid eyes on each other,” he exclaimed. He went on to announce that they were to be promptly married within the next week. The young, diminutive Russian woman, nicely dressed in a black goose-down coat, nodded her head in complete agreement.
It must surely be obvious to most mature persons that no matter how sincere this couple may be, they have no idea what romantic love actually means. They are still virtual strangers to each other after such a short time together, and the language barrier has undoubtedly impeded their efforts to learn about the other’s needs, preferences, and deepest aspirations. There is clearly a sensual attraction at work that can masquerade as love. There may even be the beginnings of a fervent emotional bonding that often leads some people to confidently proclaim that their passionate love “is not just physical.” But sensuality and amorous sentimentality are not the same as love. And marriage that is not well-founded on real love has the dimmest prospects for success. Unless a man and woman are committed soul mates they cannot achieve the authentic fulfillment that comes from belonging to each other. Without love and deep moral commitment, relationships remain shallow beneath the surface glitter, and too often become impaired by jealousy, spite, and bitterness.
Regrettably, many people make the same fatal mistake as this couple being interviewed in snowy New York. They confuse love with sensuality and the sentimentality that is so prevalent during the early stages of a romantic relationship. They are caught up in an erotic entanglement and overwhelmed by sexual desire, and they fail to realize that these intense emotions will inevitably subside. They prefer to listen to their instincts rather than rely on the surer guidance of reason and good conscience.
But what is love? Is the love between a man and a woman so inscrutably opaque that we can’t possibly understand it? Before he became Pope John Paul II, the philosopher Karol Wojtyła set out to unravel the complexities of love in a magnificent book called Love and Responsibility. In that book he explains that sensuality and emotional sentiment represent only the psychological dimension of love. They are the catalysts for romantic love, from which it draws much of its energy, but love in its full flowering is so much more. Real love, Wojtyła explains, must include fondness, moral commitment, and friendship. Above all, there must be charity or benevolence, a real concern for the other person’s welfare, and an affirmation of that person for his or her own sake. Love always means going beyond oneself to rejoice in another’s good and to strive for that person’s happiness and well-being. The exemplary form of human love is spousal love between a man and a woman. This couple does not simply care about the other’s well-being, but each chooses to unconditionally give his or her whole self to the other. This kind of altruistic love, which is the foundation of a sound marriage, doesn’t just spontaneously happen but takes a considerable amount of time to mature and develop. It is expressed and strengthened in procreative sexual activity whose fruit is the gift of new life.
Confusion about the depth of personal involvement and affirmation required for spousal love persists in this social media culture with its emphasis on superficial connections. That confusion is compounded by the predominance of self-centered relationships that are based more on “getting” rather than on “giving.” How many times do we hear that someone in a marriage is looking to his or her partner to fulfill all of his or her dreams? This muddled understanding of love and marriage points to the urgent need for Wojtyła’s insightful book. His clarification breaks through these perplexities as it seeks to overcome facile and sentimental views about love that can only lead to heartache for those who aspire to the lofty heights of marriage. Love is a major theme in this book, and those who want to understand the real nature of romantic love would profit immensely from carefully reading and re-reading Love and Responsibility.
Wojtyła’s subtle and meticulous work, however, is not always easy to comprehend. Understanding Love and Responsibility has been written as a faithful commentary, a companion piece to help readers navigate their way through the more challenging sections of Love and Responsibility. It offers many concrete examples that illustrate Wojtyła’s arguments, and it demonstrates why those arguments make so much sense. Those who take the time to read these two books together will be amply rewarded because they will come to understand how their lives are enriched by friendship and spousal love. When we love a person for his or her own sake and that love is reciprocated, we are caught up in the beautiful rhythm of giving and receiving which overcomes our existential solitude. Only authentic love can elevate the soul and save us from the ruins of self-absorption.
Richard Spinello is the author of the book Understanding Love and Responsibility, released in July, 2014.
Unpack the deep riches of Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility with a dependable and thought-provoking guide.
After years of counseling young adults and married couples, Father Karol Wojtyła—now Saint John Paul II—published Love and Responsibility. With insights into how we think, behave, and relate to one another, Love and Responsibility is an important complement to the theology of the body.
In his preface, Dr. Richard Spinello states, “Quite simply, Love and Responsibility is not an easy book to read, and rarely does its author give concrete examples to illustrate his arguments.” Karol Wojtyla’s classic work is even more relevant today, but the language is often high and theoretical, with very little to bring it to a more understandable format.
Let Understanding Love and Responsibility help you understand this rich, thought-provoking, and challenging work. Based on the new English translation of Love and Responsibility, Dr. Spinello’s thoughtful commentary will enable you to discover for yourself the beauty of Saint John Paul II’s timeless work, and through it, the magnificence of human relationships and our God-given need to give and receive love.
Features and Benefits:
- Extensive cross-references to the new English translation of Love and Responsibility
- Explains Wojtyla’s thought in simpler terms
- Written by the author of multiple titles on Saint John Paul II’s thought